Mom swabbed for me, several times in fact. She wasn’t terribly interested in DOING genealogy, but she was quite interested in the outcome of the process, and she loved to go along with me on our “larks,” as she would call them, where we would go and find our family land, or house…or something interesting…like the original bar in the Kirsch House, below.
On the Kirsch House adventure, above, Mom and my daughter and I went back to Aurora, Indiana to find the location of “The Kirsch House,” the hotel and tavern owned by Mom’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Jacob Kirsch and Barbara Drechsel, below.
Mom didn’t know Jacob, who died the year before she was born in 1922, but Barbara didn’t pass away until 1930, so Mom knew Barbara.
Mom loved those adventures. She just wasn’t interested in doing genealogy by herself. I didn’t understand then, but I think genealogy made her sad. Probably because the easiest places to visit were where she had lived, had grown up, and had personal memories of those who had passed on. I remember visiting the graves of her mother, her grandmother and the day we found the tombstone of her great-grandmother, Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, who had died when Mom was 8. Mom was Barbara’s namesake.
The Kirsch family immigrated from Germany to Aurora, so going further back in time from Aurora meant jumping the pond. When we did get back to Germany in the records…we couldn’t visit that location in person.
It’s not that I didn’t want to take a trip to Mutterstadt, Germany to visit the Kirsch homelands, it’s that I couldn’t pry Mom away from her work long enough to take a trip like that. Mom worked as an Avon lady, her third career, until she was 83 years old. And she didn’t retire then because she wanted to, but because her health was failing due to dementia and other factors.
And…truthfully…she only retired then because we stole her car. Well, we didn’t EXACTLY steal it…it’s just that after she had another of those accidents that she didn’t know how occurred…it so happened that it took months for her car to be repaired. She forgot that she even owned a car until the insurance bill came…and was she ever hot then when she remembered about her car. I blamed my brother who blamed the car repair place who claimed the part would be there any day now!
Do you know how difficult it is to hide a bright red sports car? Yes, she bought a red sports car with mag wheels, dual exhaust, front and rear spoilers and a loud engine that made rumbling sounds as her last hurrah. She had always wanted one.
It’s pretty humorous now, but at that time my brother and I were 50 and 60 year old kids who had gotten caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar! She was not a happy camper when she remembered that she had a red sports car, and she let us know about it in no uncertain terms!
I asked Mom to swab, again, in the spring of 2003. She simply asked what this one was for and swabbed in a resigned sort of way. I know she had to be thinking to herself, “the things we do for our children.” Had she lived long enough, she would have been both “spittin’ and swabbin’.” Sounds like a dance doesn’t it!
It was at that point in time that I was suspecting that perhaps one of her ancestral lines held Native ancestry – but it wouldn’t be until after her death that I was able to prove such…not by her DNA at that time, but by breaking through a brick wall and proving those lines via plain old genealogy and the DNA of direct paternal and matrilineal DNA descendants of those Acadian lines. Oh, how I wish she could have been here to hear about that! We would have been on our way to Nova Scotia tout suite, guaranteed.
In 2003, when Mom first tested, autosomal DNA testing had yet to be introduced, so Mom’s DNA was archived at Family Tree DNA for 25 years. Now Family Tree DNA wasn’t started until in 2000, so they aren’t going to have to figure out what to do with archived DNA until about 2025. Mom’s DNA has only been there for 12 years.
Mom passed away in the spring of 2006. She was 84 years old and her health had failed. One is never ready for the death of a parent, but one does know sometimes that it needs to happen. Death was a release.
I took at this photo of Mom in the window of the church in Aurora, Indiana where her grandmother was baptized, as was her great-grandmother and where her great-great-grandmother attended church after arriving from Germany, probably extremely thankful that weeks-long miserable boat trip was over and everyone survived. This reflective image is how I think of Mom.
Not really gone, but kind of ethereal and slightly out of reach. But not all of Mom is physically gone.
When autosomal DNA testing became available, I ordered an upgrade for Mom in August of 2011. Bennett Greenspan called me and told me that they had been having limited success with older samples, especially those older than 5 years. Just because they can archive the DNA, and just because they can amplify the DNA to increase their probability of success, doesn’t mean there is enough quantity or the quality of the DNA is adequate for the kinds of tests that require a significant amount of DNA – those tests being the Family Finder and Big Y tests, although Mom obviously would never be a candidate for the Big Y (because women don’t have a Y chromosome.) Amplifying the good DNA also amplifies any contaminant DNA as well, like from bacteria.
