DNA Painter – Touring the Chromosome Garden

This is the third article in a series about DNA Painter. To know DNA Painter is to love DNA Painter! Trust me!

The first two articles are:

The Chromosome Sudoku article introduces you to DNA Painter, it’s purpose and how to use the tool. The Mining Vendor Data article illustrates exactly how to find the segments you can paint from each of the main autosomal testing vendors and GedMatch.

This article is a leisurely tour through my colorful chromosome garden so that, together, we can see examples of how to utilize the information that chromosome painting unveils.

Chromosome painting can do amazing things: walk you back generations, show visual phasing…and reveal that there’s a mistake someplace, too.

If you’re not willing to be wrong and reconsider, this might not be the field for you😊

Automatic Triangulation

Chromosome painting automatically mathematically triangulates your DNA and in a much easier way than the old spreadsheet method. In fact, triangulation just happens, effortlessly IF you can determine which side is maternal and which side is paternal. Of course, you’ll always want to check to be sure that your matches also match each other. if not, then that’s an indication that maybe one or both are identical by chance.

The definition of triangulation in this context means:

  • To find a common segment
  • Of reasonable size (generally 7cM or over)
  • That is confirmed to a common ancestor with at least two other individuals
  • Who are not close family

Close family generally means parents, siblings, sometimes grandparents, although parents and grandparents can certainly be used to verify that the match is valid. The best triangulation situation is when you match those two other people through a second child, meaning siblings of your ancestor.

Different matches, depending on the circumstances, have a different level of value to you as a genealogist. In other words, some are more solid than others.

The X chromosome has special matching and triangulation rules, so we’ll talk about that when we get to that section.

Don’t think of chromosome painting as “doing” triangulation, because triangulation is a bonus of chromosome painting, and it just happens, automatically, so long as you can confirm that the segment is from either your maternal or paternal line.

What does triangulation look like in DNA Painter?

Here’s what my painted chromosome 15 looks like.

Here, I’ve drawn boxes around the areas that are triangulated. Actually, I made a small mistake and omitted one grey bar that’s also part of a second triangulation group. Can you spot it? Hint – look at the grey bars at far right in the overlapping triangulation group boxes where the red arrow is pointing. The box below should extend upwards to incorporate part of that top grey bar too.

Triangulation are those several segments piled up on top of each other. It means they match you at the same address on either the maternal or paternal chromosome. That’s good, but it’s not the same as an official “pileup area.”

Ok, so what’s a pileup area?

Pileup Areas

Certain locations in the human genome have been designated as pileup regions based on the fact that many people will match on these segments, not necessarily because they share a common relatively recent ancestor, but instead because a particular segment has a very high frequency in the general human population, or in the population of a specific region. Translated, this means that the segment might not be relevant to genealogy.

But before going too far with this discussion, it doesn’t mean that matches in pileup regions aren’t relevant to genealogy – just consider it a caution sign.

Aside from chromosome 6, which includes the HLA region, I’ve always been rather suspicious of pileup regions, because they don’t seem to hold true for me. You can view a chart that I assembled of the known pileup regions here.

DNA Painter generously includes pileup region warnings, in essence, along a chromosome bar at the top indicating “shared” or “both.”

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

Pileups regions are indicated by the grey hashed region at right. In my case, on chromosome 1, the pileup region isn’t piled up at all, on either the paternal (blue) chromosome or the maternal (pink) chromosome.

As you can see, I have exactly one match on the maternal side (green) and one (gold) on the paternal side (with a smidgen of a second grey match) as well, with both extending significantly beyond the pileup region. There is no reason to suspect that these gold and green matches aren’t valid.

If I saw many more matches in a pileup region than elsewhere, or many small matches, or DNA that was supposed to be from multiple ancestors not in the same line, then I’d have to question whether a pileup region was responsible.

Stacked Segments

DNA Painter provides you with the opportunity to see which of your ancestors’ segments stack. Stacking is a very important concept of DNA painting.

Before we talk about stacking, notice that the legend for which segments are color coded to specific ancestors is located at right. You can also click on the little grey box beside “Shared or Both,” at left, to show the match names beside the segments.  This is very useful when trying to analyze the accuracy of the match.

I wish DNA Painter offered an option to paint the ancestor’s names beside the segments. Maybe in V2. It’s really difficult to complain about anything because this tool is both free and awesome.

I’m using Powerpoint to label this group of stacked matches for this example.

This is a situation where I know my pedigree chart really well, so I know immediately upon looking at this stacked segment group who this piece of DNA descends from.

Here’s my pedigree chart that corresponds to the stacked segment.

We attribute each DNA segment to a couple initially based on who we match. In this case, that’s William George Estes and Ollie Bolton, my grandparents. The DNA remains attributed to them until we have evidence of which individual person in the couple received that DNA from their ancestors and passed it on to their descendant.

Therefore, the pink people are the half of the couple who we now know (thanks to DNA Painter) did NOT contribute that DNA segment, because we can track the DNA directly through the yellow line until we’re once again to another genetic brick wall couple.

My father is listed at left, and the DNA path runs back to William Crumley the second and his unknown wife who is haplogroup H2a1, the yellow couple at far right. How cool is this? One of those ancestors (or a combined segment from both) has been passed intact to me today. This is not a trivial segment either at 23.3 cM. I would not expect a segment passed to 5th cousins to be that large, but it is!

Also, note that the grey segment of DNA from Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) and Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918) is sitting slightly to the left of the dark blue segment from William Crumley III, so part or all of the grey or blue segment may originate with a different ancestor. Perhaps we’ll know more when additional people test and match on this same segment.

Double Related

I have one person who is related to me through two different lines. I need a way to determine which line (or both) our common DNA segment descends from.

I painted the segment for both of our common ancestor couples. The pink is George Dodson (1702-1770) & Margaret Dagord. The bright blue segment is William Crumley III (1788-1859) & Lydia Brown.

Those two lines don’t converge, at least not that we know of.

Now, as I map additional people, I’ll watch this segment for a tie breaker match between the two ancestors. The gold is not a tie breaker because that’s my grandparents who are downstream of both the pink and blue ancestors.

Painted Ethnicity

23andMe does us the favor of painting our ethnicity segments and allowing us to download a file with those segments. Conversely, DNA Painter does us the favor of allowing us to paint that entire file at once.

I already know my two Native segments on chromosome 1 and 2 descend through my mother, because her DNA is Native in exactly the same location. In other words, in this case, my ethnicity segment does in fact phase to my mother, although that’s not always the case with ethnicity.

Multiple Acadian ancestors are also proven to be Native by both genealogical records and maternal and/or paternal haplogroups.

Therefore, I’ve painted my Native segments on my mother’s side in order to determine exactly from which ancestor(s) those Native segment descend.

Confirming Questionable Ancestors

One very long-standing mystery that seemed almost unsolvable was the identity of the parents of Elijah Vannoy (1784->1850). We know he was the son of one of 4 Vannoy brothers living in Wilkes County, NC. Two were eliminated by existing Bibles and other records, but the other two remained candidates in spite of sifting through every available record and resource. We were out of luck unless DNA came to the rescue. Y DNA confirmed that Elijah was descended from one of the Vannoy males, but didn’t shed light on which one.

I decided that the wives would be the key, since we knew the identity of all four wives, thankfully. Of course, that means we’d be using autosomal DNA to attempt to gather more information.

I entered one candidate couple at Ancestry as Elijah’s parents – the one I felt most likely based on tax records and other criteria – Daniel Vannoy and Sarah Hickerson.  I also entered Sarah’s parents, Charles Hickerson (c 1725-<1793) and Mary Lytle.

I began getting matches to people who descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through children other than Sarah.

The grey segment is from a descendant of Lazarus Estes & Elizabeth Vannoy. The salmon segments are from descendants of Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

These segments aren’t small, 12.8 and 16.1 cM, so I’m fairly confident that these multiple segments in combination with the Elizabeth Vannoy segment do indeed descend from Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle.

At Ancestry, I have 5 matches to Charles Hickerson and Mary Lytle through three of their children. However, only two of the individuals has transferred their results to either Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage or GedMatch where segment information is available to customers.

Finally, the thirty year old mystery is solved!

Shifting, Sliding, Offset or Staggered Segment Groups

Occasionally, you can prove an entire large segment by groups of shifting or sliding segments, sometimes referred as offset or staggered segments.

The entire bright pink region is inherited from Jacob Lentz (1783-1870) and Fredericka Reuhl (1788-1863.) However, it’s not proven by one individual but by a combination of 6 people whose segments don’t all overlap with each other.  The top two do match very closely with me and each other, then the third spans the two groups. The bottom 3 and part of the middle segment match very closely as well.

I can conclude that the entire dark pink region from left to right descends from Jacob and Fredericka.

Two Matches – 7 Generations

Two matches is all it took to identify this segment back to George Dodson and Margaret Dagord.

The mustard match is to my grandparents (22cM), and the pink match is to George Dodson (1702-1770) and his wife (22cM) – 7 generations. These people also match each other.

Additional matches would make this evidence stronger, although a 22cM triangulated match is very significant alone. Future might also suggest ancestors further back in time.

First Chromosome Fully Mapped

I actually have chromosome 5 entirely mapped to confirmed ancestors. I’m so excited.

Uh Oh – Something’s Wrong

I found a stack that clearly indicates something is wrong.  The question is, what?

The mustard represents my paternal grandparents, so these segments could have come through either of them, although on the pedigree chart below, we can see that this came through my grandfathers line..

There is only a small overlap with the magenta (Nicholas Speak 1782-1852 and Sarah Faires 1786-1865) and green (James Crumley 1711-1764 and Catherine c1712-c1790,) which could be by chance given that the Nicholas segment is 7.5 cM, so I’m leaving the magenta out of the analysis.

However, the rest of these segments overlap each other significantly, even though they are stepped or staggered.

As you can see from the colors on the pedigree chat, it’s impossible for the green segment to descend from the same ancestor as the purple segment. The purple and orange confirm that branch of the tree, but the red cannot be from the same ancestor or the same line as the green ancestor.

I suspect that the purple and orange line is correct, because there are 4 segments from different people with the same ancestral line.

This means that we have one of the following situations with the red and green segments:

  • The smaller segments are incorrect, false positives, meaning matching by chance. The green segment is 14 cM, so quite large to match by chance. The red segment is 10 cM. Possible, but not probable.
  • The segments are population-based matches, so appear in all 3 lines. Possible, technically, but also not probable due to the segment size.
  • The segments are genuine matches, and one of the lines is also found in one of the other lines, upstream. This is possible, but this would have to be the case with both the red and green lines. To continue to weigh this possibility, I’ll be watching for similar situations with these same ancestors.
  • Some combination of the above.

I need more matches on this segment for further clarity.

