My Cousin is a Whale

My Cousin is a Whale

by Kerry Scott on 11 December 2013

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Confession: I think I might be obsessed with my cousin. I need you to tell me I’m not the only one.

I’m really into the DNA testing thing. When I did my Family Tree DNA test, I had one match who was listed as a second-to-fourth cousin. In genealogical terms, that’s a really close match. This cousin turned out to be an adoptee, and while she’s nailed down her maternal ancestry pretty well, the paternal line is a mystery. She also has her mom’s DNA, and I don’t match her, but I do match her dad’s phased result on GedMatch. So I’m related to the mystery dad.

I’ve been a genealogist for a long time, but I have some lines that have non-paternity events (NPEs) and other challenges, so I have a tough time figuring out how many of my matches are related even when they have a tree to offer. It’s even tougher when the person I’m working with also has holes.

So we’ve been working to figure out who her dad might be. We know approximately when he would have been born, and obviously we know he was in a certain place at a certain time. That’s it. I’ve been fleshing out the descendants of my ancestors to see where I have a male who would have been the right age, but so far, I haven’t found him.

Yesterday I got an email from my cousin, saying that she has a new match. This guy is listed as a second-to-third cousin, and she shares 243cM with him. I thought that might be a typo…but no. Two hundred and forty-three centimorgans. I don’t know about you, but the closest I’ve ever had was 58cM, and I was excited about that. This is a huge break in the case.

So now my new strategy is to work on this guy’s ancestry, because it’s a close enough relationship that I believe it will lead us to her dad fairly quickly (more quickly than my 53cM and NPEs can manage, anyway). I don’t appear to be related to this new guy, but I’m related to my original cousin and her dad, and this will help me find the dad. That may very well help me figure out one of my tough-to-research lines as well. It’s a win for everyone.

My original cousin is a normal person, not a genealogist. I think she’s feeling bad that I’m spending time on what she feels is her genealogical problem. What she doesn’t realize is that her dad has become my white whale. He’s Moby Dick, and I’m absolutely fixated on catching him. She thinks I’m doing her a favor, but NOPE. She’s doing me a favor, because when I find this guy, he’s going to take his place in tree, and he’ll bring others with him. Plus I’m going to dance around and sing “We Are The Champions.” Then I’m going to gloat on Facebook. I will be insufferable for days. You’ve been warned.

So I’m curious. Who is your white whale? Am I the only person who completely fixates on a particular problem like this? 

Photo by Tiffany Terry

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

LLG December 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I think you mean centimorgan not centimeter. If our DNA was measured in centimeters we’d each be the size of the universe :-/


Kerry Scott December 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm

DUH. I sure do. Fixing that now. Sheesh.


Jenny Lanctot December 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

So excited for you, Kerry! I can’t wait to endure your days of insufferable-ness! Keep us posted on your progress!


Stacey December 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm

You are not alone! I have my white whales and many other friends white whales too! Recently, my second cousin asked me to help her find out more about her mother’s family who are unrelated to me. The mother was given up to another distant family member at birth and she didn’t recall much since she broke all contact with the entire family when she was 16. Talk about an adventure, this puzzle had everything. I know she also felt that she was burdening me but this was the kind of mystery that kept me awake for days! It’s been very rewarding for all of us involved. I’ll stay posted for the gloating!


Elizabeth December 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Not alone at all! I was reading some old newspapers and there was an article about a young lady tarred and feathered in our town, with the initial commentary that she somehow deserved it. When I have the spare time I research because I want to see if she went on to have a somewhat normal life after the event….


Lindi December 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Oh that’s so funny. I had an ancestor that I referred to as the White Whale too, and to ANYONE who would listen. Took me five years to hunt him down, but I’ll be danged if I didn’t dance, sing and generally make an idiot of myself when I finally found a document that broke that wall.

Call me Ishmael.


Israel P. December 12, 2013 at 4:19 am

My mother’s maternal grandmother who died in Russia (Borisov, near Minsk) in 1896 in her late thirties. I know her name and her father’s name (from the tombstone) but not her maiden name or anything else about her. This is the only ancestor of that generation about whom I know so little. Her husband – for whom I am named – married again soon after and four of the five kids went to the US before WWI. Two died soon after, my gm never spoke of the old country and the younger brother was two when his mother died, so knew nothing at all. (The eldest sister stayed in Russia and although we have a 1920s photo, we don’t know what happened to her family and she is my only “missing” great-aunt/uncle.)


