Case Studies

Experiences and Case Studies

DNA Sleuthing Reveals Biological Grandparents

Case Study by Krysten Baca

Using DNA evidence along with traditional genealogical research methods to find biological family members.

It was a nagging question in Pamela Jones’ mind: Who were her biological paternal grandparents? As she grew older, the mystery tugged at her more and more.

“Thinking back 20 years ago, I couldn’t have cared less,” Pamela said. “I just knew my grandparents as the ones I grew up with. My father told me when he was younger he was adopted. I was not overly interested, and he was not interested in finding who his [biological] parents were, either.”

But Pamela’s curiosity about her father’s birth family only deepened after he died in 1997. And when her brother recently welcomed the first grandchild into the family, Pamela became even more motivated to learn about her family’s roots.

Pamela’s father was given the birth name Sheldon Malone, but his adoptive parents named him Chapman Jones.

 “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to really know, way back, where everybody came from, and the story?’”

She decided to work toward an answer through the court system in Kansas City, Missouri, where her father was born at a maternity home in 1918, and adopted shortly thereafter. Having been advised to find a researcher there who could move the case through the courts, Pamela hired one and provided all the information she had—a birth certificate that included her father’s birth name, Sheldon Malone, and his adoptive name, Chapman Jones. All she knew from previous contact with the maternity home was that the mother who gave birth to him was a young woman who lived on a farm and could play the piano.

However, Pamela learned she not only had to provide the biological mother’s death certificate, which she didn’t have, but also had to prove the mother’s true name. She wasn’t sure the name she had—Anna Belle Malone—was even correct. The search brought one closed door after another for Pamela.

“I called the courthouse and literally spoke to the family court person, and she said, ‘No, we can’t give that information.’ And I said ‘Why? I sent you all this.’ She said, ‘We have to protect the birth mother.’ I said, ‘The birth mother’s dead, and I’m a direct descendant.’ She said, ‘No, we can’t do it.’ And I said ‘Okay,’ and that was that.”

Those are the rules of the court, but for Pamela, they were obstacles that seemed insurmountable. However, her frustration prompted her to continue her search through other avenues.

“Before I came to [AncestryProGenealogists], I thought about going to a lawyer, and I thought, ‘That will probably be twice as expensive, and I don’t even know how they work.’ So this was the best route for me.”

Pamela started working with AncestryProGenealogists researcher Krysten Baca. After sharing her story, she took a DNA test and asked her brother to take a Y-chromosome DNA test to determine paternal connections. Krysten took it from there, analyzing the DNA findings for any possible clues. It didn’t take her long to detect a DNA match that ultimately revealed the biological mother’s real name.

“We found this cousin match…and we were able to determine that they did have common ancestors who were further back,” Krysten said.

One woman in particular seemed to be the right fit to be the mother of the baby boy born in Kansas City, and as it turned out, the mother’s name Pamela had been working with from her father’s birth certificate was not correct. However, more proof that they were now on the right track came from articles Krysten found in the archives of the newspaper in the young woman’s rural Kansas hometown. The articles included numerous mentions of her, including a brief mention that she had been away from home visiting relatives in the west for two months—a time period that perfectly coincided with the birth of her baby at a maternity home in Kansas City.

It all began to fit together, and reaching out to an AncestryDNA match who turned out to be a cousin of Pamela’s brought even more new information.

“He’s been so nice, and he’s sending me pictures of [my grandmother]. Oh yeah…he was a little surprised, but when I told him the whole story he was happy to know… He said he still has a lot of stuff packed up in boxes, and he’s going to go through certain things…which is really nice. It was really kind of exciting, him sending me more information going back…family history that they’ve written in their own family, my great-grandmother who came from Germany and didn’t speak English…”

And what about Pamela’s biological grandfather? That search was a bit more difficult, but again DNA results proved invaluable. Various matches to Pamela’s DNA showed her grandfather’s surname was Taylor, and a Taylor family lived in the same Kansas hometown as the biological mother. Considering she had given her baby the name Sheldon, the Taylor brother with that name was the most likely match for Chapman Jones’ father.

Pamela had set out to find names, but ended up learning so much more. Receiving photographs of her newfound ancestors was particularly rewarding.

“Seeing his mother, I thought ‘she has so much hair,’ and my father always had this dark, wavy hair, lots of hair. I thought, ‘These look so much like him, I can’t believe it.’ You could really see the resemblance.”

A picture of Pamela’s likely grandfather, Sheldon Taylor, with his father and four brothers made the new connections particularly real for her.

Pamela’s biological grandfather was likely Sheldon Taylor, second from right. He is surrounded by his brothers and his father, Lafayette Taylor (third from left).

But when she saw a picture of the two oldest sons her grandfather had after he married, she was struck by an even greater physical resemblance—particularly in one of her father’s half-brothers, whom he never knew.

“I thought I could see how [one brother] looks like my father, but his brother looked so much like my father, it was just amazing,” Pamela said.

 “It’s really amazing to see how much you can really find out, especially going back so far,” Pamela said.

She believes the simple DNA tests she took and the expert help in sorting through her DNA matches made the difference in a search that may have forever remained fruitless otherwise.

“DNA really helps a lot,” she said. “Nothing else does!”

Research Manager on Project:

Krysten Baca

Project Hours:

60

Biography

Krysten developed a passion for family history as a child, as she spent time with her great grandmother. This passion turned into a career in 2004 when she joined Ancestry.com. Before she was a research manager, Krysten was a genealogist with the Ancestry.com Public Relations team where she specialized in finding celebrity connections such as Barack Obama being related to Brad Pitt and Warren Buffett.

An avid and skilled United States genealogist, Krysten led a team of our genealogists in research for Helen Hunts's, Cynthia Crawford's, and Cynthia Nixon's "Who Do You Think You Are?" episodes. In addition to her extensive research into the ancestry of celebrities, Krysten loves helping people find their own story.

Areas of Expertise

United States (West, Mid-West, South), African American, United States colonial and military records, lineage society applications.