So you’re thinking about testing your DNA or the DNA of an elderly relative. Whichever company you use and for whatever reason you want to test. You need to think carefully before you test.
As a researcher of my own tree, it’s great news that you’re thinking about testing. The more people who DNA test themselves and/or their relatives, the bigger the database and the more cousins we discover and connect with.
DNA testing is a great tool to help research your family tree. It helps connect you with cousins who are also passionate about researching their tree. Who might have knowledge that can help you break down your brick walls. As well as confirming your paper trail is correct.
But, before you take that step… are you prepared for what it might unveil?
You see, years ago, illegitimacy was a HUGE thing and having a child out of wedlock had a stigma attached to it. A stigma which would follow both mother and child. Marriage was also very important to our ancestors and anyone who didn’t marry or had a child out of wedlock faced a lot of condemnation from their parish. We believe our ancestors were all prim and proper and there were few illegitimate births, but it wasn’t like that. I was shocked at how many illegitimate children I have in my own tree.
The Law would sometimes punish unmarried mothers. Women were imprisoned, on average, to a year’s hard labour beating hemp for having children out of wedlock. Men, if they were found and punished, would only serve three months imprisonment for their part.
Even in the 1960s, the year of free love, it was a shame to be hidden. With families going to great lengths to hide illegitimacy. It was quite common for the grandmother to pretend that it was their child. Eastenders even got into the act with the Kat and Zoe bombshell.
Shockingly, contraceptives and the pill, have only been around since 1961. Until 1967, it was only available for married women.
My Story – Illegitimacy
I remember the day I found out my uncle was actually my half brother and the tears from my mum as she told me her deepest darkest secret. The one I guess that she hoped I would never know. Not because she didn’t want to acknowledge him as her son, far from it. Her biggest fear was that I would hate her and judge her for having a baby with someone else and out of wedlock.
I’ll admit I was confused. It was a lot to take in for a 16-year-old. To suddenly find your cool uncle, who was only 12 years older, was your brother. It was 1992 and illegitimacy was a lot more common and accepted than it was in 1966 when my brother was born.
Back then, my mum was looked down on and judged for being a teenage mum. She wasn’t even allowed to make decisions for herself, let alone her baby. She came out of the hospital to find my grandmother had named the baby and was treating him as though he was her son. She felt judged and hated, treated like she didn’t matter and that she was easy or a slut. People looked down on her and thought she was a bad person. She worried that I would feel the same way, that I would hate her and judge her. She didn’t want to lose my love, support and respect.
I remember her sobbing as she told me and I couldn’t understand why. To me, it was no big deal. I knew girls my age who had had babies, I’d even discussed with my mum what would happen if I fell pregnant as a teen. It didn’t bother me, it didn’t make me think less of my mum. In fact, it actually brought us closer as we had a heart to heart. She was able to tell me about her difficult and abusive childhood and relationship and why she had made the decisions she had. I became even more proud of her and how she had overcome all she did to become the loving mother I knew so well and it brought us a lot closer.
I’ll admit I found it hard at first, trying to understand why she didn’t raise him as her own. My generation was more open about illegitimacy and teenage pregnancy, in fact it’s become the norm nowadays and even my eldest was born before I married his father
Yet It took a lot of courage for my mum to tell me about those dark days, with an abusive boyfriend and abusive mother and step-father. It was in the 60s as well and I was shocked to learn that the contraceptive that we take for granted these days, wasn’t available and was illegal. Not to mention abortion was illegal as well with many women dying in back-alley clinics.
I look back and I’m glad my mum was able to open up honestly and tell me. I never judged her and I loved her even more, which I told her. In fact, my first words afterwards were… “Uncle S is my brother??? Does this mean he’ll beat up M (my full brother) for me???”
I was lucky. My mum was able to tell me herself. I cannot imagine how much harder it would have been had I discovered this secret via DNA testing. Especially if she was no longer here to tell me the whys that I desperately needed to know.