Visual Phasing – Crossovers

A crossover point is where the DNA on one side of a demarcation line is descended from one ancestor and the DNA on the other side is descended from another ancestor, represented by the pink and blue halves of the segment, below.

Crossovers occur when the DNA is combined from two different ancestors when it is passed to the child. In other words, a chunk of mom’s ancestors’ DNA is contributed by mom and a chunk of dad’s ancestors’ DNA is contributed as well. The seam between different ancestor’s DNA pieces is called a crossover.

In this example, the brown lines confirmed by several testers to be from Henry Bolton (c1759-1846) and Nancy Mann (c1780-1841) is shown with a very specific left starting point, all in a vertical line. It looks for all the world like this is a crossover point. The DNA to the left would have been contributed by another, as yet unidentified, ancestor.

The gold lines above are matches from more recent generations.

Naming Those Unnamed Acadians

My Acadian ancestry is hopelessly intertwined, but chromosome painting may in fact provide me with some prayer of unraveling this ball of twine. Eventually.

When I know that someone is Acadian, but I can’t tell which of many lines I connect through, I add them as “Acadian Undetermined.”

There’s a lot of Acadian DNA, because it’s an endogamous population and they just keep passing the same segments around and around in a very limited population.

On my maternal chromosome, all of the olive green is “Acadian Undetermined.”  However, that blue segment in the stack is Rene de Forest (1670-1751) and Francoise Dugas (1678->1751).

In essence, this one match identified all of the DNA of the other people who are now simply a row in the Acadian Undetermined stack. Now I need to go back and peruse the trees of these individuals to determine if they descend form this line, or a common ancestor of this line, or if (some of) these matches are a matter of endogamy.

Endogamous matches can be population based, meaning that you do match each other, but it’s because you share so much of the same DNA because you have small pieces of many common ancestors – not because a particular segment comes from one specific ancestor. You can also share part of your DNA from Mom’s side and part from Dad’s side, because both of your parents descend from a common population and not because the entire segment comes from any particular ancestor.

On some long cold winter weekend, I’ll go through and map all of the trees of my Acadian matches to see what I can unravel. I just love matches with trees. You just can’t do something like this otherwise.

Of course, those Acadians (and other endogamous populations) can be tricky, no matter what, one click up from a needle in a haystack.

Acadian Endogamy Haystack on Steroids

At first, our haystack looks like we’ve solved the mystery of the identity of the stack.  However, we soon discover that maybe things aren’t as neat and tidy as we think.

Of course, the olive green is Acadian Undetermined, but the three other colored segments are:

  • Pink – Guillaume Blanchard (1650-1715/17) & Huguette Goujon (c1647-1717)
  • Brown/Pink – Francois Broussard (c1653-1716) & Catherine Richard (c1663-1748)
  • Coffee – Daniel Garceau (1707-1772) & Anne Doucet (1713-1791)

Looking at the pedigree chart, we find two of these couples in the same lineage, so all is good, until we find the third, pink, couple, at the bottom.

Clearly, this segment can’t be in two different lines at once, so we have a problem.  Or do we?

Working the pink troublesome lines on back, we make a discovery.

We find a Blanchard line consisting of Guilluame Blanchard born circa 1590 and Huguette Poirier also born circa 1690.

Interesting. Let’s compare the Guillaume Blanchard and Huguette Goujon line. Is this the same couple, but with a different surname for her?

No, as it turns out, Guillaume Blanchard that married Huguette Goujon was the grandson of Guilluame Blanchard and Huguette Poirier. That haystack segment of DNA was passed down through two different lines, it appears, to converge in three descendants – me, the descendant of the pink segment couple and the descendant of the brown/burgundy segment couple. This segment reaches back in time to the birth of either Guilluame Blanchard or Huguette Poirier in 1590, someplace in France, rode over on the ship to Port Royal in the very early 1600s, probably before Jamestown was settled, and has been kicking around in my ancestors and their descendants ever since.

This 18 or so cM ancestral segment is buried someplace at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, but lives on in me and several other people through at least two divergent lines.

The X Chromsome

Several vendors don’t report the X chromosome segments. I do use X segments from those who do, but I utilize a different threshold because the SNP density is about half of that on the other chromosomes. In essence, you need a match twice as large to be equivalent to a match on another chromosome..

Generally, I don’t rely on segments below 10 for anyone, and I generally only use segments over 14cM and no less than 500 cM.

Having just said that, I have painted a few smaller segments, because I know that if they are inaccurate, they are very easy to delete. They can remain in speculative mode. The default for DNAPainter and that’s what I use.

The great thing about the X chromosome is that because of it’s special inheritance path, you can sometimes push these segments another 2 generations back in time.

Let’s use an X chromosome match in conjunction with my X fan chart printed through Charting Companion.

On the paternal X, I inherited the gold segment from the couple, William George Estes (1873-1971) & Ollie Bolton (1874-1955.) However, since my father didn’t inherit an X from William George Estes (because my father inherited the Y from his father,) that X segment has to be from Ollie Bolton, and therefore from her parents Joseph Bolton (1853-1920) and Margaret Claxton (1851-1920.)

The segment from Lazarus Estes (1848-1918) and Elizabeth Vannoy (1847-1918) that’s 14 cM is false. It can’t descend from that couple. Same for the 7.5 cM from Jotham Brown (c1740-c1799) & Phoebe unk (c1747-c1803.) That segment’s false too. The green 48 cM segment from Samuel Claxton (1827-1876) and Elizabeth Speak (1832-1907)?  That segment’s good to go!

On my mother’s side, there’s a 7.8 cM Acadian Undetermined, which must be false, because Curtis Benjamin Lore (1856-1909) did not inherit an X chromosome from his Acadian father, Antoine Lore (1805-1862/67.)  Therefore, my X chromosome has no Acadian at all. I never realized that before, and it makes my X chromosome MUCH easier.

How about that light green 33cM segment from Antoine Lore (1805-1862/67) & Rachel Hill (1814/15-1870/80)? That segment must come from Rachel Hill, so it’s pushed back another generation to Joseph Hill (1790-1871) and Nabby Hall (1792-1874.)

I love the X chromosome because when you find a male in the line, you automatically get bumped two more generations back to his mother’s parents. It’s like the X prize for genetic genealogy, pardon the pun!

Adoptees

Some adoptees are lucky and receive close matches immediately. Others, not so much and the search is a long process.

If you’re an adoptee trying to figure out how your matches connect together, use in-common-match groupings to cluster matches together, then paint them in groups.  Utilize the overlapping segments in order to view their trees, looking for common surnames. Always start with the groups with the longest segments and the most matches. The larger the match, the more likely you are to be able to find a connection in a more recent generation. The more matches, the more likely you are to be able to spot a common surname (or two.)

Painting can speed this process significantly.

Much More Than Painting

I hope this tour through my colorful chromosomes has illustrated how much fun analysis can be. You’ll have so much fun that you won’t even realize you’re triangulating, phasing and all of those other difficult words.

If you have something you absolutely have to do, set an alarm – or you’ll forget all about it. Voice of experience here!

So, go and find some segments to paint so all of these exciting things can happen to you too!

How far back will you be able to identity a segment to a specific ancestor?  How about a triangulated segment? An X segment?

Have fun!!! Don’t forget to eat!

PS – If you’d like to learn more about Phasing, Triangulation or hear my keynote speech, consider signing up for the Virtual DNA Conference June 21-24. I’ll be presenting on both of those topics. You can sign in anytime for the next year to listen to the sessions, not just during the conference days. The keynote will be recorded and available afterwards as well.

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The Farm – 52 Ancestors #198

I didn’t grow up on this farm, at least not for most of my childhood, yet it’s still a place of warm memories, comfort and safety – even all these decades later.

When I opened my Mom’s “Suitcase of Life,” I expected to find the photo albums and scrapbooks I had looked through as a child and perhaps a few other things. Mostly items reflective of her life before me. What I didn’t expect to find was a photo of the farm that my step-father owned more than two decades before he and Mom married.

This aerial photo looks a lot like the farm I came to know and love, but on closer inspection, there are several differences.

It’s a “younger” farm than I remember. The giant maples that held the rope swing for my children in the 1970s and 80s are maybe 20 or 30 years old in this picture, to the right of the house.

The well pump tower is visible between the house and the tree outside the back door, minus the windmill. Upon closer inspection, I can see that the tower sported a TV antennae, which answers the question about whether or not the house had electricity. Truthfully, I think the antennae tower simply shielded the pump out back. I only thought it was a “well tower” built for the windmill because there was no antennae by the time I was introduced to the farm – and there was a windmill.

The chicken house behind the garage, had, well, chickens running around, and the chickens were also milling around the garage. A few chickens had taken shelter underneath the propane tank on the north side of the house. It looks like there were chickens everywhere, probably escapees from the chicken yard.

By the time I knew the chicken house, this particular chicken house had been replaced by a much larger one, but chickens were only a memory. The chicken house was used to store “stuff” and ferns were growing under the propane tank known as a “pig,” not to be confused with the pigs that lived in the barn and maternity hog houses in the fields.

The one-car wooden-shingled garage that was barely large enough to hold a car was just like I remembered, some 30+ years later. If you had a passenger, they had to get out of the car before the driver pulled the car into the garage, or you couldn’t get the car doors open. Passenger or driver, your choice, could exit inside the garage – but not both! Actually, that was just as well, because someone had to slide the garage door open, which slid to the right on a track, so the passenger clearly needed to get out of the car anyway.

The outhouse, shown in this 1970s photo, was hidden behind the garage but there was a well-worn path. By the time I lived there, we had an inside bathroom but still used the outhouse for spillover. It wasn’t bad since it was seldom used. There was never any waiting out there and no one cared how long you stayed!

The house itself was built by the Amish as a simple square, maybe 30 by 40 or 50 feet, long before my step-father’s first wife’s father purchased the farm about the time they married. The original front door is still visible and was never removed but was slightly covered over later, both inside and out.

The window to the right of that old door was my bedroom, and the room to the left was my step-brother’s room. The original house was small. I think my room had been the original living room.

It’s difficult to tell if the kitchen I knew had been added in this picture. There appears to be something behind the main roofline, but the chimney is in the wrong place. It could be a small porch. Come to think of it, I don’t know why there’s a chimney in that location at all, because the “stove” that heated the house was elsewhere.

The original part of the house had an upstairs that was “heated” by a simple vent between the first floor and the second. It was sweltering in the summer and freezing, literally, in the winter. The steps going up were extremely steep. No one ever slept there when we lived in the house, but it had clearly been bedrooms at one time. Amish families tended to be large, and I’d guess this large two room “attic” had at one time been the children’s bunkhouse rooms. One for boys and one for girls.

