Since this post is about living people, I have changed all names and identifying details, except those of the Whibley family.
For the last four months, one name has sat at the top of my AncestryDNA messages. Ronan Quick. Out of the 10,000+ AncestryDNA members who share some DNA with me, Ronan is my top match. We share 150cM of DNA over 10 segments. My next five matches are a known second cousin once removed (135 cM), her daughters – my third cousins (both 110cM), a double third cousin once removed (75cM) and a half second cousin once removed (71cM). So the link between Ronan and me should be pretty close. I figured that the most likely connection (given our respective ages) was second cousin, once removed. That is, my great great grandparents were Ronan’s great grandparents. Or we could be half second cousins – that is, share one great grandparent. Or the relationship could be more distant, but have coincidentally resulted in a lot of DNA being passed along. Or something else entirely! Excited to discover how we were related, I fired off an email to Ronan, who… never wrote back.
For a while, this was a complete and frustrating dead end. Though Ronan’s real name is quite unusual, there are ten or so “Ronan Quicks” alive today, all in the USA, and I didn’t have the time or patience to investigate them all. All I could conclude was that all these people were quite young (which made it all the more interesting, as it meant that our connection is likely to be more recent) and that our shared matches on Ancestry were related to me through the Whibley family of Kent. The Whibleys are my father’s father’s mother’s ancestors. Here’s a picture of my great grandmother, Emily Whibley. If Ronan and I are half second cousins, Emily would have to be our common ancestor. As far as I know, she only had one child, but did she have another before she was married and give them away? Or, if Ronan and I were second cousins once removed, our common ancestors would be Emily’s parents, Richard Whibley – a school gardener, and his wife Jane Ellis.
Two days ago, I was idly checking out Ronan’s profile when I noticed he had logged into Ancestry again recently and filled out the bare bones of his family tree. When I say the bare bones I really mean that he had entered his grandfather’s name and then stopped. Still, the grandfather’s name was all I needed. As soon as I plugged it into Google, it came up with the following:
Obituary for Peter J Sherriff of Verysmalltown, Georgia. [stuff about funeral] Born on May 20, 1935, the son of John S Sherriff and Delia Edwards [blah blah blah, entire life story], preceded in death by [long list of relatives] and survived by [long list of relatives] and grandson Ronan Quick.
Aren’t American obituaries great? From this one website I had could compile a tree of Ronan’s maternal family almost instantly, and start looking for matches. Using the US census, it only took an hour or so to get back to his four sets of maternal great grandparents. However, not only were none of them Whibleys, none of them were ever English, in fact, the vast majority of them were from Verysmalltown, Georgia. I suspected I was barking up the wrong tree.
I turned my hand to the Quick family. To do this, I used that well known genealogy tool, Facebook, where I quickly identified the correct Ronan Quick (hometown: Verysmalltown, Georgia) and noted that he had kindly left his family information public and named his father. (Note: if you choose to leave personal information open on Facebook, you are helping genealogists, but also stalkers. There is a fine line between the two sometimes. Tread carefully.) His father, Ronald J Quick, is still alive and is listed on an American directory website (similar to our electoral roll sites) as living with a Jonnie R Quick and an Elmer James Quick who died in 2005. Both were listed as being the right age group to be Ronald J Quick’s parents. Further examination revealed that Jonnie was actually a woman and married to Elmer James. (Genderless names are a stumbling block for many a genealogist.) Initially I assumed that Elmer and Jonnie were Ronald’s parents (and therefore Ronan’s grandparents) but then I found an obituary for Elmer that mentions that he had one child – Linda – and then one for Linda, which named one half brother, who wasn’t Ronald. My conclusion was that Jonnie and Elmer were probably Ronald’s aunt and uncle, and that Elmer’s ancestors were probably Ronan’s ancestors too, so again I took them back as far as I could. This time I got outside Georgia – in fact I got to Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida. But I still didn’t get back to England and I didn’t find any Whibleys.
Unfortunately, I have drawn a complete blank at discovering the identity of Ronald’s parents, or anything about his mother. There’s no easy way of finding out the parents of a living person in Georgia (probably for good reason, see “stalkers” above). They don’t have an online birth index like we do in the UK.
I tried the “Mirror Tree” method – attaching Ronan’s tree to my DNA and seeing if any hints pop up on Ancestry. Zero hints. Damn.
I next turned to the Whibleys – did any of my relatives emigrate? I went through all of Richard Whibley’s offspring and the answer seems to be no. None of them emigrated. In fact I see no reason to believe any of them had ever heard of Georgia. Interestingly, when I tried an Ancestry Family Tree search, I did find several trees that included another Richard Whibley (my cousin four times removed) with the assertion that he died in Milton, Georgia. But as you may know, Ancestry trees are notorious for being wrong, and I could find no evidence to back up this “fact” (in fact I found one record which indicates he died in Kent). And even if this Whibley had gone to Georgia, he is too far removed from me to provide such a strong match. Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder, how did that information come to be in someone’s tree? Is there a grain of truth somewhere?
Unfortunately, there’s no conclusion to this post yet. I have to keep checking Ancestry to see if Ronan has added anything else to his tree, and hope he decides to develop his interest in genealogy until he finds some Whibleys. In the meantime, I will just have to sit and wonder how a chunk of my DNA has managed to make it to a town with a population of 600, seven thousand kilometres away.