Monday, April 3, 2017

A Father Found, But Lost Again: A DNA Story

I have spent the last few years using DNA to answer ancestral questions and break down brick walls. Recently, the DNA samples I have been collecting have also been being used for an exciting cause--helping others with shared DNA to me with identifying unknown parentage. So far, I have been able to assist with the identifications of two unknown fathers. The 2nd occasion is an interesting saga which could almost have its own Lifetime movie, so I thought would share what was found.

Besides sharing the interesting information, this post serves a 2nd purpose: a message to our still 'lost' cousin that, should he ever seek out his family, we would love to hear from him. I will get to that at the end.

The Match

I have been trying to sort out the precise relationship between my collected samples (of various grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) and their top 25 DNA matches. I administer samples for three members of my Vaughan family: my aunt Linda, her double-cousin Bobby, and their 1/2 first cousin, Norma. Norma's is the most recent addition. I also have been invited to full access to another first cousin of these three, Sharon, and three first cousins once removed (children of their first cousins, or in Sharon's case, two of her nephews): Dave, Jim, and Mark. And then there's me.

Linda's 23rd highest match is to a woman named Staci. I found that Staci is also a match to Bobby (48th highest), Sharon (23rd highest), and Mark (46th highest). She also matched to myself, Mark, and Dave, but not in our top 50 matches. Lastly, she was a match Norma--and was Norma's 2nd highest match.

I used a chart shared by Facebook group DNA Detectives ( to try and make an educated guess on our relationship to Staci based on these matches and our shared centimorgans.

All of us are Vaughans, so I knew Staci must be a Vaughan. Staci also matched several descendants of a set of double-cousins in our Vaughan family. She did not match all of them, though, and the ones she did match were not very close. See, all of the aforementioned relatives share a pair of ancestors in common--John Lafayette Vaughan and Leona Waller. John's brother Thomas married Leona's sister Mary, so all of their collective children were double-cousins. There is one exception--Norma does NOT descend from Leona Waller.

Norma's father was William Riley Vaughan, a son of John Lafayette Vaughan's first marriage. So she is NOT a Waller. Since Staci matched distantly to our 'double Vaughan-Waller' cousins and her closest match was to Norma, I began to formulate that she may descended from one of John's two children by his first marriage--the aforementioned William, and a daughter named Mattie Mae. But Norma and Staci shared so much DNA, it seemed unlikely Staci descended from Mattie Mae. The DNA chart indicated a great aunt/niece relationship.

Because Norma also had a half-sister named Leona (and possibly other unknown half siblings--Uncle Bill Vaughan was not known for his high moral character), I kept in mind that it was possible that Staci (whose age I did not know at this point) could be a child of one of Norma's half-siblings, making a half-aunt/niece relationship possible as well.

Believing the former relationship probability (great aunt/niece) more likely, I formulated a chart with Staci's matches to my family, and based on knowing their relationships to each other, I used the above green chart to estimate their likely relationship to Staci.

All of this seemed to fit together well. The only hitch is that if Staci was indeed a grandchild of one of Norma's siblings, then her relationship to Dave, Mark, and Jim would be Half 2nd Cousins, Once Removed rather than 2nd Cousins Twice Removed. But that particular relationship is not covered on the green chart. However, I equivocate the two relationships to having a similar amount of shared DNA. In other words, I think a pair of 2nd cousins twice removed would share a similar amount of DNA as a pair of Half 2nd cousins once removed. Same with her DNA match to me--we would actually be Half Third Cousins rather than 3rd Cousins Once Removed, but as that relationship is not covered on the chart, this was the closest option.

Having a good idea of what our relationship to Staci must be, I took the next step--contacting her.


I contacted Staci, who responded quickly and was glad to tell me what she knew. She was born in 1979 in Texas. This ruled out her being the child of one of Norma's half-sibling, who would have been beyond child-bearing age at that time--unless it was an unknown half-sibling, of course.

Staci said she did not know who her father was. Her mother had given her a supposed name that might have been the father, but that was all she was told. She believed the man was roughly in his 20s at her conception, and he apparently was not made aware that Staci's mother had become pregnant. Her mother married later and Staci took the surname of her mother's husband, but was aware he was not her father. She knew nothing else, but DNA has a way of uncovering secrets, and that's what we said out to do.


Norma, my grandfather's 1/2 first cousin, daughter of William Riley "Bill" Vaughan, lives in Ohio. I communicate with her daughter Teresa via Facebook, and we discussed this match. Norma had only two full siblings that lived to adulthood--William Lafayette "Dub" Vaughan and Arretta Faye Vaughan. We were already aware that Arretta was unable to have children, and so never did. That pointed to Dub Vaughan. I will be referring to him as such because including his father, there are 4 different "William Vaughan"s involved in this story. So William Lafayette will be referred to as "Dub", and his father as "Bill".