The four original downstairs rooms were the living room, the kitchen, the parent’s bedroom and perhaps a second bedroom, or the living room originally extended the width of the house. It’s difficult to tell what was meant to be a bedroom, because none of the rooms were built with closets. People used chifforobes and dressers. Dad build a closet in his and Mom’s bedroom.

The large addition, probably 15 by 15 feet, extending to the south (right) was the living room and judging from the roof, wasn’t new in this photo. The porch looked the same years later, even down to the white spindles, although by the time I lived there, the porch had shifted with time and listed a lot to left. On farms, the front porch didn’t much matter since the front door was never used anyway – but Mom opened it once a year or so just to be sure it would still open. The old stove used for heating used to sit in the corner that had been the original kitchen, I think, in the “old” corner of the “new” living room.

Dad always used to say that you could tell when farmers had a good year by the room additions.

I don’t know when this house was originally built, but it looks “old” in this photo, labeled October 1955 on the back. When it was originally constructed, there was no inside plumbing or electricity and it had a hand-dug dirt basement under only part of the original house.

Dad concreted part of the basement floor and installed a shower head in the basement wall. If you weren’t afraid of spiders or creepy crawleys, it was a cool place to shower in the summer. The basement had two small ground level windows, and yes, I caught my step-brother’s buddies spying on me once when I was showering. Little did they expect a furious, dripping-wet female to emerge and administer a sound verbal thrashing, threatening to kick their behinds, as they quickly departed running down the road with their tails between their legs. They even left their car behind. Compared to what my Dad did when he found out, that was mild indeed. Hell hath no fury like a man who catches males peeping into his windows at his naked daughter. Let’s just say they never came back and a shower “surround” was installed in the basement. Their disabled, abandoned car sat there for months as a silent reminder to anyone else who might get any bright ideas. Dad finally hauled it, or what was left of it, up to the road with the front end loader, and one night, it disappeared.

The barns and farm part of the photo look much the same as it did when I last saw this place as I drove away for the very last time in 1995. My last good memory was Father’s Day 1993 when I surprised Dad by arriving unannounced. That was just days before our life would change dramatically, once again. After Dad’s death, the auction, and Mom’s move to town, I swore I’d never go back, because the leaving was just too heart-wrenching and painful. Four years later, my step-brother, Gary, would die there, in the kitchen the day after Thanksgiving.

Humble Beginnings

My step-dad, Dean, married his sweetheart, Martha Mae, on July 5th, 1950 and three years later, Gary was born. In October of 1955, when this picture was taken, Gary would have been a rambunctious toddler, in the midst of the terrible-twos, and probably raising Cain. I feel obligated as a typical sibling to say he never really got over that raising Cain part, and maybe not the terrible twos either.😊

As the airplane flew over on that October day, Martha Mae had probably finished feeding the chickens and was cooking lunch, the biggest meal of the day on the farm. Judging from the mist and shadows, it looks to be morning.

It’s fall and harvest had begun. The wagon filled with corn is standing next to the fence in the few rows that have been combined and my Dad’s tractor can be seen in the distance. It looks like he has been out feeding the livestock, perhaps, or doing something in the “back 40.” I’d wager he was riding that same old red International Harvester tractor that he was still patching together and repairing 40 years later. And it wasn’t new in the 1950s!

The hog houses were in the fields in just about the same configuration as I remember them years later. The hog houses and the fields planted in corn and soybeans were rotated. Cows were standing beside the back barn. Dad’s truck was angled into the front barn and even the gas pump and tanks were in the same location.

This photo was taken about 15 years later, in 1969 or 1970, and shows Dad standing by the back door. That extension is the kitchen and mud room.

Little changed on the farm in 40 years – except the people.

The River of Life

In October of 1955, I was just a baby and lived with my parents in town. Mom’s life would come unraveled a few years later and my father would die. In another world, 20 miles away, Dean’s life would lay in tatters too.

In the fall of 1955, Linda Kay, his baby girl had yet to be born. She would arrive in July of 1958 and grace this farmhouse full of love.

Martha Mae was 35 when Linda was born. The family was adamant that “nothing was wrong with Linda,” but she was never able to hold her head up, sit up or function as a normal baby or child. Mother said that judging from the photos that Linda might have had Down’s Syndrome. Linda contracted pneumonia, was taken to the hospital on Christmas Day and died on December 27, 1959, just 17 months old. The day after Dad’s 39th birthday.

My Dad was devastated. Heartbroken. By the 1950s, antibiotics prevented many childhood deaths. No one expected children to die anymore. But his baby girl died anyway.

Gary would have been 6 when they buried his little sister and probably didn’t understand what was happening.

Dad could never speak of Linda without choking up and gave me her little bedspread from her crib when my daughter was born. This is one of the gifts I cherish most – given straight from his heart.

Dad and I always had a special bond. A man of very few words, he once told me that when he married my mother, he got his little girl back.

For the next few years after Linda’s death, Martha Mae became increasingly ill, and finally, in about 1966, she was diagnosed with a rare disease. At that time, very little was known about systemic Schleroderma. For years, Dad carried an article about it around in his wallet. He explained to me that “she petrified from the outside in.” Those years were horrific for him – helplessly watching his wife perish slowly from an unknown demon that he had no weapons to fight.

Just over 40, Martha Mae lived in incredible pain. That’s when Dad added the large indoor bathroom in the corner between the kitchen and bedroom. It was a very early version of a handicapped bathroom, because he built wooden frame “aids” and helped her in and out of the bathtub.

In addition to farming, he also began cleaning and eventually, cooking and taking care of both Gary and Martha Mae too.

The medical profession didn’t understand nor have the drugs to treat the disease, and in 1968, Martha Mae lapsed into renal failure. Dialysis didn’t yet exist, so eventually she became comatose and on July 25th, passed away at 45 years of age, leaving behind a grieving husband and heartbroken 14-year-old son who had spent his childhood witnessing his mother die terribly.

Within a few months of Martha’s death, Gary was hospitalized for what was then called a “nervous breakdown.” That pattern would punctuate the rest of Gary’s abbreviated life. He died younger than his mother, not from the same disease, although Schleroderma does appear to have an autoimmune genetic aspect.

The farmhouse became a place of loneliness and sadness for Dean, haunted with broken dreams. In the space of a few years he had gone from living his dream, down the road from his in-laws on his own farm with his wife and two children, to a widower raising one desperately ill teen.

I’ve often wondered if the disease that took Martha’s life was actually beginning before Gary was born and affected both of her children – the younger child, Linda, the most.

New Beginnings

After Martha’s death and Gary’s institutionalization, Dean joined the Parent’s Without Partner’s Club in town where he met Mom. I met him about 1970 or 1971, and Mom and Dean were married on September 22, 1972, four years and a few months after Martha’s death.

When they married, Mom sold our house in town and spent the money to “update” the farmhouse. Let me translate. She painted, paneled the plaster walls, had central heat installed and the rooms wired with more than a single lightbulb hanging from a wire in the middle of the ceiling. Drapes, curtains, light switches and light fixtures were added. The kitchen had wooden cabinets installed and the metal ones were reused in the mud room where a washer and dryer were installed. The uneven wooden floors were carpeted and linoleum laid in the kitchen, bathroom and mudroom. Mom bought a modern stove and refrigerator for the kitchen. A microwave was considered a luxury and wouldn’t be added until I bought one years later as a gift.

Mom lovingly packed up both Linda’s and Martha Mae’s clothes and things (at Dad’s request) and stored them away for Dean and Gary. Dad just could never do it.

I remember first meeting Dean and how desperately lonely he was. He spent his days farming and the rest of his time volunteering and helping others.

The man who married my mother had changed dramatically. He was happily smiling, beaming with newfound love and welcomed us into his life. So did Gary, who was home again by the time Mom and Dad married. Even Dad’s dog, Spot and our cat, Snowball got along, or at least agreed to ignore each other. Mom and Dean merged lives and homes, including two teenagers. Miraculous that any of us survived, but we not only survived, we thrived. We all needed and wanted a family again, although the transition wasn’t without a few, mostly humorous, bumps in the road.

My Dad had a wicked sense of humor and was the silent prankster, always looking for an opportunity.

Here’s Dad “pregnant” (in orange) at a fundraiser in 1978. Let’s just say Dad wasn’t above wearing a stray bra left behind in the bathroom as earmuffs. That was his tongue-in-cheek, or maybe better stated, ear-in-bra-cup way of reminding you to pick up after yourself. Dad had never lived with a teenage girl before and I had never lived with men.

Happiness had returned to the farmstead in Indiana, although it would be episodically punctuated by crisis’ caused by Gary’s illness. That too, we faced as a unified family.

Fruits and vegetables were once again being canned in blistering summer heat, laundry was hung on the clothesline to dry in the breeze and lunch was being cooked for Dad and whoever else was working on the farm that day. Church was on Sunday.

Family and neighbors came and went up and down the driveways. The family dogs barked both a warning and a greeting. We could often tell who was arriving by the sound of the vehicle and the dog’s voices.

I helped Dad tend the livestock and worked the fields. I loved our solitary time in the barn together, the tractor, and walking the freshly plowed furrows, looking for rocks and arrowheads. He liked the company and showing me how to do things.

The chickens were long gone. I loved the shuffling animal noises and soothing clank clank of the barn. I adored the cats and the critters, along with my Dad’s barn workshop and handiwork. I swear, that man could build or fix anything, generally out of scraps from something else. It might not look great, but was quite functional. On the farm, that’s all that mattered.

I didn’t realize it then, but that time spent alone with Dad was golden. No one ever intruded into our barn world. Few words, sometimes an easy silence – but I’d often catch him watching over me and looking at me dotingly when he thought I wasn’t looking. I would smile and so would he. Pure, unvarnished adoration for each other. There is no truer love.

Soon, Dad walked me down the aisle and I added grandchildren to the mix, as did my half-brother and step-brother.

The winters were cold with mountains of snow, and the summers hot. Dad grilled burgers on the old barrel that served as a charcoal grill, ice cream was cranked and kids played in the hose.

Life was no longer bleak for our blended family. The seasons drifted one into the other.

Life was good and no one thought that it wouldn’t last forever. In the winters, we looked forward to spring. In the spring we looked forward to school being out for the summer. In the summer, we looked forward to carving the pumpkins we planted in the spring and had watched grow, inch by inch, and ripen throughout the summer. In the fall, we looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas when our family would gather. Then, we looked forward to the warmth of spring and flowers all over again as the seed catalogues arrived with their tempting pictures of perfect gardens.

The maple trees had grown and once again held a child’s rope swing with a board for a seat, providing shade for peals of laughter. We planted the garden, weeded the rows, then snapped green beans sitting in the shade on the metal glider outside the back screen door. If you let that door slam, the next thing you would hear from Mom inside the kitchen would be, “Don’t slam the screen.” Everyone else laughed, but not loud enough for Mom to hear!

