All the way down the genealogical rabbit hole

It was 12:45am on July 12, 2017 and I was lying awake in bed, scrolling through the last vestiges of Amazon’s Prime Day sale. I managed to resist the urge to buy unnecessary junk all day, but my brain decided that there had to be some great deal that I just had not found yet and it was not going to let me sleep until I found it. Then, there it was: 50% off the 23andMe DNA test. Jackpot. I had been curious about 23andMe’s test for some time, interested to know how the testing really worked. Was it junk science? Was it real? 50% off was the excuse I needed to try it and find out.

After spitting in a test tube, mailing it and waiting six weeks, I received notification that my 23andMe results were in. No Jerry Springer paternity or maternity lineage surprises anywhere, but I was hugely fascinated by the number of DNA relatives reported. My mental map that popped up when the word family was uttered really only fully registered immediate family. Parents, grandparents, first cousins, etc. Who were these 1,000+ DNA relatives that 23andMe was reporting?! Who were these people whose names I did not recognize, but who shared whole percentage values of my DNA?

I was fortunate to have a published family tree from a family reunion in 2000. When I started flipping through the pages, there were the names of the top DNA relative matches from 23andMe. Second cousins, second cousins once removed and so on from there. At this point I was fully impressed at the results. Then, a thought occurred: what else did I not know about my genealogy? Answer: pretty much everything beyond my grandparents level was a complete blank. Solution? Time to start building a family tree.

I signed up for MyHeritage, not knowing what I was getting into. My next bit of good fortune came courtesy of the Genealogy of Quebec and French America website. The good news was this provided a treasure trove of data, even though there are debates about it being an acceptable source. It still provided information that I did not have, but was later able to verify elsewhere. I quickly discovered a big problem with genealogical research which is best described by the XKCD comic below (replace Wikipedia with MyHeritage/

Fast forward 1+ years and I have made the following fascinating discoveries via a variety of sources, in no particular order, but grouped by paternal [Baillargeon] and maternal [Nadeau] sides of tree.

Nadeau discoveries:

  • My maternal grandmother was in a hobby/social group called the Peppy Knitters. If behavioral tendencies or inclinations can be passed down genetically, I wonder if this is part of where I get my penchant for making things? Also, Peppy Knitters is a pretty great name for a club.
  • I am apparently a distant cousin of Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Hillary Clinton, Celine Dion and Chris Pratt among others, via one of my 2,048 (!) (number based calculation without pedigree collapse, of which there probably was) great^10 grandfathers by the name of Zacharie Cloutier who apparently could not write and used a drawing of an axe as his signature.
  • There is a book in the library of Congress titled Canuck Odyssey which my cousin Stacie was able to examine. The book described the life of one of one of my 512 (see disclaimer about pedigree collapse above) great^8 grandfathers named Joseph Osanny Nadeau who was one of the early settlers of New France and married a Fille du Roi named Marguerite Guillebourdeau. An inventory of the estate of Joseph Osanny Nadeau in 1678 lists a grill, an old pot, three old boilers, a strainer, an old lamp, an old gun, an old chest containing some old shirts, a barrel of lard, six chickens and a rooster, two pigs, a bull, a cow, an old cow and “another” cow, among other things.
A few of the things listed as Joseph Osanny Nadeau’s possessions in Canuck Odyssey
  • Fun note about Filles du Roi and Filles a Marier: The American-French Genealogical Society located in Woonsocket, RI has a neat service where you can send them a straight line chart listing your connection to a Fille du Roi or a Fille a Marrier and they will validate that information then send you a neat certificate and pin.
Fille du Roi certificate from the American-French Genealogical Society

Baillargeon discoveries:

  • One of my 8 great-great grandfathers worked in the gold mines of Michigan and one of my 8 great-great-grandmothers, who he married, was an illegal immigrant from Germany who was pregnant at the age of 14 or 15 years old and snuck onto a ship to get to the United States! I think my favorite part of the story is the description of how they met:
Venerand Baillargeon and Anny Jane Schuler

In 1857, he walks around the city and enters a hotel to have a beer. A beautiful big girl comes to serve him, he inquires about his name and she answers that she is named Anny Jane Schuler.

In the following weeks, Vénérand seems to take more and more taste of beer while the beautiful German monitors his arrival every night. Vénérand Baillargeon finds it well of its taste and it is reciprocal.

Miscellaneous discoveries/notes:

  • The PBS show ‘Finding Your Roots‘ with Henry Louis Gates Jr. is fantastic and you should watch it if you haven’t seen it already.
  • Dr. Oge Marques recommended a book to me titled ‘It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree‘ which was fascinating and provided quite a few Neo-In-The-Matrix-Whoa moments/thoughts.
  • Different types of DNA tests can reveal different pieces of information. I discovered many additional generations of maternal lineage after poking around in the mtDNA data on FamilyTreeDNA and joining the Quebec mtDNA project. I’m in the midst of a potentially interesting research question via the Quebec yDNA project as well (likely a future post at some point if something comes of it…)

Pierre Baillargeon

Pierre Baillargeon is an engineer from South Florida who holds a Master of Science degree in Computer Engineering, having graduated from Florida Atlantic University in August of 2005. Pierre currently works as a Robotics Engineer at a non-profit biomedical research organization and is known to enjoy photography, gadgets and skillfully constructed pizza.

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