Michael McDowell (c1747-1840): Elusive Death Record – 52 Ancestors #267

While an ancestor’s death record might not seem like much to write about – Michael’s is – at least to this descendant.

We’ve looked for informatoin about his death for what seems like forever.

Michael was a Revolutionary War pensioner, so you’d think his death would be recorded in his pension records.


Maybe on the Tennessee roster of pensioners and payments?


Well, then was he listed in the 1840 census in someone’s household as having been a pensioner?


1839 and 1840

I knew that Michael was taxed in Claiborne County, Tennessee in 1839 for 40 acres of land total, and that on June 20th, 1840, Michael sold 2 of those 40 acres to his granddaughter Margaret Herrell and her husband, Anson Martin.

Michael would have been 93 or 94 years years old. He was not listed individually in the 1840 census, but that’s not surprising. If he was alive, he would probably have been living with one of his children – at least one would presume, especially if his wife was deceased or equally as elderly too.

Michael doesn’t appear in his sons’ households, but in 1840, Rev. Nathan S. McDowell, not a son but possibly a grandson, has a male of age 80-90 that could be Michael living with him.

I would have thought that were the man living with Nathan, Michael, he would have been listed as a pensioner, but there was no such listing on the second census page.

Therefore, I initially figured that Michael gone by the census enumeration date of June 1st until I realized he sold land on June 20th, so he was very clearly alive then. Not only that, but he was healthy enough to sign the deed, possibly going to town to do so.

Given that information, Michael’s military service had probably simply been overlooked in the census. After all, he was a quite elderly man.

Obviously, the census can’t be taken everyplace on the same day, so the census is taken as of a specific date. At the end of the Claiborne County census, it’s signed as being completed as of October 1.

Maybe Michael had died between June 20th and October 1st? If that was the case, then who was that man living with Nathan and if it was Michael, why was his military service overlooked? Something doesn’t add up.

Speaking of adding up, even more confounding is the fact that Michael apparently died owning 38 acres of land.

Why was there no will or probate in the Will and Probate books? Why was there no deed recorded? One or the other had to have happened. You can’t just die owning land and have it flopping around in a the state of limbo. SOMEONE had to own it which means that the disposition of Michael’s estate had to be managed by an executor or administrator unless Michael sold the land before his death. But there’s no record of that either.

Surely, at his age, Michael had prepared a will? One would think.

Ummm, nope.

Michael was obviously an optimist.

Court Notes

The Claiborne County Court Notes are not indexed and published, at least not completely. I decided to read them page by page because I had at least three ancestors who died in the span of a decade or so, and I wanted to obtain as much information as possible.

In Michael’s case, I was hoping that I would find some evidence of at least a year, and maybe a month that he died.

I found quite a few McDowell references.

Michael’s son John was assigned as a road hand or was responsible for overseeing road maintenance. He was allowed to purchase a sledge hammer to break up unyielding rocks in the road. Backbreaking work, and Michael would have done that as a younger man. But that’s not what I was looking for.

I discovered that Nathan McDowell had a “sugar camp.” Interesting, but that’s not what I was looking for.

John, Michael’s son, and Nathan were assigned as jurors in court several times, commissioners and even guardians. That’s not what I was looking for either.

John P. McDowell, also related and probably a grandson, not to be confused with John McDowell was assigned as a Justice of the Peace. Still not finding what I was looking for.

But then…there it was.

The Death Record

On Monday, September 7, 1840, William McDowell, in his first court record ever, appeared in court at Tazewell, gone to do a son’s sad duty.

Michael McDowell death.png

Satisfactorily evidence was produced in open court to prove that Michael McDowell a pensioner departed this life on the 6th day of July 1840 and there upon came William McDowell and took upon himself the administration of said estate who gave bond and security that was accepted by the court after taking the oath requested by law.

Wow, that’s wonderful – not that Michael died of course – but that we found evidence of when. Happy dancing a little jig.

