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A Step Closer to the Mystery Man

The identity of my great-grandfather remains unknown. Grace Riddle Reed (1896-1976), “Grandma Grace”, was born to her single mother Laura Riddle (1853-1933) on a homestead near Palisade, Nebraska. Grandma claimed not to know who her father was, and if other family members did know, they weren’t talking.

Over the years I have scoured the Nebraska records looking for a clue to the man’s identity. The kind folks at the genealogy center in McCook finally counseled that my best hope is probably a DNA match.

As I have waited for that, I have assembled some evidence that might help when a match arrives, if it ever does:

  1. Laura acquired government land three times between 1885 and the early 1900’s. These transactions coincide with the time during which Grandma Grace was born. I have assembled the names of all the men who served as witnesses for Laura and to whom she sold land.
  2. I have created a map of the neighborhood where Laura lived in 1900 and located a census list of the names of the neighbors.
  3. I continue to analyze my Dad’s DNA matches. His ethnicity estimate includes quite a bit of Irish that I cannot account for in other family lines. One of Laura’s long-time neighbors and associates was an Irish widower, so I constructed a family tree for him, just in case.

Dad’s closest DNA match, other than members of the immediate family, is a Nebraska woman who was born about the same time he was. She was adopted from a foundling home and does not know her birth family. The DNA testing company surmises that she and Dad are second cousins.

Over the years, I have worked with her family trying to identify a common ancestor. We determined that he or she likely lived in the McCook, NE area. We tentatively eliminated the woman’s maternal line based on some bare-bones information from her birth certificate. This left us to focus paternal lines, perhaps my mystery man’s.

Last week the family contacted me again. They have a new DNA match, and they wanted to know if I recognized the surname. I did!

The Irish widower had grandchildren with that name.

After my initial excitement, I took stock of where we stand now. The purported second cousin has a DNA match to someone with the same surname as the Irish widower’s family. The location and timelines work out to support kinship with him. If we, too, are related to that same Irish family, the woman and Dad would be first cousins once removed, a similar degree of relationship as second cousin.

I checked Dad’s DNA match lists again and was disappointed that no one with the newly-identified surname appears there. I need to ask the woman’s family which testing company showed their new match.

Could it have been on Ancestry? We have no test results on file there. That company twice rejected Dad’s saliva sample.

I have not tested there. Maybe it is time I did. They are a bigger pond to fish. Perhaps members of the Irish widower’s family are in their database. The only problem is that I am another generation removed from our mystery ancestor and less likely to have a meaningful match.

Still, it is worth a try. If I, too, could show a DNA match with the family of my great-grandmother’s Irish friend, the mystery would be solved.


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