“Sadly, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to be much assistance to you in your search for ancestry. I’m adopted.”
That statement right there and her story that she shared with me made me giddy! I was excited for her because she now had a blood relative and I was proud and happy that it was me! A first for both of us! She shared that she had been adopted by a very wonderful family with loving parents and 3 siblings. Although her adopted parents are gone, they and her siblings have supported her in her search for her birth parents.
A quick aside that really needs to be shared. I was texting with her today and she told me about the day she received her DNA results from Ancestry. She was at Comic Con, she was excited to see her matches and didn’t look at her ethnic breakdown. I was the first match with a picture. She said she thought, “wait…what? – then I realized I had a lot to learn about my heritage.” I laughed so hard and was still laughing when I called her! LOL
All of her life she believed she was Caucasian – of Puerto Rican and German descent – based on the sketchy information she was able to obtain from the records she had. When she sent me her picture, I knew better, AND I knew which paternal line she descended from – the Brown family line from Corydon, Indiana. How I love my cousin, Sharyl Kriete!
In September of 2015 I had the idea that meeting one’s DNA cousin in person might lead to a few clues based on physical features. So I created a Facebook group to plan what I called a DNA Cousin Meet Up. I decided to host it at my home and we agreed upon the 12th-14th of August, 2016. The cousin meet up was another first.
In June of 2016, I found a new relative – a DNA match with a confidence level of “High” 4th-5th cousin match, meaning our DNA was predicting that we shared Great, Great, Great, Great grandparents. I took a look at our shared matches and saw that Sharyl’s name was also at the 4th-5th cousin level! I immediately sent her an email and she responded just as quickly. Introducing our shared relative, Juanita Jackson Swift, the breaker of Sharyl’s brick wall!
After a flurry of emails, phone calls, pictures and research, Father’s Day weekend, we were able to discover who Sharyl’s birth father was, Haynes Harrington.
Over the next few months Sharyl and Juanita kept in touch and got to know one another and began working on how to introduce her to the rest of her family.
Sharyl was already committed to coming to Chicago in August and Juanita made the decision to come as well – bringing family. The first DNA Cousin Meet Up was shaping up wonderfully!
As Sharyl and I communicated more, we discovered that we had much in common; especially on our geek side…we both loved Star Wars, pretty much anything to do with Sci-Fi and cats. We both loved cats and each of us had 4! And we were both looking forward to the opening of the Smithsonian’s African American History and Culture Museum, in DC. She surprised me by getting me a Charter membership to the museum that allowed me to have a chance at early admission tickets. Through some savvy maneuvering on her part, I was able to get enough tickets to share!
August 2016 was a banner month, so many Firsts!
Sharyl and Shannon were flying in for the Meet Up a few days early and staying in the Hyde Park neighborhood. They arrived on August 11th. Since I knew where they were staying and approximately when they would arrive at the hotel, I intended to be there when they walked through the door.
Our journey, Sharyl’s and mine, began 11 August 2015 and it came full circle 11 August 2016, – we met face to face, exactly 1 year later! Funny side note; neither one of us tumbled to that until yesterday..lol Slow we are, in my Yoda voice!
August 13, 2016, the day of the Meet Up, began overcast and raining; I shook my fist at the sky and carried on. When folks began arriving, the rain had stopped and it was Chicago – hot and muggy – but I was OK with that! The grill was fired up, meat was cooking, side dishes were ready, music was jumping and cousin goody bags were ready.
My mother was able to meet two of her DNA cousins for the first time, Allie Jackson and Clarence McMillon. We are still working at discovering our connection.
Sharyl and I were able to meet Juanita and her family face to face for the first time. My children and grandchildren met Juanita’s children and grandchildren. We ate, drank, danced, laughed and I think a few tears were shed; it was a grand day of firsts that lasted well into the evening.
No, we did not make any new connection discoveries that day but we did so much more by simply being able to physically connect with each other, I think we generated stronger bonds and strengthened our commitment to find our common Ancestors.
September saw me with plans to visit the museum in DC for the opening weekend. With the extra tickets I had, I had made plans to meet up with another DNA cousin, Denise Nicole Sartin, for the first time! Denise and I decided that we are just each others brand of crazy…lol SCORE! I was also meeting Cousin Kendra Hill who I had met a couple of years before.
There were so many people who had come for this opening weekend it’s a wonder we found each other! The Smithsonian’s African American History and Culture Museum is an awe inspiring building and the collections are such that they beg you to come back again and again. There’s so much to see that it can’t be taken in in one day. As crowded as it was, people were polite, respectful, gracious, sharing and emotional. I will be returning.
October rolled in with me frantically getting my home ready for my annual Halloween party and preparing to join Sharyl in Anderson, Indiana where she would be meeting her sisters for the first time. Juanita had pulled it together, gathering as many of Sharyl’s family that she could for her to meet.
Of course any trip that is in any way related to genealogy demands a trip to the cemetery! So, Sharyl, Juanita and I made a trip to Maplewood Cemetery hunting family headstones; we found the headstone for Sharyl’s father, Haynes Harrington, as well as other family members.
Before heading out to the cemetery Sharyl and I had breakfast at the local Waffle House. In an attempt to acquaint her with a small aspect of her heritage I suggested that she have grits with her breakfast…lol Now, I’m from the North and I eat my grits with butter and sugar but I did explain that grits are also eaten with butter, salt and pepper. I am pleased to say that she prefers it with sugar! LOL
Sharyl recently shared with me that she was so nervous about the upcoming meeting with her sisters, that she accidentally took 2 Tylenol PM instead of her vitamins and she had to suck down a ton of coffee to combat the effects of the Tylenol!
Later that day, I drove us to Juanita’s home and when I pulled up and put the car in park, Sharyl took a deep breath. I asked her was she ready? “No. Yes. I’ve waited all my adult life for this moment. I’m ready”.
Her sisters, Diane Reese and Felisa Menifee welcomed Sharyl with open arms. They shared hugs, tears, pictures of their dad and stories. Juanita had set out a groaning board of food and her husband Ed was cooking his ass off on the grill! As the rest of Sharyl’s family arrived she was embraced at every turn…I had a strong feeling that things were going to be ok.
On our last day in Anderson, we gathered together for breakfast as family. The pictures below best show the joyous end to a wonderful weekend.