Finding Great Grandfather | How I Finally Found Out Who I Am

Diahan Southard

Share with a friend: 

Finding her great grandfather wasn’t easy, but she did it. See how this DNA detective is learning to use genealogy to fill in gaps on her family tree.

This guest blog post is written by Pamela Sue Hinton, whom we met when she took the YDNA for Genealogy Course. Thank you for sharing your story, Pam!

Pamela Sue Hinton

Pamela Sue Hinton

My birth certificate states my legal name as Pamela Sue Hinton, but I’ve never identified with “Hinton.” “Hinton” always sounded boring to me. Still, that was my father’s last name and my grandfather’s last name, so that became my last name, too.

But that should never have been my last name at all.

As a kid I didn’t pay much attention to some things the adults said, but I did hear hushed stories of the difficult childhood my grandfather, Aaron Jesse Hinton, Sr, had in the early 1900’s. In fact, he wouldn’t speak of it.

Aaron Jesse Hinton (should have been McCollem!) holding his two sons, Charles and Aaron Jr (Pam’s father). Photograph taken around 1937.

Aaron Jesse Hinton (should have been McCollem!) holding his two sons, Charles and Aaron Jr (Pam’s father). Photograph taken around 1937.

Grandpa was born in December of 1904. We were told he was left on the doorstep of strangers because his parents couldn’t afford to provide for him. A couple named Alfred and Eva Hinton raised my grandfather, which is why he had the surname Hinton. It was rumored that Grandpa also had a younger brother, raised by different strangers. Somehow Grandpa knew his little brother’s name was Art Kunkle. The names of the boys’ birth parents—my great-grandparents—remained unknown.

Finding a great grandfather: A family affair

Pam with her Uncle Charles in 2017

Pam with her Uncle Charles in 2017

Grandpa died in 1991 without knowing who his birth parents were. His oldest son, my father, died in 2000. In 2016 my Uncle Charles and I started wondering about these people, the couple who gave my grandfather life, but then gave him to the Hinton family. They were my uncle’s and dad’s unknown grandparents and my unknown great-grandparents.

Uncle Charles told me one more story. In 1951, Grandpa’s foster father Alfred Hinton died. Uncle Charles was 19 years old and accompanied Grandpa to the Indianapolis funeral. While at the funeral, Eva Hinton, my grandpa’s foster mother, tried to introduce him to a woman. Eva said, “I’d like you to meet your mother,” and she said the woman’s last name was “McCullough.” Grandpa was disgusted. No, he did not want to meet the mother whom he felt had abandoned him. And so the last chance he had to know his mother (and the last chance my uncle had to know his grandmother) passed.

Who was this woman? And who was Grandpa’s birth father? Could Uncle Charles and I figure this out together?

We thought DNA analysis might lead us to relatives of the unknown birth parents we were looking for. We both tested with Ancestry.com and with 23andMe. Yes, there were interesting matches and a different family mystery was solved, but not the one concerning Grandpa’s birth parents’ identity.

Find which DNA test is best for YOU

I poked around Ancestry.com. Perhaps looking for my grandfather’s brother, Art Kunkle, could help. I found him in the 1910 census. He was 2 years old, cited as the son of Bernie and Eva Kunkle in Indianapolis, as expected. BUT…I was incredulous to find my grandfather living there, too. “Aaron Kunkle, son” was listed as 5 years old! What? My grandpa apparently lived with his brother and the Kunkles in 1910. This was news!

1910 census image from Ancestry.com.

1910 census image from Ancestry.com.

In the 1920 census, Art was still living with Bernie Kunkle in Indianapolis, but without Aaron Kunkle or Eva Kunkle, the foster mother. By then, Aaron Hinton was living with Alfred and Eva Hinton in St. Louis. How did my grandpa go from the Kunkle family in Indianapolis in 1910 to the Hinton family in St. Louis in 1920? Why was he separated from his younger brother?

Asking YDNA who his father wasSquare YDNA.png

Maybe a Y-DNA test would lead us directly to other men sharing my uncle’s paternal line. Uncle Charles graciously took a YDNA-111 test with Family Tree DNA. And this brings me to Diahan Southard’s YDNA for Genealogy Course in the summer of 2021.

Diahan Southard’s Y-DNA class helped me understand that my uncle had received not even ONE really reliable match from his YDNA-111 test. Over and over, throughout the course, Diahan would say when we hit a brick wall with our interpretation of DNA results, we need to “do genealogy!” One strategy I learned from Diahan was to search other members’ public family trees on Ancestry.com to find other people who might be researching the same individuals I was.

