My DNA Journey – MyHeritage DNA and Other Tools

As everyone knows there are a ton of companies that do DNA testing now. Prices vary but you can usually get them on sale for around $100.00 after tax.

I started with MyHeritage, then Ancestry and after meeting with the Adoption Disclosure, 23 and me and my mother did Ancestry as well. A lot of people asked me if I was concerned about having my DNA ‘out there’. For people with an adoption story in a province with closed records it is the single best tool in finding out who you are. Also, every time you eat out you give your DNA up for free. It’s on the glass, the fork and any other object you have handled. If someone had a reason to want get it, it wouldn’t be difficult. Most of us have no reason to fear it being out there, we haven’t done anything to worry about and all companies will let you delete it.

I ordered the kit online and it took a few days to arrive. You do a simple swab of the inside of your cheek and send it off. It took about four weeks for the results to come back.

There is a lot of information in your results and honestly it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Where do you start? For me I started with the Ethnicity Estimate, where half of it was completely foreign it made sense to understand that before looking at the matches. Your matches come from all over the world, understanding the migration patterns and reasons for migration of your ancestors explains why your results may be so spread out. It’s also important to remember that before stumbling across what we now know as South and North America, Europeans were highly migratory across their own continent as well. Understanding migration is critical to understanding your ancestry.

I was absolutely astounded to find out that so much of my ancestry was North and West European.

MyHeritage Map

I knew nothing about why the Scots ended up in Nova Scotia and Scandinavian, well that was really surprising – still is. These findings led me to researching Scottish history and the Highland Clearances in particular. What a brutal time to be Scottish, they certainly haven’t had the easiest of histories.

Once I got through that I went to the matches. That is probably the most overwhelming part, there were over 3000 at the beginning. That number has grown to be in excess of 9000 now. What I learned very quickly was to minimize what I wanted to see. I don’t bother with anything beyond third to fifth cousin matches unless I have a specific reason to look. It’s too much if you try to review them all. I employ that same rule for my tree as well, stick to direct line relatives. The tree will become really unmanageable if you try to include everyone.

After that I did a dump of all my data to a spreadsheet and eliminated those I knew for sure were from my fathers side. That left me with some good matches to begin my research. The MyHeritage database was a good starting point but I have to say findagrave.com quickly became my best friend. Headstones are a wealth of information as are obituaries if you can find them. Note: Most newspapers have an archive department that you can request old obituaries if you have the name and approximate death date. You may have to pay a nominal fee, but it is worth it.

Both the headstone and obituary can give you birth and death dates, spouse, children , parents, where they lived and died and so much more. With this information internet searches are much easier, the more information you have the better the results you will get and verify.

I used the Nova Scotia Vital Statistic Genealogy tool a lot as well. The online information is limited by date but you can make written requests for dates that aren’t online. I haven’t done this yet but I do plan to.

NS Genealogy

Also very useful were church records and the Library and Archives Canada site. There is a wealth of information there, for the most part I have been working with the census records.

Using just these tools I was able to map my mother’s maternal birth side back to the mid-1600’s. The paternal side however was still a mystery and it stayed that way for many months. I had some inklings as to the identity of the paternal side but nothing I could say for certain.

At this point we were at a stand still while we waited to meet with Adoption Disclosure, so I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test while we waited. That was the turning point in discovering the birth paternal information.

One thing everyone who does a DNA test should know is that these companies don’t share the results. The only results you see are from others who have tested with the same company. So if you test on Ancestry and I test on MyHeritage and we are related, you won’t see it. We have to use the same company, which is why the Adoption folks recommended we do as many as possible. I have also uploaded our results to GEDMatch, FTDNA, and Geni which are free matching services.

It would be nice if there was a shared database somewhere just for adoptees and relatives searching. One can only wonder how many connections are missed because people don’t understand that information is not shared.

Another note is that a lot data in the data bases is user driven, so if it is entered incorrectly you may not see it. You really need to look and be patient when going through your research results. I personally can get lost in it for hours. You have to get into the details of the records.

I will forever be grateful to MyHeritage for starting me on this journey. I find it the easiest of the three of I have to use. If I hadn’t taken that one step back in 2018 to order the test we would be where we are today. I don’t for a single second regret it. Everyone has a right to know their story, no matter what the government says.