For a friend of mine, this is how she found out. She contacted me for advice with her Ancestry DNA results as she was confused by what they were telling her. Her results showed she had a half-brother, but his father was a name she didn’t recognise. My friend had never known her dad but had been given a name when she was younger that she believed to be her father.
When her DNA results gave her such unexpected results, she was in full denial that the results could be true. We spoke at length and I encouraged her to speak to her mother, who thankfully was still alive. At first, her mother repeated that this man couldn’t be her father but the man she had previously named was. Despite the shared matches, the DNA matches which matched her and her brother, she was still adamant that it couldn’t be true. That her mother wouldn’t lie to her about who her father was!
A few days later, my friend contacted me with “I guess DNA doesn’t lie!” Her mother had broken down in tears and confessed she had had a one night stand with both men and she hadn’t known which man was her father. She had been terrified to tell her daughter and feared her daughter would hate her. Just like my mum had been too scared to tell me! This was in the 1940s, so even more of a scandal and even harder for her mother to tell her daughter after so many years!
Now, she is slowly coming to terms with her results. Thankfully, her brother welcomed her with open arms and they are slowly developing a friendship and getting to know each other. Sadly, she will never meet her father but through her brother she will learn about him.
Not all discoveries end this way. Sometimes people are in denial and will delete their results rather than admit their relative might have an illegitimate child. It’s even harder for the older generation who were taught that illegitimacy was a shame and a stigma that never goes away.
This is why you need to think long and hard about whether you are prepared to face the answers that DNA might reveal, about yourself and your relatives. What would you do if you found out your father wasn’t the man you thought he was, that your siblings were only half-siblings and you had a different parent? Or that you were adopted and no one ever told you? Maybe your uncle/aunt or your grandparents had an illegitimate child, abandoned or gave a child up for adoption.
I remember back when I started sorting my dad’s DNA matches I had a panic. I didn’t seem to be getting any matches from his father’s side. All his matches were from his mother’s line. I wasn’t sure if it was because he had inherited more DNA from his mother, whether it just happened that more of his mother’s cousins had tested or that his father wasn’t his father.
This was my nightmare. My grandparents had adored each other. In fact, my granddad had passed just 16 months after my nan as he couldn’t bear living without her. I struggled with the possibility that, for whatever reason, my granddad wasn’t my granddad and how and if I would tell my dad.
Thankfully, I then found connections to my granddad which proved not only that my research was correct but that my granddad was my dad’s dad. But what if he hadn’t been. Would I have ever told my dad, or would I have kept quiet? How would he have dealt with the news?
One of my hobbies is researching my ancestry. I love discovering who my ancestors were, where they lived and what their occupations were. We are the result of so many different love stories and we are all related. But how?
Growing up I was always close to my grandparents who doted on me and whom I adored. They always made me feel special, especially as I was the first girl in several generations. My grandfather had one brother, his brother had no children and my dad was an only child.
When I was 12 my world fell apart when my beloved Nana passed away. Just 16 short months later, my grandfather followed. He adored his wife and he couldn’t cope without her.
Why I became interested in my family history
When my son was born, it made me interested in discovering who my ancestors were and where I came from. I’d always been interested in history, but now I was interested in my personal family history. This need to know started me on my genealogical journey and I began to search for more information.
Starting my search
First I questioned my parents, asking them what they knew about their parents. My mum wasn’t close to her mum and knew a lot of what she had been told was untruths. She didn’t really know her dad. When she was 13, her older brother found their birth certificates. They found out that “Uncle John” was actually their father. A few months later, her father passed away suddenly. She hadn’t had the chance to confront him about her parentage and now she never would.
Dad’s mum was easy. Dad put me in touch with his cousin, who shared all about the Champion family. I quickly learnt all about my great-great-grandfather, Titus Riches Champion. When his first wife, Eliza Lavinia Barber, passed away. He was left a single father with four children. Needing help, he arranged for his late wife’s niece to come and help him. He fell in love with Emma and together they had 9 children.