On July 7, 2021, I decided to search Ancestry members’ public trees for the name “Art Kunkle,” my grandpa’s younger brother. I contacted a tree owner whose tree included Art. Miraculously, he wrote me back immediately—in real time. Over the next couple of hours, we wrote back and forth through Ancestry’s personal messaging system. The truth of my unknown great-grandparents names emerged quickly. Here’s our exchange (I’m calling the Ancestry member “AM”):

AM: My great-grand aunt was married to Art Kunkle’s father, Bernie Kunkle, for a short time, then she died of pneumonia in 1903. That is the reason Art and Bernie are on my family tree. Bernie Kunkle subsequently married Eva Logan when my great-grand aunt died. I always thought both Art and Aaron were sons of Eva Logan and Bernie Kunkle.

Me: No, the two boys Art and Aaron were not sons of that couple at all, but foundlings or foster children.  The mystery I am tying to solve is who are their biological parents and why my grandfather Aaron ended up with the Hinton family instead. It is told that when my grandfather’s foster father Alfred Hinton died, his foster mother Eva Hinton tried to introduce him to his birth mother who had the last name “McCullough.”

AM: Is it possible that the last name was “McCollem” instead of “McCullough”? I ask because there was a birth listed in The Indianapolis News newspaper on December 10, 1904, for a boy born to “Marshall and Mary McCollem, 606 Coffee St. Marshall McCollem married Mary Logan on Oct. 10, 1904. Mary’s sister Eva Logan married Bernie Kunkle. So is it possible that Aaron (born Dec. 9, 1904) was Eva (Logan) Kunkle’s nephew?

Me: YES! Yes, that is possible! And I can see how my grandfather would have remembered “McCollem” as “McCullough.” And Mary Logan and Eva Logan were sisters? This makes perfect sense, thank you so much! But why would Eva give her nephew to Alfred and Eva Hinton, but keep Art? How did my grandfather end up with the Hintons in St. Louis?

AM: Earlier you said the mystery that you are trying to solve is the identity of the biological parents and how your grandfather came to live with the Hintons. I suspect it is because Eva F. (Logan) Kunkle married Alfred L. Hinton in St. Louis, Missouri, in July 1920. [AM emailed me a copy of the St. Louis Star’s notice that a marriage license had been granted to Alfred Hinton and Mrs. Eva Kunkle.] So Arthur stayed with Bernie Kunkle in Indianapolis, and Aaron went with with Eva F. Kunkle [who became Hinton] to St. Louis.

AM went on to send me copies of an Oct. 1904 Indianapolis newspaper announcing the marriage of Marshall McCollem and Mary Logan. Later he sent me a 1907 Connersville newspaper announcing that Mary Logan was suing Marshall McCollem for divorce due to desertion.

And now the mystery is solved.

From left: Pamela's dad, Aaron Jesse Hinton, Jr.; his father (supposedly left on a doorstep) Aaron Jesse Hinton, Sr.; his stepbrother Ed Mayer; and Pamela's uncle Charles Hinton. Photo taken about 1953.

From left: Pamela’s dad, Aaron Jesse Hinton, Jr.; his father (supposedly left on a doorstep) Aaron Jesse Hinton, Sr.; his stepbrother Ed Mayer; and Pamela’s uncle Charles Hinton. Photo taken about 1953.

My grandfather’s birth parents were Indianapolis teenagers Mary Logan and Marshall McCollem. The two young people married three months before my grandfather was born. Subsequently the young husband left, moving to another state. During that time, Mary’s older sister Eva Logan Kunkle took her nephew Aaron (and possibly Art) into her home, raising them as her own sons.

In 1920 Eva Logan Kunkle divorced Bernie Kunkle and married Alfred Hinton. She moved to St. Louis with her nephew, Aaron. My grandpa was not left on the doorstep of a stranger. Instead he was raised by his loving aunt, though he never knew that.

This story is the reason the surname on my birth certificate is Hinton.

And this story is the reason my surname should have been McCollem.

Next DNA steps

Square DNA Skills .png

I’ve enrolled in the DNA Skills Workshop because now I want to find and get to know McCollem and Logan relatives. I need to use mine and my uncle’s autosomal DNA results to both verify the hypothesis of Marshall McCollem and Mary Logan being my great-grandparents and find and meet descendants of both to whom I am related. I also want to verify the story elements: that my uncle and I truly are DNA related to McCollem descendants and to Logan descendants. This stuff is fun!


Thank you for sharing your story, Pamela! We appreciate you contributing to our growing series of DNA testing stories.