Hmm, I wonder was constituted “satisfactory evidence.” If Michael had a will, it would have stated that a will was produced, so there was none.

William McDowell was administrator, so that would mean an inventory would be filed. We’ll be able to see what Michael owned. We’ll discover what happened to his land, and we’d know if Isabel outlived Michael. It’s possible since a female of the same age was living with daughter Mary McDowell who was married to William Herrell.

Dead Silence (Pardon the Pun) and Unresolved Questions

I read the court notes through 1842 and nothing at all.



How is that even possible when an administrator WAS appointed. There had to be assets or an administrator would not have been required, nor would bond and security.

I discovered that the court records through 1850 had been at least semi-indexed by WPA back in the 1930s, but nothing there either.

One question answered, and several left twisting in the wind, like fall’s final leaves.

Michael died only 17 days after selling 2 acres to his granddaughter and that deed was recorded. Furthermore, Michael clearly had $50, a substantial sum in addition to his pension payments. That cash would surely need to be accounted for. Michael was no pauper.

Isabel could have still been alive and they had at least 6 living children, and possibly more, to share an estate. I had hoped to obtain a full list of Michael’s legatees in an estate settlement, but that didn’t happen either☹


Perhaps Michael had already given all his possessions away?

Buried on Slanting Misery

Standing at the top of the hill on Michael’s land, aptly named Slanting Misery, you’d never know you were overlooking the cemetery where Michael is assuredly buried.

Claxton land from Slanting Misery

The family stood in Michael’s field under that cedar tree, directly between me and the barn, on July 6th, or 7th at the latest, in the mid-summer heat of 1840, dug a grave and said their final farewells. Reverend Nathan S. McDowell likely preached Michael’s funeral sermon about everlasting life with a final Amen.

The heat was likely oppressive in the heavy clothing of the time, and the funeral probably correspondingly short.

Michael’s granddaughter, Margaret Herrell Martin who bought land just days before was probably pregnant for a child who would soon be laid to rest beside her beloved grandfather.

Margaret would have sheltered her 6 stair-step children as they ceremonially dropped their single handfuls of dirt onto the planks of their great-grandfather’s coffin after the wooden box was lowered into his grave – as was the custom.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

No stone marked Michael’s final resting place, or if one did, it was a wooden cross or a fieldstone. Perhaps that Cedar tree was planted in Michael’s honor or memory, to shade family members who came to visit.

Michael’s remaining acreage, along with his human remains, simply melted back into the remote, achingly beautiful, mysterious, Slanting Misery.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

  • Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items

Y DNA: Part 1 – Overview

This is Part 1 of a series about Y DNA and how to use it successfully for genealogy.

If you’re in need of a brief DNA testing overview, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

Y DNA testing has so much to offer. In this overview article, I’m touching briefly on each of the major functions and features of Y DNA testing. Following articles in this series will focus on how to utilize each tool for genealogy and harvesting every snippet of information available.

If you have Y DNA results, you can sign on to your account at Family Tree DNA and follow along. Throughout these articles, we’ll step through every tab and function, how to use them, and what they mean to you.

What is Y DNA and Why Do I Care?

Y DNA is what makes males, well, male.

The 23rd pair of human chromosomes consists of an X and a Y chromosome.

Female children inherit an X from both parents.

Male children inherit an X chromosome from their mother, but a Y from their father.

Generally, the Y chromosome follows the male surname line, so Estes males pass their Estes Y chromosome to their sons.

When adoptions occur, of course the surname of record does not match the biological surname associated with the Y chromosome – which is exactly why male adoptees take Y DNA tests.

Inheritance Path

In the example below, you can see that the light blue Y chromosome is passed from father to son to son to son to the male child in the current generation.

Y overview inheritance path

Click to enlarge

The dark blue maternal great-grandfather in this example also passes his Y chromosome to his son, but it stops there since the next generation in this tree is a female.

The light blue son at the bottom inherits a Y chromosome from his father, from ancestors all the way up that light blue line – along with his surname. The daughter doesn’t receive a Y chromosome nor do any females.