My great-grandfather, James Sutherland Champion, was the eldest. James then married Lillian Elizabeth Aspinell and together they had four children and my nan was their youngest.
The Mysterious Ancestor
But I was interested in my paternal line. Where did my maiden name of Whitehouse come from? We were an isolated branch with the only Whitehouse relatives. Our branch was grandad, Uncle Denis, my dad, me and my bother. We had no other Whitehouse relatives.
My dad told me that his father and uncle had been born in Canada and they never knew their father. They were raised by their mother in Bromley in Kent. He told me how finding out he was Canadian had actually come as a shock to granddad!
I was intrigued! Was this why Canada called to me? How Canadian was granddad? Was his father Canadian or had he also emigrated?
Where to begin?
But how to begin my research? All I had was a baptism certificate of my granddads. This stated his name and that he was born in Carlton County, Ottawa in 1920. It also stated his father was named John Whitehouse.
Starting with just a name
So where would I begin? All I had was his name. Nothing else. I didn’t know when or where he had been born? Neither did I have my grandfather’s birth certificate nor did I know how to get it. I was in the UK and he had been born in Canada. It wasn’t amongst granddads belongings which my dad had kept. It seemed an impossible task to find him!
One thing I did know was my great grandmother’s name. Nellie May Faulkner. Since Nellie was from Kent, perhaps they had married in the UK. A quick search for their names on my favourite free website FreeBMD, gave me one result.
The information matched but without the certificate, I wouldn’t know for sure. I ordered their wedding certificate via the GRO website and eagerly awaited its arrival.
To have and to hold
The certificate told me that John Whitehouse was 24 when he married Nellie and that he was a chauffeur. It also said that his father was also John Whitehouse and a fire beater.
If he was 24 on the 26th December 1918, then that gave me an approximate year of birth of 1894. The address listed didn’t help as they were both listed at the same address. Assuming he was born in the UK, I again searched the FreeBMD website. Without an actual date of birth, I searched a year either side of the year I suspected. Sadly, the results I got gave me over 60 possible John Whitehouse’s born between 1893 and 1895. Too many certificates to order, even assuming he had been born in the UK and not Canada,.
The next steps
A big clue was that his father was also called John Whitehouse and a fire beater. Assuming they were from the UK I checked the 1911 census. Again I had over 60 results, even searching for a John Whitehouse with a father named John Whitehouse. I still had no proof they had been born in the UK. For all I knew, he could have been born in Canada. I was no closer to my answers.
Trying a different direction
A friend then suggested I try the Canadian Attestation Papers for Canadian soldiers who fought during World War I. It was possible that he had been a soldier fighting during the war and that’s how he met Nellie. This seemed a possibility. I had checked for them on passenger lists but had been unable to find them. If great-grandfather had been a soldier then there would be no trace of him returning to Canada.
I figured it couldn’t hurt and had a look. To my delight, I found 8 results and that next-of-kin was listed!
The one born in 1893 didn’t match as his father was named Frederick William Whitehouse. So I checked for another one around the same age. The one born in 1896 was a possibility as the next-of-kin was a Charlotte Whitehouse and I didn’t know what my great-great-grandmothers name was. Next was John Whitehouse born in 1897.
I knew not to worry too much about the year of birth not matching. In those years, dates could be interchangeable. There was no central database and people often lied or were mistaken about the year they were born.
With John Whitehouse born in 1897, I believed I had found him. Especially as his next-of-kin was named as John Whitehouse. To make it even more likely I had the correct one, his occupation was listed as a chauffeur! Whilst the year of birth didn’t match the wedding certificate, the other details certainly did!
Looking at this document, dated 1915, I was shocked to see that his next-of-kin address was Chorley in Lancashire. This came as a shock! I knew my mothers family came from Lancashire but I hadn’t expected to find a connection on my dad’s side too. Not to mention Lancashire is where I was born!
