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DNA and Google Maps: Breaking Through Brick Walls to Reveal a Love Story

I hope this post will both inspire you to push through brick walls and tug at your heart strings. My cousins agreed to let me share this amazing story.

Two years ago, I reached out to a DNA match who was part of a genetic cluster appearing to connect to my Boyd/McMasters line, which as my readers know, I am actively researching. During our conversations, my cousin Bill revealed that one of his great grandfathers was unknown. A common situation in many of our family trees. Eager to find out how we connected, I offered to research Bill’s brick wall hoping that it might shed light on my own brick wall. 

Bill agreed to share his father’s list of Ancestry.com DNA matches with me. He told me the only two pieces of information that he knew about the birth of his grandmother Sarah, who is pictured to the left – Sarah was born in 1917 in Camden, New Jersey, and the last name of her father might have been Kennedy. 

To organize this wonderful tale of research strategies and lost love, the blog post is divided into three parts – DNA, Google Maps, and the love story. 

Part 1 – DNA Matches

I started the project by systematically analyzing Bill’s father’s DNA matches looking for the cluster of matches associated with his father’s unknown grandfather. Using the Leeds Method, I was able to quickly identify clusters of DNA matches associated with each of his father’s grandparent lines as shown in the image below. 

The “red cluster” in the above image was the group of DNA matches associated his unknown grandfather. Consistent with what Bill’s grandmother Sarah had said, the cluster contained several close Kennedy matches whose ancestors had also resided in Camden. 

At the time, the closest DNA matches with public trees were a group of Kennedys who descended from an Albert M. Kennedy, who was born to William M. Kennedy and Frances Allaband in 1893. After some research, I learned that both William and Frances had remarried by 1900. In 1895, William married Nellie I. Brown, and in 1896, Frances married Francis C. Jones. With this information in hand, I searched for evidence of other Kennedys, Allabands, Browns, and Jones within the unknown red DNA cluster I had previously identified. I was looking for evidence of which ancestral couple might be an ancestor for Bill’s father.

I found no evidence of other Allaband or Jones matches other than those descending from Frances Allaband and William Kennedy. However, I did find evidence of other Kennedy and Brown matches, who were a couple of generations earlier than William Kennedy and Nellie Brown. Encouraged by this evidence, I built a private tree within Ancestry to see if I could connect these DNA matches with Kennedy and Brown ancestors for William and Nellie.

Using U.S. census records, church records, and birth/death records and guided by other online family trees, I was able to connect many of the DNA matches in the cluster to William Kennedy’s line and others to Nellie Brown’s line as outlined the image below. It seemed that Kennedy and Brown were the ancestral couple of interest for my cousin!

In studying this couple, I learned that William and Nellie (Brown) Kennedy had three children – two boys and one girl and lived in Camden. Of the two boys, a Newspaper.com search revealed that one had died in 1915 (John) leaving only one to be the likely father of Sarah, who was born in 1917. DNA indicated that William was the likely candidate to be Bill’s great grandfather, but could I place William near Bill’s great grandmother Catherine?

Part 2 – Google Maps

Within the 1915 New Jersey state census, I found both families residing on Liberty Street in Camden. Using Google Maps (see below), I observed that their homes were one block away from each other! Although the 1920 U.S. census indicated that both families had moved away from Liberty Street, the 1915 state census was enough to suggest they could have known one another. Combined with the DNA evidence, I was confident I had found the right family.

Part 3 – A Love Story Revealed

There’s an expression we have all heard. If you only hear one side of the story, you’re missing the other half. The story as I have begun to tell is incomplete.

Recall that the only information my cousin Bill knew was that his grandmother Sarah was adopted by other family members. The mother was known, of course, but the family knew nothing about his grandmother’s father other than that his name might have been Kennedy. 

The DNA and geographical research confirmed the identity of the father as William Kennedy, but it wasn’t until Bill contacted some of his newly identified cousins that the picture became much more complete.

As it turned out, William Kennedy’s other children from his later family had heard him speak of an earlier “love of his life”, but like my cousin Bill, they knew nothing more other than the couple were not able to marry because William was drafted into World War I where he served as a Corporal (see picture below). 

As the story suggests, William Kennedy and Bill’s great grandmother Catherine never got back together after the war, and it is unknown whether they wrote letters to one another during his absence. In fact, it is quite possible that William never knew Catherine was pregnant in 1916. Regardless, William and Catherine lived wonderfully happy lives having families of their own, which is not to discount the time they shared together prior to the war. 

What is special about this story is that William talked about Catherine with his other children suggesting the importance of his relationship with her. Also, Bill’s family knew something of the relationship, too, as they had knowledge of William’s surname but nothing else. While we can never truly know all the circumstances of their relationship, we have answered some of the family’s questions and added substance and context to their previously half-told stories. Genealogical research tools and collaboration among families, who did not know the other existed, have brought light to this wonderful love story.

For me, it was an honor to have helped Bill identify his great grandfather and to confirm for the children and grandchildren of William Kennedy that the stories they heard as children were true and not imagined. Ironically, Bill’s brick wall turned out to be the line on which he and I connect. However, I’m still sorting through the DNA matches and research to determine our exact connection. Like other expressions we have all heard – patience is a virtue and only time will tell how we are connected.


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Published by Rick T Wilson, PhD

As the Family Pattern Genealogist™, I detect and analyze patterns in genealogically relevant data using DNA and other traditional records.

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