For the first part of this story, follow this link.
When working with DNA, we always say “follow the DNA, not the name.” But when you don’t have any decent DNA matches to work with and you do have a name, it’s extremely tempting to run that name into the ground and come up with theories – some quite wild – about who your mystery relative was.
In her search for her mother’s biological father, Carol had been given a name by her grandmother. This man had been “in the theater”, her grandmother claimed, and his family was quite well-to-do. It turned out that there was someone who fitted the name and some of those details – a Hollywood actor named Phillips Holmes.
Phillips Holmes was born in 1907 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His slightly unusual first name was actually his mother’s maiden name. It would seem like a big leap to believe that Phillips Holmes could have been Carol’s grandfather, yet the anecdotal information from her grandmother and a few other biographical pieces of information began to add up.
Carol’s mum was born in London in 1930. This meant that the father had to have been in London before that, for obvious, biological reasons. There was plenty of documentary evidence to show that Phillips Holmes had visited London several times in the years before 1930. Passenger lists also show that he was in the UK after 1931. One shows him returning to New York from Southampton in 1934.
There was, however, no way to prove that Phillips Holmes had been in the UK and met Carol’s grandmother. The photograph of “Philip” in Carol’s possession did not look at lot like the many images of Phillips Holmes on the internet. We even compared their handwriting – Carol’s photograph of her Philip had a message on the back, supposedly Philip writing to his father. We compared it to an image of Phillips Holmes’s signature – they didn’t have a lot in common.
After investigating the parents and ancestors of Phillips Holmes, it didn’t look like Carol, her mum and the actor were connected through DNA either.
There are many ways that we can try to twist details to fit our purpose. Intriguing though it was to find a Hollywood star with the same name as a missing grandfather, it became clear that it was simply a coincidence. There was nothing to connect these two men other than their (almost) identical names.