I told Bennett I had to try, so he agreed. The wait seemed much longer than it was, but the day her results arrived, I cringed and clicked to open the link to find her actual results and matches, not a message saying that the test had failed. I surely held my breath, because at that time we were at the 8 year mark since she had swabbed, and 5 years since her death, so there was no opportunity to get another DNA sample.
Mom hadn’t failed me, and neither had Bennett, luck nor technology.
This fall, I visited again and was afforded a private tour. (Thank you Bennett.) It was much quieter and more personal. The lab looked a lot like the tour of a couple years ago, except for some new equipment, but this time, I actually got close to the freezer.
Mom wore a ring that her parents gave her when she was 16. She wore it every day for 68 years. Now I wear it on a chain around my neck because I don’t want to have it sized. The band is too thin, and although I know I can have it built back up, I wanted to wear it as she had. The fact that the band is hair thin speaks of her lifetime and all the activities that wore the metal away, and I don’t want to change that memory.
I wore the ring to Houston, taking Mom along with me. She goes with me on many journeys now. We’ve been to places Mom could never have imagined and assuredly wouldn’t like. For example, evacuating during a hurricane on Hatteras Island…but I digress.
Standing in front of the freezer, touching her ring, I told Bennett that I was visiting Mom, that she was in there and there was more of “her” in there now than any other place in the world, except maybe in me. But then again, I only carry half of her DNA. Bennett just kind of paused for a minute, smiled, and opened the freezer door for me. I could see the robotic arm moving back and forth and of course, I have no idea where Mom was in this little mini-freezer-cemetery. But she was there just the same, and I visited her.
I stood there for a long minute peering inside, said a little private prayer and tried to hide the tears welling up in my eyes.
I know Bennett probably had no idea just how important it would be to people, like me, to be able to resurrect a little bit of Mom, and along with her, our ancestors’ history, after someone’s death. Had it not been for his foresightedness to archive the DNA for 25 years, and his willingness to purchase a custom $600,000 (choke) freezer to do it, I would never have been able to recover Mom’s autosomal DNA, and along with it, that half of her autosomal DNA that I didn’t inherit. Not only that, when someone matches both mother and I, it’s a sure fire way to know that match is from her side of the family.
I thank mother for swabbing and giving me the eternal gift of her DNA, the gift that truly does keep on giving, every single day.
So, when you’re wondering where to test your DNA, strongly consider the fact that Family Tree DNA archives your DNA. You may not care, but your family just might. Transferring your results from another company is not the same as having your DNA at Family Tree DNA.
Mom is not the only case I’ve come across. There are many, including Bennett’s own father – and the DNA archival service is included in the cost of the test. Of the three primary testing companies, Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers more than one test – so even if the other companies did or do archive your DNA, if there is nothing more to order, that archived DNA can’t be of benefit to you.
I wanted to take flowers when I visited Mom, but flowers aren’t allowed in the lab due to contamination concerns, so I guess Mom will just have to make do with this rose from my garden.
I surely do miss Mom, but at least I didn’t have to miss out on everything! There’s no bringing Mom back, but at least we were able to salvage a bit of her.
And now that I think of it, she’s not at all alone in that freezer-cemetery. I’m in there with her, as are some 610 of her cousins who match her autosomal DNA as well as her mitochondrial matches. I hope she’s getting to know them. Knowing Mom, she has organized a mini-freezer-reunion and has rearranged everyone so her cousins can be in the same tray with her. I surely hope she is getting all those connections straightened out and will find a way to share that information with me! I’m dying (pardon the pun) to know how her matrilineal ancestors got from Scandinavia to Germany, for example.
I guess I should be telling Mom to rest in peace, but that isn’t really what I want. I want her to help out from the other side. She can rest in peace when I get there. We’ll have a lot of catching up to do about these great adventures, and I can’t wait to sit down and have a cup of tea with her.
I’m betting I’ll have some “splaining” to do about her red car too. I’m just sure that my brother, my accomplice…who, by the way, wound up with that car after Mom’s passing and is already “there,” has implicated me as the guilty party!