By Joey McWilliams
We live in an amazing time. It’s a time in which science and technology allow us to take a look within ourselves and learn.
With the medical advances of the 2010s and into the new decade, often sicknesses or injuries that just 25 years ago or more may be have been devastating, can now be alleviated, treated or even cured. We are learning much more about what makes us what we are and even who we are.
Sometimes we learn more than we may have anticipated. The ease with which we can access information about our own DNA today has provided answers to many questions about family and heritage. And in some cases, it brings into question some things about which the answer was thought to be a given.
Kim Podany, senior counselor at Durant High School, was recently looking into her own family history.
“I’ve always been interested in genealogy,” she said. “And I started it initially to try to find some Native American ties because as we’re all told, ‘your great-great-grandpa or grandma was Choctaw or Cherokee or whatever.’ And I never could find that link as far as documentation goes, but I did find a lot of family research and genealogy.
“There’s a lot of healing that comes from realizing we are not just one generation. We are affected by a lot more than that – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and there’s not a lot of judgment there. It just is what it is and it’s so interesting. It’s just fascinating to me.”
So she took a DNA test with Family Tree DNA.
“I took it probably five years ago, and then I had the girls (her daughters) to do it as well. And I had a couple of matches on there that I couldn’t figure out how we connected and we would even contact each other and say, ‘Well, what about this name? Do any of these sound familiar?’ Nope. But they were distant cousins. They would equate to be like a parent’s first cousin. So I kind of left that alone, you know, you just forget about it.”
But her curiosity was piqued last year following the passing of her aunt in September 2018. And when Christmas came around, her mother reminded her the Ancestry DNA test helped with family trees.
“I felt like I could find more matches and connections that way than through Family Tree DNA. Family Tree DNA is more of just your ethnicity, kind of some matches but not as substantial when it comes to tying some trees together and I felt like there would be more matches.
“So I said “Yeah, I want to do the Ancestry DNA test. Ancestry.com is the site where I’ve always had my tree, and they’ve got DNA testing now as one of their products. You can match to other people and you can also see who your common ancestor is if you have trees that are built that match up.”
Kim decided to take the test on Christmas. She said she knew she was Irish, with 1 percent Native American and 3 percent African-American and not many surprises. But still.
“With 3 percent, generationally, there should be a great-grandparent or great-great grandparent that you should be able to know about. And I could find none. None. So I thought there are secrets somewhere. I just thought the secret was ethnicity where they were hiding it.”
On Dec. 29, 2018, she was going to go shopping with her daughter, Brooke, for a wedding dress for her and knew it was going to be an exciting day. Still, she had been thinking each day about the results that would soon be sent her way. Then she received a notification while getting ready that morning: Your Ancestry results are ready.
“I go onto the app and I’m looking at all the matches and I have these close, close matches of names that I have never heard of. Technology being as it is today, it’s really easy to do some searches on Facebook, just kind of digging around and I find these people with the same last name who actually lived in the town I was born in.
“I messaged my mom and said, ‘Doug Jernigan?’
“She sent back, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t know who that is.’ So I leave that alone. And the whole day, whenever we’re driving to go dress shopping – because it’s supposed to be Brooke’s day you know – in the back of my mind it’s reeling, and I’m like, ‘Is this possible? Could this really be true?’
“This whole time, my whole life, I’ve thought this one thing and it turns out …”
Growing up, Kim said she had even questioned her mother about possibilities because she wanted to know if what we she was dealing with in her family was genetic.
“I thought my dad was a horrible alcoholic – terrible, abusive – (it was a) terrible family, the whole thing is dysfunctional. Knowing that I had that in my genetics, it affected a lot of things. It affected the way I parented and the things I worried about, like addictions. All those things are very familial. I mean, they’re genetic. And I knew that I didn’t have addictive personalities and I never went that route, but it could be passed on to my kids.”
She also said felt she never fit in, like she just always felt different.
“I would even say, ‘Mom, if there’s any possible way that it’s someone else, it would be a gift for me if you could just tell me.’ She would say, ‘Honey, there’s no way I would put you through all of this if it were someone else. You know I would tell you.’
“I don’t know about if I ever really looked like any of them, but we never really discussed it. I looked so much like my mom’s side that that wasn’t her really any question.”
They finished shopping and picked out a dress that day, but Kim’s mind was still racing. Quickly, she found the person who managed the Ancestry account that matched hers so closely and tried to make contact.
She found that person and her family and saw online that they live in Arizona. It was beginning to look like this person might be her niece. This would mean her dad was Kim’s brother.
“It was her dad’s account – she managed hers and her dad’s account. I messaged her through Ancestry and didn’t get anything in return, which is not unusual because people don’t check their accounts all the time. I also found her through Facebook, and I sent her several messages. ”
At this point, patience was not something Kim was dealing well with.
“I was just, you know, messaging anybody I could find. Because in the beginning whenever you’re looking at this and you’re trying to piece the puzzle together it’s like ‘OK, who are these people?’”
She found obituaries for people with whom she was seeing matches, including her brother’s father. He was from Florida and moved to Idabel in 1973 to work at Weyerhaeuser.
“Weyerhaeuser – my grandpa worked there and my mom had a summer job there. But (the brother’s father) ended up staying there and he passed away in 2010 and so the obituary was there from Idabel and his wife and other son still live there.
“I messaged Michaela, who was the niece and I just said, ‘We’ve connected through Ancestry and it’s a pretty close match. I’m trying to figure out how we are related but here are some possibilities. I’m going to give you some names and if you wouldn’t mind just ask your family members if they might recognize any of them.’
It turned out that during the holidays, she and her family were actually visiting in Idabel and Kim received a reply quickly.
“At like 11:30, she messages me back and she says, ‘I think we may have an answer for you. Can we come see you in the morning?’”
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