The blue glider and Dad’s chair have long been “retired” on my patio, one of my two purchases at the end-of-the-road auction. Their mere presence makes me smile, reminds me of Dad and brings me comfort – although there was never anything comfortable about sitting on them except that family was sitting right there next to you, equally as uncomfortable. A lot of talks took place in those chairs.

You Can Take the Girl Off of the Farm, But You Can’t Take the Farm Out of the Girl

Martha Mae’s purple Iris, growing beside the garage and driveway had become Mom’s Iris. One of the neighbor boys got too close with the tractor and plowed them into oblivion. Mom was furious, seeing the shredded bulbs laying in the dirt. Dad was sad. I’m sure he remembered far more about those Irises than he said. A little bit more of Martha Mae was gone. I wish I had bought some replacement bulbs and pretended that not all of the Iris had been killed, but I didn’t realize at the time.

Dad’s ferns, plentiful, but not visible in the farm photos, now grow in my garden, as do his phlox plants, below. I’m now passing them on to the next generation as well.

The farm may be a memory now, but a whole lot of the farm lives on in me. Someplace along the way, I became a farm girl – and Daddy’s girl. I will always carry those wonderful sundrenched days on the farm with my Dad etched into my heart.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

You’re Invited to a Virtual DNA Conference

Great News! If you’ve ever wanted to attend a DNA Conference at your convenience and in your jammies – your wish has been granted.

Please join me, Shannon Combs-Bennett, Blaine Bettinger and Diahan Southard for a 4-day Virtual DNA Conference June 21-24th through Family Tree University.

The pre-recorded workshops are available anytime during the conference dates, and for a year afterwards for registrants, but I’m giving the keynote, What’s New and News live at 4:30 EST on Saturday, June 23rd. The keynote will be recorded and available afterwards for those enrolled in the conference, but you’ll miss the opportunity for live Q&A.

The 4-Day Virtual DNA Conference includes:

  • Live keynote and Q&A with Roberta Estes (30 minutes)
  • Phasing with Roberta Estes (30 minute video presentation)
  • Triangulation Tools with Roberta Estes (30 minute video presentation)
  • Deep DNA Analysis Tools with Shannon Combs-Bennett (60 minute recorded webinar)
  • DNA Solutions to Real Life Research Problems with Blaine Bettinger (30 minute presentation)
  • DNA Mismatch: Conflicts in Your Family Tree with Blaine Bettinger (30 minute presentation)
  • Plus, 4 PDF research guides by expert DNA consultant, Diahan Southard.
  • Discussion boards and more!

If possible, I would suggest that you listen to my two sessions on Phasing and Triangulation before the keynote, as it may make some parts of the keynote easier to understand if you’re already familiar with those concepts.

Here’s how the online courses work. The great news about online courses is that you can start and finish them anytime – based on your schedule. You can also listen, again, if you need to. And, there are no travel expenses or hassles!

Here’s the link to read more about the Virtual DNA Conference and sign up!

I hope you can join us. Looking forward to “seeing you” there!!!

Family Tree DNA Names 100,000 New Y DNA SNPs

Recently, Family Tree DNA named 100,000 new SNPs on the Y DNA haplotree, bringing their total to over 153,000. Given that Family Tree DNA does the majority of the Y DNA NGS “full sequence” testing in the industry with their Big Y product, it’s not at all surprising that they have discovered these new SNPs, currently labeled as “Unnamed Variants” on customers’ Big Y Results pages.

The surprising part was twofold:

Family Tree DNA single-handedly propelled science forward with the introduction of the Big Y test. They likely have performed more NGS Y chromosome tests than the entire rest of the world combined. Assuredly, they have commercially.

Originally, in the early 2000s, a new SNP wasn’t named until there were three independent instances of discovery. That pre-NGS “rule” didn’t take into account three men from the same family line because very few men had been tested at that point in time, let alone multiple men from the same family. This type of testing was originally only done in an academic environment. A caveat was put into place by Family Tree DNA when they started discovering SNPs that the 3 individuals had to be from separate family lines and the SNP in question had to be verified by Sanger sequencing before being considered for name assignment and tree placement. At that time, they were pushing the scientific envelope.

In recent years, that criteria changed to two individuals. With this new development, the SNP is being named with one reliable occurrence, BUT, the SNP still is not being placed on the tree without two high quality occurrences.

Naming the SNPs early while awaiting that second occurrence allows discussion about the validity of that particular finding. Family Tree DNA was not the first to move to this practice.

Some time ago, two other firms began analyzing the BAM files produced by Family Tree DNA for an additional analysis fee. Those firms began naming SNPs before three occurrences had been documented, a practice which has been well-accepted by the genetic genealogy community. Everyone seems to be anxious to see their SNP(s) named and placed on the tree, although there is little consensus or standardization about the criteria to place a SNP on the tree or the line between high, medium and low quality SNP read results.

The definition of a new haplogroup, meaning a high quality named SNP, is a new branch in the Y tree. Every new SNP mutation has the potential to be carried for many generations – or to go extinct in one or two.

As the industry has matured, SNP naming procedures have evolved too.

How SNP Names Are Assigned

The lab or entity that discovers a SNP gets to name the SNP. That means that their abbreviation is appended to the beginning of the SNP number, thereby in essence crediting that entity for the discovery. Clearly more conservative namers can’t append their initials to nearly as many SNPs as aggressive namers.

Here’s a list of the naming entities, maintained by ISOGG.

In 2006, the first year that ISOGG compiled a SNP tree, the number of Y DNA haplogroups was 460, including singletons, not tens of thousands. No one would ever have believed this SNP tsunami would happen, let alone in such a short time.

Naming SNPs

Family Tree DNA waiting to name SNPs until 3 were discovered in unrelated family lines, and requiring confirmation by Sanger sequencing allowed the analysis entities to “discover” and name the SNP with their own preceding prefix by implementing less stringent naming criteria. It also increased the possibility of dual naming, a phenomenon that occurs when multiple entities name the same SNP about the same time.

Some people who maintain trees list all of these equivalent SNPs that were named for the exact same mutation, at the same time. Family Tree DNA does not. If the same SNP is named more than once, Family Tree DNA selects one to name the tree branch – in the example below, ZP58. Checking YBrowse, this SNP was also named FGC11161 and ZP56.2.

However, you can see, that SNP ZP58 has several other SNPs keeping it company on the same branch, at least for now.

The FGC SNPs above are only assigned as branch equivalents of ZP58 until a discovery is made that will further divide this branch into two or more branches. That’s how the tree is built.

Sometimes defining a unique SNP is not as straightforward as one would think, especially not utilizing scan technology.

While YFull doesn’t do testing, Full Genomes Corporation does. All of the YFull named SNPs are a result of interpreting BAM files of individuals who have tested elsewhere and naming SNPs that the testing labs didn’t name.

Today, YBrowse, also maintained by ISOGG in conjunction with Thomas Krahn shows the following three organizations with the highest named SNP totals:

  • Family Tree DNA – BY and L prefixes, (L from before the Big Y test) – 153,902
  • YFull – Y prefix – 133,571 (plus 6447 YP SNPs submitted by citizen scientists for verification)
  • Full Genomes Corporation – FGC prefix – 81,363

Just because a SNP is named doesn’t mean that it has been placed on the haplotree. Today, Family Tree DNA has just over 14,100 branches on their tree, with a total of 102,104 SNPs (from all naming sources) placed on their tree. That number increases daily as the following placement criteria is met:

  • Read quality confirmed by the lab
  • Two or more instances of the SNP

SNPs Applied to Family History

All SNPs discovered through the Big Y process and named by Family Tree DNA begin with BY, so my Estes lineage is BY490. This mutation (SNP) occurred since Robert Eastye born in 1555, because one of his son’s descendants carries only BY482 and the descendants of another son carry BY490.

In the pedigree above, kit 166011, to the far right is BY482 and the rest are all BY490, which is one mutation below BY482 on the haplotree.

This means of course that the mutation BY490, occurred someplace between the common ancestor of all of these men, Robert Eastye born in 1555, and Abraham Estes born in 1647. All of Abraham’s descendants carry BY490 along with BY482, but kit 166011 does not. Therefore, we know within two generations of when BY490 occurred. Furthermore, if someone descended from one of Abraham’s brothers (Robert, Silvester, Thomas, Richard, Nicholas or John,) represented on this chart by Richard, we could tell from that result if the mutation occurred between Robert and Silvester, or between Silvester and Abraham.

Unnamed Variants Versus Named SNPs

As it turns out, reserving a location for the Unnamed Variants in the SNP tree is much like making a dinner reservation. It’s yours to claim, assuming everyone shows up.

In the case of Unnamed Variants, Family Tree DNA reserved the SNP name and the SNP will be placed on the tree as soon as a second occurrence is discovered and the SNP is entirely vetted for quality and accuracy. Palindromic and high repeat regions were excluded unless manually verified.

While this article isn’t going to delve into how to determine read quality, every SNP placed on the tree at Family Tree DNA is individually evaluated to assure that they are not being placed erroneously or that a “mutation” isn’t really a misalignment or read issue.

Currently, Family Tree DNA is working their way through the entire haplotree, placing SNPs in the correct location. As you can see, they have more than 100,000 to go and more SNPs are discovered every day.

In the case of the Estes men, you can see their branch placement in the much larger tree.

As we learn more, sometimes branch placements move.

Is Your Unnamed Variant on the List?

ISOGG maintains an index of BY SNPs. BY of course equates to Big Y.

Before using the index, you first need to sign on to your Family Tree DNA account and look at your Unnamed Variants on your Big Y personal page.

If you don’t have any Unnamed Variants, that means all of your Unnamed Variants have already been named. Congratulations!

If you do have Unnamed Variants, click on the position number to take a look on the browser.

This unnamed variant result is clearly a valid read, with almost every forward and reverse read showing the same mutation, all high-quality reads and no “messy” areas nearby that might suggest an alignment issue. You can read more about how to work with your Big Y results in the article, Working With the New Big Y Results (hg38).

Next, go to the ISOGG BY Index page and enter the position number of the variant in the search box – in this case, 13311600.

In this case, 13311600 is not included in the BY Index because YFull already beat Family Tree DNA to the punch and named this SNP.

How do I know that? Because after seeing that there was no result for 13311600 on the ISOGG page, I checked YBrowse.

You can utilize YBrowse to see if an Unnamed Variant has previously been named. You can see the SNP name, Y93760, directly above the left side of the red bar below. The “Y” of course tells you that YFull was the naming entity. (Note that you can click on any image to enlarge.)

YBrowse is more fussy and complex to use than doing the simple ISOGG search. You only need to utilize YBrowse if your Unnamed Variant isn’t listed in the BY ISOGG search tool.