If you’re a male, you can test your own Y DNA of course.

If you’re a female, like the daughter, above, you must find a male in the line you seek to test. In this case, the brother, father, grandfather, paternal uncles and so forth represent her father’s Y DNA.

If you want information from any of the Y chromosome lineages in this chart that you don’t personally carry, you must find a male descended directly patrilineally from that line to test. It’s generally fairly easy to identify those people, because they will also carry the relevant surname. There are several examples in the article, Concepts – Who to Test for Your Father’s DNA.

Every Y DNA line has its own unique story for genealogists to harvest – assuming we can find an appropriate candidate for testing or find someone who has already tested. We’ll talk about how to see if your line may have already tested in the Projects section later in this article.

Why Y DNA Works

Y DNA is inherited from the patrilineal line directly. Unlike autosomal DNA, there is no genetic contribution from any females.

This uniquely male inheritance path allows us to use Y DNA for matching to other males beginning with the first generation, the father, then reaching back many generations providing a way to view our ancestral heritage beyond the line-in-the-sand boundary of surnames.

In other words, because Y DNA is not mixed with any DNA from the mothers, it’s very nearly identical to our patrilineal ancestors’ Y DNA – meaning it matches that of the father, and grandfather, reaching back many generations.

Some people, especially new autosomal testers, believe that Y DNA is ONLY useful for deep ancestry and not for genealogy. That’s ENTIRELY mistaken. Y DNA is extremely important in confirming descent from known ancestors. In fact, without Y DNA, you can’t tell the difference with autosomal testing between a child born to a male and a child born to the female of a couple. I wrote about that hereNo one wants to spend years barking up the wrong tree.

Y DNA testing is also the single best way to push the Y DNA genealogy back further in time. It can and does identify the geographic source, overseas, of the DNA lineage, through matches to other testers as well as haplogroup matches. These are things autosomal DNA simply cannot accomplish.

In fact, Y DNA did exactly that for my own Speak(es) line, connecting us genetically to the Speak family from Downham, Lancashire, England which then facilitated discovering the actual baptism document of our immigrant ancestor. Finding our English geographic source had eluded researchers for decades. A year later, a group of 20+ descendants visited Downham and stood in that very church.

Speak Family at St Mary Whalley

There simply is no better success story.

Migration Path Identified

Not only can Y DNA confirm recent ancestors and find ones more distant, by tracing a series of mutations, we can track our ancestor over time beginning with Y Line Adam, born in Africa tens of thousands of years ago to that church in an ancestral country and then to where we are today.

Y overview migration path.png

Mutations Happen

If mutations never occurred, the Y DNA of all males would be identical and therefore not useful for us to use for genealogy or to peer back in time beyond the advent of surnames.

Mutations do occur, just not on any schedule. This means that it’s difficult to predict how long ago we shared a common ancestor with someone else based solely on Y DNA mutations – although some types of mutations are better predictors than others.

A mutation might occur between a male and his father, or there might be no mutations for hundreds or even, potentially, thousands of years – depending on the marker type.

For example, in the Estes DNA project, one group of men have no STR (short tandem repeat) mutations in 8 generations. Others have several in the same number of generations.

Part of the success of matching genealogically with Y DNA testing has to do with:

  • The type of markers tested
  • The number of markers tested – testing fewer marker locations results in matches that are much less specific and therefore less relevant.
  • The luck of whether anyone else from your line has tested

The best results are between men who have taken the Big Y-700 test which provides for the largest number of STR markers and all SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) , both previously known and discovered individually during that person’s Big Y test result.

Let’s take a look at the two different kinds of Y DNA markers and their mutations.

Two Kinds of Mutations

Y DNA can be tested for two different kinds of mutations, STR (short tandem repeat) markers and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms.)

All DNA is comprised of four different nucleotides, abbreviated by A, C, G and T.

  1. A=adenine
  2. C=cytosine
  3. G=guanine
  4. T=thymine

When mutations take place, they can take the form of three types of mutations:

  • A deletion occurs when a nucleotide, or multiple nucleotides, fail to copy during reproduction. Therefore, that location or locations are then blank, with no DNA at that location permanently.
  • A replacement occurs when a nucleotide is replaced or swapped out with a different nucleotide. For example, an A could be replaced with one of the other nucleotides, and so forth.
  • An insertion occurs when a nucleotide or a group of nucleotides is duplicated and inserted between existing nucleotides.

Let’s look at how this actually works.

Indel example 1

Here’s an example segment of DNA.

A deletion would occur if the leading A (or a series of nucleotides) were simply gone.

Indel example 3

A replacement would occur if the first A above were to change to T or G or C as in the example below:

Indel example 2

A replacement is a SNP mutation.

An insertion would be where DNA is inserted between existing nucleotide locations.

STR example

Note the extra red CTs that have been inserted. Specifically, 4 extra CTs, for a total of 5 sets of CT. This is the definition of a STR, a short tandem repeat mutation.

STR markers, known as short tandem repeats, accrue what are similar to copy machine errors. This occurs when a specific segment of Y DNA gets repeated several times in a row. In other words, the copy machine gets stuck.

STR Markers

We purchase STR Y DNA tests from Family Tree DNA grouped into panels that include a specific number of markers.

Y overview STR results

Example of 37 marker results – click to enlarge

These panels consist of the following number of marker locations:

  • 12 markers (now obsolete)
  • 25 markers (now obsolete)
  • 37 markers
  • 67 markers (replaced by 111)
  • 111 markers
  • 500 markers bundled as part of the now-obsolete Big Y-500
  • 700 markers bundled with the Big Y-700

The more markers purchased, the more data points to be compared, and the more relevant and convincing the results.

What Matches See

The STR matches and SNP matches look different on the tester’s results page.

Y overview matches

Click to enlarge

People whom you match on STR panels can see that you do match, if you’ve opted-in to matching, but they can’t see specific differences or mutations. They see the name you’ve entered for yourself, your earliest known ancestor and your match can send e-mail to you. Aside from that, they can’t see your results or mutations unless you’ve joined a public project.

Y overview project

Click to enlarge

Within projects, participant names cannot be listed publicly. In other words, your matches can’t tell that it’s you unless you tell them your kit number or they recognize your earliest known ancestor on the project page and you are the only person with that ancestor.

The Big Y-700 test tests all STR markers in addition to scanning the entire Y chromosome for all SNP (haplogroup defining) mutations. They have the STR matches page like everyone else, but they also have an additional Big Ypage.

People who have taken the Big Y test see a different view of matches on their Big Y matches tab. This is true for either the original Big Y, Big Y-500 which includes a minimum of 500 STR markers or the current Big Y-700 test which includes a minimum of 700 STR markers. (You can always upgrade to the Big Y-700 from earlier tests.)

Y overview Big Y.png

For SNP markers only, above, Big Y matches can see who they match and the SNPs they do and don’t match with that person in common.

For STR markers available only under the Big Y umbrella, meaning above 111 markers, results are displayed under the Y DNA Matches tab in the Big Y STR Differences column, below.

Y overview Big Y STRs

Click to enlarge

You can easily see that only one man on this match list has also taken the Big Y test, and he had 2 differences out of 440 markers. That’s in addition to 2 differences in the first 111 markers, for a total of 4 differences (mutations) in 551 markers.

Researching Without Testing

The great news is that even if you’ve just ordered your test and are waiting for results, you can research and join projects now.

For that matter, you can research using public projects without testing by going to the main Family Tree DNA webpage, scroll down and simply entering the surname of interest into the search box.

New dashboard surname search

You’ll be directed to surname projects where you can view ancestors and results of anonymized project members.

Give it a try to see what comes up for your surnames of interest.

Project Results

Projects at Family Tree DNA provide testers with access to volunteer administrators who help users with various types of information. Administrators also cluster users in projects that are meaningful to their research.