Back to the 1911 Census
Back I went to the 1911 census. His father was listed as living in Chorley, Lancashire on the 1915 Attestation Papers. Would they all be in Chorley in 1911? I found a 13-year-old John Whitehouse, a cloth weaver, living in Chorley, Lancashire on the 1911 census. His parents were named John Whitehouse and Annie. The father’s occupation was listed as being a Boiler Fireman at Flore Oil Cloth Works. Assuming the age on the marriage certificate was wrong, was this the right family. I looked at the father’s occupation, was a fire beater and a boiler fireman a similar job?
I checked the Old Occupations website for more information. This said that a fire beater was a factory worker who tended the fires of a steam engine in a factory and was also known as a boiler fireman. So it was a match! Had I found my great grandfather?
Emigrating to Canada
I then looked at the passenger lists on Ancestry.co.uk. If he was from Chorley, Lancashire then when did he move to Canada? Whilst I looked for that, I also ordered his birth certificate from the General Registry Office. It confirmed he was born in Chorley, Lancashire to Annie Rothwell and John Whitehouse in 1897.
I looked at the passenger lists. In 1913, a 16-year-old John Whitehouse travelled to Canada with 48-year-old John Whitehouse. Junior was a carter and senior a fireman. The occupation matched the father, but did it match the son? Again I looked at the old occupations website, what was a carter? A carter was the driver of a horse-drawn vehicle used for transporting goods. I also learnt that this term applied to drivers of mechanical vehicles too as lorries and cars began to replace horse-drawn carts. This meant he was a driver like a chauffeur is! It was all starting to match!
The 1921 Canadian Census
Then, the 1921 Canadian census was released. I was thrilled as my granddad was born in 1920. I should be able to find him with his parents. Finally, I might get more answers!
I searched and searched but couldn’t find them. I was about to give up when another friend suggested that maybe their names had been mistranscribed.
Eventually, after a lot of searching, I found them. My friend had been correct, their names were wrong! They were listed as the Whittene family. John Whittene, his wife Cellie and their sons George and Denis.
Apart from the last name and Nellie’s name being wrong, it matched. Granddad was listed as being aged 1 which matched his 1921 year of birth. Even his brother Denis was on there, only 17 days old, which matched his 1921 year of birth.
They were living in Russell County, Canada and John was listed as a soldier. It also stated that John and Cellie (Nellie) were born in England and George and Denis in Ontario, Canada. I now knew that he was still a soldier, even though WWI had ended.
More digging and I uncovered an Ottawa City Directory from 1923. This listed John Whitehouse as Sergt, MIL staff CLK records br dept Nat Defence, res Russell Road.
I found travel documents for my grandfather, his mother and his brother. It appears in July 1925 they left Canada to visit Nellie’s family in Bromley. There was no record of them returning until 1927.
They arrived back in Canada in June 1927. According to their travel documents, they planned to return to her husband and their father. His details are given as, John Whitehouse, record office, Daly building. It even mentions Nellie’s father, G Faulkner 10 Croft Rd, Bromley, Kent. She had £50 on her (about £3,000 in today’s money) and an Ottawa passport. I even learnt she had lived in Canada before, from 1919 until July 1925 at Hurdsman Bridge. Again this matched what I already suspected.
Sadly, their reunion seemed short-lived as they arrived back in the UK in September 1927. This time to live with Nellie’s father, George Frederick Faulkner. What could have happened to make them return so soon?
In the news
I did some more digging and I found a newspaper article on Newspapers.com from the Ottawa Journal dated the 15th April 1927.
The article tells how Sergeant John Whitehouse, a clerk of the Department of National Defence, was on a night out with friends from work. They were Captain Haydon and Sergeant-Major Fretwell. With them was Mrs Barr, a roomer at the same house as John.
They left their house between 11.30pm-12am and went to the Regal Club. Shortly before 2 am, they left the club and got into my great-grandfather’s car. My great-grandfather was driving and they travelled home to Ottawa. As they were driving over Chaudiere Bridge, John claimed he was side-swiped by another car, but this was never proven. Another possibility was he slid on the road, which was notorious for being wet with spray from the falls. Whatever happened, the car was badly damaged and turned over once or twice.
