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DNA match helped lead to family reunion

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  • Want to learn more?

    Vivian Stuart and her cousins recommended National Geographic Genographic Project and Family Tree DNA as good starting places for those who want to learn more about their family history and possibly find other DNA relatives.


  • Distant relations

    Charlotte resident Vivian Y. Stuart is one of four family historians and hosted distant cousins found through DNA testings last month. Cousins Dwainia Tullis, 57, from California; Sylvia Payne-Goodner, 62, from Kentucky and Sara McNary, 48, from Georgia, are the other historians.

    Cousins Mary Captain, 60, from Washington; Roma Niles, 73, from Ohio and Laurie Sanders, 71, from New York also came to Charlotte.



They called it a family reunion, but for most, it was actually their first meeting.

Charlotte resident Vivian Y. Stuart had spent years communicating with cousins across the country she had never met. They discovered as adults they share a DNA match, and their relationships solidified through a mutual love of family history and countless phone calls, emails and Facebook posts.

So last month, Stuart opened her home to six of her distant cousins so they could get to know more about each other and their shared history.

Extended family

Stuart, 65, moved to Charlotte from New York in 2010. A retired clinical laboratory technologist Stuart became interested in her genealogy back in the ’80s and is her family’s historian.

In 2010, she had a DNA test done to see whether there were any family members she didn’t know. The first test was through the National Geographic Genographic Project. But it was through Family Tree DNA that Stuart found a match. She had sent in a cheek swab for the mtDNA test, which uses mitochondrial DNA to find genetic cousins along the direct maternal line.

The match was the Rev. Dan W. Tullis Sr., who lived in California and had DNA on his mother’s side that matched Stuart’s. She sent an email to establish contact and got a reply from his daughter, Dwainia, that Tullis had died in 2009.

Stuart and Dwainia Tullis, 57, shared an interest in family history and began communicating regularly. Dwainia Tullis had also done a DNA test through the Genographic Project and gotten her results in 2006. The results had already led her to another cousin, Sara McNary, 48, in Atlanta, and cousin Sylvia Payne-Goodner, 62, in Franklin, Ky. While they don’t know how closely they are related, Stuart said, their DNA all matches to Dan Tullis.

For the past three years these four “family historians” have stayed in contact. The more they got to know one another, the more family they found, Stuart said.

Since then, she’s been able to connect with three more cousins who also came to visit, all with a DNA match to Dan Tullis Sr., Dwainia’s father.

Family bonds

Stuart and Payne-Goodner were the only two cousins to have met prior to the recent visit. That was in 2012 when Payne-Goodner was in Charlotte to visit a niece. Since then they’ve met several times and traveled to Tennessee together this past May, where Stuart spoke about DNA testing and genealogy at the 13th annual Promise Land Festival.

Another cousin Stuart had never before September was Dewey Tullis, 87, in Spartanburg, S.C. Dewey is the brother to Dan Tullis.

Compelled by a mutual desire to learn more family history from him and meet each other, the cousins decided to visit the week of Sept. 23, Stuart said.

The six women all arrived on different days, but all in time for the visit with Dewey Tullis, which many of the cousins said was the highlight of the trip.

“I didn’t even want to talk, I just wanted to sit and listen to what he had to say,” McNary said.

Payne-Goodner said meeting “Cousin Dewey” was definitely a highlight. “I learn a lot from older people. They’ve been there and can tell you exactly the way it was,” she said.

While in Spartanburg, even more extended family members came to meet them, Dwainia Tullis said. “It was glorious, I cried. I thought ‘Wow. Look at the family.’”

Dewey Tullis said he’s been impressed by the family members the DNA matches have helped bring together. “It’s amazing. (They) took this DNA and traced it ... to find a relationship with these people who live in New York and all over.”

Science vs. history

Payne-Goodner said she’s been studying her immediate family’s ancestry since 1975. “Before DNA you used cemetery records, (family) Bibles and what your parents told you,” she said. “Now you’ve got ancestry.com and can find things (like family names and photos) that you can click and connect.”

Between the four family historians, they’ve taken numerous types of DNA tests that show different connections.

One type uses autosomal DNA – which is inherited from both mother and father; all four grandparents, eight great-parents, etc. – to provide a breakdown of the family’s ethnic percentages.

Through even more in-depth testing, Stuart said, she can trace one family line back 70,000 years, and Dwainia Tullis said she can trace her family’s female line back 150,000 years.

The DNA tests are done by various companies and the four family historians said they hope in the future that one of these companies – and their own research – can pinpoint their common ancestor. “Where’s the exact connection? We know we’re blood, but who is it,” Stuart asked.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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