, 2014

Finding my father: Cousins are discovered

The is the final installment in a three-part series
chronicling Cheryl Whittle’s search for her biological father.
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

MONASKON—Cheryl Whittle and Effie Jane had an instant connection. Both were born in 1951 and grew up near Richmond. Both have a deep Christian faith and had grown up in unstable families. Cheryl and Effie Jane both felt out of place among their own relatives.

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From left, Cheryl and Dick Whittle of Monaskon celebrate Christmas 2012 with their son, Travis Whittle, and daughter, Wendy Plear.

So when the two connected in May on Ancestry.com, a website for tracing family trees, they believed, and hoped, they were sisters. Cheryl had found out three years ago, at age 59, that the man she’d grown up calling Dad and the man she’d believed to be her father, Joe Wilmoth, was indeed not her biological father. She stumbled upon the family secret when she convinced her husband and half brother to take a DNA test through an online site called 23andMe. That’s when the all-consuming and often frustrating search began for Cheryl to locate her father.

The Relative Finder on 23andMe disclosed possible fourth, fifth and sixth cousins but no relatives close enough for Cheryl to trace to her real father.

In the spring of 2010, she bought a Family Tree DNA test which allowed her to search in a different database.

“The more ponds you fish in the better possibility of finding a match,” said Cheryl, who in April 2012 connected with a genealogy expert who created a spreadsheet that included more than 500 people sharing Cheryl’s DNA. Unfortunately, the data didn’t reveal any close matches.

So in the fall of 2012, Cheryl bought yet another DNA kit, this time for Ancestry.com, and about six months later received a message about a possible second cousin named Jeanette. Cheryl knew that was a solid lead and sent a DNA kit to Jeanette. The test revealed Jeanette didn’t share any DNA matches with Cheryl’s sister, Sandi, but did with Cheryl, which meant the two were related through their father’s line.

After searches and comparing family trees and piles of data, Cheryl’s genealogy expert found Joseph Parker, Effie Jane’s grandfather, who lived in Richmond. The research showed that Effie Jane could be Cheryl’s cousin, or possibly her half-sister.

The two met last spring in Richmond for the first time and immediately liked each other as much in person as they had during their email conversations. Both wanted to be sisters. Unfortunately, Cheryl got the news in July that they weren’t sisters, and weren’t even first or second cousins, but fourth cousins.

Recently, Cheryl has uncovered another lead. Unrolling the spreadsheets across her dining room table, she points to chromosome matches and the overlapping colors which mean Cheryl and a certain person are related. She points out that she and Jeannette share 18 different segments.

“Have you ever thought about how many grandparents you have?” asked Cheryl. “If you go back six generations...for every generation you double it. Six generations back you’ve got 64 grandparents!”

Over the last few weeks, Cheryl and Jeanette have been frantically working to discover how the two are second cousins, and how they are both related to Effie Jane.

“Basically, I believe our common ancestors are Thomas Winslow Barden and Martha A. Cason of Orange County, Virginia,” said Cheryl. “My father would likely be their grandson, and Jeannette and I would be their great-grandchildren. Of course, none of this is written in stone.”

Cheryl asked one of the relatives in that family line to take a DNA test, but he refused.

Some of Cheryl’s highest matches are with the Herndon and Rucker family lines.

“Rucker truly interests me since mom had worked at Rucker Rosenstock in early 1951 and left there abruptly,” said Cheryl. “I wonder if she may have had an affair or been attacked by someone.”

She may never know how her mother, Vivian Tipton of Petersburg, knew her biological father. Were they in a relationship, just casual acquaintances or was she raped?

“I’m going to continue my search. If I get my name out there, maybe someone will know something and have pity on me,” said Cheryl.

“Sometimes I think we’ll never know the answers. [My father] probably didn’t even know about me; if he did it will be real surprising to me.”

If anyone has any information that may help Cheryl in her search for her biological father, please contact her at southernheritagegrandma@hotmail.com.

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