To use YBrowse successfully, you must enter the search in the format of “chrY:13311600..1311600” without the quotation marks and where the number is the variant location, and then click search.

The next Unnamed Variant, 14070341, is included in the ISOGG search list, so no need to utilize YBrowse for this one.

To see the new name that this SNP will be awarded when/if it’s placed on the tree, click on the link “BY SNPs 100K.” You’ll see the page, below.

Then, scroll down or use your browser search to find the variant location.

There we go – this variant will be named BY105782 as soon as Family Tree DNA places it on the tree! I’ll be watching!

Where will it be located on the tree, and will it be the new Estes terminal SNP, meaning the SNP that defines our haplogroup? I can’t wait to find out! It’s so much fun to be a part of scientific discovery.

If you’re a male and haven’t taken the Big Y test, it’s on sale now for Father’s Day. You can play a role in scientific discovery too. Does your Y DNA carry undiscovered SNPs?

A big thank you to Family Tree DNA for making resources available to answer questions about their new SNPs and naming processes.

___________________________________________________________________

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Suicide – 52 Ancestors #197


Those.

Those are flashing red neon warning words.

We’ve all been there one time or another. The question is, do we stay there? Is that a momentary thought, or perhaps something that motivates us to create a better life? The abused spouse who leaves, and takes with her the children also condemned to an abusive father. Those end-of-the line words in that situation are actually positive.

But in other situations, they aren’t positive at all.

My Story

Yes, this is my story, that of my father, and the story of other family members too.

I’ve never shared this before, not even with close friends and family. I’ve hesitated over and over before pressing the “publish” button.

Why haven’t I shared?

Because there didn’t seem to be any reason to dig up old dead history. Ironic words for a genealogist, right?

There is a lot of shame, prejudice, embarrassment and misunderstanding about suicide and the process of getting to that point.

If you think, for one minute, that suicide hasn’t touched you, you’re wrong. You may not know. Some suicides are hidden as accidents, either intentionally by the victim or by the embarrassed family. Some suicide attempts fail (thankfully) and are either disguised or simply not discovered. If you haven’t been touched yet, you will be, because suicides are sharply on the rise.

I’m telling my story now because there are ways to help if you recognize the signs – and ways to “not help” too. Sometimes that’s a fine line.

If this story helps even one of you, or your loved ones, it’s worth telling.

There is far too much shame surrounding suicide, which often prevents discussion, so today, I’m telling you these stories in their bare naked truth with the hope that we can lift the curtain of shame and embarrassment, thereby saving people in desperate pain.

Why Now?

Why am I telling this story now?

One of the suicide predictors to watch for is other suicides. Two suicides of famous people have hit the airwaves this week, and people who might be on the edge may be “inspired,” or pushed over the edge by these suicides.

So anyone already at risk is now more at risk.

It’s time to tell this truth.

I hope you’ll take the time to read and listen, because the life you save may be the life of someone you love.

Danger Signs and Resources

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reports the following danger signs:

  • Withdrawal
  • Alcohol and drug use, both of which are high risk in and of themselves
  • Comments about killing oneself – 50-75% of people say something to someone first
  • Insomnia
  • Losing interest in things that previously interested them
  • Finding ways to kill themselves such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun
  • Other suicides

I would add other things to that list:

  • Illness
  • Self-harm, like cutting
  • Dramatic life changes such as divorce, severe illness or death of a close family member
  • Suicides among peer groups, including online acquaintances
  • Negative self-image activities, such as bulimia or purging

If there is any question in your mind, please seek help or advice for yourself or your friend or family member at:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 and press 1
  • LGBTQ Suicide Hotline 1-866-488-7386
  • Teen Suicide Hotline 1-800-872-5437
  • Christian Suicide Hotline 1-888-667-5947
  • International Resources

Please read this article, What to Do When a Loved One is Severely Depressed.

Where to Start

I almost don’t even know where to start, because, looking back to the two primary events I’m going to share with you, the beginnings were vastly different. There are many paths.

My father’s probable suicide began years and years before his death with poor choices that led to a life spinning out of control, exacerbated by alcohol addiction.

My own desperation journey began with my former husband’s stroke, which turned my life and that of my children entirely upside down.

Two very different situations, and two very different outcomes.

I probably need to say at this point that I am writing this article with very little editing. I am not a social worker or mental health counselor. I’m sharing my rather raw experiences. They may or may not be politically correct. They are my truth and written in my stream-of-consciousness “unedited voice.” There are sentence fragments and opinions. And yes, I swear:)

Suicide and Depression

Before I sought (and attended) counseling, I thought of depression only in the context of what I was personally familiar with. I thought of depression as something rather temporary, fleeting and “curable” with time. Meaning that one could be “depressed” over something at work, or the loss of a spouse through divorce, but those things are curable by a different job or a different spouse.

In other words, depression was a result of a life event, but escapable in most instances. I was young and depression then wasn’t diagnosed as a disease, per se. Mental health diseases were things like schizophrenia which was somewhat treatable, but not escapable. My former mother-in-law was afflicted with that disease and I had horrible first-hand knowledge.

During the counseling process, I learned that there are two types of depression.

One type of depression, which my counselor termed clinical depression, seems to others and sometimes to the person affected to appear “out of no place” or “for no reason.” It’s a mental health disease. Diseases don’t necessarily have “reasons.” They just are. Depression seems to be genetically linked, but it’s a complex disease with many factors. Regardless of why, it’s horrible for those affected.

Two suicides in the past few years have affected me greatly, for two entirely different reasons.

The first was the death of Robin Williams in 2014. Just ripped my heart out. So tragically sad.

I knew Robin Williams, but not well. Before Robin was famous, he made training videos for Hewlett Packard. He also occasionally participated in training sessions for new employees. That’s how I met Robin Williams. He was funny, warm, genuine and never would I have expected this man to carry the demon of depression. He was inspirational. When someone that inspires you dies by their own hand in such obvious misery, it rocks your boat. Shakes you to the core.

It’s somehow ironic that the comedian who related to so many and made us laugh joyfully was so horribly tortured and unhappy himself. To the point of death. Where death was preferable to torture. No one, but no one, would ever have expected Robin Williams to die by suicide.

The second suicide of a public figure happened earlier today, June 8, 2018 (as I write this) with the death of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t know Anthony personally, but it seems like those of us who watched Anthony over the years felt like we did. He was incredibly outspoken, the consummate bad boy who had “made it” in spite of what seemed like insurmountable odds. His tough life and substance addition were well known.

While I liked Robin Williams immensely, I connected with Anthony Bourdain on a different level. Anthony seemed like one of us, plus food is always connected with comfort. Food, travel and a non-drama-free mince-no-words unapologetic survivor. Who didn’t want to watch? And watch we did, in droves. Now, we’ve watched his demise too.

Both Robin and Anthony were known to battle depression.

Not all people who are depressed have suicidal thoughts, and not all people who end their life by suicide are depressed.

I know that sounds odd, but it’s true.

Types of Suicide

When a person who has a reasonable expectation of life left to live dies by their own choice, that’s the kind of suicide that might have been preventable. That’s where recognition and prevention efforts need to focus.

The other type of suicide, which I wish desperately was called by a different name is when a person who does not have a reasonable expectation of a quality life left to live chooses their own time, place and way to exit.

In my mind, that’s entirely different. I strongly feel that it’s the epitome of inhumanity to force a person who will die miserably to live through that death when we have other, quick and pain-free choices. And if you’re about to tell me that hospice does just that, I will beg to differ with you until the cows come home. Been there, done that with multiple family members and it’s just not the case. We don’t force our pets to suffer at their end of life, but we subject our family members to torturous deaths.

My step-father somehow mustered enough strength and removed his own ventilator in order to end the misery of a prolonged death. Was that suicide? Probably, technically. He certainly ended his own life on his terms. He removed his first wife’s life support too when there was no hope and she was permanently comatose and brain dead. I guess, technically, that makes him a murderer too.

In reality, he was a humane hero. I would want him at my bedside because I know MY best interest would come first.

I certainly missed him when he died, but he had lived his life to the fullest and prolonging the inevitable was only cruel.

My Father

But that’s not the father whose story I want to tell. My biological father, my Daddy, William Sterling Estes, died in a car accident in 1963. That’s the official story. The one everyone told. The one I believed. Until one day when I was an adult and the accidental truth arrived in separate pieces from different people and the truth dawned on me like an unwelcome storm.

Losing a parent when you are a child is exceedingly difficult. My father was the third close death in as many years. My maternal grandmother and grandfather, followed by my father.

My parents were divorced and my father had remarried. I loved going to visit my father and step-mother, Virgie. She was a lovely woman. She and my mother got along just fine.

I didn’t see my father often, so he was something of an absent hero. I was always extremely excited when he appeared, often bearing some kind of small gift. My mother, of course, who bore the brunt of everything everyday while he was absent was chronically irritated at this turn of events. He was no hero to Mother, in fact, just the opposite, a scoundrel, but their story is one for another time.

As a result of having lived with him for half a decade, ending just three years before his death, it was a piece of information from her that eventually explained part of the answer to the question of why he might have chosen suicide.

The Day Before

How my father came to work at a funeral home is also a story for a full article, but let’s just say that he had previously worked as a physician and apparently dead bodies didn’t bother him. He worked with the local funeral director as needed. At that time, funeral homes were owned by local families. It took two strong men unbothered by death and body fluids to lift bodies, a task which had to be accomplished multiple times between the removal of the body from where they died and the funeral.

At that time in small-town Indiana, the hearse also performed a second duty as an ambulance. If this strikes you as funny today, it did me too. I can just imagine waking up in the hearse after an accident of some sort and not knowing if you were on the way to the hospital or morgue, or worse yet, the cemetery. Dark humor, I know.

My father was backing the hearse into the funeral home garage, the day before his “accident,” and the funeral director asked him why. My father replied, “Because you’re going to need it this weekend.”

I learned of this about 50 years after the fact, in a happenstance conversation. I had called the funeral home to see if they had any additional information about my father’s funeral – not knowing that he was working there at the time – and certainly unaware of the conversation the day before his death. Imagine my shock!

The man I spoke with 50 years later was the son of the director and was present at the time of the conversation. He took over the family business from his father. The son retired shortly after that conversation and sold the funeral home to a corporate interest. I’m glad I accidentally talked to him when I did, because that opportunity was forever gone shortly thereafter.

The man said that at the time, his father had mentioned that my father’s comment was “odd,” but after the “accident” the following day, the funeral director told his son that he believed my father’s death was suicide. That tidbit may not have been shared with anyone else, but when I heard it, and then combined it with additional puzzle pieces, it made sense. Terrible sense.

Although I can tell you, it was one hell of an electric shock wave to learn as an adult that your father actually committed suicide. It changed the death narrative entirely and caused me to ask questions and reflect on the consummate question, why.

