Counting Chromosomes
A blog of random musings on genealogy, genetics, science, and history
David Threlkeld
David Threlkeld

We've lost a Threlkeld cousin. He passed away February 5, 2018 in his sleep, and evidently peacefully, at the age of 56.

David Threlkeld was my second cousin. We discovered each other only last August. A mutual relative told him of me, and he telephoned on August 29. This was just as Hurricane Harvey began to move north leaving in its wake catastrophic flooding that would come to be ranked as, by far, the most rainfall of any tropical cyclone on record in the United States. And the scammers were already at work: predatory and typically unlicensed contractors, roofers, and "disaster recovery specialists" knocking on doors and calling to try and squeeze money out of those suffering most from the hurricane's aftermath.

This is how I knew within the first several seconds that Dave was a kind and patient man. If he gave his last name when I answered, I didn't hear it. So he got my gruff, unsolicited-sales-call, full-on challenge voice...which on the vocal scale registers as an over-loud Darth Vader.

That didn't faze Dave's friendliness a bit. He explained who his father was and who had given him my number and, as soon as my dim lightbulb sparked, we reset and then talked for almost 45 minutes. He had already tested with AncestryDNA, and was enthusiastic about a Y-chromosome test with Family Tree DNA and joining the Threlkeld DNA Project.

Subsequently, we spoke several more times and exchanged a score of emails. Based on Dave's Y-STR results, he decided to follow with a SNP test. Those results had come back and we were talking about next-step testing. One member of the project traced back to Elijah Threlkeld (1736-1798) and, while we had collectively high hopes that yDNA would provide evidentiary support for this as the MRCA, the SNP results indicated otherwise, that a possible shared common ancestor was more distant.

Dave and I hadn't spoken about specifics of a meeting; it was left at, "Let me know if you're headed to my part of the country." But it rapidly became more than just an interest in a shared genealogy. It became a friendship.

Dave's loss, so unexpectedly and far too soon, had more impact than I might have expected, given that he lived 56 years without knowing I existed and we had only been in touch for a short while.

I've assisted some adoptees in the search for biological parents, and to a person the excitement is palpable when they find DNA confirmation of a second or third cousin. Conversely, I've worked with people who are looking to conquer a specific brick wall and unless a new DNA match can possibly leads to that focused objective, they want no part in even communicating. And as genetic genealogists I imagine we all have experienced the "Lederhosen-for-a-Kilt" marketing syndrome: hundreds of thousands taking autosomal DNA tests who are interested only in admixture origin reports, who never respond to inquiries—regardless of how artfully worded or well constructed—about possible relationships.

This life is ephemeral and all too fleeting. Every single opportunity to connect with a newly-discovered cousin is a precious and irreplaceable gift. I can only hope that we will all spread the word that being open to new family connections is important to everyone involved, and that to squander such an opportunity likewise carries a dear cost.

My prayers are with David, his mother, his wife, and the children to whom he leaves his legacy.

Rest in peace my friend. You will remain in our thoughts.