If you are out there and wondering if doing a DNA test will help you, I say yes. Even if you aren’t adopted the results can be interesting. I found out I was related to my sister-in-laws ex-husband and a co-worker. There are fun little things like that in your results as well.

 

Road Trip – Moncton and Saint John

We go to New Brunswick quite a bit. Normally we don’t get much beyond Moncton so for this trip we decided to switch it up. It had been 27 years since we visited Saint John and we figured it was probably time to go back.

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We started the trip at the Hotel Casino New Brunswick.

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I had a free room there so it was as good a place to start.  Our room was fabulous!

We ate supper at the Hub City Pub. The food there is always excellent!

After a fun night at the Casino we got up early to head to the Fundy Coastal Drive route. The drive to Saint John isn’t that far from Moncton, so we decided to take the scenic route and see as much as we could.

Our first stop was the world famous Hopewell Rocks, one of the many places along the Bay of Fundy where you are able to experience the world’s highest tides. At low tide you can literally walk on the ocean floor. We were there at mid-tide.

From there we headed to Cape Enrage, stopping from time to time along the way to take in the beautiful scenery.

Then off to the Fundy National Park.

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From there we went to Saint John where we had a room booked at the very nice Chateau Saint John.

Once we were settled we set out to explore the downtown area. It really had changed since we were last there.

During the drive my husband had mentioned something about a ferry between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I had never heard of such a thing, but figured why not look it up. Turns out he was right (don’t tell him I said that, it’ll go to his head!). Seeing as how it was something we had never done before and there was a possibility that we could see whales during the 2.25 hour trip we booked it. Any opportunity I get to maybe see a whale, I am in!

I couldn’t have been more surprised at how nice it was. It was well worth what we paid and I would do it again. We didn’t see any whales, but the scenery and views were still spectacular.

After landing in Digby we headed straight for home, we had a long drive ahead.

Saint John surprised me. I am so happy we went and I think next time we will do more than a one nighter. I really would like to go whale watching out of Saint John. We’ve done it out of Digby and it was awesome, I can only imagine off of Saint John would be just as good!

Our Newfoundland Visit – Days 3 and 4

Days 3 and 4 of our Newfoundland trip were amazing!

As luck would have it my husband’s cousin and his wife offered to spend the day taking us to the places we wanted to see.

They saved us renting a car and we got to see so many things we wouldn’t have known of otherwise!

Our first stop after leaving St. John’s was Witless Bay. We stopped at a lovely spot called the Irish Loop Coffee House. It reminded me of my grandmother so much! While we were there we met a lady who pointed out a baby beluga whale. Apparently (and you can google it for the full story) the whale strayed from it’s mother and came into the harbour a few weeks ago. It adopted a Zodiac boat as a surrogate mother. When the boat left it’s mooring the baby left, when it returned so did the baby. We watched as it rubbed itself along the boat.  The Department of Fisheries was monitoring the situation and the baby was healthy and eating. It was a bit of an emotional scene to watch.

Our next stop was Ferryland. Settled in 1621 Ferryland was established as a fishing station in the late 16th century. It is home to the 17th century Colony of Avalon. Archeological digs have been happening at the site for years and we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to a few of the student archeologists!

From there we headed to Mistaken Point. This location is home to some of the oldest fossils on earth and is the only place where you can see 565 million year old sea floors that show the diversity of life during that period. Unfortunately, we didn’t know that you could only see the site by guided tour which had already left by the time we arrived. We did get to visit the Interpretive Centre which showed a DVD and a few exhibits. There were a few casts in the Centre which were incredible. I can only imagine how amazing the actual site is.

Next up was Cape Race.  If you know anything about Titanic, you know this is where her distress signal was received and information on her sinking was passed to the world.

Our last stop for the day was to cliffs overlooking Topsail Beach for sunset. So beautiful!

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After a long day we were all pretty wiped. When they dropped us off they offered again to pick us up the next day so we could see Cape Spear and Petty Habour. Boy am I glad we said yes!

First stop on our last day was Cape Spear, the eastern most point of North America.

Our last spot for this trip was the beautiful Petty Harbour, where the 1977 movie ‘Orca’ was filmed. Here we talked to fishermen who answered all our questions and just embodied what I see as true Newfoundlanders.

