So, through AncestryDNA, I have met a third cousin. Her mother and my father were second cousins. We shared trees, and a little chit chat and that was it, because, after all, as AncestryDNA "matches" we have no more mystery to figure out. We know how we connect. I'll call her Becky. Well, AncestryDNA also has a button you can push on a match's page called "shared matches." I was looking at someone who is supposed to be a fourth cousin to me, according the the DNA analysis, and she didn't have a real fleshed out family tree for me to browse. I pushed the "shared matches" button and saw Becky there. So I match Becky and this person, J, matches Becky, too. Logically, that narrows down J's and my connection a lot, since I know how I'm related to Becky. J must be a relation on my father's line. Cool. So I messaged J and said, hey do you have any [my surname] in your tree, I think we must be related blah blah because of Becky. She writes me right back to say she doesn't know of any [my surname] in her tree, but it could be on her grandfather's side because he never knew who his father was. His mother raised him alone and gave him her own last name, but she took the identity of his father to the grave with her. Well, that was interesting, but honestly, family trees often have a lot of missing branches so I didn't immediately assume that's where I fit in her tree. She asked where my [my surname] family came from. I told her where my grandfather was from in Iowa, and that his father was from a little Illinois town called Sidell and before that they came from two different counties in Ohio.

"My grandfather was born in Sidell," she tells me.

No shit? Oh my word. She gives me her grandfather's name and birth date in 1929 and I do some sleuthing in the census records and find two lines of my great-grandfather's family living in the immediate vicinity at the time. One line is my own line, and a little back-of-the-envelope family tree drawing shows me that if my own great-grandfather, or any of his brothers or his father had sired J's grandfather, our DNA connection would actually be closer than fourth cousins. But that other branch of the [my surname] family living in the area would be the exact right genetic distance. In 1929, the elder male of that family was in his early eighties. He had two married sons, both living on the west coast. One of those sons had a son exactly the age of J's great-grandmother. So any of these men could have fathered J's grandfather, but it would probably have been during a visit home to see family (okay the 80-year-old was still living there, but I'm mostly giving him a pass). The young man is a tempting suspect, but he wasn't married, so I don't see the strong need for the mother to keep his identity secret, even from her own son. I'm thinking it might have been one of the two married men in their forties.

I laid all this out for J, and she responded excitedly, because she says it's a mystery they've always wanted to solve. Her father must be still living, because she told me she checked some of the facts with him and she gave me a correction or two. We'd be searching for his grandfather he never knew.

On some reflection, I messaged her again with my conclusion that, while those men are perhaps prime suspects, the truth is, if I'm depending on a liaison occurring during a family visit, I have to admit that there were six other "lines" of that family, including the families of sisters (but who had sons) who didn't reside in the area, but could have come to visit. In truth, the search needs to broaden to include all those lines.

She hasn't answered me. That was a week ago. I can't help but wonder. I mean, for me it's a fun logic puzzle, but for them--for her father this could be somewhat emotional and coming out of the blue. I mean, I'm the one who PM'd her with my cheerful "hey, we could be related" message.
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