The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

DNA solves, quells mysteries


  • By Winston Skinner
  • |
  • Feb. 18, 2019 - 10:59 AM

DNA solves, quells mysteries

The Newnan Times-Herald

I am a person who likes to know the truth.

I guess that’s part of how I got into this business and then stayed all these years. DNA is offering answers that were not available when I was growing up.

I was always kind of a nerdy kid, interested in offbeat topics and chasing threads of history. In the fourth grade, I discovered the presidents. A few years later, the mystery of what happened to the Romanovs caught my attention.

Then, in high school, I started delving into genealogy in a serious way.

While searching for one’s roots sounds musty and archival, it is actually a connection with the once living, breathing, dreaming people who came before you. Folks who really get the genealogy bug eventually find a scandal – and figure out that some of those names on the official family tree don’t tell the whole story.

Several years ago, I figured out that someone in my tree’s biological father was not who I had always thought. I ascertained the likely identity of the biological forbear and even got Lynn to travel to Alabama with me to do some research on his family.

In 2017 my daughters gave me an Ancestry DNA test for Christmas. After I spit into a tube and sent it away, I began to get emails about matches. My conclusions were confirmed. Descendants of two of the siblings of the errant father turned up as cousins in my matches.

I did a high school project about Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas. Several women claimed to be Anastasia over the years. The most notable among them was Anna Anderson, who convinced several relatives and retainers of the imperial family that she was the missing grand duchess.

At her death, Anderson was cremated. It turned out there was some DNA preserved in some hair clippings and some tissue preserved after a surgery. DNA tests ultimately proved Anderson was Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish peasant, and not related to the Romanovs.

As part of my high school project, I made a connection with a second Anastasia claimant, Eugenia Smith, who wrote a book and garnered a cover story in Life magazine.

We corresponded several times, and Lynn and I took Sallie and Jane to meet her in Rhode Island while on a vacation trip in 1995.

When authorities located remains near Ekaterinburg, where the imperial family members were shot by Bolsheviks in 1918, they seemed to confirm that no member survived. Still, I was intrigued to learn there is a new book championing Eugenia Smith’s claims.

I want to read it, but suspect DNA tests – if any of Mrs. Smith’s DNA exists – would deep six this mystery.

I ran across an article I had somehow missed from 2015 which explained that DNA testing had shown Elizabeth Ann Blaesing was the daughter of Pres. Warren Harding. While still in my teens, I read “The President’s Daughter,” Nan Britton’s book which claimed Harding was the father of her daughter.

Many historians had accepted the account, but some had not. Harding family members were divided.

Dr. Peter Harding, a grandnephew of the president, and his cousin, Abigail Harding, contacted James Blaesing, whose mother died in 2005.

Testing by AncestryDNA, the same company that solved my genealogical mystery, also confirmed the Harding-Blaesing ties.

The human being in me likes the fact that DNA can solve such mysteries, but the romantic in me can’t help but grasp that future mysteries are likely not to linger but to be cleared up pretty quickly with some cheek swabs and DNA analysis.

Winston Skinner is the news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald. He can be reached at winston@newnan.com .