After leaving Petty Harbour we stopped for a wonderful lunch at Keith’s Diner and then off to the airport to say good bye.

We had an amazing trip and crammed as much as we could into 4 days. We easily could have added another 2 days. Big thank you to our buddy Dave and my husbands cousin Roger and his wife Michelle for helping us make this trip as great as it was. I can’t wait to return!

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Till we meet again Newfoundland!

Our Newfoundland Visit – Days 1 and 2

My husband and I like to plan a few trips over the summer months. Most are day or short one night trips but we always make sure to do one big trip. This year we decided to visit St. John’s, Newfoundland – a place neither of us had been before.

We talked to lots of folks while we were planning and the Murray Premises Hotel came highly recommended. As fate would have it, I found a Groupon for the hotel that saved us quite a bit of money.  We flew Porter with carry on only, as we did last year, and again it was fine. We upgraded our seats for the trip home, totally worth it.

Murray Premises was originally built in 1846 as a collection of mercantile buildings related to the fishing industry and sits right on the waterfront. In May of 2001 it became a hotel and has grown several times since then.

Being that we arrived in St. John’s at suppertime our first stop had to be the George St area!

The next day was all about site seeing.

Whale watching with Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours.

And finally Signal Hill and Quidi Vidi.

And of course we finished the night off on George St. listening to fabulous Newfoundland entertainment!

Next up, days 3 and 4. We fit in everything we could to this trip!

My DNA Journey – The Paternal Side

Before getting too into my mother’s story, it’s only right that I talk about my father’s a bit.  It too provided some interesting discoveries and honestly some of the information I found on the internet was heartbreaking.

Growing up I always knew we were of Acadian descent. The beauty of being Acadian is that your history is so well documented. My DNA results made it easy for me to build my family tree on that side. So far I have been able to trace my roots to a direct ancestor who was born in 1570 at Pouilly-en-Auxois, Cote-d’Or, Burgandy France.

For those who may not know who the Nova Scotia Acadians were, they were French settlers primarily from Aunis, Saintonge and Poitou in France.  They first arrived in Nova Scotia around 1603, with the first permanent settlement being established in 1632. My first ancestors arrived around 1644. Two of their children were baptized at Port Royal.

Acadian

The Acadian people got along well and lived quite harmoniously with the local Mi’kmaq populations. The Acadians were skilled farmers, fishermen, and dike builders. They lived in relative peace for the times until 1755 when what has become known as the ‘Expulsion of the Acadians’ started. In a nutshell for several years, the British by any and all means possible, forcibly and inhumanely removed the Acadian people from their families, lands and homes in Nova Scotia. If you ever have the opportunity to read testimony or archive stories from this event you should. It is utterly devastating to read what these people endured and should serve to remind us that we cannot allow those sort of atrocities on our watch.

The Acadians in many cases were separated from family and ended up scattered throughout other coastal areas of the US and Canada. Some were helped by the Mi’kmaq and were able to safely hide in Nova Scotia. In 1763 the war ended and the survivors began to return, reunite with family and start life over. My people went to Cape Breton where many of them still live today.

Acadians are a very proud people and driving across the Maritimes you will see their flag and symbols proudly displayed. This is my fathers paternal history.

His maternal history turned out to be quite a surprise. His mother’s people were generally from the Sheet Harbour, NS and Murray River, PEI areas. For some reason that I don’t know they had always assumed she was solely of German descent.  She was not, her family was as much Scottish as it was German. With names like William Wallace Spears and Robert Bruce Spears in the tree it was pretty obvious her father’s family were Scottish.  They arrived in Nova Scotia in the mid to late 1700’s. Her mother’s family were German and they too settled in Sheet Harbour as well as Lunenburg in the mid-late 1700’s. When I told my aunt this, she had no idea. Like the rest of us she only ever heard details for the Acadian side of our family story.

So as it turns out my brothers and I are a whole lot more Scottish than we ever could have guessed. With my mother’s both maternal and paternal ethnicity being Scottish and my father being at least 1/4 Scottish, there is a lot to work with.  Trust me, I plan to.

As I was going through my DNA matches I was able to actually identify relatives that my mother and father have in common. Thankfully they are several generations removed but none the less it is interesting and something I plan to look into more.

