An Adoptee Discovers Her Biological Roots
Have you imagined trying to find a family member, without knowing their name where they live or whether they are still living? How do people removed from their parents through separation and adoption find their family members? DNA and Genealogy can provide the answers to these questions. Here’s the story of how I helped one man reunite with his father after 30 years.
On April 14, 2016, I started a Facebook thread for about a dozen other people of color who shared a common 3rd great grandfather, a former slave from rural South Carolina. One member of the group, ViElla explained that she could not fathom her connection to this antebellum ancestor, because she was missing one detail-she did not know her biological parents.
ViElla was born in Florida, and as per their closed adoption policy, she was told scant details by the agency: she was born to a young woman in Alachua County with the maiden name Walker who was 17 or 18 years old at the time of her birth, and later married to a man named Davis. A quick search of the marriage record database at Ancestry.com revealed that there was only one such couple who married in Alachua County. Within hours, the adoption agency confirmed, and ViElla reunited with her biological mother’s family through social media.
That’s when she sent me this message:
“My closest DNA match, a second cousin needs your help. He is on Facebook and a graduate of Rutgers…Lamar Carter”
Finding My Own Father
I took an interest in Lamar’s case immediately because I saw so much of myself in him. We were both natives of East Orange, NJ, albeit shielded from the gangs and violent crime that made our hometown infamous in decades past. We were both propelled to finish college degrees, and I worked at his alma mater. We went to rival high schools, although I still do not hold that against him. We were brought into this world by single parents, and raised by extended family members. But most importantly, I had walked the similar path that led to his plea from social media: the absence of a father.
When I was 23 years old, I succumbed to curiosity and decided to try to find my own biological father. This was largely at the behest of my aunt who insisted that I bore a stark resemblance to him. Searching through historical records and social media profiles for a few months, armed with just his name and knowledge that he lived near the state capital, I finally located a Facebook page. My father was living in Delaware, about three hours away from my New Jersey home. We met two days later and DNA tested. In true “Maury” fashion, the test determined with 99.99% confidence that he WAS the father.
I was sure a similar reunion could happen for Lamar, too. On January 5, 2015, he took to social media equipped with poster-board and marker to make his iconic request. Through this feat, he garnered support from the media and other members of the genetic genealogy community. He was able to glean some insight from talking to his family members:
- His mother, Yvette Marie Carter was born on February 25, 1964. She passed away when Lamar was only two years old
- Lamar was born in Newark, NJ on November 4, 1986
- From family members, he gleaned a possible name for his father: “Sonny” Taylor/Tyler
- He was told that his father may have had roots in Florida and a link to law enforcement in New Jersey
When I entered, Lamar’s team at that time was focused on his DNA identified second cousins, a mother and daughter pair with roots in New York City. For three months I interviewed their family members, researched historical repositories and sent multiple Facebook messages sharing Lamar’s message and pictures of his mother, with the hope that someone would respond with good news.
On July 28, 2016 Lamar introduced me to Phebe, a new second cousin match from his AncestryDNA list. Seeing that her family was from New Jersey, I found it important to look into her family. The same week, Lamar’s sister Christine took the test at AncestryDNA.
When Christine’s results arrived on September 13, 2016 it flipped everything upside-down. The New York cousins both matched Christine, so we determined that they were actually matches on his maternal side. We knew this because Christine and Lamar only share the same mother, but have different fathers. Second cousin Phebe was not matching to Christine or any of these other cousins. I hypothesized that at that point that Phebe was our best bet for finding Lamar’s father.