Elroy Davis December 12, 2013 at 10:41 am

“My original cousin is a normal person, not a genealogist.” Funniest sentence I’ve read today. :-)

My wife’s great-grandfather was our White Whale. With the help of a cousin we were able to connect him with some other names that we knew about (he went by several). Now we’re onto trying to find his parents.


Shirese Louie December 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

Great post!

I am African American with many matches of European descent. I am the whale of which you write about. Your sentence “I think she’s feeling bad that I’m spending time on what she feels is her genealogical problem” is how I feel when matches go out of their way to try to see where I fit in the tree. I am most appreciative of people like you. I hope you guys figure this out.


Ann December 12, 2013 at 10:57 am

My current Moby is my great grand uncle John McGarrity. My 2nd great grandparents had 8 known children. I have traced 7 of them from birth, through emigration, marriage, children, death and burial.

Uncle John is being elusive. He was born 20 June 1866, in Termonmaguirk, County Tyrone, [now Northern] Ireland, to Michael McGarrity and Sarah Hughes. Especially since I have traced all his known siblings, I am even more determined to find out what happened to him.

My previous Moby was my 4th GGF, Obediah Hale. I finally broke through that wall in August – on my birthday, in fact – and I was insufferable for days. Probate records from 1873, in Walton County, Georgia, did the trick. Added to my joy in finding MY ancestor was just a little gloat – okay maybe a big gloat – that I debunked a theory that has been rampant for many years.


RSF December 12, 2013 at 11:29 am

Frustrated by two white whales on my father’s side – his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandfather. Both have common names, and I have little to go on – no confirmed dates of birth or death only where they resided at one point in their lives. I have dna on Ancestry and FTDNA – one result on Ancestry is a distant cousin on my father’s side I already knew about. The other is on my mother’s side, our g-grandfathers were brothers and we show only a low match. On FTDNA I have four 2nd to 4th matches and none seem to match up via the family tree. The closest match on FTDNA is 56.41 cM the other three are about 48 to 47 cM. I’ve been searching for info on my white whales for six years and still only scraps. My father was an only child and he passed away in 1992 well before I began working on family history. When he was alive he rarely spoke about family at all because his parents divorced when he was five years old and he had a fairly sad childhood. My brother is the last living male of this line and when I asked via my mother if he might consider doing dna the answer was “no” so I am left with little to go on there.

Only recently discovered your blog and enjoy your articles so much.


Susan Graben December 12, 2013 at 2:29 pm

For those of us who love genealogy, the quest for the white whale seems to be part of our DNA. It is the thrill of the hunt! Doesn’t matter if it is our relative or not, we are going to track that elusive ancestor down and harpoon him!


Linda Schreiber December 12, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I’ve had a number of unrelated Mobys over the years. Usually from a maillist query, that had just enough of a familiar surname, or defined place/time, or just sounded like a great hunt! Solved a few, helped with others. To confusticate literary references — It is fantastic fun to Sherlock Mobys!!!


Jacquie December 13, 2013 at 5:51 am

And sometimes these white whales turn up under your nose. Christian Miller had come with his 8 children in the 1850s and they all stayed in a small town, Colden NY. Plus Christian’s brothers and sisters came to the same town . In 1996, I was lucky to be given a 28 page Miller family tree written, (typed) in the 1950s. This was extremely helpful because it was difficult to keep all the Michaels, Nicolas and Christians straight. This kept them all identified. Youngest son Michael came with them, was with them in the 1860 census (as an adult) then fell off the face of the earth. There were many possibilities, but I couldn’t be sure. In 2011, someone sent me the same 1950 scanned, and in 2013, I actually looked at it…it had 32 pages, which included all of Michael’s information. The 1996 paper copy had been missing a few pages. (Happy dance!)


Jana Last December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!


Brandi December 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I just wanted to tell you that I just found your blog today and I immediately subscribed. I think you’re funny and real and I love it. Some of your older posts made me laugh out loud. So glad I found your blog. :)


Heather Collins December 19, 2013 at 10:43 am

Annie Rorer Fenity and her bleepity bleepin’ parents.

She was sent to live with her uncle James William Nance, who incidentally was an alcoholic that beat his wife to death and went to jail. Meanwhile, the missing 1890′s census was probably the only place which recorded her together with her parents–but I can’t be sure because I have no idea when they died.

I researched her brother John, and I may or may not have found his birth record with some parents listed. But those people never died, so it just doesn’t make sense why living people would send their children to such horrible, horrible family members!

Yeah… I’m not bitter or anything…


Linda Schreiber December 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Laughing at myself…. Started helping an unrelated today, and the first list-name option that came to me for working with Diigo was “Whales-Dowd”!! Actually may work well as a general thing. This one just might stick, Kerry! ;-)


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