I read somewhere that if you go back six generations we will all find that we have a relative in common somewhere, so far that has been true. In a small province like Nova Scotia where immigration was so heavily encouraged by the powers that be of that time period I don’t think it would be much of a surprise to find that many of us have relatives in common. For those families, like mine, who have been here for hundreds of years it is not uncommon to also find Mi’kmaq ancestors. We are all connected in some way.

Nova Scotia is a wonderful melting pot of different cultures and I hope we continue to be for years and years to come.

Next up, I delve into the journey that is DNA testing and adoption.

 

 

My DNA Journey – The Beginning

There are all kinds of journey’s we take during our time on this earth. Some take us to new places, some come from the pages of a book or they joy of watching a well made visual production.  Each is a unique and wonderful experience.

Over the last year or so though, I found myself on a personal journey so fulfilling it caught me totally off guard.

I have mentioned in a few posts that I did a DNA test through MyHeritage in 2018, but I haven’t gone into too much detail. Lately I have been reading a lot of stories from people who are going through similar searches. I thought I would share my journey and maybe give someone else hope that even when it seems impossible you can find answers, but be prepared to accept that some of those answers may not be what you want them to be.

My father passed away in 2013. When he died I took all his personal papers to my home so I could go through them as I felt up to it. Some things I went through right away and others I set aside. In 2018 I decided to go through a folder he had on family history. Initially I didn’t see much that I didn’t already know but then on one page was a name that stopped me in my tracks. It was my mother’s birth mother. He had been doing research on finding information about her. I was shocked. I had no idea he was doing that, no one did.

I have always known that my mother was adopted, she was very open about it and of course as her children got older and into serious relationships she had done what checking she could to make sure there were no blood relations. You would think that would be easy to do but it’s not. In Nova Scotia adoptee’s are only provided with limited information and none of it can be identifying, unless the birth parent(s) ok’s it. It is very frustrating to say the least. Even trying to get detailed family medical history is impossible.

Anyway, after finding my father’s papers I decided I wanted to do a DNA test. I wanted to know who I am, what is my mother’s history and who were her people. The curiosity and need to know consumed me.

I researched the different companies and decided on MyHeritage. The results were surprising to be honest. I had no idea I was Scottish, and not just a little bit – on three sides. We grew up always focused on our Acadian heritage, but clearly we were so much more.

Initially I kept the fact that I did the test a secret, but then as people started messaging me wanting to know how we were related I thought maybe I should say something. So I told my mother and much to my surprise she wanted to do one as well.  I was all over that like a wet towel. I also had my adult children do one as well to improve the quality of the matches.

At that time she also gave me what information she had on her birth mother and then decided to call adoption services to see if there was anything knew. Much to her surprise, they told her they could now release everything to her. We had no idea why or what changed, but as it turns out once the birth parent(s) has died if you request it you can get it. I wish we had known that 10 years ago. The lady at adoption services told us it would be a few months to get everything together and they would be in touch.

While we waited for the DNA results I put my investigator hat on and went to work with the little bit I had. The internet is a wonderful tool for situations like this and sites like findagrave.com are so helpful. Nova Scotia Vital Statistics also has online genealogy search tools that were beyond helpful.

I found the graveyard where her birth mother, and several other family members, were buried. My husband and I took a drive up one day last summer to visit. It’s an odd thing, but it is the only way we can ever connect with her/them. It is the only way we will ever meet. I can’t really explain it, but I think other’s in this situation will understand.

After doing some research I was able to get a copy of her birth mother’s obituary.  From that I know who her husband was and her other children’s names. At the time my mother was born her birth mother already had a two year old daughter, this is something we’ve always known, and then after she married she had an additional five children. Her birth mother also had a brother (died in late 2018) and sister, who is still living. Through the wonders of social media I was able to find pictures of some of these folks which opened up a whole other bunch of questions, most importantly – who does my mother look like?

Imagine for a second that your whole life you have never known who you look like or take after? Imagine for a second that you never may. It’s something that seems so small but really is quite significant.

We haven’t contacted any of her birth mother’s family, we don’t intend to. I will share the reasons for that in a future post. However, if they contact us we certainly are open to it.