Teresa immediately stated that this match between Norma and Staci may have solved a long-time family mystery. She proceeded to tell me what she knew of an incident in Dub's family in the 1950s. Using that information, I was able to go into newspaper records and piece together the whole, sad, sorry tale. It does appear to lead us Staci's father's identity--but not any closer to finding him.

The Death of Billie Vaughan

Sometime in his late teens or early 20s, Dub Vaughan married a woman named Janell Sue Wilson, a native of Holdenville, Oklahoma. I have not found their marriage record, nor where they lived during their marriage until they arrived in Ada, Oklahoma at some point around 1957.

Janell Sue Wilson - 1951 Holdenville High School Yearbook (

By that time, according to Teresa, Dub was station in the military overseas in Germany. In November, 1957, Janell applied for divorce from Dub.

The Ada Weekly News - 21 Nov 1957

As you can see, the couple had two children together--inexplicably, they both have the same first name. The oldest of the two was William Kirk Vaughan. The younger one was William Lafayette Vaughan Jr. For the sake of continual clarity, William Kirk will be referred to as William Kirk, and William Jr. as "Billie". So we have Bill (William Riley), Dub (William Lafayette Sr.), William Kirk, and Billie (William Lafayette Jr.).

Janell also had a son from prior to her marriage to Dub--a boy named Steven Ray Wilson, called "Stevie", who was approximately one year older than William Kirk.

As Dub was overseas in Germany, he was unable to respond to this divorce decree until his return--leaving the couple legally married. That apparently did not stop Janell from moving in with a boyfriend--James Pettigrew, age 21 of Ada.

Two months later, tragedy struck. Little Billie Vaughan, 23 months of age, was rushed to the hospital in Ada on January 25th, 1958. He died shortly after. The newspaper reported that Billie "bore bruise marks on various parts of his body and two large burned areas."

The Ada Evening News - 26 Jan 1958

The next day, it was reported that the district court was ordering an autopsy to be performed on little Billie. Clearly, law enforcement's investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death was leading them to suspect foul play.

The Ada Evening News - 28 Jan 1958

The next day, it was reported that the authorities' investigation of Billie's death was leading them to considering charges against Pettigrew, who was alleged to have been alone with the child on separate occasions the day of the incident before the mother realized the child's dire condition and sought medical attention.

The Ada Evenings News - 28 Jan 1958

The following day, Pettigrew was arraigned on charges of first degree manslaughter after the autopsy officially determined that Billie's cause of death was from a blow or blows to his head. Pettigrew admitted to striking Billie a belt, a stick, and finally with a toy rolling pin to Billie's head. The force of that blow was enough to break the toy rolling pin.

All three above from The Ada Evening News - 29 Jan 1958

Little Billie's obituary was published the next day. He was buried at Ada's Memorial Park Cemetery.

The Ada Evening News - 3 Feb 1958

The next day, Pettigrew a preliminary hearing was held with the some of the state's witnesses, and news of the crime had begun to spread statewide.

The Ada Evening News - 4 Feb 1958

The Daily Oklahoman - 5 Feb 1958

The next day, Pettigrew had plead guilty. Janell was being held by the state as a material witness to the case. The newspaper also reports that her remaining children, Steven Ray Wilson and William Kirk Vaughan, had been taken into the custody of child welfare.

The Ada Evening News - 5 Feb 1958

Janell's two remaining children, who by this time had been deemed neglected by the state, remained in state custody indefinitely after a hearing regarding their case was continued. This was likely done to ascertain what the results of the criminal trial against Pettigrew would be.

The Ada Evening News - 10 Feb 1958

It was not until June that the trial against Pettigrew commenced. More details about the living situation between Pettigrew, Janell, and her children were detailed, and more information regarding Pettigrew's actions came to light. Janell reversed her testimony from the preliminary hearing against Pettigrew, apparently in an attempt to protect him. Accordingly, she was arrested for perjury and adultery and taken to jail.

The Ada Evening News - 6 Jun 1958

A week later, Pettigrew was found guilty of Manslaughter I and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Charges against Janell remained pending, but her two remaining children, Steven Ray Wilson and William Kirk Vaughan, were made permanent wards of the state. The state clearly deemed Janell unfit to care for the children properly if she was willing to lie on the stand to defend a man who had killed her own child.

