Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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Disclosure

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

Books

Most Popular Articles of 2020

We all know that 2020 was a year like no other, right? So, what were we reading this year as we spent more time at home?

According to my blog stats, these are the ten most popular articles of 2020.

2020 Rank Blog Article Name Publication Date/Comment
1 Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages Jan 11, 2017
2 Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA December 18, 2012
3 Ancestry to Remove DNA Matches Soon – Preservation Strategies with Detailed Instructions Now obsolete article – July 16, 2020
4 Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? June 27, 2017
5 Full or Half Siblings? April 3, 2019
6 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match? September 18, 2020
7 Migration Pedigree Chart March 25, 2016
8 DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents January 14, 2020
9 Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines February 22, 2020
10 Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 March 12, 2020

Half of these articles were published this year, and half are older.

One article is now obsolete. The Ancestry purge has already happened, so there’s nothing to be done now.

Let’s take a look at the rest and what messages might be held in these popular selections.

Ethnicity

I’m not the least bit surprised by ethnicity being the most popular topic, nor that Concepts – Calculating Ethnicity Percentages is the most popular article. Not only is ethnicity a perennially favorite, but all four major vendors introduced something new this year.

By the way, my perennial caveat still applies – ethnicity is only an estimate😊

While Genetic Groups isn’t actually ethnicity, per se, it’s a layer on top of ethnicity that provides you with locations where your ancestors might have been from and migrated to, based on genetic clusters. Clusters are defined by the locations of ancestors of other people within that genetic cluster.

There’s actually good news at 23andMe. Since this article was published in October, 23andMe has indeed updated the V3 and V4 kits with new ethnicity updates. 23andMe had originally stated they weren’t going to do that, clearly in the hope that people would pay to retest by purchasing the V5 Health + Ancestry test. I’m so glad to see their reversal.

Viewing the older V2 kits, the “updated” date at the bottom of their Ancestry Composition page says they were updated on December 9th or 10th, but I don’t see a difference and they don’t have the “updated” icon like the V3 and V4 kits do.

23andMe made another reversal too and also restored the original matches. They had reduced the number of matches to 1500 for non-Health+Ancestry testers who don’t also subscribe. If you wanted between 1500 and 5000 matches, you had to retest and subscribe for $29 per year. (It’s worth noting that I have over 5000 matches at all of the other vendors.)

To date, 23andMe has restored previous matches and also restored some but not all of the search functionality that they had removed.

What isn’t clear is whether 23andMe will continue to add to this number of matches until the tester reaches the earlier limit of 2000, or whether they have simply restored the previous matches, but the match total will not increase unless you have a subscription.

Consumer feedback works – so thanks to everyone who provided feedback to 23andMe.

Native American Ancestry

The article, Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA, written 8 years ago, only 5 months after launching this blog, has been in the top 10 every year since I’ve been counting.

I created a Native American reference and resource page too, which you can find here.

I’ll also be publishing some new articles after the first of the year which I promise you’ll find VERY INTERESTING. Something to look forward to.

Understanding Autosomal DNA

2020 has seen more people delving into genealogy + DNA testing which means they need to understand both the results and the concepts underlying their results.

Whooohooo – more people in the pool. Jump on in – the water’s fine!

The articles Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? and DNA Inherited from Grandparents and Great-Grandparents both explain how DNA is passed from your ancestors to you.

These are great basic articles if you’re looking to help someone new, and so is First Steps When Your DNA Results are Ready – Sticking Your Toe in the Genealogy Water.

I always look forward to the end of January because there will be lots of matches from holiday gifts being posted. Feel free to forward any of these articles to your new matches. It’s always fun helping new people because you just never know when they might be able to help you.

Surprises

With more and more people testing, more and more people are receiving “surprises” in their results. Need to figure out the difference between full and half-siblings? Then Full or Half Siblings? is the article for you.

Trying to discern other relationships? My favorite tool is the Shared cM Project tool at DNAPainter, here.

Vikings

Who doesn’t want to know if they are related to the ancient Vikings??? You can make that discovery in the article, 442 Ancient Viking Skeletons Hold DNA Surprises – Does Your Y or Mitochondrial DNA Match?. Not only is this just plain fun, but I snuck in a little education too.

Of course, you’ll need to have your Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA results, which you can easily order, here. If you’re unsure and would like to read a short article about the different kinds of DNA and how they can help you, 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is perfect.

Do you think your DNA isn’t Viking because your ancestors aren’t from Scandinavia? Guess again!

Those Vikings didn’t stay home, and they didn’t restrict their escapades to the British Isles either.

This drawing depicts Viking ships besieging Paris in the year 845. Vikings voyaged into Russia and as far as the Mediterranean.

Have a child studying at home? This might be an interesting topic!

Migration Pedigree Chart

Another just plain fun idea is the Migration Pedigree Chart.

I created this migration pedigree chart in a spreadsheet, but you can also create a pedigree chart in genealogy software with whatever “names” you want. This will also help you figure out the estimated percentages of ethnicity you might reasonably expect.

Another idea for helping kids learn at home and they might accidentally learn about figuring percentages in the process.

ThruLines

ThruLines is the Ancestry tool that assists DNA testers with trees connect the dots to common ancestors with their matches. There are ways to optimize your tree to improve your connections, both in terms of accuracy and the number of Thrulines that form.

Optimizing Your Tree at Ancestry for More Hints and DNA ThruLines provides step by step instructions, which reminds me – I need to write a similar article for MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity. I keep meaning to…

Covid

You know, it wouldn’t be 2020 if I didn’t HAVE to mention that word.

I’m glad to know that people were and hopefully still are educating themselves about Covid. Phylogenetic Tree of Novel Coronavirus (hCoV-19) Covid-19 reflected early information about the novel virus and our first efforts to sequence the DNA. Of course, as expected, just like any other organism, mutations have occurred since then.

Goodness knows, we are all tired of Covid and the resulting safety protocols. Keep on keeping on. We need you on the other side.

Stay home, mask up when you must leave, stay away from other people outside your family that you live with, wash your hands, and get vaccinated as soon as you can.

And until we can all see each other in person again, hopefully, sooner than later, keep on doing genealogy.

Locked in the Library

Be careful what you ask for.

Remember that dream where you’re locked in a library? Remember saying you don’t have enough time for genealogy?

Well, now you are and now you do.

The library is your desk with your computer or maybe your laptop on a picnic table in the yard.

DNA results, matches, and research tools are the books and you’re officially locked in for at least a few more weeks. Free articles like these are your guide.

Hmmm, pandemic isolation doesn’t sound so bad now, does it??

We’ll just rename it “genealogy library lock-in.”

Happy New Year!

What can you discover?

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Disclosure

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

Books

Pandemic Journal: Vaccine Day!!! – The Beginning of the End

WooooHoooooo!!!!!

A vaccine! The beginning of the end of Covid. Thank God. But it’s only the very beginning and we have a long, treacherous road to the end. Thankfully, there’s a map.

This is really all I want – ever. I’ll trade all current and future Christmas and birthday gifts for this one thing.

That long-awaited (has this only been 9 months?) life-saving vaccine is on the way.

V Day – A Vaccine Arrives!

On December 5th, the first Covid19 vaccine was administered to a 90 year old grandma in the UK. On Friday, the FDA approved emergency use in the US, and today (December 13th) the first trucks departed the Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan, under guard, carrying that life-saving elixir.

I surely hope this vaccine works as anticipated, and:

  • We can produce enough vaccines AND get them into people, not just here in the US but worldwide.
  • We can get enough vaccines into enough arms to stop the burn of Covid through the population.
  • The immunity lasts long enough for everyone to get the first doses before it begins to wear off the earliest people to get the vaccine. Otherwise, the infections won’t stop. (Yes, you can get Covid twice.)

And the most important one:

  • PEOPLE STILL NEED TO TAKE PRECAUTIONS TO PREVENT COVID. Just because the vaccine is now approved for emergency use does NOT mean that we can lessen our guard. Full stop.

If you’d like to read a great article about how the Covid vaccines were developed, including about mRNA, messenger mRNA, click here.

One hospital has produced a great FAQ about Covid vaccines, who will receive them in what priority order, and their development, here.

Dr. Fauci’s Message About Immunity

Dr Fauci says that herd immunity is possible by fall, and “normality” by the end of 2121, here.

Yes, that’s longer than I had hoped, BUT, this IS hope and we can survive this. It’s not forever and we are not condemned to Covid.

While I’m thrilled about the speed with which the vaccine was developed and is beginning to ship – I’m also very concerned that some people will let their guard down – on top of the people who are already not taking precautions to protect themselves and others.

As Dr. Fauci says, vaccines are NOT a substitution for public health measures – they are a compliment to those measures until we reach herd immunity – hopefully with a minimum of new infections and deaths.

Please Don’t Let Your Guard Down

In the US, by the time this article is published, we’ll have hit 300,000 deaths and will be well over 3,000 new deaths per day.

The daily new confirmed infections are going straight up, vertically, in the US, which means the deaths will follow. New milestones are being toppled daily.

I’m sure you haven’t missed the news that the US is continuing to set infection milestones, hospitalization milestones, and death milestones.

Every.

Single.

Day.

With the toll of Thanksgiving travel not yet behind us and the specter of holiday gatherings in front of us, December, January, and probably into February promise to be the darkest, most deadly days we have ever had to deal with in our lifetimes. I can’t help but think of my ancestors who lived during the plague, the Black Death that wiped out between one-third and half of the European population.