Learn to find your ancestors using DNA

Wish you could fill in an empty space on your family tree? Get our free downloadable guide to next steps for your DNA testing experience.

Yes, please! Free guide to finding ancestors
<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

Get More DNA Inspiration

Our free monthly newsletter delivers more great articles right to you.

10 Comments

  1. Suzanne G McClendon

    Thank you for sharing your story, Pamela. I enjoyed reading it. I am so glad that you found such a helpful person (AM) along the way!

    I love success stories!

    Reply
  2. Terri Harris

    What an interesting story! Life is complicated. Thanks for laying this out in such an understandable way. I am excited about beginning the YDNA September class! Best of luck with your research.

    Reply
  3. Vicky Roark

    Pamela,

    I am a Hinton by birth, but on my mother’s side, I have a similar story. My maternal grandfather and his sister were raised by a couple who my grandfather said were not his birth parents. Through much research and DNA, I found that my grandfather and great aunt were raised by their aunt and her second husband. I am now attempting to uncover identity of my great grandmother. I have only the birth record of my great aunt. So my grandfather and his sister may be full or half siblings. DNA is narrowing my search, but I need more DNA matches or my grandfather’s birth records.

    Thank you for your story to encourage me.

    Reply
  4. Pamela McCollem Hinton Cornwell

    Thanks to Vicky, Terri and Suzanne for responding to my personal family tree mystery story. Every situation where "missing" family members are discovered restores family connection, even though the lifetime of the unknown person is over. For me it matters whether we find the identity of those links in our own DNA chain. I encourage anyone who is searching for that precious missing information. You can do it! Vicky, keep at it, and it’s fun that you are a Hinton as well. Any chance these folks are to be found in Indianapolis?

    Reply
  5. Vicky Roark

    Pamela,

    Again, Thank you very much for the encouragement. Yes, there is a chance that our two Hinton lines are related. My line came from England and settled in Maryland. After the American Revolution, my 4th and 5th great grandfathers, traveled through Kentucky and settled in Ohio. Sons of my 3rd great grandfather moved to Indiana in the early to mid-1800’s. Their descendants settled in several locations of North Central and Central Indiana. I have not finished research on the Indiana branch of the family beyond one or two generations. So a connection is very possible.

    By the way, there are books by George Washington Hinton of Washington State, who tried to locate and document all Hintons who settled in the United States in the 1950s through 1970s. His research is in several volumes which can be found online. He contacted many other Hintons and published the collective efforts of many researchers. Unfortunately, there are no sources and some errors. But it is an remarkable achievement without the internet and a great resource for trying break down "brick walls."

    Reply
    • Pamela Hinton

      To the Hinton who commented on my story: If you know any of the names of the Hintons in your line who ended up in Indianapolis, I’d appreciate talking with you. I know names of some of the Hintons related to Alfred Hinton (step-uncle to my grandfather), so I might recognize some of them. Alfred Hinton was born in the 1880’s and I have the names of his mother and father.

      Best wishes for your research,
      Pam Hinton Cornwell

      Reply
  6. Kristine Ludwinski

    Pamela,

    I love your story! I am so glad you knocked down your brick wall to solve the mysterious parentage of your grandfather. And I love what you stated in your reply comment above about how when “missing” family members are discovered, that discovery restores family connections. I agree, even though folks from those generations often worked hard to keep those secrets buried. I think truth is the best outcome and that all descendants can benefit from it being aired at some point. I too have been working to identify my maternal great-grandfather and believe I have done so this past year, almost solely through DNA, and then follow-up genealogy research. I hope fully to verify that identity by using some of the tools from Diahan’s endogamy workshop that I am taking now, as well as her helpful DNA Guide Book that I recently purchased. All the best to you, Pamela!

    Blessings,
    Kris Ludwinski.

    Reply
    • Pamela Cornwell

      Kris…congratulations on finding the identity of your maternal great-grandfather! I know the excitement and fulfillment of figuring out “where I come from”. So happy for you! As I continue investigating documents associated with these “new” ancestors, I see patterns that I believe have continued among descendants, such as specific types of hardships. Have you found this for your family?

      I took Diahan’s endogamy workshop this summer (2021), did you? Personally, I discovered I don’t have endogamy in my tree, which then helps me trust the DNA results I’m finding. So it’s good that I took the course.

      Reply
  7. MRS MIRIAM COULSON

    I know who my great grandmother was but not who fathered my grandfather she married a year after grandfather was born but husband didnt want her son, how do I find out who great grandfather was.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Send this to a friend