Families reunited thanks to link from DNA testing

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Posted 10/27/16

Jack Marvell had always wondered who his biological father was, but he never knew for sure.

Though the Provo, Utah, native had grown up knowing a step-father, his mother never spoke of the …

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Families reunited thanks to link from DNA testing

NEWFOUND relatives recently gathered to recount the story of how they found each other using an ancestry website and DNA testing. Clockwise from top left are local mother and daughter Cindy Shelton and Shelley Austin; their cousin, Lisa Tarver; and their newfound cousin and his wife, Jack and Jeannine Marvell.
NEWFOUND relatives recently gathered to recount the story of how they found each other using an ancestry website and DNA testing. Clockwise from top left are local mother and daughter Cindy Shelton and Shelley Austin; their cousin, Lisa Tarver; and their newfound cousin and his wife, Jack and Jeannine Marvell.
Banner photo, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted

Jack Marvell had always wondered who his biological father was, but he never knew for sure.

Though the Provo, Utah, native had grown up knowing a step-father, his mother never spoke of the man who helped bring him into the world.

For many years, he wondered. This year, he knows, thanks to a DNA test linking him to family he didn’t know he had.

Marvell, along with a dozen of his relatives, recently traveled to Tennessee from Utah to meet his biological father’s side of the family for the first time.

“It’s almost an unbelievable story,” Marvell said. “It’s almost like something from a movie.”

The families reunited in Bradley County this past weekend, exploring the area’s sights together and gathering for a celebration at one of the relatives’ homes in Charleston.

These family activities would not have been possible without modern technology. The two families found each other through genealogy websites and DNA testing specifically designed to help people find their relatives.

For the fun of it, Lisa Tarver, who lives near Atlanta, had begun using a website to trace her family’s genealogy.

“I love family history, and I’m a history buff,” Tarver said. “I think it’s important to know who came before you.” 

Though it did allow her to begin filling in her family tree, Tarver said she never expected her being open to finding more about her family’s history would lead to a lifelong mystery being solved.

While Tarver was busy seeing what she could find, Jack’s wife, Jeannine, was intent on finding answers for her husband. After all, he had wondered about his father’s identity since he was just a boy.

She did not have much luck in her searches at first. In fact, she had very little on which to base her searches. There were stories of the father’s military service, and there was a possible name.

“But we thought there was also a possibility he [Jack’s father] had not been using his real last name,” Jeannine said.

It was not until Jack decided to pursue DNA testing that he knew for sure the name of his biological father. After his DNA testing results were linked back to the online family tree his wife had built, a possible name surfaced: James Edward Scarborough.

Though they had been looking for a man named James, the middle and last names had been unknown. Still grasping for answers, Jeannine began sending messages to other users on the Ancestry.com site listed as possible family DNA matches.

One of those messages made its way to Tarver, who acknowledged Scarborough was indeed a family name. However, she wasn’t immediately sure how Jack might fit into her family tree.

After corresponding back and forth and doing some more digging, Tarver and Jeannine realized Scarborough would be the relative who linked both of their families.

To confirm whether or not the family connection was real, the two discussed the possibility of having more DNA testing done.

Though Tarver had previously done a DNA test, she convinced her mother and an aunt from her dad’s side of the family to take tests. It turned out the connection was from her dad’s side of the family.

To confirm this further, Tarver contacted a cousin, Cleveland resident Shelley Austin, to see if she would like to help with the search. This led to Austin and her mother, Charleston resident Cindy Shelton, both taking tests in hopes of solving the mystery.

“We were both so sure, though some were skeptical,” Austin said. “Everything seemed to fit.” 

Using documents found with help from the online DNA results and documentation found in the Tennessee family’s archives, it was determined Cindy Shelton and Jack Marvell are actually first cousins. Jack’s father, James Scarborough, was Shelton’s uncle. Their fathers were brothers.

Further confirmation of the family connection came after Austin began emailing Jeannine photos of Scarborough. Jeannine said she and some of her seven children immediately saw a physical resemblance to Jack.

“It was so exciting,” Jeannine said. “I was just jumping up and down and screaming, and so were the kids.”

Both sides of the family described the finding as being quite unexpected, though it was also considered by many to be a pleasant surprise.

Still, Jeannine noted Jack and some of their children were “skeptical” about the supposed family connection at first. Some reportedly thought it was all just coincidence.

“It did seem pretty far-fetched at first,” Jack said. “To find my father’s family after all these years — who would have thought that would even be possible?”

The fact his mother took the secret of his father’s identity to the grave had been a sign of the times, Jack said. His birth in the 1940s had been “out of wedlock,” and “you just didn’t talk about things like that at that time.”

However, one sign of more recent times has been the ability to use science to solve more family-related mysteries than had been possible when he was a younger man.

DNA testing for the sake of finding one’s ancestry has become increasingly accessible and has continually gained popularity in recent years.

“Before DNA testing, this probably was an impossibility,” Jack said. “You just didn’t have things like this happen ... Save for divine intervention, this problem was not solvable.” 

Scientific advances have made it possible for those testing DNA to look for more markers which can more accurately indicate family relationships.

As the processes of evaluating DNA have become more streamlined, the prices have dropped for average consumers. Many autosomal DNA tests — tests which look at DNA people inherit from both their fathers and their mothers — can be found for $100 or less.

When results of DNA tests are paired with public records and other data which can be accessed through websites, stories like these are becoming more and more common.

“It doesn’t change who we are, but it gives us the satisfaction of knowing,” Tarver said. “We’re just thrilled we were able to find this out.” 

Jack admitted not every member of his family was thrilled about the revelation.

He described one sibling of his as being “madder than a wet hen” after learning the identity of their father, who had not been involved in their lives.

“I suppose, when you think about it, this wasn’t a mystery that really needed to be solved,” Jack said. “Still, it was something you always wondered about.” 

But for Jack Marvell, his wife and the 11 children and grandchildren who made the journey to Tennessee from Utah, it was a happy meeting. Though Scarborough had not been present, his family said they were glad to get to know his son and his family.

The atmosphere of the family gathering in Charleston was that of a fall family reunion, with relatives sharing slices of cake over autumn-themed, plastic-skirted folding tables in the garage.

However, the conversations around the table were a bit unconventional. Some were still trying to remember each other’s names. Others were conversing non-stop as they tried to get to know each other.

Jack said the families’ first meeting gave him hope that everything was on its way to becoming how it should have been all along. Other members of the newly extended family nodded in agreement.

“I feel James Scarborough would be proud of his family, to know that everyone was able to meet and get to know each other,” said Austin.

The Marvells have made their way back to Utah, but they left with promises to keep in touch with their newfound relatives living in Tennessee.

The family tree’s roots had grown deep while nobody was looking, and the relatives expressed hope this new branch will get the chance to blossom even more.

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