The Ada Evening News - 12 Jun 1958

Janell was eventually arraigned on charges of adultery (receiving spousal support from her husband while co-habitating with another man) and perjury. The results of these charges are not given in the Ada newspaper. She likely received either a short jail sentence or roughly two years on probation. This is evidenced by the fact she was living and remarried in California by February, 1961.

Neither of her remaining children's names, Steven Ray Wilson and William Kirk Vaughan, were ever mentioned in the Ada newspaper again. They were adopted out by the state, and what became of them is unknown.

What DNA Tells Us

As indicated above, Staci's DNA points to her being a grand niece of Norma Vaughan, making her a grandchild of William Lafayette Vaughan Sr. To definitively prove this, we delved into the ancestry of Janell Sue Wilson in order to see if Staci was related to close kin of Janell.

This is the tree for Janell I was able to put together on

Her paternal Wilson line was a dead end after her grandfather, Albert. Albert was born in Mexico. He married Mary Thorpe before 1910, and by 1920 they had divorced. What became of Albert after that point is not known. I only traced the tree back to this generation because these are the most distant ancestors that Staci would have inherited DNA from. We now have the names of all but four of Staci's 3rd great grandparents, spanning both maternal and paternal sides.

Interestingly, Janell's grandmother, Mary Thorpe, was a sister of the famed Native American athlete, Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe - Courtesy of Wikipedia

Charlotte Vieux Thorpe - Courtesy of

Hiram P. Thorpe - Courtesy of

Staci's DNA came back 8% Native American. There was no indication of Native heritage on her maternal side. Her grandfather William Lafayette Vaughan Sr. had no Native Heritage. But Staci would have inherited Native DNA from the Thorpes and likely from the Wilson side if, as he was born in Mexico, he had Hispanic heritage.

Staci's DNA matches yielded one solid Thorpe family match with a sample initialed S. D., administered by Thectdeans78. This user matched Staci with 30 centimorgans across 3 segments, enough to be a "High" confidence match. This user descended from a sister of Hiram P. Thorpe, Mary Thorpe. She married Issac McCoy. Their daughter Rhoda McCoy married Thomas John Miles. Their son Thomas C. Miles. His still-living daughter is the paternal grandmother of S. D. This would make S. D. and Staci 5th cousins on the Thorpe side.

S. D. was Staci's only 'High' confidence or higher match for the Thorpe family, but I began to look for other relatives of Janell Wilson among Staci's DNA matches.

Staci also came back with two 'High' confidence matches to the same Pointer family to which Janell Sue Wilson belonged.

1. D. L. (administered by GeneandTama) - 39 centimorgans across 3 segments. Descends from Joseph John Pointer and Rebeckah Osborne through their son Flemon Benjamin Pointer. Staci descends from John Thomas Pointer, a brother of Flemon. This would make Staci and D. L. third cousins twice removed through the Pointer family.

2. daverob3 - 38 centimorgans across 3 segments. Descends from Joseph John Pointer and Rebeckah Osbrone through their daughter Martha Ann Pointer who married James Martin Fennell. This would also make Staci and daverob3 third cousins twice removed through the Pointer family.

By far Staci's most promising match was her 14th highest match. Nearly all of her higher matches are either Vaughans or Hamiltons (Lola Hamilton was the mother of William Lafayette Vaughan). Staci's match to user tcmiesner1 is an "Extremely High" match. They share 97 centimorgans across 4 segments. This user is a descendant of Mim S. Barksdale and Eliza Mooty through their son Jethro Judson Barksdale. She shows as a 4th cousin once removed to Staci, as Staci descends from Jethro's sister Emma.

These four DNA matches to the Thorpe, Pointer, and Barksdale families definitively point to Janell Sue Wilson being Staci's grandmother. That indication in combination with the DNA evidence showing her to be the granddaughter of William Lafayette Vaughan leads to the conclusion that she is a child of one of their children. As shown above, Billie Vaughan died as an infant, leaving William Kirk Vaughan as the only remaining candidate to be Staci's father.


Unfortunately, knowing William Kirk Vaughan's birth name brings us no closer to locating him today. Dub's family reports that he did everything he could to have William Kirk's adoption records unsealed so that he could claim his son, but he was unsuccessful. He died never knowing what became of him.

Staci's mother reports that her father, whose birth name was William Kirk Vaughan, did not know that she had become pregnant with Staci. She does not recall the man's name. At this point, we don't know if William is alive or dead, if he knows or knew he was adopted, and if he does, if he knows his birth name.

That leaves Staci in a unique position. Despite not knowing who her father is today, she does know his birth name and lineage, so therefore she has a nearly complete family tree. But until we can find William Kirk Vaughan today, there will still be a missing branch in that tree.

1 comment: