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Did Great-Grandmother have an affair?

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  • Did Great-Grandmother have an affair?

    Family legend has it that my paternal great-grandmother, Helen Gray Cooper, left her second husband, Sylvester Barnhart, with my grandfather, Eldred Barnhart, in tow and went to California. This action was said to have been prompted by Sylvester Barnhart, my paternal great-grandfather, holding my grandfather over the well possibly threatening to drop him.

    I can understand my great-grandmother’s action, but why would great grandpa do such a thing? Did he discover that Eldred was not his son? This would be easy to answer except that the records office for Brockton, NY had burned to the ground taking grand-pa’s birth record with it.

    According to affidavits sworn by Eldred’s step sisters he was born 21 Aug 1884. Family legend has it that Helen Cooper was a bit “adventurous.” I bring this up as she could have coached her daughters about Eldred’s birth. So, how do I go about discovering Eldred’s relationship to Sylvester? A search for siblings was a dead end as was the search for first and second cousins. I realized that searching for third and fourth cousins was going to take a while.

    I previously had taken both Y-DNA and Family Finder tests on FamilyTreeDNA. The only problem is that I have over 1800 2nd to 4th cousin matches in my family finder results. I had looked at the closer ones with family trees and saw nothing on grandpa’s (paternal) side of the tree. On a whim, I contacted a match who shared just 70 cM with me. He did not have a tree posted on the FamilyTreeDNA website but I decided to ask if it was posted in another location. The cousin shared that he had an extensive family tree online.

    Anticipating the results I reviewed the expected relationship for a 70cM match. A second cousin should share a nominal 212 cM. A third cousin should share 53 cM.A. A mere 4th cousin should share 13.28 cM. These numbers are academic as the actual results can vary widely. Blaine Bettinger reports that 4th cousins can share as little as 0 cM to a maximum of 90 cM. I reviewed my match’s tree and found our common ancestor! We are actually 4th cousins. My match and I share a common g g grandfather. If I am related to my match’s g g grandfather the common ancestor has to be Sylvester’s father. Since the match and I share common DNA and I know that Eldred is my grandfather, Eldred has to be Sylvester’s son. The g g grandfather also shares my family name.

    That answers one question but still, why was Sylvester holding grandpa over the well?

  • #2
    Why does a father ever do stupid or mean things to a child? I could tell you a few stories about my dad, but needless to say fathers can be absolute jackasses with and about their kids.


    • #3
      Sylvester may have experienced one or more of the following, or other reasons:
      • had a bad day
      • had poor self-control when upset or angry
      • perhaps was inebriated
      • Eldred's behavior or talk irritated him mightily
      • Helen's behavior or talk irritated him mightily
      • had sadistic tendencies
      • had other mental or psychological issues


      • #4
        It sounds like the DNA confirms that Sylvester was the father. You say you took Y-DNA too, but you don't tell us what the results were - do they also confirm Sylvester?

        This is why people should be careful making assumptions. You have a family story, which may or may not be totally true, and from that you've drawn conclusions which turned out to not be true. Parents can do terrible things to their children for any number of reasons. A man threatening to harm his child does not necessarily mean it's not his child and hopefully from this you've learned not to jump to those sort of conclusions.


        • #5
          If you share great-great grandparents, then you are 3rd cousins. Has your cousin also done a Y-DNA test?