Most Y DNA testers immediately join their surname project.

Using the Estes surname project as an example, you can see that I’ve grouped the project members in ways I feel will be helpful to their genealogy.

Y overview Estes project.png

The Paternal Ancestor Names are particularly helpful to testers as well as people who are interested in testing in order to determine whether or not they are descended from a specific line.

It’s very useful to be able to discern if someone from your line has already tested – because it provides someone for you to match against, or not, as the case may be.

Y overview hap C project.png

The haplogroup C-P39 Y DNA project is shown above with the Paternal Ancestor Name as provided by testers that reflects Native American and First Nations ancestors.

Another important project feature is the project map function, allowing testers in a specific haplogroup (C-P39 below) to view the locations of the earliest known ancestors of other members of the same haplogroup – whether project members match each other or not. Your Native ancestors traveled with theirs and descended from a common ancestor. Cool, huh!

Y overview C map.png

What’s the story associated with the pin distribution of the C-P39 project, above? I wish we knew, and we may someday as research progresses. Whatever it is, it’s probably important genealogically.

Another type of project to join is a geographical or interest group project.

The Acadian AmerIndian Project welcomes descendants who have tested the Y, autosomal and/or mitochondrial DNA of the various Acadian families which includes French and English settlers along with First Nations indigenous ancestors.

Y overview Acadian.png

The map below shows the distribution of Y DNA members of the Acadian Amerindian project diaspora before and after Le Grand Dérangement” that scattered their descendants to the winds.

Y overview Acadian map.png

The pins on the Acadian Amerindian project map above are color coded by haplogroup.

Projects such as this facilitate genealogists discovering the haplogroup and related information about their direct line ancestor without personally testing.

Y overview Doucet.png

For example, if Germain Doucet born about 1641, part of the mustard-colored group above, is my ancestor, by viewing and/or joining this project, I can obtain this information about my ancestor. Project members can see more than casual browsers, because some testers only choose to display results to other project members and some projects are private, with results only displayed to project members. Many surname projects accept descendants who don’t carry the surname itself.

I obviously can’t personally test for Germain Doucet’s Y DNA myself, but thankfully, others who do descend patrilineally from Germain Doucet have been generous enough to test and share by joining this project.

Furthermore, I can contact the tester through the project administrator(s) and gain a great cousin with potentially LOTS of information.

Just think how useful Y DNA would be to genealogists if everyone tested!

Finding Projects to Join

I encourage all testers to join appropriate haplogroup projects. Often, more than one haplogroup project exists for each Y DNA letter, such as C or R. Generally, there are many subgroups for each core haplogroup and you may want to join more than one depending on your results.

I encourage testers to browse the selections and join other interest projects. For example, there are projects such as the Anabaptist Project which focuses on an endogamous religious sect, French-Swiss which is regional, or the American Indian project for people researching Native ancestry, in addition to relevant surname and haplogroup project(s). There are more than 10,000 total (well-organized) projects to choose from.

Your project selections may be a huge benefit to someone else as well as to your own research. Y DNA testing and matching is your best bet for jumping the pond and finding connections overseas.

How to Join Projects

Sign on to your personal page at Family Tree DNA and click on myProjects at the top, then on “Join A Project.”

Mitochondrial DNA join a project

Next, you’ll see a list of projects in which your surname appears. These may or may not be relevant for you.

Y overview project list

Click to enlarge

You can search by surname.

Y overview surname search.png

More importantly, you can browse in any number of sections.


For Y DNA, I would suggest specifically surnames, of course, Y DNA haplogroups along with Y DNA Geographical Projects, and Dual Geographical Projects.

Y overview haplogroup alpha

Click to enlarge

When you find a project of interest, click to read the description written by the volunteer administrators to see if it’s a good fit for you, then click through to join.

Next Article in the Series

Of course, you’re probably wondering what all of those numbers in your results and shown in projects mean. The next article in a couple weeks will address the meaning of STR marker results.


