DNA Match Leads Woman to Uncover the Past Her Grandmother Was Too Traumatized to Tell

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First-generation Canadian Stephanie has always had an interest in family history. As the child of a British immigrant mother and a Lithuanian refugee father, she’d always had a natural curiosity about their origins. But finding information about them wasn’t easy: she had no knowledge of her family tree beyond her grandparents on both sides of her family, and what’s more, her maternal grandfather had been adopted and didn’t know the identity of his birth parents.

Stephanie started to make headway after her mother placed an ad in a Scottish newspaper to search for her grandfather’s birth mother. That ad bore fruit, and they learned that her grandfather’s middle name, Hunter, was actually the surname of his birth mother. Armed with that information, Stephanie decided to sign up for MyHeritage and take her genealogy research to the next level. Using MyHeritage, she was able to trace her grandfather’s line as far back as Robert the Bruce. Along the way, she found out that her grandmother — who she had always assumed was British — was actually descended from Irish immigrants to England.

But attempts to discover her paternal lineage left Stephanie at a dead end. Her father came to Canada as a refugee after he was displaced from Germany during the Second World War. His mother, Stefanija, was Lithuanian and never spoke of her family or experiences after being forcibly separated from them at the age of 17. 

Stephanie tried contacting the Lithuanian government for assistance, but learned that birth and death records from the time period she needed had been destroyed. This left Stephanie disappointed and, in her words, “unable to connect the dots.”

A DNA Match from Lithuania

At some point in the process, Stephanie took a DNA test to help her with her research. The ethnicity results surprised her: rather than the 50% Lithuanian, 25% Scottish, and 25% British she had expected, she learned that she is 25% Lithuanian, 25% Scottish, 25% Irish — and the remaining 25% British is actually from her dad’s birth father, not from her maternal grandmother!

But far more than her ethnicity results, Stephanie’s DNA Matches are what gave her the breakthrough she had yearned for. This summer, she started receiving DNA matches through MyHeritage on the Lithuanian side of her family. One particular match contacted her immediately: a first cousin named Kornelija. Eager to learn more, Stephanie asked Kornelija whether she knew of her grandmother Stefanija. Kornelija said yes: her Dad had an aunt by that name who had moved to America.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Kornelija went to visit her father, and brought back a picture of Stefanija to send to Stephanie. She also visited the local cemetery and was able to provide Stephanie with the names and dates of birth and death of her grandmother’s siblings. She even visited cousins, who gave her a photo of Stephanie’s great-grandmother and great-grandfather. Stephanie ran the photo through MyHeritage In Color™ to colorize it, and she says it made those ancestors come to life for her.

Refugee papers for Stephanie’s Lithuanian grandmother, Stefanija Velickaite.

Stephanie is overjoyed at what she has learned through MyHeritage. Before the DNA match, she had lost hope that she would ever learn more about the Lithuanian side of her family. But through DNA testing, she has been able to honor her ancestors and tell their stories. Her family tree — once rather barren — has grown from 6 to 6,000 individuals from as far back as the times of William the Conqueror.

Through her many hours of research, Stephanie has made lasting connections. One such connection is Darcio, a third cousin living in Brazil. Darcio instinctively knew that Stephanie was family after she first reached out. She hopes to be able to visit both Darcio and Kornelija when pandemic-related travel restrictions ease.

Spiritual connections and shared experiences

As a resident of the town where her relatives first arrived in Canada, Stephanie believes MyHeritage allowed her to realize a connection to the past she has always felt through shared experiences.

“I feel such a connection to this family I never thought I’d find, and the information is helping me connect with others,” Stephanie says. Indeed, when Kornelija sent a picture of her father — Stephanie’s uncle —, Stephanie was able to see his resemblance to her own dad. Darcio’s grandfather’s story of escaping war-torn Lithuania for Brazil mirrors the struggle that her grandmother and father faced when they emigrated to Canada from Germany.

Stephanie was also able to connect with a descendant of her Scottish great-grandmother’s uncle in the U.S.. Through MyHeritage, the two were able to share information and pictures and provide new insights into each other’s family trees.

Stephanie’s Scottish grandfather, Robert Hunter Devlin, with her uncle and mother.

“My favorite thing now is if I’m watching a historical documentary, and they mention a castle, or a king, and I think ‘Gosh, that name sounds familiar,’ I check my MyHeritage tree,” says Stephanie, “and can say, ‘Yes, my 15th-great-grandfather was born there!’”

Even with all these amazing discoveries, Stephanie’s work is still not done. She wants to find her paternal grandfather, about whom she still has no information beyond an extrapolation from her DNA ethnicity results that he was British. This makes it a little more difficult to tease out which of her DNA matches come from her mother’s side — many of whom are British as well — and which are related to her paternal grandfather. Fortunately, she was able to upload the DNA data of an aunt on her mother’s side, and comparing her DNA to that of her British matches helps her untangle the connections.

Most importantly, through MyHeritage, Stephanie has been able to honor her grandmother Stefanija and pay tribute to the life that she lived before her terrible experiences during World War II — to give voice to a story that Stefanija was too traumatized to tell.

You can give voice to the story of your ancestors, too. Build a family tree on MyHeritage and order a MyHeritage DNA kit today!

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