Sergeant Major Fretwell who was in the front passenger seat was instantly killed. He was thrown from the spinning car which then landed on top of him. My great-grandfather was also injured with a fractured shoulder and damage to his knees. His other passengers suffered from bruising.
Reading deeper into the story, it appears that the widow of Sergeant Major Fretwell had to take her insurance company to court. They claimed he was killed by his weakened heart and was dead before the car had landed on him. They refused to pay out. It doesn’t appear that my great grandfather was charged with anything and it was ruled an accident..
My great aunt, the partner of my late uncle, told me a story. She had heard that my great-grandfather had gotten into trouble for bootlegging during the prohibition. This was when alcohol was banned in the United States during 1920 and 1933 and was often smuggled over the border from Canada. However, I have yet to find any proof of this.
What happened to Granddad?
From here the trail on great-grandfather goes cold.
But what about granddad and uncle Denis? I can track them growing up in Bromley near his mothers family. The 1939 register has them still living at 10 Croft Road, Bromley. The household consisted of George F Faulkner, a greengrocer, Nellie M Whitehouse (later Winnifrith), a domestic. Granddad was listed as a motor engineer and uncle Denis as a bakers roundsman.
When World War II began, both granddad and uncle Denis enlisted. Granddad became a tank driver with the 4th Queen’s Hussars. Uncle Denis joined the navy and became a gunner.
1942 was a very busy year for the family, some good some horrendous.
On the 19th Febuary, Nellie remarried. She married Percy Winnifrith in Bromley and stated she was a widow.
On the 7th March 1942, the Norwegian ship that uncle Denis was serving on sank. He managed to make it to a lifeboat with several others and they then spent 88 days lost at sea. On the 7th June 1942, the lifeboat made land with 6 survivors. They had landed at Port Blair on the Andaman Islands. Denis would remain there, a Prisoner-of-war of the Japanese, until his liberation on the 7th October 1945.
On the 10th of October 1942, granddad married my nana. They would later have one son but they would wait until the war ended. Dad was born in 1947.
When my dad was 13, they moved to Lancashire. I often wonder if my granddad knew that his father was from Lancashire. There was no remaining Whitehouse’s. Around the same time that my great-grandfather emigrated, so did his parents and siblings.
Why Lancashire I wondered. I asked my dad. Granddad, a mechanical engineer, had moved up North to help maintain the motorway machinery. At the time the M6 motorway was being built. Granddad also enjoyed making models. We still have some of the incredible detailed models he built in his spare time.
Shortly before he died, Grandad had a visit from those he called his Canadian cousins. Being a young child at the time, I hadn’t been very interested which I regret now. These cousins were apparently descended from great-grandfather’s younger sister Ellen who changed her name to Helen in Canada. Sadly, this cousin passed away the same year as Ryan was born so I couldn’t contact him for more information. I did learn that John was sometimes known as Jack amongst the family. I guess to separate him from his father who was also a John.
The beginning and the end
But that wasn’t the end of my research. I did find my great-grandfather again. It appears that in 1953 he travelled from Canada to Detroit in America. I know it is him as he lists his next-of-kin as his eldest sister. In the document, he claims he is going to visit a friend.
A few days after his arrival he married this friend. I was then able to see a social security application which gave a death date. To prove this was the correct person, I applied for the certificate and was again proved correct.
But a lot of this had been guesswork. I was assuming that the John Whitehouse I was tracking was actually MY John Whitehouse. Would I ever know for sure? I didn’t think I would until the proof I needed came from a surprising source.
Proving my theories
Almost two years ago now, for my 40th birthday, we visited Kent. I wanted to take the children to Legoland Windsor instead of a party. I also meant that I could visit my great aunt, the partner of uncle Denis.
