Finding an Unknown Half Great Aunt With DNA

ThruLines vs. Shared Matches

Early in my researching to find where DNA matches fit in, I was able to figure out that a DNA match I’ll call Q was a 6th cousin, descended from my 5th great grandparents, Hans Jansson (1704-?) and Karin Tomasdotter (1704-1789). I share 35cM across 3 segments, with the longest segment being 19cM. I am related to Hans Jansson and Karin Tomasdotter through both my grandfathers, so it made sense that the cMs should be a bit higher than expected, but it’s something like a 2-3% chance that the relationship should be so distant. My XFFFMF was their son Jan Hansson. (I use the X to indicate both M/mother and F/father.) Q’s MMFFFM was Jan Hansson’s younger sister, Britta.

When Ancestry’s Thrulines first were added as a feature, this is exactly the match that Thrulines found between Q and me.

But looking at my shared matches between Q and me, there was a problem. After my son (who shares 29cM across 2 segments with Q, the longest being 18), most of them I could identify either as being related to me via my great-grandfather (MMF) Sven, or their shared matches with me included other matches to my great-grandfather Sven. Sven is not related to my maternal or paternal grandfathers, but is my maternal grandmother’s father. My grandfathers came from Stavnäs parish, Sweden, with ancestry in Sweden for many generations. I have since found one ancestor on that branch from Belgium but that is very distant. My great-grandfather Sven came from Fåberg in Norway, in the mountains around Lillehammer. With no known Swedish ancestors.

That didn’t make sense. I was newish to this work of DNA matching, but I knew that it did’t make sense.

So I looked closer at Q’s tree on Ancestry, and noted that on his father’s branch, his paternal grandfather had two parents from Fåberg. So we must be related not just via his mother, but also via his father! His FFM and FFF had arrived in the US around 1881, with their first five children born in Norway and the last 4 in Illinois and Kansas.

His FFF had a few more generations on his tree, and was listed as from Fåberg while his FFM had no parents listed, and was listed as from Lillehammer. So I spent several weeks researching the ancestors of his FFF, Olaus.

Olaus’ father was born on a farm called Lien, as were his next two male ancestors. My GGF Sven’s brother and some of their ancestors had lived on the Lien farm, so that looked like a good possibility. Some of Olaus’ father’s ancestors also lived on the Tråseth farm, where some of Sven’s ancestors had lived. I managed to find most of Olaus’ father’s ancestors for four generations. No match with my known tree (which does have some gaps). I was pretty frustrated.

I turned to Olaus’ wife, Randine. Q had no ancestors for her. But I found a tree that had her with two parents, a Svend Larson (listed in the tree as almost 5 years older than my ggf Sven Larson) and a mother Ingeborg, with a farm name Lien. So I started looking for her ancestors. I couldn’t find them.

Then I looked for Randine’s baptismal record. I had two birthdates for her, a day apart, so that worked well. And sure enough, there were her parents, Svend Larson and Ingeborg Rasmusdatter from Lien. The parents were listed as not married. At that time, they were likely fined by the church for having a child before marriage. But at least the father was on the baptismal record, unlike many children born to an unmarried mother.

I must have stared at that for 20 minutes, when it hit me what I probably had found. I quickly went back to the tree that listed the father, Svend, as born in 1825. I realized they had estimated the father to be about 25 years old, rounded to the nearest five years. (That’s about the estimated age of parents that I’ve found most useful in working with Scandinavian ancestors, too, so I have a lot of such estimations in my tree.) There was no source attached to the 1825 birthdate. This could be my great-grandfather, with a child born before his first marriage.

So Randine was born in 1851, when Sven was just 21 years old. He married his first wife, Dorte, in 1857, about 5 months before their first child Lars was born. Dorte and Sven had three children in Norway, then emigrated to Wisconsin, and had seven more there. Five died in single month in an epidemic. That’s a story for another day. Beata was another, and I’ve written about her. Of those ten children, only one is known to have had children. Another disappeared and I have not found what happened to him, so he might also have had children — but if my mother’s stories are accurate, he had chosen not to marry and have children.

Sven married my great-grandmother Christine in Wisconsin. She was from Rogaland, Norway. They had two children together, and my grandmother was born in 1891, the last of Sven’s children.

That means Randine was born forty years before her youngest half-sibling, my grandmother. If my grandmother ever knew of Randine’s existence, she did not tell the story to my mother, or my mother would have surely shared that with me.

Randine was a new discovery. Some of the shared matches between Q and my are identified as descendants of Sven’s brothers. Some are still unidentified. One is a 61cM/5 segment match that I can’t place, the person has no tree and does not answer any messages on Ancestry.)

And one shared match between Q and me is a half 2nd cousin twice removed. Randine is her 2nd great grandmother (60cM/4 segments) — which also fits into the right range for Randine being my half great aunt, but without Q’s distraction of another connection.

She had 9 children with Olaus (who as a reminder from early in this story might also be distantly related, I just haven’t found the connection). At least one died in early childhood (still in Norway), and I’ve only been able to trace a death date for five others, one of whom never married or had children. Four married, with descendants, and I can’t find marriages or any further records on three. I wish more of Randine’s descendants would test their DNA!

More mystery?

I had tried tracing my great-grandfather Sven’s ancestry in the early days of online resources. In about 1997, I found a website for Fåberg, and corresponded with someone there who told me that it would be impossible to trace Sven’s ancestors beyond his parents as “there are no written records in that part of Norway back that far.” By the time I found Randine’s birth certificate, I already knew that was not true. So I had begun to doubt most of what that contact person had told me.

Another thing he told me: that Sven had “left a child behind” when he left Norway, a child he had before his first marriage, with another woman not his first wife. And this contact in Norway also told me that the family there was very welcoming of contact with any of Sven’s American descendants.

That tidbit likely prepared me for figuring out that the Svend born in 1825 and the Sven born in 1830 were actually the same person. (I already knew that spelling of names was pretty flexible in the Scandinavian records. And that Sven was himself illiterate — he signed papers with an X into his old age — so his parents probably were, too, and so the name would get recorded with the spelling that the writer assumed was correct.

Right after that contact, my email program of the time crashed and I lost all my historical emails. Including losing that contact. The Fåberg web page with his contact information was nowhere to be found. So I had never been able to ask him who those descendants in Norway were, or who that child was.

I still wonder: was he thinking about Randine? She and her children all went to America, so that doesn’t fit his story. Is there another child he left in Norway, who didn’t emigrate? I still don’t know.