Mark Twain in the 1870s. / Library of Congress
GREENVILLE, S.C. - Susan Bailey learned in her 20s that the woman she believed to be her mother wasn't.
For the past five decades, she's been looking for the woman who is. What Bailey says she learned through genealogical DNA testing and research shocked her. If true, the information will shock the literary world as well.
Bailey said she thinks she is the daughter of Nina Clemens Gabrilowitsch, Mark Twain's troubled, promiscuous, alcoholic and only granddaughter.
Twain scholars say there are no records to indicate Gabrilowitsch had any children.
A genealogist says she is 90% convinced Bailey is the great-granddaughter of Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the name Mark Twain.
What would make it a certainty is a birth certificate or a DNA match with a closer generation, said Deb Gosselin, a professional genealogist working with Bailey.
Bailey says that when she was a young girl, she met a cousin who said an uncle was a distant relative of Twain's.
Gosselin, who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., had been researching a story she and others had been told as young children that they were related to Twain through the same man Bailey had been told was her connection.
In March 2008, as the search went on in its second year, Gosselin found information that the Mark Twain House and Museum in Harford, Conn., had some of Gabrilowitsch's things. An assistant curator went to the basement, found the box and began faxing photos.
One after another, Bailey saw photos that resembled family members. Then, Bailey saw a photo of a man and woman. Bailey said she knew immediately it was her father.
Gosselin and Bailey decided they wanted to write a book about Gabrilowitsch. Even if she wasn't Bailey's mother, she had an interesting and untold life. The self-published book, The Twain Shall Meet, should be available on Amazon.com by the the middle of this week.
Little information existed about Gabrilowitsch beyond news stories about her overdosing on pills when she was 55, her body found in a Hollywood hotel in 1966. It took the medical examiner six weeks to rule she had killed herself with a mix of barbiturates and alcohol.
Her will showed Gabrilowitsch had left the bulk of her estate, valued at about $50,000, to the American Cancer Society. By the time her mother, Clara Clemens, died in 1962, Gabrilowitsch was cut out of her mother's will, and most of the large estate Twain left her had been squandered by Clemens' second husband, a gambler.
In her detective work, Gosselin found Gabrilowitsch's diary. The writings never mention she is pregnant, but there are references such as "I don't know what's ahead" or "Hooray, half the month is gone. Only eight more weeks to go."
Bailey has done DNA testing through FamilyTree.com and Ancestry.com.
Testing is a lot more conclusive when trying to rule someone out than rule someone in, said Bert Ely, a University of South Carolina biology professor. To be conclusive, the test needs to be a comparison of the next closest relative who's living, Ely said.
Gosselin said she expects there are about six relatives close enough to provide a higher level of proof, but Bailey is hesitant to ask for such an intrusive procedure.
Cindy Lovell, the executive director of the Twain House, said someone comes into the museum just about every day claiming to be related to the author.
"He was a rock star then, and he's even more now," Lovell said. "He was lovable, smart, wise, came from nothing. Everybody loves this guy."
Of Bailey's claim, Lovell said, "Is it possible? Absolutely. Plausible? Enough it's worth seeking the scientific evidence."
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