Who was the father of Ruth Andrews DeBoise? That was the big mystery in the search for her ancestors. If Ruth’s mother, Blanche, knew the man who fathered her daughter, she did not tell anyone. She was only 16 when she became pregnant. She was single, and an only child who was doted on by her parents. All that was known about him was that he was white, and probably Irish or Scandinavian. This was 1912. Although there have always been interracial relationships, it was still not common or accepted. And family lore indicated that this was not a consensual relationship.
I wrote for and received Ruth’s birth certificate – no father was listed. I double checked with her death certificate – unknown. Family did not know. I was stuck for many years, and wondered if I would ever find the answer.
I’m sure you have all seen Ancestry’s DNA ads – “I thought I was German, and found out I was Irish (or something like that!)”; “I had no idea I was Native American”, etc. When I started looking for DeBoise family information, DNA was not part of the “toolkit”. You went to town halls, talked to the elders, and as access to the Internet became easier, you connected with other researchers to share information. A great world of resources opened when Ancestry.com and Family Search offered access to their records on the Internet.
A few years ago, 23 and Me, Ancestry, and a few other companies began offering DNA testing at an affordable cost. Why take a DNA test? For many people, all they want to know is their ethnic background. For others, it can help identify, or confirm, ancestors. Adoptees use DNA to help find their birth parents. As more people take the DNA test and their results become part of the database, the chances of finding the answers and identifying the unknown ancestor becomes greater.
My sister and I, and both my parents, took the Ancestry DNA test several years ago, when it was still in the relatively “new” stage. We were curious about our ethnic background, and we were hoping that we could break down some of our brick walls – particularly on those common names of Smith and Cook. You get half your DNA from your father and the other half from your mother. The DNA that you get is random. Just because you have the same parents, it does not mean that you get the same DNA segments. Only identical twins receive the same DNA.
That’s why siblings can have different skin tones, different color eyes, and different color hair. That’s why we look different. For example, my ethnicity estimates are 27% Irish; 27% Scandinavian, and 24% Great Britain. My sister’s estimates are 31% Scandinavian, 25% Great Britain, and 19% Irish. I had dark blonde hair (before it turned grey!) and green eyes. She has platinum blonde hair and blue eyes. We have the same background, but in different percentages because of the random distribution of DNA from our parents.
So, I felt that DNA might be the way to identify this elusive man. After much persuasion and several years after I had my DNA tested, one of Ruth and James’s children agreed to DNA testing. Oh happy days! The test is very simple. I ordered the test kit from Ancestry, the DNA donor spit in a vial, and off the spit went to Ancestry for analysis. A few weeks later, we had the results.
The most immediate result was the ethnicity estimates. The ethnicities of the children of Ruth and James are: Benin/Togo; Ireland/Scotland/Wales; Scandinavia; Mali; Cameroon/Congo; Europe South; Great Britain; Native American; and several other African countries. I did not share the percentages, because each child who tests will have different percentages in each of these regions – explaining why everyone looks similar but yet different.
Finding matches to help you identify unknown ancestors can be a little more challenging. I had a learning curve in understanding how to use the results to find the answers I was seeking. Fortunately, others have taken the time to write easy to understand information on interpreting DNA results, and YouTube also has some good videos. GEDMATCH.com is a free site where you can upload your raw DNA results and expand your potential matches, in addition to the matches provided by Ancestry. When you find potential matches, you usually need to do some more work to find out who your common ancestor is. It takes time and patience.
After about a year, I began to see a number of relatives that shared DNA with the DuBose family who originated in South Carolina, both white and black. I was able to connect these relatives to Peter Purdept DuBose. This family was discussed in one of the earlier blogs on the DeBoise family.
After a year, I still had not been able to figure out who Ruth’s father was. I found a number of matches from Nova Scotia, which I could tell were from the Andrews side of the family. However, the people I connected with did not know who in their family might have lived in New England – and they were still living in Nova Scotia! But I am a patient person. I figured as more people tested their DNA and the results were added to the databases, the chances would increase that I would eventually find out the answers.
And then the pieces began to fall together. I had several very close matches, contacted the individuals, and was able to identify who their common ancestor was. Through genealogy research, confirmed by the amount of DNA that was passed down, I was able to determine that this common ancestor was Marshall Frederick Cortis! The matches were all grandchildren of this man, and cousins of the child of Ruth and James who had completed the DNA test. I was able to connect with a woman who had worked on the genealogy of her husband, a grandson of Marshall Cortis, and she was a goldmine. She shared pictures of Marshall, an adoption record for him, and the birth certificate of his father.
The pictures were unbelievable. The family resemblance between the sons of Ruth and James, and Marshall Frederick is uncanny, and there is no question that they are related.
The next post will be on Marshall Frederick Cortis, and what I have been able to find out about his story.
Stay cool. When you think you have had enough of the blistering summer heat, think back on those very frigid days we had in New England last winter. I don’t think I’m ready to repeat that just yet!
Until next time…..