Friday, July 31, 2020

'I was found as a baby wrapped in my mum's coat – but who am I?'

Tony May was only a few weeks old when he was abandoned by the River Thames in London, in the middle of World War Two. He had no idea who his parents were for more than 70 years. Then a DNA detective dug up the truth about his past.

A few days before Christmas, in 1942, a baby boy was brought in to a police station near the Houses of Parliament in London.

He had been found wrapped in a bright blue woman's coat on Victoria Embankment, a road lined with trees and occasional benches that runs along the north bank of the Thames. The boy was judged to be one month old and, after no-one came forward to claim him, he was allotted a birthday. He also needed a name. It was common at the time to refer to the place a child was found - and so he became Victor Banks.

"I always wondered who they were, you know? And why I would have been abandoned, I think that's the main thing."

Tony May is sitting in an old easy chair in his flat in St Albans, just to the north of London. There are jazz CDs piled on a side table, and photos of trumpet players on the wall.

"I used to run a club on the jazz circuit," he tells me. "We'd get musicians who had played at Ronnie Scott's."

Tony is in his 70s. Though he moves carefully around his flat his voice is full of energy. He gestures now to one of the pictures crammed on to his mantelpiece.

"My mum and dad, Arthur and Ivy, didn't have any brothers or sisters so they had friends who we called aunt and uncle. They were lovely to me."

The couple adopted Victor Banks when he was a toddler in 1944, changing his name to Tony May. They went on to adopt a little girl called Eleanor who became Tony's sister. Tony remembers being told he was adopted when he was about seven.

"It was no big deal really. But I remember my sister went around telling everyone we were adopted and I was so embarrassed."

Image copyrightTONY MAY
Image caption
Tony and his sister, Eleanor
When he was growing up, Tony was particularly close to his father.

"My dad was very bright but although he was very interested in sport he was no good at it at all. When he realised I was good at it, he used to give me and my friend Mick cricket catching practice every night. He'd come home from the bank - I can see him now with his hat and umbrella - and he'd come down the garden to help us. And he'd take me to see major sporting events at White City stadium in London.

"I became a very good cricketer and schoolboy athlete because he believed in me. And when you're adopted you need people to believe in you."

Tony's adoption was rarely mentioned by his parents.

"I remember once my dad knocked on my bedroom door when I was a teenager and asked what music I was listening to," Tony says.

"It was John Coltrane on tenor sax playing ballads. He said: 'Do you think you play such mournful music, because you're adopted?' I said: 'No Dad, this is world-class music played all over the world.' He said: 'Oh, OK then.' That was that, there was no dialogue about it."

Tony only discovered he had been found as a baby on his wedding day, at the age of 23.

Image copyrightTONY MAY
"My dad sidled over to me after the service," he says.

"He told me that when I got back from my honeymoon he'd have an envelope for me with my exam passes and adoption order. He said: 'There's a word on it that you might not know, the word foundling. Just letting you know.' I didn't twig for ages what it meant. It was much later that I realised I'd been abandoned."

Tony went into banking, like his father, and then into recruitment. He also had two children.

Looking back, he wonders whether not knowing where he came from did affect him, despite what he told his father about the music he'd been listening to that day.

"I worried a lot about things going wrong, which meant I worked extra hard at getting things right. It did mean when the auditors came around at work I knew I'd get a clean sheet.

"Though I laugh and joke and muck about, I'm not tactile. I'm fairly reserved, I would say, about showing emotion. But I can cry my eyes out watching a rugby match."

It wasn't until his adoptive parents had died that Tony felt ready to investigate where he came from. His first port of call was the London Record Office, where he was amazed to find out he wasn't allowed to look at his own adoption file. The rules at that time stipulated that a social worker had to go in and make notes in pencil on his behalf.

The file revealed that after being found on Victoria Embankment on 19 December 1942 he was taken to the old Canon Row police station near Westminster Bridge - but there was no mention of who had found him or at what time of day. After being examined at a hospital in Chelsea, he was evacuated to Easneye Nursery in Ware, Hertfordshire, away from the risk of bombing.

Image copyrightTONY MAY
Image caption
Ivy May
Little Victor first met Arthur and Ivy May at Easneye. Before they were allowed to adopt him they fostered him for a year and Tony is visibly moved as he reads out a welfare report from that time.

"Date on which visit made: 5 November 1943. Is the child well cared for? The answer is: 'She devotes her whole time and attention to the baby and he is responding well to individual care and is becoming interested in people and things.' Are the applicants satisfied with the child? 'They are very pleased with him and delighted to have a baby of their own.'"

"That's lovely, that," Tony says, tapping the table for emphasis.

