One unexpected benefit of chronicling my family history has been discovering that people I already know are part of my extended family. First there was my friend Dave Ninehouser (6th cousin) and then a neighbor, John Graf (4th cousin 1x removed), followed by finding new-to-me local folks who are also in my tree. Our pet sitter Raylene is my 10th cousin. My sister-in-law is also my 9x cousin, so my niblings are my 9x cousins 1x removed. The list goes on and on.
Then in September 2016, I discovered my first openly gay relative – my grandmother’s first cousin, Lowell Remley, an experience I blogged about here. The profundity of that discovery continues to take my breath away, even though I do not remember meeting Lowell in person. A few months later, I discovered some other openly LGBTQ relatives through social media – including my fifth cousin, Rick Potter who grew up in upstate New York and now lives in Texas. We haven’t met in real-time (yet) but we are connected now. Rick is related to me through my mother’s maternal line in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Rick was born long after they moved into upstate NY. There are others – at least 3 other LGBTQ folks in my circle between 1x and 3x cousins.
Among these discoveries, I find connections even more amazing – my actual queer friends and acquaintances who are also distant relatives. This really unfolded when I began using the app We’re Related from Ancestry that used Facebook and Ancestry to identify potential ‘famous’ relatives as well as relationships with our Facebook friends. So when we talk about our chosen family, a lot of people I might choose turn out to possibly be actually related to me biologically as well as by choice.
This is not rock solid genetic research. It starts with a little spark on the app and in some cases, I’ve been able to identify and tentatively confirm the research. I find discovering connections to my real life acquaintances far more interesting than being related to famous people. Thinking about both DNA and historical experiences that shaped our lives far before our conceptions makes the realities of queer community seem more firm?
So here are some examples. These individuals have consented to my sharing their name and our family details.
Lyndsey Sickler: 11th cousin, 1x removed
Lyndsey and I are related through my 11x grandparents on my maternal line – the Southern relatives I wrote about when I explored the story of Alice Jenkins. Our mutual ancestor, George Phillip Ziegler (1670-1756) emigrated from Baden–Württemberg in 1772 with his wife and children, settling in Pennsylvania.
My branch remained in Pennsylvania for another four generations until a family moved down through Maryland and into North Carolina in the early 1800s, most likely in search of new farmland. Eventually, my great-grandmother was born in Tennessee and married her husband, leaving the South behind as she reinvented herself as a Yankee upper middle-class woman.
Lyndsey’s branch moved to Virginia in the next generation and then into New Jersey, where eventually Ziegler morphed into Sickler. Lyndsey has relatives there.
They came to Pittsburgh for college. We met in Pittsburgh, almost 330 years after the death of our shared ancestor in Pennsylvania.
Cori Frazer: 11x cousins
Cori and I are related through our mutual 11x cousins, Richard Littlepage (1639-1688) and Judith Turner (1650-1732) who both arrived in this land around 1675 from England, among early colonizers of New Kent near Richmond, Virginia.
My branch stayed in Virginia then relocating to North Carolina until getting caught up in the rotation between Eastern TN, Southern Virginia, and Northern North Carolina I mentioned in this post. And eventually, my 2x great-grandmother, Alice Jenkins was born.
Cori’s branch remained in Virginia until relocating around 1850 to Alabama, then to New Mexico and up into California until a few recent generations came here to Southwestern Pennsylvania.
They came to Pittsburgh for college.
We met in Pittsburgh 340 years after our mutual ancestors arrived in these lands.
Eileen Halloran: 9x cousin, 1x removed
Eileen and I share the ancestors, John Jeremiah Miller (1654-1738) and Elizabeth Dimon (1658-1737) who lived in the colony of New York when the British took it over from the Dutch. John’s father emigrated a generation earlier from England. John and Elizabeth are my 8x great grandparents.
My branch moved into New Jersey and then up into the Lycoming region of Pennsylvania where they remained for 200 years, farming and working in the lumber industry. Eventually, my great-grandfather Marion Wilbur Pryor would pull up stakes and travel around the Southern and Eastern states as part of the Ritter Lumber corporation. Marion’s son, James Vincent Pryor, was my maternal grandfather. I chronicled a female perspective of his story when I blogged about his mother, Caroline Ritter Pryor.
Eileen’s branch of this family gradually moved into Lancaster around 1700 and then down into Maryland by 1800. One hundred years later they were in Delaware and eventually up into Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
She was, like me, born and raised in Pittsburgh.
We met in Pittsburgh 272 years after our mutual ancestors death.
What I find interesting is that all three of these relationships are through my maternal grandfather’s family – his maternal grandmother is tied to Lyndsey and Cori and his paternal grandmother is related to Eileen. His maternal line is actually one that runs deepest and has the most wideflung descendants in the United States. They are also the ‘most respectable’ ancestors per family lore – but with great respectability usually comes a tremendous backstory and a legacy tied to oppression. My family is no exception.
Lyndsey, Eileen, and Cori know one another and gave me permission to flesh out their famly trees. They aren’t all related to one another except through me or other mutual relatives, but we are part of this community together. And while these distant relationships don’t necessarily build bridges or shared viewpoints, they do remind me of the universality of our shared experiences.
I have a nagging idea to start a podcast where I introduce people to their long-lost lesbian cousin (me) and talk about all of the things. Or organize a big family reunion of all of these people, some of whom are related to one another. But that requires funding, so I’m starting with a blog post. Maybe one day Lyndsey, Cori, and Eileen will join me for a queer family dinner.
I am grateful to learn that I am not the only queer person who emerged from that legacy, or perhaps legacies is more appropriate? Queer people are not an anomaly in this massive tangle of thousands of people who make up my genetic family. We are not freaks and we are not alone.
We are not alone.
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