11/20/20 Week 13: “Who is She? A DNA Test Only Opens New Mysteries.”

This article was about the genealogy search of Alice Collins Plebuch’s family heritage and examining where on earth her Jewish heritage came from as a surprise. Plebuch bought a recreational DNA test when she was 69 to evaluate deeper her prenotions of both her mother and father’s Irish ancestry. Shockingly, the Ancestry.com test came back with bright blue Jewish lineage, then it was nonetheless hilarious when Plebuch assumed it was a mistake.

 It was interesting to hear that this mistake was a justified notion due to the face that commercial DNA recreational testing was just beginning to develop in 2012 when Plebuch’s consumer search began, because when I was a kid, I remember these DNA tests seeming extremely common. 

Libby Copeland, the author reflects on the funny surprises, unknown relatives, and family lies are revealed, entrenched deep into the genealogy lineages the data uncovers. This article was brewing to be one of the better stories which a catching title like “Irish Catholic unexpectedly discovers she is part Jewish!” Then, you click on the Facebook link and you have to scroll past endless ends at the bottom of the page and repeat the cycle, hitting next 28 times just to reach the anecdote of the story. 

Even though the other DNA testing kits also collected data with autosomal DNA, looking at the genealogy following the sex links of both the mother and father, Alice and her sister both sent in re-tests to 23andMe this time. Sensibly, the same results appeared: European Jewish, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European. The sisters were determined to configure which side of their lineage the lies of identity derived from, whether it was their mothers, or their adopted military father’s. In order to calculate where this unforeseen patterns in her bloodline originated from, whether it was from an affair or misunderstanding, the sisters recruited nephews on both the mother’s side of the family and the father’s side of the family to show which reflected similar Jewish heritage, which would lead them to observe which side of the family the same ethnic history runs. Nonetheless, there is an effective, simple diagram illustrating how the Jewish genealogy was too obscure to track through both affected x chromosomes of the sisters; however, Alice’s brother’s y chromosome was lit blue, tracking the Jewish genealogy, while his x chromosome was white, not carrying Jewish ancestry. This brings us to the conclusion the father of Alice passed on the unexpected Jewish ancestry and the y chromosome, only passed down by the father, is solely signaling the Jewish ancestry in Bill’s genome. 

It was imminent that the unravelling of what now was a false family narrative of ethnicity would simultaneously reveal the cracks in which this secret Jewish ethnicity had fallen through. Nonetheless, Alice’s father’s sister and her son were not tied to the family in the genome data. This also led to the understanding although the Alice’s grandparents were certainly Irish Catholics, their father was the sole Jewish and was not directly related. Alice and her sister, Wiggins, have set to continue on to find living relatives actually related to her father in order to uncover the story behind their heritage and track the roots of their real identity. 

They began with the birth certificate, verified precautious members from the orphanage, and verified their father’s identity was consistent through his upbringing, then he didn’t potentially get mistaken for another child and swapped out. The sisters even looked into their father being swapped with a baby in the hospital with a similar last name alphabetically ordered, but that match, tracking down descendants had come up empty-handed as well.  The sisters continued to run with the idea to track males of Jewish or ethnically neutral names born on the same day as her father In the baby index, but the surnames and methodical searches also did not reap results. 

It was so sweet of Jim Collins, the brother of the determined sister designed an iPad application, DNAMatch, to better match their data and organize their journey now turning to thousands of DNA relatives and hundreds of thousands segment matches. Then, a random unexpected anomaly surfaced on her not-cousin, cousin’s page! A close relative of Nolan agreed to test more for comparative DNA and she was similarly surprised as the sisters were with their experienced, confronted to have a different heritage than they had grown up identifying with. Exceptionally, unlike these sisters, identifying as Irish but being corrected they were Jewish had the opposite experience of Jessica Benson, the close DNA relative of Nolan; she discovered she was Irish when she had been identifying as Jewish. Plebuch inquired whether Benson had a relative born around the same date at Fordham Hospital, her father’s birthplace. Yes! 

Plebuch had overlooked “Benson” on the New York City Birth Index because his name was victimized by a typo on his birth certification, but his genes matched according to both DNA sites! Phillip Benson, the baby of a Jewish family, was switched out with Jim Collins, the baby of an Irish family in Fordham Hospital in New York City on September 23,1913. Documents proved the babies’ close processing, and historical images show the lack of organization separating the infants after birth, also without any identification individualized for the children yet (at this early point in history). Then, with meeting and comparative images, the phenotypes passed through the families were much better explained by this revelation of baby-swapping. 

Of course, such grave considerations were brewed in the wake of the reality that their orphan father struggled and found so much pride he treasured in an identity that was not even biologically his. The sisters questions how different or well-off their Jewish father’s life would have been if he were raised by his Jewish family and to what extent his proud Irish identity was even real. Nonetheless, the sisters were grateful their father was not stripped of the reality of his unfitting biological identity with recreational genomics, and the sisters seem to be coping with trying to embrace their new understandings of their lineage and how it affects their identities today. 

The author then turns the page to a different occurring experience in which testing revealed to Laurie Pratt her father was not related to her. It was a little heart-tearing to hear before this father figure died and Laurie discovered this truth, she consciously did not share with him her discovery of his lack of biological paternity. On top of that, she was never able to collect enough detail about other potential relations the father could be elicited through before her mother died. 

Crazy enough, through tracking back distant cousins through the tree provided by Ancestry.com, Pratt sent a letter to a potential father position candidate, and his response, submitting his DNA to Ancestry.com confirmed he indeed was the biological father of Pratt! What an exciting moment, followed by such a climatic downturn when the man pulled his data and information from the website after him and his biological daughter discussed meeting. 23andMe warns directly on their privacy website that family surprising, dramatic life-changing secrets can certainly be revealed, and genealogists did not find Pratt’s father reaction surprising or uncalled for by any means.  Despite Laurie’s second letter reaching out for just a meeting to discuss formal family history, the man has held out to respond to her request. 

This article was so captivating, like following a murder mystery, only discovering the life of those already dead. It was so interesting to see the sisters work through so many genealogical tracking tools and cross through so many theories on their journey to connect the obscure dots between their family’s prideful heritage and her father’s very real, polar biological Jewish ethnicity. It was absolutely flabbergasted the non-cousin, cousin avenue the discovery blossomed in of the baby-swapping and while I know so many cases of Laurie Pratt’s occur, with painful discoveries of additional relatives and disconnections front those you thought were, met with rejection and emptiness, it was so joyful to follow the Plebuchs’ family tree through recreational genealogy. I hope the Plebuch sister’s can grieve and be able to reconstruct their identities moving forward with the same pride they embraced in the perceived Irish heritage before, even in the wake of unlocked secret Jewish-ties.

2 thoughts on “11/20/20 Week 13: “Who is She? A DNA Test Only Opens New Mysteries.”

  1. I agree that this article was extremely captivating; I was genuinely surprised at how well I could keep up, considering the constant switching of names and lineages that were disputed! And yes, I am as well partial to murder mysteries, so maybe that aspect is why I felt so extremely attracted to this piece and its constant surprises. While I know this was as you said “recreational” at first, I cannot imagine being in the position of Alice and her sister, learning that the man they loved endlessly their entire lives was, genetically speaking, a stranger. I believe that, with time, because of Alice’s mature response to the situation, the two sisters will properly come to terms with their true identity, as it was the fact they had been missing for years on end; if it was me, I would personally feel a sense of relief and shock simultaneously.

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