Caroline Wallis, 23andMe Content Writer, Ancestry Product Team
Messaging a distant cousin through 23andMe’s DNA Relatives can feel like a leap of faith, a shot in the dark. You hope a message doesn’t fall on uninterested eyes. You hope it is read by someone like Mike Farragher, an offbeat writer from New Jersey. You hope for someone like Mike, particularly when you are looking for your ancestral connections to Ireland.
For Mike, opening one of these messages also holds its own unknowns. Indeed he could never have predicted the profound impact one message from a cousin (and its many consecutive ones) would have on his life, which has always included ties to his roots in Ireland.
A second-generation Irish American, Mike grew up listening to his father’s thick Irish brogue and visiting the Emerald Isle every other year to see his grandparents. Mike’s father was one of 10 siblings. As a result, Mike had strong family connections both here and in Ireland, and he wasn’t searching for any more. His first story collection, This is Your Brain on Shamrocks, tapped into his Irish American upbringing. Mike, who works as a vice president for sales at a laboratory company when he’s not writing, thought he knew all about his big Irish family.
Then, he got his first message from a DNA Relative on 23andMe. A cousin, Bethany*, found Mike in the process of doing her own advanced genealogical research. She had discovered evidence that they were related through his paternal side. Mike later connected with Bethany’s four sisters and other cousins, and soon learned that he was everyone’s closest living connection to Ireland.
“These ‘new’ cousins have been robbed of a few decades of that connection and are now making up for lost time,” Mike said.
Eager to share that connection with newfound family, Mike connected these cousins with other Irish family members, leading to a mini-reunion in Ireland for Mike’s father’s 80th birthday.
Laughing, Mike recalls his dad saying, “Don’t you think they’re after your money?[…]You better watch out for all these charlatans hiding in all the corners of the dark web!”
On the contrary, several of these cousins (many of whom are elderly) started crying upon hearing a brogue made familiar to them by their parents. Hungry to learn more about their ancestral birthplace, Mike’s new relatives would ask questions he had never thought to ask, helping Mike rediscover his own roots in a new way.
“I always knew who my family was but it is a lot of fun to watch others discover my family in this way,” Mike said. “Like discovering your life through your children’s eyes, I would liken this experience to much the same thing.”
A natural storyteller, Mike has explored his Irish roots through his writing, and he even met a cousin while on a book tour. Mike likes to think that he carries on the legacies of Ireland’s famous writers, to keep the memory of his Irish ancestors alive, as well as to capture the contemporary stories of the Irish diaspora. And it all began with meeting a few cousins through 23andMe.
As Mike works on his next book — a novel inspired in part by his experience meeting his cousins — we marvel at the watershed power of one tentative message sent on the DNA Relatives platform. Mike is a cousin, a steward, and a storyteller, but also a historian keeping alive the stories of his family.
Follow along on Mike’s entertaining adventures on his blog.
*The names of Mike’s cousins have been changed to protect their privacy.