The Psychogenealogist Pic of the Week (#17)

Every Friday The Psychogenealogist shares a "Pic of the Week." The intent is to encourage thought and imagination about the spaces where psychology, genealogy, and history converge.

This week's photo continues the "child and dog" theme that we saw in Pic of the Week #15.

There is a unique story about how this photo was brought to my attention. First though, the boy below is Charles Edwin McDonal (1912–1974).

Charles is the grandfather of the wife of a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) match of mine who contacted me through our shared Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) results. His name is Joseph Nowlin and he kindly reached out to me to explore our possible connection. He also shared the above photo as it reminded him of the random child and dog photo I had shared previously

So, what is mtDNA? Family Tree DNA describes it well below:

"mtDNA refers to mitochondrial DNA which is passed from mother to child. While men receive mitochondrial DNA from their mother, they do not pass it on to their children. Testing mtDNA allows for investigation into your maternal line and can help identify living relatives whose mtDNA is similar to yours, as well as ancient migration routes your maternal ancestors may have taken." from FTDNA FAQs

Adding DNA to your genealogy tools is fascinating and complicated. There is MUCH that I have to learn. For an excellent and accessible primer on DNA, including mtDNA, check out this publication from Genetics Home Reference: Help Me Understand Genetics.

For a more specific discussion about how FTDNA uses mtDNA testing check out their article: What is a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test? What will I learn?

I will be the first to admit that I understand approximately 7% of this stuff. But, that is better than when I started.

Here is what I know:

  • There is a good chance Joe and I are related through our maternal lines, although this could be a shared female connection thousands of years or more in the past.
  • There are no obvious connections between Joe and me when we both looked at our family trees.
  • We both can trace some of our maternal roots through Eastern Europe, mainly present day Poland.
  • Pictures of children with dogs are universally adorable.

The truth is that Joe and I will probably never figure out exactly how we are connected genetically. But, his reaching out to me has connected us in a shared spirit of genealogical curiosity and inquiry.

Joe shared this side by side comparison of his and my 2nd great grandparents and attached the following note:

"I've attached a side by side comparison of our 2nd Great Grandparents on the maternal side and although the portraits were done many years apart, the subjects did live at about the same time and it is interesting as the women probably share much the same mtDNA that was passed to us." - Joseph Nowlin, April 2017

A paradox of exploring your genealogy is that with every new insight comes a dozen more questions. 

As a psychologist, an insightful question is often my most valuable therapeutic tool. I ask them all day. In my profession I have had to become more at ease with all of the questions that remain unanswered. 

As genealogists we also have to accept the reality that our trees will never be "finished." Our stories will never be fully told. We may be presented with tantalizing clues that make us wonder and imagine, but that might be as far as it goes some days. 

And that's okay by me!

I hope you have as much fun researching your family tree as I do mine.

And, I hope you never stop asking questions! 

Do you have an old photograph or a genealogical story that you would like to share? I am happy to consider guest submissions for possible Pic of the Week or other blog posts in the future. Send an email to for more information.

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