And it hurt.

Accidental death and intentional death is very different for the survivors.

The “Accident”

God this is hard to write.

Even all these years later.

My father had a long history of alcohol abuse.

Before you judge him too harshly, he and his siblings were fed alcohol as children. Their father, William George Estes, was a bootlegger, and apparently not a great one or they wouldn’t have wanted for food. When there was no food, they were given alcohol to make their hungry bellies stop hurting and to make them sleep. My aunt revealed these sordid, heartbreaking details in a letter to my step-mother. Then other family members corroborated. I was horrified and hurt terribly for my father as a child. His parents may not have doomed him, but they certainly started him down a terrible path.

My grandmother, Ollie Bolton, eventually left my grandfather after she caught him cheating, but according to various family resources, she didn’t want her two sons who hopped a freight train in Indiana and found their way to their grandparents in Tennessee. And Ollie wasn’t painted as the villain in the story, William George was worse.

I try desperately not to judge my grandparents, neither of whom I ever met.

In any event, my father learned very young that alcohol was the answer to everything and it made you feel better. For all I know, he may actually have been addicted before he was even a teenager. Regardless, it’s horribly sad.

Dad certainly was an alcoholic by the time he was an adult – his drink of choice being whiskey or moonshine. He was also a veteran of two wars, and according to both my mother and my step-mother, he checked himself into VA hospitals more than once to “dry-out,” but then would fall off the wagon again after release. Sometimes the wagon event took weeks or months, but it always happened.

Clearly, his undependability affected his relationships with women and probably with others as well. The exception was my step-mother, Virgie, who knew him when he was young, married him when he was old, and loved him for who he was. It’s somehow ironic that it was in that supportive relationship that he decided to exit the world.

My father’s military records were burned in the National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis in 1972. The VA attempted to help me reconstruct them from different records that existed elsewhere, but medical records were entirely absent.

According to Virgie and Mom, Dad had once again checked into the VA hospital in Fort Wayne and dried out. He was dismissed and went back home, once again hopeful and upbeat. All I can say is that my heart aches that Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t yet exist ubiquitously – because he might had stood a fighting chance.

Virgie told me that he was stone-cold sober after his release and at the time of the accident, but years later, her daughter told a different story.

Apparently, either the day before, or the morning of the accident, he was seen in the local park intoxicated. Perhaps he wasn’t. Perhaps he was and Virgie didn’t know. Perhaps she was in denial. Perhaps she wanted to spare me thinking about my father’s last few hours as an alcoholic who had fallen off the wagon again, a drunk in the park.

The stories vary somewhat, but the essence of the situation was that at the time of the accident, he was either going to pick the preacher up to go fishing, or had dropped him off after fishing. My father loved to fish and judging from the time of day, I’d guess they had already been fishing.

My father was also a master of disguising his alcohol use and abuse, and alcohol consumption wasn’t viewed as negatively at that time as it is today. My recollection was that he always had an unobtrusive flask in his tackle box.

About 7:30 that evening, Dad was driving Virgie’s 1960 Rambler, and at a T-road, with a telephone pole at the intersection, he pressed the gas instead of the brake and hit the telephone pole head on, more than 100 feet from the road. That’s a huge distance and he could have easily maneuvered enough to avoid the pole. Instead, he hit it dead on. No skid marks – no evasive maneuvers. Full on throttle.

Genealogists, please note that the relationships are incomplete and my name is incorrect. Virginia Little is a half-sister, not step-sister and other relatives were omitted.

Today, that transmission pole still seems to be in place, to the right of the small grey pin at the left side of the picture below. It pains me to look, but I had to. I bet no one today knows that someone died there in 1963 – 55 years ago this summer.

The official diagnosis was that Dad had an angina attack and accidentally stomped the gas instead of the brake. Until the other pieces of evidence came to light, no one questioned that.

Indeed, the very hearse he had backed into the garage the day before transported him from the accident scene to the hospital, just as he had predicted. Then the next day, it drove him to the funeral home, and then after the funeral, to the cemetery.

He died at Mt. Auburn and Main, he lived on Hickory and he is buried in the IOOF (Oddfellows) Cemetery in the upper left hand corner on the map below, within sight of where he lived – everything within a mile.

A nice tidy bundle. But it wasn’t tidy at all.

Why?

Why would Dad have committed suicide?

Three possible reasons come to mind.

  • He had once again disappointed his spouse by falling off the wagon. Except this time, it wasn’t a spouse who was threatening to leave him if he didn’t sober up, but one that loved him unconditionally. He may have realized that he truly was not in control of his life – that alcohol controlled him and had controlled his entire life. Maybe he was just done trying.
  • Maybe Dad was depressed because of his relapse and could have succeeded if he had tried again. This was his rock bottom, when other rock bottoms hadn’t been rock bottom enough – but he didn’t survive this rock bottom.
  • Maybe Dad knew something else. As Mom aged, she told me things she would never have told me earlier. Dad had consumed alcohol his entire life. He was about 62 when he died. We don’t know exactly which year he was born, because his birth year on his delayed birth certificate and other identifying information varied by what he wanted/needed his age to be at the moment. His liver was very probably a hot mess. Mom thought he had cancer. She told me rather explicit details about the “messes she had to clean up” which certainly do sound like someone with an internal issue.

If Dad knew he had cancer, suspected he had cirrhosis of the liver (which often precedes cancer) and had disappointed his wife once again, maybe Dad decided it was better to just check out. Maybe he knew what was coming and was afraid. Maybe medically, he was worse than anyone, except him, knew. Maybe his drinking by then was to medicate physical pain.

No Goodbye

I never got to say goodbye.

It was bad enough when I thought his death was an accident.

Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to do that, to say goodbye to me. Maybe he wanted to spare me.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

So many maybes and no answers.

He did leave a message for me with Virgie when he was in the hospital, before he passed away. According to his death certificate, he died of internal bleeding sometime after midnight, about 6 hours after the accident.

And then, 50 miles away, in my bedroom, a shadowy silhouette of my father sat on the edge of my bed. I felt his weight as he sat down and the mattress moved as he touched me. I woke up, seeing his silhouette with the streetlight behind him – so glad that he had come to visit.

In the morning, I leaped out of bed when I heard the phone ring. I knew that Daddy had arrived late the night before and would be there this morning, drinking coffee with cream and sugar at the kitchen table with Mom, waiting for me to get up. Like so many other times before.

I ran up to mother, who was just hanging up the phone, and excitedly asked her where Daddy was.

I didn’t see him.

Mother didn’t say anything, at first, then asked me what I meant.

I told her that I knew he was there because he came and sat on my bed the night before. I was confused, because I didn’t see him anyplace in the house.

She turned ashen and began to shake.

Mother asked me to come and sit beside her on the couch. She put her arms around me, like she wanted to shelter me.

She explained to me that not only was Daddy not there, but he hadn’t been there and that he would never be there again.

I didn’t believe her.

I cried gulping sobs. Unfortunately, I understood death all too well. I didn’t know what to think. I was just sure that she had sent him away, and I was very angry with my mother. I asked many questions and the only answers she had for me were, “I don’t know.”

The phone call had been Virgie and Mom simply didn’t have any answers yet.

For a change, Mom didn’t seem angry with him. She was crying too. I was very confused. Then I talked to Virgie and I was just heartbroken. I can still feel that searing pain ripping through my little body, sitting here today.

I grieved my father’s death terribly and never obtained closure as a child. I’m still not entirely sure that I ever did, although I finally accepted that he had died. As an adult, I arranged for his military headstone myself and had it set.

I wasn’t allowed to attend his funeral, or those of either grandparent. Children then were “spared” grief as much as possible. That would have helped me a lot – to at least see him one more time, even if it was in a casket.

Death became a thief in the night, a stealer of those I loved. Death was an enemy and without any of the positive benefits of group grieving and comfort. Everything about death and funerals had a very negative connotation. To this day, I abhor funerals.

My Step-Father

A few years later, my mother married my step father, Dean Long, whom I completely adored. He and I had a symbiotic relationship because his daughter, who was about my age had died, and I had lost my father. We healed each other’s wounds and formed a bond that not even death could sever.

I did what kids do. I went to school, made mistakes and got called on the carpet. My Mom was the disciplinarian and my step-father was a quiet man of few words. He didn’t need many. I listened to him without reservation.

It was my step-father who encouraged me to stretch my wings beyond what “girls” were supposed to be able to do back then, and beyond Indiana. It was he who told me I could be and do anything I set my mind to. It was him that told me never to let anyone tell me otherwise.

When I found myself married to an abusive spouse, it was Dad that encouraged me to leave. I use the word “encourage’ loosely. He literally put his life on the line for me, more than once. Abuse is a terribly intimidating cyclic phenomenon and without his support, I don’t know that I would have been able to break free of that cycle alone.

I did, moved and remarried. He saved me, or more succinctly, helped me to save myself.

My Turn in the Hot Seat

Fast forward.

Years later, in 1993, I was in my prime. I had finished multiple college degrees and a few years earlier, left a lucrative professional position in the computer industry to found a consulting company. Things were going well, at home and at work – until Sunday, June 20st.

When I woke up that morning, my husband couldn’t get out of bed and his speech was quite slurred. I knew there was a problem, and immediately called 911. My husband and son were both volunteer firefighters and paramedics, although my son wasn’t home at the time.

I had never been so glad to see those men arrive. They were at the house within a couple minutes. My husband’s best friend was the first to arrive. I had to leave my husband in the bedroom to go outside to explain to Chuck what was happening.

“I think he had a stroke.”

And then I began to sob, because I knew.

That stroke, he might have recovered mostly from, but the devastating stroke that followed a week later destroyed much of his brain.

He was hospitalized for months with complication after complication, hovering near death anew every day.

Needless to say, he not only couldn’t work, he would never be able to work again. I couldn’t be at the hospital managing his daily health crisis and work at the same time. Not only that, but I suddenly needed to make as much money as we both had made together previously. The bills didn’t go down, they went up with his skyrocketing medical bills during his 6 month hospital stay.

I vividly remember the night that I walked into the house after working all day and then going to the hospital to deal with a crisis of some sort and saying to myself, “I need a beer.”

Then I heard what I said, especially the word “need.” I knew in that instant that if I had one beer, I would never stop. I did need that beer. It’s called self-medication – and it’s a hallmark of depression. I didn’t have that beer that day, nor did I allow myself to drink anything alcoholic for several years. Alcoholism clearly has a hereditary component and I knew that I was susceptible. I do occasionally have a drink now, but they are few and far between, and never, ever on a “bad day.”

A few months later, when it was determined that my husband wasn’t going to die, at least not immediately, focus shifted to his hospital release. Our home was not handicapped accessible for a wheelchair. Not only that, but he could never be left alone with his cognitive judgement impairments. Insurance does not pay for home modifications. No one pays for home modifications for handicapped access. Neither does anyone pay for home assistance nor residence in a facility. I had no good options.

