Genealogy is not just a bunch of names, dates and places. I know that in my gut, especially when I read a family history story such as the one Julia Bayly wrote for the front page of the Bangor Daily News on Thursday, Aug. 20.
I hope you will read the story about Maine native Gary Skillings’ search for his family history, if you haven’t already.
Although Skillings never got to meet his birth mother — she declined when the agency through which she placed her son for adoption reached out to her on his behalf many years ago — he did wind up with what my dad would have called “a little million” new relatives recently with the help of a DNA test and the guidance of one passionate researcher from the St. John Valley.
With a nudge from a sister, who also was adopted, Skillings submitted a sample of his DNA through the website 23andme.com and related what he knew about his late birth mother, whose last name was Cote.
I haven’t used 23andme, but last fall I took such a test to learn about my ethnic DNA through Ancestry.com. I provided what I knew about my first few generations, and sent a saliva sample. Six to eight weeks later, I checked the website and found estimates of my ancestry — mostly British, but also 11 percent Irish and some Western European.
The website also allowed me to connect to information on cousins who also had participated in the Ancestry project, and I found some as close as fourth cousins.
Skillings didn’t check his results on 23andme right away. It was more than two years later he found information on a second cousin. As he told Bayly, “if you discover a second cousin, relations really start getting fine tuned and that gets one’s attention.”
Indeed. Second cousins share a set of great-grandparents.
The concept is easy for me to keep in my mind because my mother is an only child — so I have no first cousins on her side of the family.
She does have Steeves first cousins from her father’s side, and Roberts first cousins from her mother’s side. But these are not my first cousins, and no, they’re not my second cousins either. I am one generation down from the first cousins, so they are my first cousins, once removed.
So who are my second cousins? As I said, they are people who share great-grandparents with me. They are the children of my mother’s first cousins.
My children are third cousins to the children of my second cousins.
First cousins share a set of grandparents. Second cousins share great-grandparents. Third cousins share great-great-grandparents. Fourth cousins share great-great-great-grandparents.
Gary Skillings’ second cousin, Samantha Cote, put on her thinking cap and eventually found a first cousin for Skillings, someone who had known his mother and that she had had a child.
Another second cousin turned out to be a real find — Linda Cote Dube of Madawaska. Skillings describes her as a “genealogy guru,” and that’s not an exaggeration. When the Cote family held its reunion in 1992 during Madawaska’s Acadian Festival, Dube, Irene Cote Fortin, Ida Cote Pelletier and Cecille Cote compiled the “Cote Genealogy,” which is available at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and no doubt some other libraries.
By now, readers may be wondering if the Cotes were Acadians. They were not. Although a large family reunion is scheduled each year to coincide with the Acadian Festival, that family is sometimes Acadian, such as Theriault, or French-Canadian — families which settled in Quebec rather than what is now Nova Scotia.
Jean Cote, who was from Mortagne, Perche, came from France in 1634. He married Anne Martin in 1635 in Quebec, and they lived in Beauport, just above Quebec City. My husband is descended from son Jean Baptiste Cote, who married Anne Couture.
Their son Jean Baptiste married Francoise Charlotte Choret in 1695 on Ile d’Orleans in Quebec, and their children included Marie Anne Cote, who married Gabriel Paradis in 1718 at Beauport.
To use what I think of as a New England expression, my husband’s Cote line “daughtered out” when a marriage changed the surname.
A resource that may be worth a look thought I haven’t seen it is “Genealogy de la famille Houle-Cote” by Herbert A. Houle, four volumes, available at the Maine State Library, according to ursus.edu.
Online, I found historical information about the Cote family at Thievin.net/cote.php.
Back to genealogy guru Linda Cote Dube. It turns out that she also knew Skillings’ birth mother, and she talked him into making a trip to Madawaska this summer. With a scant two weeks of preparation, Dube and others set up a reception and chicken stew supper for Skillings to meet his family.
By the time he left the Valley, Skillings had seen the farm his grandfather used to run and met more than 80 cousins and second cousins and their families. What a story.
Many genealogists have tucked away one or more stories about how lending a hand or making a connection for someone yielded a pocketful of memories for all involved.
Bravo to all the Cote relatives who demonstrated the caring that flourishes in The County, and bravo to Julia Bayly for sharing this story.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.