Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool, But She May Have Raised a Wilson

One of the things I tell clients and those interested in family history and genealogy is to be prepared for what you might find. Case in point: me. A few months ago I decided to submit to y-DNA testing. This type of DNA test looks at the portion of one’s DNA that is specific to the male line. It is also very stable and not as susceptible to mutations as other DNA components, so it is often used to trace the line from son to father to grandfather and so on, back several generations. One would, therefore, expect to see a number of Hile surnames in the final report.

I wasn’t the only one interested in the results, either. I have been in contact with some people in Scott County, Kentucky and they have been looking for Hile surnamed individuals like myself to confirm Hile linkage to a number of Hiles in and around Scott County, where my ancestors were also believed to have come from. Y-DNA testing is considerably more expensive than the typical autosomal testing and is only offered by a fraction of the DNA firms out there, so, under the theory that there is a sucker born every minute and fortunately one of them was a Hile, we all waited patiently for the results to arrive.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones. Before I even realized the results were in I was contacted by a very nice lady from Australia, who managed several of her relatives’ trees — relatives named Wilson. And when I got the report, there they were — five of them, to be exact — and, not a Hile in the bunch.

Now the lack of Hiles was disappointing but not altogether unexpected — there just hadn’t been anyone other than me named Hile to have taken the test yet — but who were all these Wilsons? The very nice lady from Australia informed me that the Wilsons had come from County Tyrone in Ireland. Some emigrated to Australia and New Zealand, and some came to the U.S., most notably to Lake County, Indiana (a couple ended up in California just a few miles from where I now live). Many of the Indiana Wilsons then moved to Cowley County, Kansas. All of this took place in the mid to late 1800s.

So I started digging. I still have not found any direct biological connection but I noticed that one of the Wilson women married a guy from Kahoka, a city in Clark County, Missouri. Kahoka is a pretty small town in a pretty small county in northeastern Missouri but it just so happens to be the birthplace of my great-great-grandmother, one Margaret Catherine Kennedy Hile. Moreover, it is almost on a beeline from Lake County, Indiana to Cowley County, Kansas. It is also the county where several Hiles settled who were originally from — wait for it — Scott County, Kentucky! Again, we’re talking mid to late 1800s.

I don’t know how or where all of this will turn out but it sure seems intriguing as we wait for some more Hiles to get DNA tested. In all likelihood, what we have here is what genetic genealogists call a non-paternal event, or NPE, which basically defines the situation where someone who is presumed to be an individual’s parent is not in fact the biological parent (for obvious reasons it is almost always the father we’re talking about here). There are a number of reasons why NPEs occur. Adoption is probably the most common and it can be sometimes hard to trace due to poor record-keeping in the past or where the adoption was never documented in the first place. Modern technology has also introduced new ways to create NPEs, from sperm donation to in vitro fertilization to artificial insemination and to the medical mistakes that can be made when undergoing these techniques. NPEs can result from criminal activity, such as paternity fraud or sexual assault, and then there is good, ol’ hanky panky.

I have no clue as of yet as to what may have caused the apparent NPE in the Hile line, or if, in fact, there actually is an NPE. What’s more, I’m not sure it makes all that much difference in a lot of cases. Given human nature, I suspect there are a LOT more NPEs out there than we might otherwise think.

It is important to note that the goal here is not lay down judgment on the individuals directly involved or on those impacted but simply to determine a more accurate picture of who we are, as we seek out our true home in the universe. Having said that, my parents told me years ago they strongly considered naming me Dennis but decided against it, fearing comparisons to the cartoon and later television character. However, now that we see a possible connection ….

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