The CDC, here, predicts that the US will report between 332K and 362K deaths by January 1st, but truthfully, I fear that might be low, in part because this prediction data is from December 9th and we’re already at 300,000 just a few days later.

The good news is that we, personally, do not have to become victims. Unlike victims of the Black Death, today, we do understand how to protect ourselves even though we may have pandemic-fatigue. Fatigue is far better than death.

The great news is that because of the vaccine, sheltering safely in place is NOT endless now, nor is catching Covid just a matter of time, nor is it inevitable as long as we take proper precautions.

Safety and outsmarting this virus means protecting ourselves (and others) until we can get vaccinated, then waiting for the vaccine to become effective. The CDC offers holiday guidelines here.

If someone in your home contracts Covid, here’s a checklist and how to minimize the risk of caregivers and other family members becoming ill too.

We Must Protect Ourselves

We MUST protect ourselves by staying away from other people outside our home and masking when we can’t in order to emerge on the other side of this ordeal, whole, alive, and not being one of the 10% or so of people infected with Covid who become long-haulers, unable to recover.

Long-haulers aren’t “just tired” – many have significant lung damage and some have irreversible heart damage that is probably life-long. Not just “old people” either – many are younger and were otherwise previously perfectly healthy. And yes, I know some personally. You probably do too, and almost everyone knows someone or has a family member who has died of Covid now.

However, we CAN stop Covid in its tracks!

Yes – I know the holidays are going to be disappointing without family gatherings – but think of it this way…isolating now means no one will die because of a well-intentioned but ill-advised gathering, allowing us to celebrate in 2021 – with everyone present.

Physical distance does not equal to “apart” or disconnected. Here’s a heart-warming article about how Philippino families, scattered across the globe, address the challenge of gathering remotely.

If you’re wondering how perfectly intelligent people can take themselves down the path of longing to see relatives, miscalculating the Covid risk followed by making risky and deadly decisions, I found this article to be very enlightening. And yes, I see myself here with the temptation and you’ll probably be able to relate, too. I want desperately to see my kids and grandkids, but I know better. Logic and emotion are having the battle-of-the-ages in my head. It’s actually a relief to understand that other people are dealing with exactly the same emotions.

However, I have a terrible example to learn from.

My extended family is now dealing with the results of this very situation following an “immediate-family-only gathering.” One not-old, previously-healthy person is dead, the family is devastated, and ripped in half. The solitary person who refused to wear a mask and infected everyone else is unapologetic. Part of the rest of the family is supporting them but many are blaming them for the death of the family member – and a couple of people (but not the bare-faced person who had Covid and didn’t know it yet) are blaming themselves and suffering excruciating, debilitating guilt. Plus, the person who died did so in agony. While their agony is over, it has only begun for those left behind.

Let’s face it, had the gathering not occurred at all, none of this would be happening – and for the record – you can’t eat/drink with masks on no matter what. How many family gatherings have you been to where no one ate or drank anything? Yea, me neither. And now this family heads into the miserable holidays – probably the first of many. It’s doubtful that this family will ever gather again and they will certainly never be whole.

Please don’t let this be your story too.

I’m not seeing my family and friends now so that I can see them in the future.

1 in 20 People Has Tested Positive – Covid’s Everyplace Now

Covid is so prevalent now that it’s literally every place you’re going to go. One of every 20 people has tested positive in the US since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins data – and it’s getting worse every day.

Not only that, but many people don’t get tested, so the percentage and numbers, both, are actually significantly higher. Think of it this way. If there are 100 people living on your street (4 to a house- 25 houses), chances are 5 of them have tested positive. Their families are exposed and many of them are going to test positive too – or be silent asymptomatic spreaders. They are going to the grocery store, holiday shopping, to restaurants, etc., before they realize they are positive. Assuming they ever know they are positive.

You’re going to those same places in your community – just to pick up a couple of things from the grocery store. How dangerous can that be? You’ve done it lots of times and been fine, right?

Covid is in the air you will be breathing and on the surfaces you’re touching. You’re playing Russian roulette with a virus and given enough opportunities, the virus will infect you and win.

The only escape now is to stay home until the vaccine has the opportunity to work, not just on you, but on the rest of our herd too.

The Vaccine is not the Door in the Escape Room – Yet

Let’s not allow our joyful relief at the vaccine which marks the beginning of the end cause us to let our collective guard down.

We are so close now. We just have to wait to get vaccinated and get through the next few months to come out the other side safely. Those months will be painful, inside that dark and dangerous tunnel, but now we know there’s a path to emerge and there’s a map to get there.

Train, Tunnel, Fall, Jersey, Transportation, Railway

Let’s protect ourselves and each other so that EVERYONE emerges, safe and sound.

