I've been researching my mom's side of the family for about three months now. It began when I heard an ad for AncestryDNA on the radio. I thought it might help me find my grandfather's birth parents.
My DNA results were nothing special at the time. I was surprised by how much Irish (or any Irish at all, really) was in my blood. Nonetheless, it got my family interested.
Soon, old attic boxes snuck their way into the living room. My dad was printing out 11x17 family tree diagrams. My mom was reading a virtually endless stack of letters from the 1940s. I decided it was time to dive into the trenches alongside them.
Having grown up on mystery novels, the task of finding my grandfather's birth parents seemed a worthy challenge. I began writing down recurring names in letters, noting whether the signature indicated someone's relationship to the recipient. In most cases, letters were written to my great grandmother, Angela McKinnon.
I thought if I could map out the McKinnon family, I would eventually figure out how they might have known my grandfather's birth parents. I was right, kind of.
I mapped the McKinnons pretty well, both on Angela's side and her husband- my great grandfather- Ralph's side. Their stories were exciting, tragic, and filled with struggle. Their connection to my grandfather's birth parents, however, was entirely unclear.
It wasn't until I got a call from my father one evening, telling me to look at one of my closest DNA match's tree on Ancestry.com, that the ball began rolling. My DNA match had the McKinnon family in her tree!
That bears repeating.
My DNA match had the McKinnons in her tree!
This didn't make any sense at all. My grandfather was adopted by the McKinnons. His last name was McInnis. How could he be related to the McKinnons?
Going back through our boxes, I found a baby picture with my DNA match's last name on the back. Again, I was more confused than ever.
If everything I had read in her tree was correct, it was likely my grandfather was the child of one of five McKinnon siblings: John, Hilda, Angela, Paul, or William.
John lived too far away, the mother was supposedly Mary J McInnis, which eliminated Hilda and Angela, so we were left with Paul and William.
I trolled my DNA matches for the zillionth time. My closest DNA match was a predicted 2nd cousin. His family tree was simply his mother and father, but his mother's name sounded familiar. I kept them in mind as I continued my research.
Finally, I had a breakthrough.
I discovered a census in which Paul McKinnon was living as a boarder in the same building as my DNA match's mother.
I messaged my match, this supposed 2nd cousin of mine, and got a response very quickly. He sent me a list of addresses. One of them was the address of Hilda.
How did he know my great Aunt Hilda's address?
We exchanged phone numbers and had a life-altering conversation. He was adopted, just like my grandfather, and he was most likely my grandfather's half brother
I was talking to my great uncle.
I had inadvertently solved his lifetime mystery while trying to solve my own.
Though I still haven't uncovered who Mary J McInnis is, or how she knew the McKinnons, I've been able to connect with amazing cousins and family I never knew I had.
Just a few months ago, our attic was the home of two lonely boxes full of photos and letters of people long since forgotten. I've put together this website to bring these wonderful people back from where time left them. I want to keep their memories alive. Their stories deserve to be heard.
Enjoy this page and I hope you'll fall in love with the McKinnons the same way I have.