If you haven’t yet Y DNA tested and you want to know what secrets your Y DNA holds, you can order your Y DNA test here.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some (but not all) of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Y2K Twenty Years On


Just looking at those 3 characters, 2 letters and 1 number, probably caused you to do one of three things:

  • Cringe reflexively (that’s me)
  • Roll your eyes, thinking, “what a nothingburger”
  • Wonder, what’s Y2K?

Twenty years ago last evening, I spent the day, and night, fully awake and worrying. Probably obsessing is more like it.

I was responsible for the smooth transition of several governmental clients into the new millennium – and that meant, specifically, making sure we had found and addressed all of the potential Y2K bugs and issues both apparent and inherent.

Y2K, for those of you young whippersnappers in category three, was a computer issue in which the date did not roll correctly from the last day of 1999 to the first say of the year 2000 – the new millennium. Specifically, the date incremented to 1900 (best case,) not 2000. Computers failed and came crashing to a halt with all types of unexpected issues, a combination of both hardware and software – operating systems and applications both.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “how stupid,” there were actually good historical reasons that happened, given the few bytes of memory that programmers had to work with in the decades before the year 2000. Ah, the law of unintended consequences. No one thought about or imagined that foundation code would still be in use decades later. But, it worked and it was.

The biggest issues turned out to be in buried or embedded systems – like systems used in wastewater treatment plants. Systems that literally no one thought about until they stopped working for some reason.

If you’re in category two and think that absolutely nothing happened, that’s not quite accurate either. Lots of things either didn’t work or didn’t work correctly – especially interconnected dependent systems.

More to the point, the very REASON that nothing catastrophic happened is exactly because of the thousands of people who did obsess, who did prepare and who, like me, sat watch just in case. Fortunately, few had to spring into action.

Y2K was a nothingburger because we were successful.

You can read more about Y2K, what did and didn’t work, here.

I Almost Forgot

It’s somehow ironic that I almost forgot about this significant anniversary. Not only did Y2K consume about 2 years of my professional life, ramping up to what we surely hoped was literally nothing at all, Y2K also culminated the literal “decade from Hell” for me personally.

I was incredibly glad to see the new millennium arrive, shepherding out the old and welcoming new opportunity. A transition I desperately needed.

Here’s my Y2K story. What’s yours?

Where were you and what were you doing?

The 1990s

The 1990s began with so much promise. I was living the dream; all-American kids who danced and played football, white picket fence home with a few cats and 2 rescue dogs, along with my husband as my business partner in a high-tech consulting firm. However, tragedy quickly reared its ugly face.

In 1978, I had found my only sister and become quite close. In June of 1990, Edna, who had survived breast cancer, or so we thought, died of a massive heart attack while on vacation in another state. Her loss struck at the core of my being, a devastating loss. I would stand in the hot summer sun burying her ashes, only having 12 short years with her.

My beloved step-father’s health began declining.

In June of 1993, my husband, young and vibrant, in his 40s, suffered a stroke, but didn’t die. We would find a way to survive, feeling like we escaped a very close call.

A month later, in July, he suffered a second, massive stroke, but still didn’t die. Your reaction might be that was good – but trust me – his quality of life was terribly diminished. He was paralyzed and his brain was approximately half destroyed. There was no recovery. That stroke upended the life of everyone in our family, permanently, in indescribable ways.

In the blink of an eye, I became the only bread-winner, inheriting all of the bills while losing his income, plus his massive medical bills. Oy! I had to figure out how to provide full time care for a severely disabled spouse – and work at the same time.

Not to mention, I had children who suffered immensely and whose needs didn’t abate because their parents had become incredibly challenged.

In September of 1994, my step-father died.

My mother struggled, and a year later, she left the farm and moved to town.

You might guess that I was reeling by this time – and you’re right, I was.

Everyone in my family was struggling mightily.

I was and am incredibly grateful for my high-tech profession and the ability it afforded me to work in a less-structured environment – meaning not 8-5, 5 days a week. I don’t think I would have survived otherwise. My clients were incredibly helpful and understanding, and did not abandon me when I needed them most.

