DNA Mystery Solved! Great Grandpa Changed His Name

Sunny Morton

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A DNA mystery is SOLVED when Shane turned to genetic genealogy to find his great grandfather. Together, DNA + documents identified an ancestor who lived under two different names.

Shane Willard wasn’t a genealogist. He didn’t know anything about DNA testing. But he REALLY wanted to know the true identity of his paternal grandfather’s father.

“My grandfather didn’t really know where his dad came from,” Shane says. “His dad, who we knew as Frank John Willard, claimed he was from Fort Wayne, Indiana and was born in 1878. But I’ve had really good genealogists tell me that such a person didn’t exist. One genealogist told me he was a storyteller and another told me he was probably running from the law.”

DNA can (sometimes) help identify an ancestor

Shane’s friend Dwight Radford, one of the researchers helping him, told him to get his DNA tested.  “I tested through Family Tree DNA, but I didn’t know what to do with the results. Then Dwight talked to Diahan Southard, who said to have my grandfather test at Ancestry, too.” In their Coaching session, Diahan helped eliminate his grandfather’s maternal matches and identify 3-4 closer paternal matches. “She told us exactly which family line we belonged to and said we needed to do the genealogy to see exactly how we were related.”

After looking at the DNA discovery by Diahan, Dwight came up with a theory. “He thought that Frank Willard might actually be a man named Frank Goldstone, who was born in Fort Wayne in 1881-1882.” There’s a WWII (but no WWI) draft registration card for Frank Willard, and the reverse is true for Frank Goldstone. “Dwight pointed out that they reported the same birthday, just different years, and that their signatures on the draft registrations are pretty similar.”

This was a decent theory. But without any further evidence, Shane wasn’t completely convinced. The mystery sat for another 3 years until Shane watched a documentary that rekindled his interest. He asked another friend, Jean Brown, to take a fresh look at the evidence.

  • First: at Frank Goldstone’s paper trail. “We learned that Frank lived with his parents as an adult. In his 30s, he married a 15 year-old girl and they had a baby a year or two later, who was named Alice.”
  • Next: the DNA evidence. “We reached out through Ancestry to 3 of my grandfather’s matches and got no response at first. Then I thought, ‘I should try to find them on Facebook.’ Within about 10 minutes, I found and messaged one of the relatives. He promptly put me in touch with his mother. It turns out she is the granddaughter of Alice.”

Checking the genetics v. the genealogy

The granddaughter of Alice would be the great granddaughter of Frank Goldstone. If Frank Goldstone was the same man as Frank Willard, then the match would be a half great grand-nephew to Shane’s grandfather:

The next step in pursuing this theory was to check the genetic relationship against the proposed genealogical relationship of these two matches. Are they consistent? A quick check showed that the expected amount of shared DNA with a half great grand-nephew is 12-383 cM, or an average of 187 cM. Their actual amount of shared DNA is 116 cM, comfortably within range.

Ancestry’s chart of possible genealogical relationships includes a half great grand-nephew/uncle relationship on the list:

Learning more of the story from a DNA match

“I learned that Frank split right after they had the baby,” says Shane. “Frank’s wife abandoned Alice on a nurse’s doorstep in hopes that the nurse would know how to care for her premature baby. She would check in often to see her child grow up. The couple divorced not long after. A five-year gap followed, during which all trace of Frank Goldstone disappeared. But then Frank Willard surfaced and married, divorced, then eventually married Shane’s great grandmother. “He stuck around for about 16-17 years, and then took off again.”

Dwight’s original theory—that Frank Goldstone and Frank Willard were the same man—was panning out. “It came to the point where there was an overwhelming amount of evidence that Frank was my great-grandfather,” Shane says. “But as in a close election, we couldn’t declare a winner. I called Dwight again and asked, ‘How likely is it that there’s another story? That we’ve built a false narrative around this DNA evidence?’” Dwight responded that he had already closed the case three years ago and that there was no possible way it could be anyone else.

