The Cousins I Almost Never Knew

dna-1500076_1920DNA can be a blessing and a curse for genealogists.  Wait, let me back up here.   A curse, outside non-paternal events, in that with DNA comes a mountain of match results that tend to get lumped in to the mounting “to-do” pile along with all the other ancestor research leads and BSO’s.   Dividing time between these 3 categories in addition to beating our heads against brick walls is a genealogical juggling match that can make even the most organized genealogist disorganized.

In the last year making contact with DNA matches has taken on a new level of emotions for me.  A little over a year ago Felicia, contacted me about a DNA match she held with my mother. She was diligently searching for her birth parents. Without a family tree, the question of “how are we related?” was a needle in a DNA haystack, but also a mystery I wanted to help where I could.  The journey became a DNA learning experience that has brought cousins, once unknown to each other, together to collaborate on this genetic journey.  Cousins that may or may not have connected had it not been for Felicia.

connect-20333_1920As several of us cousins spent time comparing the surnames within our trees,  reviewing matches, triangulating and reaching out to our matches there was one surname I really felt held the strongest potential to be the link that bound us.  Some of our other cousins who were also experienced genealogists felt we were likely on the right track.  After months of research the evidence revealed our common surname connection to Felicia was through the Bailey line.

While this information brought great new revelations and emotions to our adoptee cousin as she discovered more about her birth father and family, the DNA journey on the Bailey branch for me was about to take another turn.  The experience of being involved with my new found cousins and helping another  cousin gain answers was very rewarding.   However in the window of just six short weeks this genealogist would gain a new perspective when it comes to DNA cousin leads.

book-1738607_1920The next chapter begins on 03 September 2016 when I reached out to a match who had appeared on several cousins lists that aligned with the Bailey surname.  As I worked his match and compared our trees I was not only pleasantly surprised to see where our lines matched up, but in fact they matched not once, not twice, but three times!  Yes, we were triple cousins, hence the larger match to me than the others in our cousin group.   Fully prepared for the “waiting game” that often comes with DNA outreach I had a great surprise when he wrote me back the same day.   He too was excited and “re-inspired” as he stated, to get back into his genealogy and DNA work.   Beyond the commonality of our matches we hit it off like we had known one another for years.

Joe and I shared 2 sets of great grandparents, his 2nd great grandparents and my 3rd great grandparents, with one of those sets being shared twice!

The nature of multiple points of kinship can get confusing even when it is your family.  So for the sake of clarity and before more dynamics of this story unfold here is how this triple cousins come together.


Bailey & Burkhart Cousin Connection

On the Bailey side his great grandfather John Staton Bailey and my 2nd great grandmother Stacy Bailey were siblings.  Stacy has been a brick wall for me, so in the back of my mind I was selfishly hoping to learn more about her and what appears to be an early death before age 33.  Stacy & John’s father, James C. “Jim” Bailey had signed up for the Civil War alongside our other common great grandfather (2x Joe, 3x me),  George Charles Burkhart.  Joe’s great grandmother, Perlina Burkhart had married John Staton Bailey, while her brother,  James S. Burkhart, my 2nd great grandfather, had married Stacy Bailey, John Stanton’s sister. The third connection comes from Rebecca Burkhart, the sister of James S. and Perlina who married into a line that would become Joe’s paternal grandmother’s parents.   Confused yet?

kentucky-82122_1280Both the Bailey & the Burkhart families were deeply rooted in the Harlan, Kentucky area for 3 to 4 generations.These two families must have been very close to one another. And I would imagine increasingly so after the death of James C. “Jim” Bailey during the Civil War  as the families may have draw closer to one another to get through the rough days that lay ahead.

The Bailey/Burkhart cousins, aka Joe & myself, were feeling good about finding each other and discovering more about our ancestors and what information we had that the other one may not have known.  One time Joe said “Hey, you know there was a TV show based in the town of Harlan?”.  I said “Yes!  Justified, it’s a great show, have you seen it?”  Well the answer was “no, not yet” so naturally I went on to harass Joe for not having watched the series and told him it was a must-see when your kinfolk come from Harlan.

Though no longer in Kentucky, Joe still lived close to the area where our ancestors had raised their families. Over the weeks I came to learn more about Joe and his interests, past careers, his crazy humor, his love of family and of God.  While genealogical relationship charts put us at 3rd cousins, once removed…three times, it felt as if we had already known each other.  Maybe a deeper DNA characteristic that one day we’ll come to understand.

I found it amazing, from what initially appeared to be a standard act of reaching out to a DNA connection had turned into this natural, easy-going friendship that was a blast, or as we say down here in the South, a real hoot!


Then as fast as we connected, it was over.  On 16 October 2016 Joe suddenly passed away.

I can’t quite put into words the feeling of loss because it wasn’t like one I had experienced before. It was not like that of losing a close family member, but it also wasn’t how you feel when you hear of someone passing that you knew.  It was somewhere in the middle.  A disappointing huge void was left…, sadness for his family…, sadness that he and I would no never be able to share more of our heritage and our ancestors.

So how did gaining cousins and losing one change this genealogist?  It has made DNA far more than matching up cM’s, segments, haplogroups and documentation. Like the four points on a compass it has given me direction.

DNA is more than just a research fact, rather it is about the journey of discovery and those you meet along the way.  Not every cousin will have that special connection or friendship to go with the genealogical connection. But when it does happen embrace & cherish the gift of cousins!

In loving memory of cousin Joe V. Bailey (1949- 2016).


©2016 Sondra Bass Hawkins