Adoption is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong. My mother was raised in a loving family. My grandparents were incredible people, I have so much more respect for them after going through all of this. They really were amazing. My aunt and uncle are clearly products of their parents. She was very lucky to have such a wonderful family. However, adoption does rob the adoptee of their identity and in a lot of cases leads to a lifetime of insecurity – why wasn’t I wanted? Those of us who were secure in a loving environment have never had to deal with that. We can truly never understand those emotions.

My mother never outwardly wanted to meet her birth mother, just didn’t want to risk it I guess, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want to know and maybe someday have the option. I think that adoptee’s rights really need to be considered during the adoption process. Who speaks for the future interests of the child? Someone needs to.

I’ve learned a lot through this process and will continue to share my story in my next few posts.

I will finish this post by saying, if you are adopted do the DNA test and don’t give up searching.  One small door opening may lead to a flood of others.  It most certainly did for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort

We first discovered Akumal Bay in 2010. We had hired a driver to take a group of us there but it was a windy day and we ended up at Yal Ku Lagoon instead.  Really wanting to see it my husband and I returned on our own another day.  It was so worth it, but who knew that it would lead us to where we are today.

The Akumal Beach Resort, as it was known at that time, has always had a very loyal following.  It was a three star beach resort that was ridiculously expensive, for what it was, and almost impossible to book.  Very few suppliers even sold it in Canada.  But where we had heard about it from so many people we had to see it for ourselves.  So we visited the town and then, after fulfilling his dream of snorkeling with the turtles of Akumal Bay, we headed off to walk the beach.

The beach itself was beautiful.  Not riddled with resorts, very natural feeling.

Akumal Beach Resort was pretty much as we expected. Nice place with fantastic beach but way over priced.

In 2012 the resort began a major renovation and we started to watch it closely.  After a few years it really seemed like it had come into it’s own and we started looking for packages.  But low and behold, this resort is not for the last minute booker – which we used to be.  It sells out for the period we travel every year. In 2016 I was determined and I watched closely for something within our price range and finally got it for 2017.  That first trip was amazing.  You read reviews and wonder how much of what they say is true but with this place 95% of what we read was bang on.  When we went in 2018 we were astounded that it was better than the 2017 trip and again this year we were overwhelmed with how they continue to maintain such a high standard of customer service.  In my opinion it is the number one thing this place has over any other place we have been.  The Majestic Colonial in Punta Cana and the Decameron Club Caribbean in Jamaica are the only other places we have been to in all our travels that even come close to the same level of customer service as Akumal Bay.

Now this resort is most definitely not for everyone.  There is no glitz no glam no marble statues or towering fountains, it is pure simple elegance with a strong focus on wellness and being environmentally conscious.  There aren’t 2000 rooms spread out over a vast area, there are 310 ocean view rooms spread out over four beachfront buildings.  There no cheesy nightly shows, it’s a live band and dancing every night.  There’s a disco, but we’ve never managed to find time to get there.  There’s no swim up bar, thus the pool is very clean – honestly who is there for the pool anyway.  There are several pool/beach bars and pool/beach service so your never without a beverage.

Guests are generally happy and very friendly.  You see the same faces over and over so you feel like you know each other and you can easily make all the friends (or none) that you want.  We found this with other small-medium resorts we’ve been too as well.  It’s a very ‘homey’ feeling.  It feels good.

From the moment you arrive

and see your room (pictures are of regular junior suite, penthouse junior suite and corner junior suite)

You know you’re in for a treat.

From the drinks

To the food

To the buffet

and many other spots around the resort

There really is something for everyone.  And while for my husband it’s the snorkeling

For me it’s the views.  From sunrise to sunset they don’t disappoint.

Whether it is sipping on a coffee watching the sunrise or filling the tub and watching the stars with a glass of wine, it just feels so peaceful.  For a little while all the stresses of the world are gone.

The only bad thing I can say is that we are now very spoiled.  We measure all resorts based on the standard Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort has set.  And let me tell you that has proven to be a real challenge when it comes to short listing places for our annual southern escape.

I think there is a fit for everyone when it comes to traveling.  A place that fits you as well as you fit it.  I truly believe when you find it you know.

We will try other places again, the world is too big not too, we just need to find something that will make us as happy as we are at Akumal Bay.  Until then, I guess we’ve found our home away from home.

Dreaming of being able to wear flip flops in the sand everyday.