Genealogy isn’t always about searching for the dead. Often, it’s about finding the living to help solve the mysteries of the dead. This is a case of a random Google search for a great grand-uncle, a pair of DNA tests and, after 94 years, being able to confirm that the man whom we could only ever suspect as the father of William Thomas Crawford is in fact the right guy.
For me, this story begins on August 30, 2014. It was late in the evening; Brendan had already been put to bed. As usual, I was sitting in front of my computer searching away to find the next family gem or lost record. I don’t remember my exact search terms, but I in the process I found this request written on a genealogy forum:
I am looking for the birth father of a William Crawford born in Leetonia in 1920 ,family oral history says that a Ed Lowry was the father,only want information,,about the Lowry family from that area,,1
I looked at the date it was posted: January 20, 2006. It had been almost nine years since Linda Tritt Crawford wrote looking for information about Edward Lowry from Leetonia. Until I stumbled upon it, this request had gone unanswered.
I promptly sent Linda an email stating that my great grand uncle was Edward Martin Lowry, born in 1896 in Leetonia. Still, I didn’t hold out much hope that I would receive a response. Nine years is a long time without someone changing their email address, losing interest in a hobby or dying. Fortunately for me, Linda was still very much on the search.
Linda’s response the next day reemphasized that family history held that the father of William Thomas Crawford, her husband Bill’s father, was Edward Lowry. Edward and Margaret Crawford, William’s mother, had dated but never married. Since 1920, there has been no reliable confirmation that Edward Lowry was the father.
Linda and I exchanged a few emails and I sent her a link to my website and family photos so she could search through my published material herself. Since I held a possible key to this mystery, I wanted to do what I could to help solve this problem. I had the wild idea that maybe her husband and my dad could take DNA tests to attempt to confirm this relationship. I recently have gained an interest in genetic genealogy and although I want to take a DNA test myself, I knew that my dad would be a closer relative and thus more likely to be a match. If the Crawford family story was true, my dad and her husband would be second cousins. They would share a great-grandfather in Michael Lowry (1868-1949).
I proposed the idea to my dad as well as Linda, who passed it along to Bill. Fortunately, both agreed. I suggested an autosomal DNA test through Family Tree DNA. There are basically three different types of DNA tests for genetic genealogy. Y-DNA tests trace paternal lines from father to paternal grandfather to paternal great grandfather, etc. Mt-DNA tests trace maternal lines from a mother to grandmother to great grandmother. Each of these tests looks at the specific parts of chromosome 23 that get passed from parent to child. An autosomal DNA test, on the other hand, looks at shared genetic material on chromosomes 1 through 22. The more shared material, the more likely you are to be related. This is the perfect test for identifying a cousin relationship.
I bought my dad’s test and had it shipped to the house. All that is required is a cheek swab on a glorified Q-tip. Linda and Bill ordered their test as well. Both tests were returned and then we waited. And waited. And waited. These tests aren’t especially fast. This isn’t like we were just waiting for Jerry Springer to announce, “YOU ARE THE FATHER!” DNA tests can take 4-6 weeks for results so we each expected something returned by Thanksgiving.
Even though it was my dad’s test, I was particularly antsy, checking my account almost every day looking for an update. Finally, on December 6, a little more than 3 months since I first reached out to Linda, we had both tests results. Right there at the top of my results, which identify hundreds of very distant cousins who have also tested, was the name William David Crawford – 2nd or 3rd Cousin. A MATCH!
|The result’s page. Click to enlarge.
Naturally, we again exchanged emails and shared our excitement over the match. In doing so, I also learned a little more about Linda and Bill. Today they live outside Cleveland, Tennesee, although Bill grew up in Leetonia and they still have family in the area. One of those family members in the Leetonia area is Bill’s niece Debra Moore, who I’ve also started to exchange family information with. Sadly, Bill’s mother Elsie Crawford passed away on December 7, just one day after we solved the mystery of her late husband’s father.
|A portion of the results showing a strong genetic link (the orange part) between my dad and Bill Crawford on chromosome 5. Not every chromosome shows a match, but enough do to indicate a close relative.
Of all of my genealogical discoveries, this has been by far the most important. While it’s great to be able to identify new generations of grandparents back in history, it’s more important to be able to connect with those newly found cousins who share small and large branches of your family tree. In this case, we were able to solve a mystery that had existed for almost a century and finally confirm the long-held suspicion that the father of William Thomas Crawford was my great grand uncle Edward Lowry.