We spent a week in Kent, along with my parents. Half-way through the week, I went to visit Auntie Pearl. My parents and my eldest and youngest were with me. I had been doing a little work on her tree and I was able to show her some family photos. These were photos of her grandparents outside their greengrocers. Amazingly, whilst this shop no longer existed, it was less than a mile away.
I shared a video I had found of uncle Denis. It had been filmed the day the British reoccupied the Andaman Islands. More importantly, it was the day he was released from captivity. She watched it several times, tears runing down her cheeks. I admit, I did as well.
I wasn’t sure she would be interested in what I had found out about my family, but she was. She was fascinated by how much I had discovered, and this was when I heard the bootlegging story.
Proof at last
When it was time to leave Kent, my parents popped to see her again. Between the two visits, auntie Pearl had been busy. She had found some old photos she wanted me to have. One was a gorgeous photo of Denis and my granddad as young boys.
But one document totally blew me away and was so unexpected. How could something so mundane mean so much to me? How could one document make all my hard work? All my guesswork. Worth it!
Hidden amongst the pictures, was a copy of Denis’ passport application. It had been filled in in 1990 by Denis.
As he had been born in Canada, to apply for a British passport was a little different. He had to list the year he had come to live in the UK (1927). He also had to list his parents details.
This was the important bit. Would his father’s details match what I suspected?
His father was listed as John Whitehouse (deceased). The place of birth was listed as Chorley. His date-of-birth was listed as the 27th June 1897. This was the place and the date of the man I suspected was my great-grandfather. They matched! I was correct!
I cried. All my hard work had been proven correct! I had had the correct person all along.
To see in black and white ink that my assumptions were correct was amazing!
Then I had another shock. Someone got in touch with me via Genesreunited. They were distant cousins via my great-grandmother and the Faulkner line. This was amazing enough, but more was to come. She sent me a photo she had. A photo which was taken in 1918. A photo of my great-grandparents on their wedding day!
Again I cried. I had pictures of my great-grandmother from my granddad. I even had a four generational one; Nellie, Granddad, dad and my brother.
But now I had a photo of what my great-grandfather looked like. If you look at pictures of my granddad and his brother, they don’t look much alike. But looking at this picture, I was amazed. I showed my dad and he was too. I couldn’t help feeling a little sad as well. How I would have loved to have shown this to granddad and uncle Denis!
Looking closely, we couldn’t help but be shocked by how much granddad looked like his father. You could tell immediately that this photo was correct and not just by the Canadian soldiers uniform. What do you think? Have a look at this side-by-side comparison. Granddad is on the right, great-granddad on the left. Both wearing the uniforms of the World Wars they fought in.
The search continues…
Yet I haven’t finished looking for what became of my great-grandfather. I want to know what he did between 1927 and 1953. This is the period which is still a mystery. Hopefully, as more Canadian census are released, I might be able to track him. I wonder where I will find him on the 1931 census which will hopefully be released in 1923. Will he be married? Will he have any other children? Does my dad have more uncles, aunts or cousins he doesn’t know?
I’ve checked for matching results and trees on Ancestry. I have looked for connections everywhere I can think of. Yet I still haven’t been able to connect with anyone related to the Whitehouse’s from Chorley who went to Canada. Even the woman that great-grandfather married is of no help. When she passed away in 1973, she was using her previous married name. I cannot contact any living relatives and one distant relative I spoke to, didn’t even know she had remarried.
That is why, for my birthday next week, I’m hoping to get a DNA test. Then I hope I can persuade my dad to take it. As my oldest living relative, he is the best one to begin with. It also makes more sense as his family is the one I’m most interested in.
That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in my mother’s side as well. I also want to track her family. In the future, I hope to test hers as well. Checking them individually helps me work out from which side of my family the DNA matches comes from. My own DNA is made up of a mixture of both of theirs. That means that any cousins I match with could equally come from my mother or father. By testing them individually, I have a greater chance of connecting with cousins from that side of the family. One day, maybe my own DNA will be tested and I can see how many more cousins I can find. How many more brick walls I can destroy!