My son and husband both were volunteer firefighters. God bless them all, including the fine people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons, of which I am not and was not a member. I was, however, a regular weekly visitor to the Family History Center at the local church and they stepped forward to help.

We were in desperate need for so much help. I, we, would not have survived that first year without them, all of our friends. Nothing in my small 1960s ranch home was wheelchair accessible – but a few months later, it was, allowing my husband to come home, at least for awhile.

My life, however, was upside-down and in a constant state of turmoil where it would remain for the next several years.


People didn’t think much about Y2K until about 1998 or so. Generally, there was a widespread belief that either nothing would happen because it was nothing but a lot of hype, or software vendors would magically ‘take care of it.” It wasn’t until we began actually testing hardware, specifically specialized governmental hardware and software combinations that we discovered problems that no one even thought about.

For example, a small computer controlled a drawbridge that raised and lowered the bridge for ships to pass beneath. That “computer” didn’t look like a computer, per se, and no one even thought about the fact that it had an embedded clock and/or date. It did, and yes, when testing, we made the discovery that it wouldn’t work. However, that system was so old there was no “fix” and another solution had to be found, and quickly.

I developed a Y2K evaluation process for governmental clients and prayed that we had unearthed all of the potential issues. If not, then my next prayer was that no one got hurt. That the issues weren’t with something like stop lights, railroad crossing signals or anything that could endanger people.

No Vacation

After I thought I had everything Y2K in hand and was attempting to plan a vacation, to Machu Picchu, to welcome in the millennium far away from any computer, my client announced that they had a different idea entirely.

They did not wish me to be absent.

What I had not told my client was that the visit wasn’t just to be a vacation, but potentially a wedding.

That’s kind of when everything began to unravel, like dominoes falling in a row.

I stepped outside at a client’s office to take a “difficult” personal phone call when I turned around to discover the client standing behind me. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but given what had just transpired, and the fact that I was in tears, he couldn’t exactly ignore the situation.

Suffice it to say that neither the trip, nor wedding, was going to take place.

Don’t ever say, “what the hell else can go wrong?” because fate always takes that as a challenge.

We began counting down to the great unknown of Y2K.

Thanksgiving 1999

The phone woke me ringing at 4:32 AM. Those calls are never good news.

However, I was on call for clients – but the chances of a client calling me before 5AM on Thanksgiving was virtually slim to none.

I grabbed the phone.


In response, my mother said one word, my name, like she didn’t know what else to say.

I barely recognized her voice.

I knew something was very, very wrong.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Gary’s dead.”

Gary was my brother.

I got in my car and drove home, immediately.

Investigators were everyplace.

Gary died unexpectedly, in suspicious circumstances.

The events surrounding Gary’s death would ricochet through my family like a deadly, stray, bullet – and never be resolved.

Christmas Cometh

We were literally counting down, day by day then hour by hour to Y2K. What was initially circumspect confidence on the part of my municipal clients had turned to nervous paranoia – and not necessarily without reason.

Other municipalities continued to find previously undiscovered issues, especially with custom code, sending everyone scurrying to check and recheck everything.

Everyone wanted me to be on site at the same time the last few weeks of the year. If I could have cloned myself, I would have made a small fortune.

Mom was driving to my house on the 22nd for Christmas because I had to work the day before and after. In fact, Mom was pretty much in charge of Christmas that year, because I couldn’t be.

On the morning of December 21st, my phone rang again.

Mom called to inform me that her brother, Lore, had died.

Lore’s death wasn’t exactly unexpected, given that he suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s. His death had been approaching for a long time. In many ways, it was a release. However, for numerous reasons, the timing was terrible .

Lore was mother’s only sibling, and his death left mother as the last of her generation.

Mom never got over Dad’s passing in 1994 and Gary’s death was less than a month old when Lore died. I wasn’t with her when this news arrived and Mom was already feeling extremely sad.