Climbing Phebe’s Family Tree
Traditionally, second cousins share great-grandparents. I assumed that working forwards in time from Phebe’s great-grandparents would help us to find an answer. Given that Phebe and Lamar were only three years apart in age and that their parents and grandparents were close in age, I assumed that the test could have been precise in its prediction.That gave us four possibilities for a couple that could serve as Lamar’s great grandparents:
Eugene + Mary Chapman-Shumate
William + Rosa Huey-Haskins
Unknown Parents of Leonard John Covington
Melvin + Dovia Bryant-Hayes
Since Lamar received his matching DNA from a great grandparent of Phebe, we had to figure out which of the four couples to focus on. We used a feature at AncestryDNA called “Shared Matches.” This tool uses an algorithm called TIMBER to filter matches below a set threshold, and helps the user determine which third person also shares DNA between them and their selected match. Using this feature I was able to pin down a connection! Two of these cousins shared in common with Lamar and Phebe had a common ancestor in their family trees named Hewlett Chapman.
How is Phebe connected to Hewlett? Phebe’s Great Grandmother Mary Chapman-Shumate was the daughter of John Chapman (1871-1952) of Greenville, SC. Her father was the child of a forbidden mixed-race couple: Hewlett Chapman (1815-1876) and black woman, Hattie aka Harriet Chapman. A combination of death certificates and census records confirmed what was laid out in these family trees.
With this information, we narrowed Phebe and Lamar’s connection to just one couple.
Out of the four couples mentioned before, Eugene Shumate and Mary Chapman were likely Lamar’s great grandparents
The Needle in the Haystack
Now that we knew who to focus on, we had to find candidates for Lamar’s father. To do this, we explored which of Eugene and Mary’s grandsons could be his father.
First, by looking at Eugene and Marys’ 14 children, I came up with this list of possibilities for Lamar’s father based on information collected from public, historical records, and local obituaries.
With this in mind, we tried to determine who would have been living in or around Newark, NJ around the time of Lamar’s birth. We came up with a list of seven grandsons who lived in NJ, and only a few with addresses recorded in or near Newark. We turned our focus to first cousins Harold and Mark Shumate.
We initially contacted Harold, a grandson of Eugene and Mary Shumate. He was google-able, and a quick search linked him to the part of New Jersey where Lamar was born.
Harold went to grade school in Elizabeth, NJ, a city that shares its northern border with Newark where Lamar was born. I discovered his name from a court case in 1963 where he was involved in a school protest for freedom of speech. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1965. Holden v. Board of Education of the City of Elizabeth (NJ, 1965).
After finding this connection, I forwarded Harold’s contact information to Lamar’s sister Christine. Harold’s face seemed familiar to her, and I was confident at that point we were on the right track.
When Christine reached out to Harold, he was elated, yet unsure that he could have been Lamar’s father. But…he insisted that he knew who Lamar’s father may be…
Same Place, Same Time
Christine was advised to contact Mark Shumate, Harold’s first cousin, and another grandchild of Eugene and Mary Shumate. Upon hearing about the locations that Christine knew her mother Yvette frequented, Harold confirmed that his cousin was a mainstay in those areas.
This is moreover evident from public records taken just a few months after Lamar was born. Mark Shumate’s address was recorded as Seth Boyden Terrace in Newark in 1987. This was the same housing complex, nine units away from where Lamar’s mother Yvette Carter lived around that time.
That’s when we were sure Mark was our guy!
Testing Mark Shumate
It was September 16, 2016, a year and a half from the start of Lamar’s journey, we had a candidate! Christine and I met Mark and Harold at a local Dunkin’ Donuts in Newark, and I came with a DNA kit from Ancestry.com in hand. We had Mark provide his saliva, and then it was on! I immediately rushed the kit to the nearest mailbox.
On October 11, 2016, after 22 days of waiting with a Zen-like patience, I received a call from Lamar. The results were in! We waited for the magic number of Centimorgans, the unit used to measure the amount of shared DNA markers between two individuals. If Lamar’s father was indeed Mark Shumate, we would expect a value of about 3400, based on estimates by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.
What was Lamar and Mark’s number?
3392 Shared Centimorgans…Relationship: Parent, Child!
Without doubt, it was confirmed! Mark Shumate is the father of Lamar Carter’s father, and on the weekend of Lamar’s 30th birthday, the father and son and 4 siblings met for the first time. How did the reunion go? You can catch the footage for yourself at WUSA9’s website here.