Letters in Tony's file reveal the Mays wrote to the authorities to see if they could find out any more about his history. The reply was definitive - exhaustive inquiries had been carried out to trace the parents, but all efforts had been unsuccessful.

Having reached this dead end, Tony then took his story to the media in the hope it might jog someone's memory. He appeared on radio, TV and in newspapers in the mid-1990s. Some nurses who had worked at the Easneye nursery during the war came forward, but Tony was no closer to finding out about the circumstances of his birth.

"I had given up. I thought, 'No man can do more than I have done, so that's it,'" he says.

Then, four years ago, Tony joined a Facebook group for foundlings. They swapped stories about their lives and their theories about why they might have been left.

Tony thought he could be the result of a liaison between a British woman and an American GI. It's estimated that about 22,000 children were born in this way between 1942 and 1945.

"I was found in London and I know this is an area where it was happening," he says.

He mentioned his theory in the Facebook group, and it was a move that would change his life.

The post was spotted by Julia Bell, a genetic genealogist who has used DNA to track down American servicemen who fathered children during World War Two.

Julia's first successful case was working out who her own GI grandfather was."My mother was over the moon to find out. Her father had died in 2009 but she had five brothers and sisters living all over the US. They send her presents for her birthday."

Julia was inspired by her experience to work on other GI cases, but she was now looking for a new challenge.

"I was finding the American servicemen cases very easy. They all knew who their mothers were, but not their fathers. I thought, 'How about giving that gift of knowing where you come from to people who don't know who either side was?'"

She had started looking at foundling cases when she came across Tony's Facebook post, so she introduced herself and offered to help free of charge.

"I thought, why not?" Tony says.

"I've tried everything you know, if you like you might as well go for it. I didn't think she'd be successful. How can you possibly be from so little information?"

And he was right that the case was a tough one, in fact it was the hardest that Julia had ever attempted to crack.

To read more of this article, hit here

Monday, July 27, 2020

Free Online Genealogy Resources to Research Your Family Tree

Whether you come from a family that proudly displays their coat of arms in the foyer, or knows very little about where they came from, you may have some questions about your background. Being stuck at home thanks to the coronavirus pandemic means that we may have more time on our hands, but conducting genealogical research isn’t as straightforward as a simple Google search.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

A security breach opened up access to a genealogy site’s DNA profiles

Info could've been accessed by anyone, including law enforcement.

Over the weekend, a security breach changed the permission settings on millions of profiles in GEDmatch, a DNA database used by genealogists. For three hours, DNA profiles were visible to all members, including law enforcement agencies, which sometimes use the site to find partial matches to crime scene DNA.

Usually, GEDmatch users can select whether or not they want to share their DNA profile with police. When the attack reset users’ permissions, their data was temporarily visible to law enforcement. It’s unclear if any police searched the database during that time.

According to Verogen, the company that recently purchased GEDmatch, no user data was downloaded or compromised. But two days later, the genealogy website MyHeritage alerted users to a phishing scheme that targeted people who used both MyHeritage and GEDmatch. In a statement posted online, the company said it suspects the attackers may have gleaned the email addresses from GEDmatch.

Verogen has taken GEDmatch down. The company says it is working with a cybersecurity firm to conduct a forensic review and safeguard the site. That may not be enough to recover users’ trust.

Some already see giving law enforcement access to DNA profiles as controversial. As BuzzFeed News reports, this incident could limit those on both sides of the debate. If GEDmatch can’t keep data safe, users may be less likely to create DNA profiles, which could make it harder for police to use the site to solve cold cases. On the other hand, if GEDmatch can’t limit police access, users who may have made a profile on the condition it wouldn’t be used by law enforcement may not create a profile at all. That means less data for genealogists to work with.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Discovering unknown family through DNA tests

Taking a DNA test might yield some surprises about your heritage; a recent survey shows that more than a quarter of those who use mail-in DNA tests end up learning about close relatives they didn't know about. But it's not always happy or comforting news. Rita Braver talks with people who have met siblings for the first time, and with members of a support group for those who suddenly discover they have different biological parents from those who raised them. She also finds out how employees at 23&Me get special training to counsel people who've made shocking discoveries about their families.

To watch more of this video, hit here

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Family Secrets: What a Spokane cop discovered through DNA tests

Millions of people use DNA tests to learn more about their own ethnicity. But one of Spokane's best known police officers is using them to investigate her own father's sordid past and search for family members she's always suspected may be out there.

To watch the video, hit here

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Which is the Best Genealogy Site? Ancestry.com vs. FamilySearch.org: Learn the Power of Using Both!