By December, we were scheduling his release from the hospital. I had taken a loan to convert the garage into a handicapped bedroom/bathroom and make the kitchen and living room handicapped accessible. I had hired an aide to stay with him while I worked, but in the next few months, I would go through aides like water because he was “difficult” in many ways, including sexually inappropriate.

His “executive function” that prevents normal people from doing things like grabbing women by the genitals had been destroyed in the stroke. I understood that he couldn’t help himself, but understanding and living with the situation are two entirely different things.

Our daughter was a teenager at this time and suffice it to say that this situation pushed her into behaviors that were not healthy for her. That’s her story to tell, not mine, but it was living Hell on earth for everyone involved.

My son, an older teen, couldn’t cope and left the family and would remain estranged for many years. However, my daughter and I were trapped there.

My step-father was in failing health with COPD and would die in September of 1994.

My mother was a wreck between my step-father, my husband’s stoke, me and my children. She wanted to help, but couldn’t leave Indiana to do so.

My step-brother lived in another state and had a host of serious issues. He was in no condition to help anyone, not even himself.

There was no one to depend on, other than my daughter who was too young to have that kind of responsibility foisted upon her.

When you’re in that kind of a situation you learn very quickly who your friends and family are that care. Many you think you can depend on simply disappear into the shadows. Sometimes people you don’t expect step forward too.

Of my husband’s three brothers, two were ministers and they were “too busy” to help. All I can say is “bless their hearts.” You southern people will know exactly what that means.

The third brother, the official “black sheep” of the family, condemned by the ministers, came with his wife periodically to help us. I’ve always liked black sheep.

My husband’s parents were in their 80s and couldn’t really grasp the situation. They thought that if he could talk, he was fine. Never mind that he made no sense. My mother-in-law had advanced Parkinson’s disease and my father-in-law had congestive heart failure. They really couldn’t help much, but they could certainly criticize everything I did, or didn’t do. Both died within a few years.

My half-brother couldn’t be bothered and never offered to help. So much for family.

A couple of my husband’s fire-department buddies came to help from time to time, as did my quilting friends. Chuck was here regularly trying to help me get things in order, but after my husband came home, few could deal with him. I was extremely, extremely grateful, but the need so far outweighed the available resources.

Eventually, I was at the end of my rope – 18 months progressively descending into the fires of Hell.

The Christmas from Hell

It was Christmas 1994.

I had decorated the Christmas tree, not that I cared, but because that’s what I was “supposed to do.” I was still trying to make everything as normal as I could. I sat down and cried, but then I was just too tired and hopeless even for tears. There was no beauty in that tree, no beauty in Christmas, no beauty in life.

I was terribly, chronically sleep deprived and had been for months. I worked in the day, and was my husband’s caregiver the rest of the time. 24X7X365 with no break. His care meant looking after an incontinent 260 pound 2 or 3 year old that is never cute, never grows up and you can’t take anyplace because of his behavior. His weight increased and he was very difficult for me to manage.

My son was gone and had been gone throughout the entire episode. My daughter had run away from home. My step-father had died. My mother was coming the next day, Christmas Eve, and the week after Christmas, we had to take my husband to live in a care facility because I had lost the final aide and couldn’t find anyone willing to take care of him while I worked. My job was hanging on by a thread, through the extreme generosity of my customer, but that wouldn’t last forever. I had to do something and I felt like an abysmal failure on every level.

My husband was going to be crushed that he had to live someplace else. I dreaded trying to explain to someone who couldn’t understand why that had to happen. I dreaded driving away that day. I dreaded every single day.

All of that money spent on handicapped remodeling was for naught. I couldn’t stay home and take care of him, because someone had to make the house payment, pay the utilities, the car payment, buy the groceries, arrange, transport to and pay for his therapy, etc.

When my mother arrived the next day, I was going to have to explain to her what had happened with my daughter, and that she had run away. My mother had born so much heartbreak over the past few months with my Dad’s prolonged death that I didn’t know how she would withstand this final straw.

I didn’t know how I was going to withstand this final straw.

Everything seemed entirely and completely hopeless.

My husband was not a man I knew. He had become abusive and inappropriate as a result of the stroke. In hindsight, I should never have brought him home and subjected me and my daughter to his behaviors, but I didn’t know, and the medical professionals certainly didn’t explain that. I thought I could make it work, and wanted to, but in the end – I couldn’t.

My children were gone. My step-father, whose last words in this life to me were, “I love you. You’ll make it, Honey. I’ve been so lucky to have you in my life,” was gone.

The creditors were calling about my husband’s hospital bills, and if you’ve never spoken to a professional bill collector – you’ve never been bullied. They are professionals at lies, fear and intimidation. May they rot in hell.

I finally learned to turn the tables and I took out my long-pent-up frustration on them when they began their bully routine. One actually had the AUDACITY to tell me my husband was LUCKY to have had a stroke so he didn’t have to pay his bills. Huh? He had the medical bills because he had the stroke. Some people are pure evil. My friend who was also a nurse overheard one of those conversations and bought be a pin that said “psycho bitch from hell.” Let me tell you, I wore it proudly as a badge of honor. It meant that maybe, just maybe, I was mad enough to survive.

Crossing the Line

It was late that December 23rd night or maybe very early morning the 24th by then. I sat down on the couch after I finished decorating the tree. I knew neither my son or daughter would be there for Christmas. I didn’t know where they would be, but it wasn’t at home. I needed to see them, but that wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t even get ahold of them in the days before cell phones.

My husband was too impaired to realize they were absent, but my mother would be devastated. I was devastated. Christmas would be a day of sorrow, the first holiday since Dad’s death and so much loss. I wanted to sleep through it. I wanted to sleep forever and never wake up.

The Christmas tree was a catalyst. The ornaments handmade in happier times, those hopes and dreams now entirely dashed. No hope. No dreams. Nothing. That life ripped from me. And seemingly, no way out.

I had finally gotten my infant-adult husband to sleep. The house was silent. The lights were out except for the Christmas tree lights, flickering Christmas colors mockingly, and the tree which had been the center of so much happiness and joy for so long represented everything lost forever.

And I thought:

“I can’t take this anymore.”

It wasn’t a shout, but a whisper.

But it was the crossing of a line.

I also realized what was happening.

I suddenly understood that suicide wasn’t about wanting to be dead.

It was about wanting the pain to stop.

The chronic unending pain.

That there was no other way to make stop.

Death seemed far more reasonable and attractive than THAT life.

You don’t hurt after you’re dead.

Three things stopped me.

My love for my mother, my hope and love for my daughter and my responsibility towards my husband, in no particular order.

  • Without me advocating for my husband and watching over him, not to mention paying his bills, he would have wound up in an abusive welfare hell-hole. He was not a nice man, but I remembered the man before the stroke and I couldn’t do that to him.
  • Without me, my daughter, no matter how difficult she was being, would have had no hope of recovery. I wasn’t exactly her best friend at the time, but I was a resource when she was ready.
  • I think my death would have killed my mother.
  • Which would have killed my son.

I couldn’t live and I couldn’t die. It was that simple.

I had to get help. At that moment, death would have been easier, far easier, believe me.

I never told my mother about this. I may have told my children since, but I certainly didn’t tell them at the time. Even if they had been there, I wouldn’t have wanted to burden them. My husband wouldn’t have understood or cared. He had lost all capability to care about anyone but himself.

After Christmas, I found a counselor whose husband was also wheel-chair bound. The difference was that her husband was not mentally impaired as well, but she fully understood the challenges I faced. She saw me weekly, on a sliding scale, for years.

The Uphill Battle

Life improved, slowly. With my counselor’s approval, I declined depression and anxiety medications, because I was concerned about addiction. My family was already too full of that and I knew I had a history with both my father and grandfather.

With my husband living in a specialized facility where he received good care and constant supervision, I was once again able to sleep and work with regularity – which means the bills were much easier to pay. Good thing, because his living situation was extremely expensive.

However, putting him into a care facility came with a huge dosage of guilt, dealt out freely by his family and others who had no clue.

“You put your husband in a home?”

Yep, I did, for his good and everyone else’s too. I finally told anyone who thought otherwise that they were welcome to take him for a day. A couple of people took me up on that offer, and I never, ever heard another word like that out of them again – nor did anyone ever take him a second time. Walking a mile in someone’s moccasins is truly the best teacher.

My daughter eventually recovered, but that took another decade.

My son returned to the family about the same time my daughter recovered.

Healing was slow and difficult for everyone and still isn’t complete.

My step-brother died under “suspicious circumstances” at Thanksgiving in 1999. The case was never closed. That situation caused my mother an extreme amount of grief and anxiety.

My mother moved near my half-brother and passed away in 2006. She never really recovered after my step-father’s and step-brother’s deaths. I’m sure she had undiagnosed depression, but she never told me – just like I had never told her or my children. I found many flyers about seniors and depression in her belongings after her death. I felt just awful. I would have done something had I known.

Keeping depression a secret was a mistake on my part and hers as well. Sometimes the depressed person can’t reach out, so it’s up to the rest of us to reach in.

I became officially single in 2000, remarried in 2003. Those years are scars, not open wounds any longer.

It was a very long, very ugly decade of descent into Hell followed by an uphill battle of gargantuan proportions – but I made it. I would not have made it without my counselor, my friends and the part of my family that actually cared. I found strength in the memory of my step-father that often sustained me in difficult times. I have since added grandchildren, a son-in-law, daughter-in-law and new family-of-heart members to my family that was dwindling.

Needless to say, my life changed in the instant of that stroke. That life was forever broken, shattered into a million unrecognizable pieces and was never whole again. I rebuilt a new life out of a few salvageable pieces, namely my children, but not without a huge amount of pain and effort – on their part as well as mine. Those relationships were indelibly changed too.

Had I exited, my children would have been much more permanently damaged, perhaps irreparably. I’m so glad I didn’t do that in my darkest moment. They were that oh-so-tiny spec of light.

So many times, it was the little blessings from people that told me they cared that meant so much and kept me going. That’s also part of the reason why I make care quilts today and have since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 when my friend and I made quilts for the children and husband of Rebecca Anderson who gave her life rescuing victims. It’s my way of giving back by paying it forward.

If you find someone in a depressing situation, what can you do, even if they won’t admit to depression? I honestly didn’t realize the severity until that December 23rd when I was at the end of my rope.

How to Help

My rule of thumb is that I will make every effort to help someone who is truly trying to help themselves, or who can genuinely not help themselves but would if they could. This means that I’m not interested in high-drama situations where people are looking to benefit from their situation, for attention or to manipulate others. I also draw the line at substance abuse. Tough love. I will help them, but they MUST help themselves too.

