We Solved the Mystery of Our Ancestor’s Parentage — and Uncovered a Shocking Secret Along the Way

We Solved the Mystery of Our Ancestor’s Parentage — and Uncovered a Shocking Secret Along the Way

Jennifer Stayt, Carol Pursell, and Nikki Cottle wondered for years about the origins of their ancestor, Maud Ethel Jones, who was raised in an orphanage at the turn of the 20th century. Thanks to MyHeritage DNA and some dedicated detective work, they were able to find and confirm the identities of Maud’s birth parents… but not before uncovering an astonishing secret about Maud’s daughter, Winnie.

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This is their story.

For years our family has wondered about the origins of my great-grandma Maud Ethel Jones.

She was born in 1893 and brought up in a London orphanage before entering domestic service. She was a chirpy Cockney who always told people she was a doorstep baby and never knew if she was a princess or a gypsy. Turns out she was neither. 

Maud and Bert on their wedding day in 1917. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage
Maud and Bert on their wedding day in 1917. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage
Maud and Bert on their wedding day in 1917. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage

We’ve been tracing our family tree for years. But we were always stumped with Maud as we couldn’t find her birth registration, and we couldn’t identify her on the 1901 or 1911 censuses. We didn’t know which orphanage she was at. The paper trail had stopped.

The advent of DNA testing brought a new dimension. Maud’s daughter Winnie was born in 1926. Her dad, Bert, was from Northamptonshire; his wife, Maud, our mystery lady. In 2019, Winnie took a MyHeritage DNA test. Our family genealogy team of Winnie’s daughter Carol and granddaughters — Jen in Australia and Nikki in England — started grouping matches with the Chromosome Browser and building trees in an attempt to identify Maud’s parents. 

A surprising plot twist

It took us months to figure out our first surprise, and that was that Winnie’s father Bert was not her biological father. Her DNA led to a different family in the same village. Intrigued, we tested two of Winnie’s nephews and found they were half, not full cousins to Carol. This meant that their mothers — Winnie’s sisters — were both Bert’s children, but Winnie and her twin brother were not.

We then contacted the family of the man we thought was Carol’s new granddad and they were lovely and welcoming and very helpful. The man’s name was Charlie. Both Charlie and Maud were married at the time of the conception, but of course not to each other! Charlie’s grand-daughter agreed to take a DNA test and we were able to confirm our family connection. But by this time, Winnie had passed away. We’ll never know if she knew her dad wasn’t her dad. 

Winnie. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage
Winnie. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage
Winnie. Photo colorized and enhanced by MyHeritage

Working out Maud’s parentage

Turning our attention back to Maud, we were working with small matches, mostly with no trees. But one match stood out and had an unusual surname. We were able to construct their Canadian family tree, and one line led us back to London and the surname Dodson. Exciting times when we discovered that one member of that family, Louisa Dodson, gave birth to a baby named Maud Dodson in the Paddington Workhouse in March 1893. The 1891 census placed Louisa, enumerated as Louisa Jones, living with her “husband” William Jones and their 3 children in Paddington.

We had high hopes we’d found our family — that Louisa Dodson and Louisa Jones were one and the same person, and that Maud Dodson was our Maud Jones. But there were anomalies and uncertainties. Louisa and William were not married and Louisa was sometimes known as Jones and sometimes Dodson. Maud’s birthdate was out by a week. We found the birth registration for this Maud, but it contained errors. Louisa’s name was mis-spelt Dobson. She gave a maiden name of Smith. Did we have the right Maud? We weren’t sure. To confirm our theory, we’d need to test a living relative of one of the siblings Maud never knew she had.

We built the Dodson tree out and back and discovered that Louisa had another baby in 1900. Her partner William Jones had died in 1895, so the baby, Louie, could not be his. We found Louie’s marriage and discovered she and her husband Stanley had one child, a daughter Jenny, born in 1938. 

We put our detective skills to work and tracked down Jenny alive and well aged 83. Carol and Nikki drove down the motorway and literally knocked on the door of where we thought she lived. The lady who answered the door wasn’t Jenny, but knew her, and agreed to pass on a message. Jenny contacted us, and Carol and Nikki met with her.

Nikki, Carol, and Jenny

Nikki, Carol, and Jenny

Jenny is a lovely lady and she agreed to do a DNA test. The result came back and confirmed she is Maud’s half-niece. Our theory was correct. So we now knew that Maud’s mum was indeed Louisa Dodson, and further investigations with other DNA matches confirmed her father as William Jones. 

But it doesn’t end there.

Our research journey continues

Jenny is an only child. She grew up with her parents Louie and Stanley but no other family. With only vague memories of extended family all long passed, she had no siblings, no aunties, uncles, no cousins. Her father Stanley had been abandoned at the workhouse and he had no knowledge of his biological family. Jenny’s maternal grandfather — Louie’s father — was also a mystery. So Jenny had no idea of her grandparents and beyond, and had no known living relatives.

But now that we know that Louisa Dodson is her grandmother, Jenny has us for family. She is very happy and we are too. And now, as she has done a DNA test, we are able to identify more of her own heritage and we are well on our way with that. 

So, through MyHeritage, we identified Winnie’s father — who we never knew we were looking for — and both of her mum Maud’s parents, who we’d been searching for for years. We now have two new families, and we’re able to give our new relative Jenny information on her own background. 

It’s been a long journey. It’s taken years. Three of us researching. Many, many hours. Hundreds of trees. Lots of dead ends. But we never gave up, and we tried to find a workaround for every road block. 

Our original goal was to identify Maud’s parents and we did it. She’s not a princess, or a gypsy. She came from a struggling and fractured family in Victorian London. She had at least three full siblings and one half-sibling. One of her sisters died in infancy and a brother was sent to Canada. 

And now that we know who Maud’s parents were, we can also trace our family back even further. After thinking we were 100% English we find we have a Scottish line. We are delighted to be related to the Highland Fraser clan which was a total surprise and exciting potential for future research. 

It’s been an amazing journey and we’re not done yet.

Many thanks to Jennifer, Carol, and Nikki for sharing their amazing story! If you’ve made an incredible discovery through MyHeritage, we’d love to hear about it. Please share it with us via this form or email us at stories@myheritage.com