Which is the better genealogy website, Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org?  In this Genealogy TV episode, I’ve got five examples demonstrating the power of using FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com together to amplify your family history search results.
To watch the video, hit here

Monday, July 13, 2020

DNA results for adopted man -

DNA results for adopted man - Ancestry.co.uk - Ancestry.com
After 46 years I have finally learnt what secrets my DNA ancestry holds.I got the kit from Ancestry.co.uk or Ancestry.com in the States.

To watch the video, hit here

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Native Americans Voyaged to Polynesia Long Before Europeans Reached the Americas, DNA Study Shows

Indigenous South Americans reached islands in the South Pacific some 300 years before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, according to new genetic evidence.

New genetic research published today in Nature links indigenous South Americans to Polynesian Islanders. Incredibly, it seems a group from what is today Colombia voyaged to the South Pacific around 1200 CE, reaching islands thousands of miles away. Once there, they mingled with the local Polynesian population, leaving their genetic and possibly cultural legacy behind, according to the new research, co-authored by Stanford University biologist Alexander Ioannidis.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have been wondering about this potential link for decades, but evidence has been limited, inconclusive, and speculative.

While sailing through Polynesia during the 18th century, for example, Captain Cook documented the presence of sweet potatoes on South Pacific islands—a weird finding, given this root vegetable’s origins in South America. Scientists took this as evidence of indigenous South Americans traveling to the Pacific Islands or Polynesians traveling to South America and returning home with their sweet potato stash. This theory was challenged two years ago in a Current Biology study, in which the authors argued that the sweet potato arrived in Polynesia some 100,000 years ago, long before humans ventured to this part of the world.

To read more of the article, hit here

Monday, July 6, 2020

In the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Not Wearing a Mask Was Illegal in Some Parts of America. What Changed?

Most of our ancestors wore medical masks every day in 1918 through 1920. I remember my father describing those days when he was a 10 to 12-year-old. My mother was still a toddler in 1918 to 1920 and did not remember the masks herself but she relayed to me a number of stories her older relatives had told later while she was growing up. Your ancestors undoubtedly wore masks as well, both in the U.S. and in most other countries. The 1918/1920 Spanish Flu pandemic killed millions worldwide and most people in most countries wore masks and took other precautions, such as what we now call “social distancing.”

The following is from a rather interesting article by Paul French in the CNN web site:

When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit Asia, people across the region were quick to wear masks, with some places like Taiwan and the Philippines even making them mandatory in certain scenarios.

But in the West, mask adoption has been far slower, with England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, for example, going so far as to claim mask-wearing is unnecessary.

Yet it hasn’t always been the case that mask-wearing is an Asian proclivity.

It certainly wasn’t during the influenza pandemic of 1918, which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, and infected one-third of the world’s population, or about 500 million people, leading to about 50 million deaths — about half a million of which were in the United States.

You can read the entire article, by hitting here

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Census Has New Method for Privacy but Researchers Want Proof

The Census Bureau claims to have improved its ability to provide accurate data without risking the privacy of its responses, but experts are concerned there isn’t time to test the method before the data is published. The tweaks to the new method are critical to an accurate population count, one that will affect legislative mapmaking and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funds.

“Unfortunately, the tabulation, documentation and quality control processes required for public releases of data products are enormously time and labor intensive,” Michael Hawes, the Census Bureau’s senior adviser for data access and policy, said in a statement. “With the 2020 Census now underway, we are unable to support the release of another full demonstration product.”

You can read more in an article by Michael Macagnone in the Governing web site by hitting here

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Update on Hispanic Heritage Project

The Hispanic Heritage Project and the El Colegio de Michoacán are pleased to announce that they have begun cataloging the following collection: “Procesos del Santo Oficio de México, 1522-1820, Sección genealogía de los procesados.”

To carry out the project, a team of catalogers is being organized by El Colegio de Michoacán to develop a catalog of the collection. It is supervised by Doctora Clementina Campos, director of the Office of Diffusion Cultural and coordinated by Dr. Isabel Juárez, who will be responsible for developing the project. This collection, housed at the Archivo General de la Nación has been previously digitized by FamilySearch and is located on its website, FamilySearch.org. The catalog will greatly facilitate searching and accessing the documents which will be available on the panes.info website.

The final product will be entitled Genealogía de los Procesados” It will contain the names of the accused and their genealogies that were notated during the inquisition process.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

“Who Do You Think You Are?” has been Renewed for Another Season

NBC has released a list of television programs canceled or renewed for the 2020/2021 season. In the list, there is a one-line entry that lists:

Who Do You Think You Are? 11 (13 episodes) returning series which will debut (TBD)

You can find the entire list of NBC programs at: https://newslagoon.com/en/entertainment/cancelled-or-renewed-status-of-nbc-tv-shows/152227/.