So what’s to be done, if Edward isn’t my kin after all? It’s true that we don’t have unquestionable proof. But, on balance, I do think we have ‘reasonable evidence’, which I’m about to collate and present to the doubters. It still raises a huge question: what does it mean if your cherished ancestors have to be rubbed out of your tree? When you go gathering up your ancestors, you don’t just gather names and dates. You find real people and their stories, and in some sense, they come alive for you. All the research I did among other family historians for my recent book Growing Your Family Tree confirms that I’m not a sad isolated case in having this experience. And communing with the ancestors has been a part of human culture worldwide since earliest times. There is a kind of link that is forged, and a resonance generated between earlier generations and our present lives.
However, if the evidence against proves incontrovertible, then I’ll have to relinquish Edward and Maria. I think we should never invest quite so much of ourselves in our ancestors that ‘losing’ them diminishes our identity. Facing uncertainty in any sphere – science, relationships, religion – is all a part of the quest for knowledge. In family history, there’s always the issue of whether a father really is a father. I’ve come across studies which say that as many as one in three children are not the product of their named fathers! The links you make, in family history, may sometimes be to the ‘wrong’ people in terms of the DNA. And you may – I may in this case – just have to accept that, and go reconfigure. But in this case, I hope not.
See my article Voices of the Ancestors in the current issue of ‘Mind Body Spirit’ (www.watkinsbooks.com).
And more on the meaning of ancestors in our lives in Growing Your Family Tree.
Footnote – some years later, I can now confirm that we’ve found not only enough family history evidence to claim Edward Owens as our ancestor, but also the DNA to connect Debra and me genetically, which proves our common descent from him. The DNA is shared with a proven descendant of said Edward Owens.