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This is not a bizarre claim out of nowhere.

Related to some recent conversations with friends about the 23&Me DNA…

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Related to some recent conversations with friends about the 23&Me DNA testing, my mother recently had it done. I have been giving her a hard time (in a fun way) because she paid them to tell her what she already knew (no surprises for us, 1/2 Eastern European and 1/2 Irish) BUT it's also kicked off a bunch of conversations about various family history stories. Which, I shall try not to bore anyone else with.

One that was intriguing to me, though, was about my mom's mom's family (so, my Nana). Her father and two of his brothers came to the US from the Ukraine around 1905. After WWII, there were a lot of Ukrainians who became displaced persons living in camps (DPs). They usually needed financial sponsorship to be allowed to come to the US, and many were sponsored by family members or cultural organizations. In the early 1950s, some Ukrainian DPs arrived in the US, and brought a letter from a cousin of Nana's father, addressed in an open way to "any family of [the three brothers]." The letter made its way to my Nana's family, and so what they have is this cousin and his wife and children who are stuck in a DP camp. Nana's family scraped together as much money as possible, and leaned on the local Ukrainian immigrant community and eventually assembled enough money to bring the family over, and set them up in a little apartment on Broadway in Buffalo (for some reason, my mom is really taken with the location of the apartment). Nana then took the train to New York City to meet them and bring them back to Buffalo -- which, for me, is AMAZING TO THINK ABOUT. It was an ordeal for my Nana to cross Seneca Street. She was really not a person who enjoyed travelling even AT ALL (I mean this in a clinical way, she really had some issues with being outside of her familiar zone.) At this point in the story, I kept interrupting my mom to ask ARE YOU SURE? NANA WENT ON A TRAIN TO NEW YORK CITY? NOT SOMEONE ELSE? It might as well have been a trip to the moon. Marvels. My mother assured me, yes, it was indeed Nana, and that mom remembers it clearly because she was about six years old and Nana brought her back a Roy Rogers costume. My mom, by the way, was obsessed with Roy Rogers as a kid, and she is still a wealth of information about Roy Rogers.

The end result, obviously, is that according to Nana, she felt something was off right away when she met them (note: my Nana is not always the most reliable reporter in areas like this), and by the time they got to Buffalo it was revealed that they were not in fact her father's cousins, but had purchased their papers on the black market. And then the family got off the train in Buffalo and no one ever heard from them again.

So it was all completely a scam, although I don't think quite like a Nigerian prince scam, in that there were a lot of families who were in that situation and ended up with their actual, real relatives so certainly the idea of bringing over your cousin's family was not ridiculous right out of the gate. My mom also noted that Nana and her siblings were not even totally disillusioned after this experience -- they continued to volunteer with helping new arrivals in the local area with translating and other transition assistance.

I'm now really curious as to how the other family fared, and where they ended up.
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      • I noted that my first reaction was maybe more sympathetic. Wow, just imagine being in a camp with nowhere to go and you've got your little kids ... you'd be so desperate to do anything to get out. Because surely you wouldn't bilk some honest Buffalonians unless things were really, really bad, right?

        But my mom was a little more ambivalent. She agreed that okay, maybe it was out of pure desperation. Ooooooor, she pointed out, maybe if you were sneaky ANYWAY you would be more adept at sneaking your way out of the camp using the black market.
    • Oh, another bit of business that I thought you would enjoy -- the Irish folks have the surname Clark, and were not at all creative about naming children, it's all Charles and Robert and Mary and Ann. So much so that in my family, there is a Charles Clark with children named Robert and Mary, and there is ANOTHER, unrelated family in Buffalo with the same surname and another Charles who spawned a Robert and Mary.

      I've gotten to the point where I can usually quickly glance at someone else's family tree and figure out right away which Clarks they are. I was looking at one of these not-us Clarks, and something caught my eye -- another son born in Buffalo in 1901 and his name was William McKinley Clark! I wonder if there was a big surge of William McKinley tribute children around that time. Assassination drama!

      • Oh my god, the Fox relatives, same deal. Thank god my great-great grandfather was named BARNEY because otherwise the family is Mary & John (parents) with sons James, Michael, William, and Martin (besides Barney).
  • What an astounding story.
  • What is interesting to me is how much stuff like this that the DNA testing might reveal. I mean, these people fessed up, but what if they hadn't? Imagine you growing up close to them and thinking they were your family and then you guys do the testing and your profiles turn out different in ways that can't be accounted for. You'd be wondering where that happened, and how. Did great-aunt Thelma have a thing with the milkman? Did a baby get swapped at a hospital by accident? Did an entire family buy some fake papers?

    • I think the fake papers would be low on my personal list of conclusions to jump to, and then I would be casting all sorts of aspersions on people.
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