My Aunt & I Solved the 100-Year-Old Mystery of My Great-Grandfather’s Identity

My Aunt & I Solved the 100-Year-Old Mystery of My Great-Grandfather’s Identity

The story of Jessica Stanmeyer’s great-grandparents is straight from the movies: intrigue, secrets, murder, betrayal, forbidden romance — it’s got it all. MyHeritage user Jessica, 57, from Wisconsin, U.S., together with her Aunt Sharyn, managed to solve the 100-year-old mystery of her great-grandfather’s identity using a combination of DNA, genealogy, and some sleuthing. This is her story:

Jessica Stanmeyer

Jessica Stanmeyer

My grandma, Esther “Sanie” Mertes, was born in the upper peninsula of Michigan in January 1916. Her mother, Florence “Florrie” Mertes, was only 19 and unmarried at the time of Sanie’s birth. Florence had been orphaned at the age of 13 after both her parents were killed: her father supposedly died in a farming accident in 1900 when a hay press “fell” on him, and her mother was killed by her second husband in 1909. The murder was splashed all over the headlines at the time. It’s been speculated that the second husband killed her first husband in order to marry her, but that was never proven.

Jessica Stanmeyer’s grandmother Sanie as a baby, held by Sanie’s mother, Florence

Jessica Stanmeyer’s grandmother Sanie as a baby, held by Sanie’s mother, Florence

The following year, Florence married Charles Wilkings, a nice, respectable widower. It was a rocky relationship. Charles was a good husband and father, but Florrie had an eye for other men and never appreciated Charles according to my grandma. She let Sanie believe that Charles was her father until one day her mother informed her that he was not. My grandma loved Charles and was devastated. From my grandma’s memoirs:

1929年,我13岁,妈妈告诉我,我不是查尔斯的女儿,而是她和一个叫罗伊·艾丽(Roy Allie)的人私生女生的。我被击得粉碎。我出生的不幸并没有太大关系,但我不属于我爱的“爸爸”,我恨的弗洛里才是我真正的母亲,这让我无法忍受。当妈妈告诉我关于我父亲和他的家人的事情时,我呆若木鸡地坐着。世界杯东道主2022她让我到阁楼上她的箱子里去找我父亲的照片。我找了好几次,都没找到。”

On more than one occasion, Florrie was dishonest, so my grandma never truly knew for certain that Roy was her father. Several facts about the man seemed off: he was French, blond, medium frame, liked to cook, was a partier. My grandma was none of these things. She yearned to press her mom for more details, and finally, in the 1970s, she confronted her mom, wanting to know more, and Florrie blurted out that Roy was not her father. By the time my grandma passed in 2007, she gave up hope that she’d ever know the identity of her real father.

Jessica’s grandmother Sanie on her wedding day

Jessica’s grandmother Sanie on her wedding day

Down the DNA rabbit hole

This is where the recent DNA technology really helped our family solve this family mystery. Around 2017, my father, Sanie’s oldest son, was gifted a DNA test. My grandma had researched our family tree extensively. She knew of her mother’s deep German roots. My dad’s father, Vladimir Floriani, had deep Croatian roots. The only piece that was unknown was the French side of our family — if, indeed, Roy was her father.

To everyone’s surprise, my dad’s results showed that he was nearly 25% Finnish! His sister, Sharyn, intrigued, also tested and got similar results. Our family was shocked, but knew that the Finnish in the results must be from Sanie’s father’s side. That’s what led Sharyn and I to dig deeper to see if we could actually find his identity.

Jessica’s Aunt Sharyn

Jessica’s Aunt Sharyn

Aunt Sharyn and I were complete novices at genealogy. All we knew was that we were looking for a Finnish man who lived in the UP that could have fathered Sanie. We used the advice of the large network of people on sites like MyHeritage,, and Facebook groups to learn how to identify good matches.

I took the recommendation that we should concentrate only on the strongest Finnish matches to my father and Sharyn. I then used MyHeritage’s AutoClusters tool to try and figure out how those matches were related to one another. Through the help of our network, we were able to recreate many of their family trees until one day, I realized how many of them were connected.

We quickly got to work combing through their family tree to find a man who would have fit the criteria we were looking for. Because of the DNA matches, we knew there were entire branches we could ignore because the DNA matches on that branch were too distant for the man to be part of that part of the tree. I also used a probability tool to try and narrow down which branch to focus on.

Jessica’s aunt and dad

Jessica’s aunt and dad

We finally homed in on one man, Johannes Pakarinen, who met the criteria — but his trail dried up. He only had a wife, Jennie, and a son, Levi, who appeared to have spent his life in an institution. We couldn’t find any more information about them, so there was nobody alive to ask more.

幸运的是,约翰内斯的妹妹阿尔玛有一个孙子,他还活着。他的名字叫阿尔托·赫勒努斯,住在芬兰。再一次,在MyHeritage网站的帮助下,我们获得了一个电话号码,另一个DNA匹配的MyHeritage会员说,如果我们给他发一个测试,他会打电话给我们,让他帮我们做测试。他同意了,并用MyHeritage进行了测试。几周后我们收到了结果,他共有257厘米,这是迄今为止最大的匹配。We knew we had hit the right branch.

The story of Johannes


We found out his wife had a sister, and my Aunt Sharyn was able to connect with a relative who happened to have notes from an uncle about Johannes and Jennie Pakarinen. His information indicated that Johannes and Jennie had 4 children: Mamie, John, Martha, and Levi. It was a heartbreaking story: Johannes had deserted his wife around 1910 or 1911, and Jennie was forced to work to support them, but ended up dying of pneumonia in 1919. The children came to live with Jennie’s sister for a while.

We learned that their son, John, was adopted by a family in Michigan. Sisters Mamie and Martha went on to marry and the youngest, Levi, was institutionalized. Later, we learned he never spoke — perhaps from early childhood trauma? Mamie was only married a few years before she divorced. Martha went on to have 5 children, and then she was institutionalized. We eventually found out that Martha was later released from the institution and went on to have one more son in 1952: Paul Warrick.



We knew we had enough proof to say that Johannes was my grandma’s father.

While we have not met Paul yet, both Sharyn and my dad have talked to him at length, and he’s been key in filling in some family stories that had been missing all these years.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what happened to Johannes Pakarinen. Paul said it was rumored that he stayed in upper Michigan, as people recall seeing him at local bars. There are some WWI and WWII registration cards we found online of a farmhand who has a similar name and uses the same birthdate, born in the same small town as Johannes, but we can’t be certain it was him. Finnish church records indicate there was only one Johannes Pakarinen born in that town that year.

I guess knowing what happened to him isn’t as important. It just would have been nice.

Either way, I’m just shocked that a couple of novices like ourselves could solve this crazy family mystery. I only wish my grandma would have been alive to be a part of it.

Many thanks to Jessica for sharing her incredible story with us! You don’t have to be an expert to make amazing discoveries using MyHeritage DNA.Order your kit nowto start discovering!


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  • LC

    L.A. Clugh

    June 6, 2022

    Thank you for sharing your story. I suspect this will help other people work through their DNA journey.