Tuesday, February 19, 2019

And the father is...

One of my genealogy goals for 2018 was to identify the biological father of my great-aunt, Bettye Harris. I tried a few times throughout the year to work on that, but the test results for her daughter didn't give me any good leads at 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage. I realized that if I really wanted to make some headway on this mystery, I needed to have Bettye's daughter test at Ancestry. When I asked if she was up for doing one more test, she graciously said yes and even paid for it (always a bonus!). I had hoped to get the results around Christmas last year, but something went wrong at Ancestry and they couldn't process the test. So they shipped another kit out to her, and she spit again, and this time the test processed correctly. The results came in on Saturday evening, and I immediately set to work.

Most of her closest matches were paternal relatives, first cousins or their kids. But then, in her list of second cousin-ish matches, was one match (I'll call her Amy) with an extensive pedigree, with no familiar names - nothing from any known branch of Bettye's family tree. I got excited, thinking this could be from the mystery line! The family seemed to be mostly Welsh and English, with surnames like Owens and Bowen and Evans. As I looked at the list of matches Bettye's daughter shared with Amy, none of her paternal matches were listed, nor were any maternal matches from my side of her family. I found several matches that Bettye and Amy shared that all descended from the same couple - William Bowen and Anna Evans, born in Wales in the 1820s, so a little over a hundred years before Bettye was born. That was enough space for there to be at least three generations between them and Bettye, maybe four. William and Anna were Amy's paternal great-grandparents. Their daughter Anna Bowen and her husband Albert Owens were Amy's grandparents.

While going through Amy's shared matches, I found one match from Amy's Owens side, which connected to Albert Owens' grandfather, Owen Pritchard Owens, but through an uncle of Albert's, not through Albert himself. The only way it made sense for there to be a connection to both the Bowen and Owens sides is for Bettye to be related to both. The easiest way for that to happen was for Bettye to be descended from both families. Albert and Anna were the only connection between those two families I could find.

Albert and Anna married in Wisconsin somewhere around 1896. They had eight sons and one daughter, though she died as an infant. Their sons were born between 1898 and 1910, which doesn't really leave enough time for any of them to grow up, have a child to grow up enough to father Bettye. That meant that Bettye's father was likely one of their sons! So of course they had eight. :P

I knew right off that Bettye wasn't the daughter of two of them, Rexford and William James, as they were the ancestors of the close matches, and if Bettye was the daughter of either of them, the amount of shared DNA would have been much higher. I found census records showing Albert and Anna moved their family to Florida pretty early on after getting married, though two of the sons, Roy and Albert, apparently moved to Montana in the 1930s, right around the time that Bettye was born. Newspaper articles showed they lived in Philipsburg, where James Harris, the man who raised Bettye, was originally from. That Harris family connection to Philipsburg means James and Edna, Bettye's mother, likely visited Philipsburg often, as it was only 53 miles or so from Butte, where James and Edna lived at the time. So the right people were in the right place at the right time, and the DNA evidence and paper trail both make sense.

A little more digging in newspapers led me to articles describing how the whole Owens family would visit Philipsburg in the summers, but they don't say when that tradition started. So it is technically possible that one of the other sons aside from Roy or Albert could have been Bettye's father. In my mind, it makes the most sense for it to be Roy or Albert though, because they had the longest history in the area, and I know they were both in the area at the right time. The only way to know for sure would be to identify a living descendant and have them do a DNA test and see how much DNA is shared. Roy apparently didn't have any children (his obituary only names step-children) but Albert might. I don't know if I need to go that far, as I've already determined the family and therefore the ancestry of Bettye's paternal side, so if her descendants want to know, they can take that up themselves. Unless curiosity gets the better of me down the road. :)

I'm still in a bit of shock at having finally solved this mystery. It's been hanging silently over my head since we discovered this almost seven years ago. It really underscores the power of DNA and genetic genealogy, both to find out something like this occurred, and then determine who out of all the possible people that lived in that place and time was the father of a girl born to an obscure family in western Montana in the 1930s.

Interesting side note - both Roy and Albert died sudden, unexpected deaths. Roy died of an apparent heart attack early one morning, which was more shocking because he had been at work the night before and nothing appeared wrong. Albert died in a work accident, and was crushed to death by the bed of a dump truck after being trapped there while unloading it. For both of the candidates for Bettye's father to die like they did is just very odd.

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