For people suffering from clinical depression, meaning depression as a disease that is not related to a specific trigger event:

  • Offer support. Tell them you love them, if appropriate. Love is powerful medicine.
  • Listen, empathize, and ask questions.
  • Tell them you understand and offer helpful suggestions. Don’t begin the sentences with, “Why don’t you…” which implies criticism, or with, “You should…”
  • Do NOT tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they do – i.e. do NOT say, “But you have such a good life. You shouldn’t be depressed.” Or worse yet, “Just get over it.” You may not mean that as judgmental, but it feels that way and will only drive a wedge between you and depress them further.
  • Encourage or help them to seek appropriate assistance. Assistance could be in the form of counseling, advocating for them to receive some sort of assistance program or in severe cases, intervention if self-harm is a potential issue.

For people suffering from situational depression – like the stroke scenario:

  • Offer support. Tell them you love them, if appropriate.
  • Listen, empathize, and ask questions.
  • Tell them you understand and offer help. Don’t say, “All you need to do is ask” because they may not be able to ask. Asking feels like begging and imposing yourself on other people. It also opens up the opportunity for rejection.
  • Figure out what they need and help make arrangement to meet those needs. My quilt sisters brought food frozen into meal sized portions for months – without me asking. I was so incredibly grateful. My neighbor occasionally brought over a pot of chili. Someone anonymously dropped off Thanksgiving dinner on the porch when my kitchen was torn apart to make it handicapped safe and accessible – bless them. My EGA chapter took up a collection. My brother-in-law and his wife would occasionally come to relieve my daughter and I so the two of us could do something together like shop for clothes. I would have given anything for someone to mow the lawn or plow the snow.
  • Do NOT say things like “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” What I heard was that my husband and family were being punished because I was a strong woman. Secondly, those people NEVER offered to help. I guess from their perspective, God was going to do it all. Well, let me tell you, God doesn’t shovel snow. I thought if I heard that phrase one more time I would explode. Say what you really mean, not that platitude. Trust me, it’s not comforting even though you mean it to be, especially to the person who has heard it hundreds of times and there is no food in the house and the furnace doesn’t work. If you don’t know what to say, say, “I’m sorry. What do you need?”
  • Don’t rely on the person to voluntarily tell you what they need, because no one wants to be THAT PERSON who asks for help and for assistance from others. Especially when you’ve been told over and over that God is supposed to be providing, but you’re still in need. It’s especially difficult for people who have been giving assistance their entire lives. Accepting charity or being in the position that you need to is very embarrassing and often humiliating. It makes people feel weak and vulnerable. It was extremely difficult for me then and even discussing it today, this many years later, is uncomfortable.

If you feel any person is a danger to themselves, call a suicide hotline with them or call 911. Don’t interpret a threat or discussion of suicide as an idle threat. It may not be. You could be dead wrong.

If you live with someone who takes medication for depression or anxiety, watch to be sure they are taking their medication. Often people want to stop when they feel better, but they feel better because they are taking the medication. Then they become too depressed to take their medication. It’s a downward spiral.

Be on the lookout for either words or actions that say:

If you hear those, or see those, be their light. Make the difference.

  • Tell them everything is better in the light of day.
  • Tell them that you are THERE for them, and mean it. Follow through and follow up. Nothing is worse than feeling completely irrelevant and then having someone make hollow promises about how they are going to help you – and then they don’t.
  • Tell them that when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, life looks bleak. So HALT.
  • Tell them you can fix hungry, angry, lonely and tired, but you can’t fix gone.
  • Tell them what a bright spot they are in the world and why you believe that.
  • Tell them how much they mean to you.
  • Tell them about the darkness that will replace their light in the lives of the people who love them if they leave.
  • Tell them you will help them and begin the discussion to solve the problem any way other than by leaving permanently. Make a plan.
  • Tell them that you love them, because if you don’t, you may never get the opportunity again.
  • If they have tried before to solve problems like addiction that seem unsolvable, encourage them to try again, with help, one day at a time.
  • Strongly discourage the use of alcohol or drugs, other than under medical supervision. You can’t deal with life’s issues when you don’t face them. You can’t overcome what you don’t confront. You need all of your mental faculties to slay those dragons.

You may not be able to stop them, because ultimately, the choice is theirs, but you can damned sure try. Sometimes trying means the world, and life, to someone who sees only a very dark tunnel and no light.

There is light, but they may need your hand to reach it.

Milestone! 1000 Articles About Genetic Genealogy

Today is a big day for DNA-eXplained. I christened this blog on July 11, 2012 with an invitation for the world of genetic genealogy to follow along. Wow, what a ride!

Today, about 5 weeks shy of the blog’s 6th birthday, I’m publishing my 1000th article – this one. I don’t even want to know how many words or pages, but I do know I’ve gone through two keyboards – worn the letters right off the keys.

My original goal in 2012 was to publish one article per week. That would have been 307 articles this week. I’ve averaged 3.25 articles a week. That’s almost an article every other day, which even surprises me!

That’s wonderful news for my readers because it means that there is so much potential in the genetic genealogy world that I need to write often. Even so, I always feel like there is so much to say – so much that needs to be taught and that I’ll never catch up.

I wonder, which have been the most popular articles?

Most Popular Articles

The most popular article has received almost a million views.

I’m not surprised that the article about Native American heritage and DNA testing is number one. Many people want to verify their family stories of Native American ancestry. It was and remains a very large motivation for DNA testing.

One link I expected to see on this list, but didn’t, is my Help page. Maybe because it’s a page and not an article? Maybe I should publish it as an article too. Hmmm….

What Do These Articles Have In Common?

Four are about ethnicity, which doesn’t surprise me. In the past couple of years, one of the major testing companies has pushed ethnicity testing as a “shortcut” to genealogy. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Unfortunately, it encourages a misperception of DNA testing and what it can reasonably do, causing dissatisfaction and kit abandonment. Fortunately, advertising encourages people to test and some will go on to get hooked, upload trees and engage.

The good news is that judging from the popular articles, at least some people are researching ethnicity testing – although I have to wonder if it’s before or after they receive their test results.😊

Three articles are specifically about Native American heritage, although I suspect people who discover that they don’t carry as much Native as they expected are also reading ethnicity articles.

Two articles are specifically not about autosomal results, which pleases me because many autosomal testers don’t know about Y and mitochondrial DNA, or if they do, they don’t understand what it can do for them or how to utilize results.

Several articles fall into the research category – meaning an article someone might read to decide what tests to purchase or how to understand results.

Key Word Searchable

One of the things I love about WordPress, my blogging platform, is that DNA-eXplained is fully keyword searchable. This means that you can enter any term you want to find in the search box in the upper right-hand corner and you’ll be presented with a list of articles to select from.

For example, if you enter the phrase “Big Y,” you’ll find every article, beginning with the most recent that either has those words in the title, the text or as a tag or category.

Go ahead, give it a try. What would you like to learn about?

More Tools – Tags and Categories

Tags and categories help you find relevant information and help search engines find relevant articles when you “Google” for something.

If you scroll down the right-hand sidebar of the blog, you’ll see, in order:

  • Subscription Information
  • Family Tree DNA ad
  • Award Received
  • Recent Posts
  • Archives by date
  • Categories
  • Tags
  • Top Posts and Pages

Bloggers categorize their articles, so if you want to view the articles I’ve categorized as “Acadians” or “Art,” for example, just click on that link.

I use Tags as a more general article categorization. Tags are displayed in alphabetical order with the largest font indicating the tags with the most tagged articles.

You can see that I categorize a lot of articles as Basic Education and General Information. You can click on any tag to read those articles.

My Biggest Surprise

I’ve been asked what’s the most surprising thing that I’ve learned.

I very nearly didn’t publish my 52 Ancestors series because I didn’t think people would be interested in my own family stories about my ancestors and the search that uncovered their history.

Was I ever wrong. Those stories, especially the research techniques, including DNA of course, have been extremely well received. I’ve learned that people love stories.

Thank you for the encouragement. This next week will be the 197th article in that series.

I encourage everyone to find a way to tell the story of your ancestors too. If you don’t, who will?

My Biggest Disappointment

I think my biggest disappointment has been that not enough people utilize the information readily available on the blog. By this, I mean that I see questions on Facebook in multiple groups every day that I’ve already written about and answered – sometimes multiple times in different ways.

This is where you can help. If you see questions like that, please feel free to share the love and post links to any articles. With roughly 12 million testers today and more before year end – there are going to be lots of questions.

Let’s make sure they receive accurate answers.

Sharing

Please feel free to share and post links to any of my articles. That’s the purpose. You don’t need to ask permission.

If you would like to reproduce an article for any reason, please contact me directly.

Most of all, read, enjoy and learn. Encourage others to do so as well. The blog is free for everyone, but any support you choose to give by way of purchasing through affiliate links is greatly appreciated. It doesn’t cost you more, but a few cents comes my way from each purchase through an affiliate link to help support the blog.

What’s Coming?

I have a few articles in process, but I’d like to know what you’d like to see.

Do you have suggestions? Please leave them in the comments.

I’ve love to hear from you and I often write articles inspired by questions I receive.

Subscribe

Don’t miss any articles. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe by entering your e-mail just above the Follow button on the upper right-hand side of the right sidebar.

You can also subscribe via an RSS feed, or follow me on Twitter. You can follow DNAexplain on Facebook, but be aware that Facebook doesn’t show you all of the postings, and you won’t want to miss anything. Subscribing via e-mail is the most reliable option.

Thank You

There’s so much available today – it’s a wonderful time to be a genealogist that’s using DNA. There used to be a difference between a genealogist and a genetic genealogist – but I think we’ve moved past that stage and every genealogist should be utilizing all aspects of DNA (Y, mitochondrial, autosomal and X) as tools.

Thank you for subscribing, following or however you read these articles. You’re an amazing audience. I’ve made the unexpected wonderful discovery that many of you are my cousins as well.

Thanks to you, I’ve unraveled mysteries I never thought would be solved. I’ve visited ancestral homelands as a result of your comments and assistance. I’ve met amazing people. Yes, that means YOU!

I’m extremely grateful. I started this blog to help other people, never imagining how much it would help me too.

I love writing for you, my extended family.

Enjoy and Happy Ancestor Hunting!

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

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MyHeritage Data Breach

If you are a MyHeritage customer, change your password. Now. Here’s how.

This is late breaking news.

If you were a MyHeritage user before October 27, 2017, your e-mail was included in a data breach at MyHeritage. MyHeritage was informed of this breach less than 6 hours ago.

MyHeritage is doing the right thing by making the breach public immediately. It appears that no financial or DNA information was involved, but the investigation is just beginning.

Read the MyHeritage blog article here.

TechCrunch reports here.

Change your password now.