Shane called Jean, who had done mountains of research on the case by now, and asked, “Is there any possible way that there’s another equally far-fetched story out there, and that Frank Goldstone isn’t actually my great grandfather?” Her response was emphatic, “I’ve been doing this for 60 years, Shane. It’s not possible. Frank is your ancestor.”

One final piece of evidence

“As a last-ditch effort to solidify the evidence, I wanted to contact a graphologist, or handwriting expert,” Shane continues. “I found a graphologist who recommended we consult a document examiner instead. But once I explained the genealogical mystery, she couldn’t resist. ‘Send me the documents, I’ll look at them right now.’  I emailed the draft cards to her while on the phone, and she triumphantly declared, ‘This is the same person–there’s no question. Shane, there’s no question! Look at the little dot under the curvature on the K. And the way he crossed his F.  Look at these other letters. They’re all so similar.’”

DNA mystery SOLVED!

“At that point, I called the election: that’s my great-grandfather,” Shane reports. “We’ve since found and connected with other missing relatives as well.”

Not being knowledgeable about family history or DNA previously, Shane considers himself lucky to have made this discovery. “I cared a lot about knowing the truth, and I had the good fortune of having smart people, including Diahan, put into my path to help me find the answer.”

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Thank you, Shane, for sharing your inspiring DNA story!

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  1. Suzanne G McClendon

    I think this is a great story. Congratulations!

    I have a mystery, too. My matrilineal 2nd great-grandmother was allegedly adopted. Only 10 of her known descendants have tested on Ancestry. Not all of them will give me access to view their matches.

    In my Leeds chart, none of the columns appear to be pointing to her. Only one column points conclusively to my maternal grandma and, with the exception of the 10 descendants previously mentioned, all of the people in my grandma’s Leeds column only point to her father, not to her mother.

    At least one match has my 2nd great-grandma in their tree, but I feel like they have placed her incorrectly. The people they have listed as her parents did have a daughter named Margaret/Maggie, but their Maggie married a different man, died in a different year, and died in a different location.

    Her husband’s widowed grandaunt had a girl of the right age, from the right state (Alabama) living as a servant in her household in the 1880 census. This would solve the question of how my 2nd great-grandfather, who lived in Edgefield, South Carolina, ended up married to an Alabama girl. But, still, I have not been able to determine *if* this servant girl in his grandaunt’s home was his future wife.

    No matter what I do or where I look, there are roadblocks. The fact that her surname has variants that seem to be exchanged quite a bit doesn’t help matters either (Robinson, Robertson, Roberson). Even her daughters’ obituaries can’t agree on a maiden name for their mother.

    Even my mtDNA full sequence results just led to more roadblocks. My only Gen Distance 0 match at this level has a brick wall at his maternal grandma, and he is in England and, as I recall, doesn’t know of any of his family ever coming to America. I still hope that more people will do the mtDNA full sequence test so that it is helpful to more people overall.

    I think this 2nd great-grandma’s parents have offered me more than a brick wall. It’s a brick wall with a snake pit on the other side, followed by a gator-filled moat, because someone sure doesn’t want me to find the answers!

  2. Linda Hansen

    Very fascinating! I, too, have a genealogical dilemma I’m hoping DNA will help me solve.

    My 3x great grandmother, my father’s mother’s mother’s father’s mother supposedly born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada sometime around 1806, has been quite the brick wall for me. I have located her in the1840 (as a member of my 3x g grandfather’s household) 1850,1860 and 1870 US Federal Censuses as well as the 1855 and 1865 MA State Census. She passed away in Aug 1874. I know that my 3x g grandparents married in 1833, in Massachusetts and after my 2x g discharged from the army and married his first wife, the family moved to Richland County, Wisconsin about 1866.
    So far, in checking my DNA matches on Ancestry, I have come across one match that I can’t determine which side of the family she belongs to. Could she possibly be a descendant of my 3x g grandmother’s siblings? I don’t remember if she has a tree…

    • Diahan Southard

      If you have already sorted your known matches, and this match is not sharing DNA with those known matches, then yes! Very likely this match connects to an unknown line. If you are unsure if you have grouped your matches correctly, I do teach you how to do that in my book. http://www.yourDNAguide.com/thebook.


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