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Posted June 20, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Twists of fate: Local woman learns more about family through the Internet

Dale Jordan holds a photo of a relative
Dale Jordan, of Winchester, holds a photo of a relative on her father's side who was born in 1802. She acquired the photo through someone she met on the Web site Ancestry.com. Rich Cooley/Daily

Jordan holds an old family reunion photo
Jordan holds an old family reunion photo inside her home along her wall of ancestors. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Jessica Wiant -- jwiant@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- If it weren't for the wonders of the World Wide Web, the faded photograph of Francis Rain that was hiding out in a New Jersey flea market would never have wound up in the hands of one of his descendants.

A perfect stranger came upon the photo when she purchased a box full of items at the flea market, Winchester resident Dale Jordan says, and did a search for Francis Rain on Ancestry.com after finding the following inscription on the back of it:

"Francis Rain, B. 1802, My great grandfather. KHB Sr."

The search for an owner led the stranger to Jordan's public family tree on the popular genealogy Web site, where she contacted Jordan and later mailed her the long lost photo.

Jordan, an avid genealogy enthusiast, matched the birthdays of the man in the photo with her ancestor, and even found a fellow relative with matching initials who would have been a great-grandson of Rain, further confirming the kinship.

The connection caught the attention of the Web site, which recently shared Jordan's story in a promotional news release.

But for Jordan, who began the search for her family tree in earnest after the deaths of her parents in 2001 and 2002, Ancestry. com and other genealogy sites on the Web have offered much more than getting reconnected with a photo she never knew about.

"You couldn't escape reading or hearing about what was becoming available online," Jordan says, and more is becoming available each day. "Once you start, you can't stop."

Since she started, Jordan has had any number of successes -- nearly all of them coming from online research -- from discovering that she shares a common ancestor with George Washington to connecting with distant relatives and genealogy enthusiasts to finding a biography of one of her father's ancestors, Rain, in a county history book.

"I've connected with a lot of relatives that you'd never know you have," she says. "It opens up so many avenues to you."

"It's my hobby. It's become more than that. It's part of my life," she says.

Jordan says she spends three to four hours a week on her hobby, and frequently dedicates an entire day to researching her genealogy.

She had a family tree on Ancestry.com for both her mother's side and her father's, and has found hundreds of relatives, and even connected with several living relatives from Washington state to Georgia, with whom she shares photos and other research.

"It's like a puzzle. You keep adding another piece," she says -- and finding a small fact can lead to hundreds of ancestors.

"It helps a great deal if you like to search out information," says Jordan, who works for a company that does pre-employment screening.

More than just finding names to add to her tree, Jordan has also gathered many family stories, and has discovered the reasons and the patterns behind the names of her mostly Irish, Scot, English and German ancestors.

A great uncle, Samuel Arnold, was named for his grandmother's maiden name. Her grandfather, William Henry Jordan, was named after his father's brother.

In her foyer, a powder blue wall is covered in copies of old family photos that a distant cousin, who she has never met in person, has shared -- photos of Civil War soldiers, a 1907 family reunion, and a portrait of an ornery group of siblings who made their way to Colorado during the gold rush. She knows the stories behind nearly every face, and how they are all related.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about doing family research, she says, is comprehending all the turns of events that lead up to your own birth.

For instance, she explains, one woman in her family was married first to a man who was shot and died during the Civil War. The widow then married a first cousin of her dead husband, and one of the resulting children is Jordan's great-grandfather.

"The twists of fate, it's fascinating," she says.

And having a family that has been in America so long, tracing her ancestry parallels the nation's history, too.

Jordan's current endeavor is her application to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution -- an extensive process that involved proving she is the blood relative of a "patriot."

She also hopes that someday someone in her family, though she does not have children, will benefit from all the work she has done. She makes it a point to share all her work, she says.

And since the incident of the Francis Rain photo, she also scours thrift stores and antique shops, hoping to return the favor and find a photo that she can reunite with a relative. So far she hasn't had any luck.

"It's kind of sad, you know you see some of them and they're so interesting ... there's got to be somebody somewhere who would love to have that picture," she says.

She offers this advice for people to help them preserve their own family stories: Sit down with older relatives and have them help you identify the people in family photographs. Get copies of photos made and store them safely and distribute them to others so they will always be with someone in the family. Label not only who people are in photos, but also record dates on them. And don't limit labeling to photos: Also label mementos and other heirlooms to preserve their significance for your family. In an album, also keep a list of the heirlooms you possess and their descriptions -- or even make a video identifying significant pieces of jewelry, furniture and other inherited items and the story behind them, then keep the video with your photos.

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