I was entirely overwhelmed.

Worse yet, the funeral was to take place on Christmas Eve – in North Carolina – a day and a half drive from where Mom lived – on icy roads. Who schedules a funeral on Christmas Eve anyway??? Mom made it clear that she was going, with or without us.

Thankfully, my only living sibling and his wife stepped up to the plate and drove Mom to North Carolina, over ice covered mountain roads for her brother’s funeral. Mom could do nothing but cry, for days.

In my world, in 1999, Christmas simply didn’t exist.

New Year’s Eve

While the rest of the world was celebrating the arrival of the new millennium, I was preparing to handle a disaster.

I didn’t know what disaster, but given the way my life had been unraveling recently, I was just SURE that I’d be dealing with SOME disaster.

Y2K Best Buy

Thanks to cousin Kelly for this memory:)

We tested and tested and retested in the days before New Year’s Eve. Every governmental and military agency had people on site and on stand-by with backup plans for how to function if necessary. Emergency preparedness fully deployed.

In the days of inter-dependence, no person and no governmental unit is or was an island.

We began by watching municipalities as the international date line began to roll over to January 1. Our major concern was the power grid.

The first large city was Sydney, Australia. I watched the celebrations closely and carefully, not the fireworks, mind you, but the news channels.

I’ve never watched more New Year’s Eve celebrations in my entire life.

Finally, it was time in Europe, then Iceland, then in Maritime Canada, then in the eastern US. The ball dropped.

Nothing major.

Then, it was time for my clients.

I held my breath.

Nothing, absolutely nothing.

What a HUGE relief.

Finally, about 5 AM, I fell asleep – Champagne untouched.


Y2K came to represent much more in my life than a technology issue. The arrival and non-event of Y2K itself heralded a new millennium – and a new beginning.

The 1990s were indescribably brutal, both due to the unexpected illnesses and deaths, and the surrounding circumstances.

I left that behind when 2000 arrived.

I never thought much about where I would be or what I would be doing in another two decades.

Two decades earlier, on New Year’s Eve of 1980, I would celebrate a milestone of a different sort – my first New Year’s Eve after having moved away from Indiana. I don’t recall what I did, exactly, but my life was new, a bit frightening and full of hope. Wonderful career opportunity in a new location – making new friends.

At Y2K, I was ever so grateful to be shed of the 1990s and that 2000 entered sheepishly, with no fanfare of the type I had been fearing. It was almost like we were being mocked for our feverish anxiety, much like millions of ants scurrying from place to place. It’s ironic that “nothing” was the measure of our success.

It was exactly that OCDish preparation that prevented large-scale catastrophe.

Once again, in spite of the 1990 tragedies, I was full of hope for the future.

Uncharted Path

Unbeknownst to me, Family Tree DNA, the company that would establish the genetic genealogy industry was a fledgling startup in Houston, Texas, with two principles and little else on that fateful New Year’s Day. I found them through genealogy, little dreaming of what the next two decades would hold.

Within a few years, my life would realign in many ways. I would remarry and gradually shift my profession, focusing on DNA, genetic genealogy and writing Personalized DNA Reports.

One day at a time, my career morphed from one type of technology to another.

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined where I would be, literally and figuratively, twenty years out from Y2K. The technology and science that I depend on today didn’t yet exist in 2000.

Tasmanian sun.jpg

As I sit in the sunshine this beautiful New Year’s Day, looking forward to the future and embracing a journey I never imagined, I can’t help but wonder where I will be and what I will be doing in 2030, and beyond. What wonderful gifts await? What does DNA hold, for me, and for all of us? Which ancestors are just waiting to be discovered? Who will I discover and get to know?

I’m oh so grateful for this uncharted path. Y2K wasn’t just a technology event. For me, the new millennium signified molting the heavy past in order to embrace a promising future. A transition – an exit from a dark tunnel into the light.

And I thought Y2K was just an inopportune catalyst for change in the computer industry.