We aren’t out of the woods quite yet – but there IS a path, it’s illuminated and that light is not a train! It’s an exit.

Let’s all cooperate so that at the end of this pandemic, that day we can rip those pesky masks off our faces forever, we’re all here to cross the finish line together.

Celebrate (at home) today with wild abandon, but don’t abandon safety measures!

This vaccine is a great holiday gift from the scientists to all of humanity – a gift that will end this plague – and it comes pre-packaged with an early New Year’s Resolution to stay safe.

We can do this!

You’ve got this!

Pandemic Journal: Holiday Lemonade Reset – The Year We Saved Everyone

I know how tough this is – and how tired we all are. A vaccine is coming, but certainly not before 2020 is in the rear-view mirror and the holidays are upon us.

Let me say first and foremost that I hope and pray that your family has been spared Covid. Mine hasn’t. I realize that I’ve expanded my family over the years through genealogy – which means I have more people to love – and more to lose.

I’ve lost both a close cousin and more distant family members (yes, plural) as well – not to mention one who is quite ill as I write this. And that doesn’t even take into account the Covid long-haulers.

I’m sick to death of not seeing my family. The holidays are upon us, and I had to do a reset. Let me explain.

Perspective

2020 has been about loss, pure and simple. But we have to get through the next few months with as little damage as possible.

I remember the year that I couldn’t go home to my parents because bad weather and icy roads interfered. On the morning we were to leave, Mom called early, crying, and told us not to come. We both cried. We had never been apart at Christmas. Even the year tragedy struck, we were together. But I knew she was right, as much as I didn’t like it.

Left up to my own devices, I would have told her I wanted to try it and I could do it. She said, “No, don’t be ridiculous – it’s terrible. Don’t leave, I can’t live with you or your kids’ death.” Truthfully, I would have gambled with my own life, but not that of my kids – and our destiny was tied together. What was I even thinking – certainly not logically with my brain.

Next, I had to tell my kids we couldn’t do what we had done every single Christmas since they had been born.

I didn’t want to ruin their Christmas – even though I was pretty sure mine already was.

I knew my children’s reaction would be predicated upon mine.

So, I sucked it up and put the most positive spin on the situation that I could. I explained to my kids that we were going to have two Christmasses that year. One at home and one later. That we weren’t going to be able to go to my folks house that particular day – BUT – that we would all be safe. I named all of the people one by one who wouldn’t be traveling and asked if they wanted to be sure they were safe. “Yes, yes,” they agreed to every name. Suddenly, it wasn’t about just us anymore and they agreed that staying home was the best idea.

I explained that no one would have to worry about anyone else having an accident. That SANTA would be able to find us – AND – that we’d get to have two Christmasses – not just one.

I expected more crying.

They sniffled a bit and asked if they could call their grandparents. Of course!

My Dad got on the phone and pretended he was Santa. Now both of my kids KNEW he wasn’t Santa, of course, but they still had a great deal of fun.

He told them that Christmas would be even better for any number of reasons that I don’t remember. I do remember them laughing back in the day when there were only two phone extensions and one child was on each one so I wasn’t privy to the conversation.

Truth be told, I was incredibly relieved for two reasons:

  • That we were all safe.
  • That my kids weren’t devastated.

I realized that celebration is not about a particular calendar day – but about the people we love. And sometimes being present for people we love means to keep them safe even if we know it’s going to make them sad, or mad.

We have it in our arsenal to find the positive and to change our perspective – just like my Dad did.

Understanding that negative reactions, from tears to anger to condescending criticism stem from a place of pain. Try to focus there and not on the behavior of the person and how it makes you feel.

Here are four ideas that might help you celebrate in a new way this holiday season.

Idea #1: “I Remember When”

If you start a positive “I remember when” conversation, family members will join in. You’ll soon find that people are teasing each other and laughing.

“Hey Dad, I understand you were pregnant at one time??? When was that?”

Now I full well know what those pranksters did, and why. In fact, I know it was a fundraiser, but never let reality stand in the way of a good family legend. The retelling will GUARANTEE laughter and sharing those stories with younger generations who might think these discussions are just wonderful.

Idea #2: Zooming Favorite Picture and Gratitude

I never really thought about it before, but using Zoom technology allows people who might have not been able to attend before to be included now. In the future, as some people do gather in various places, perhaps Zoom connections between various “pods” or people who can’t attend would make the holidays even better and relieve the loneliness for people who can’t attend in person.

If you arrange a Zoom, Skype or other family meeting, you can ask for each person to bring their favorite picture – maybe of another family member.

Here’s mine with my step-Dad, the day I got married. I can’t even begin to express how much I loved that man and how terribly GRATEFUL I am to have had him in my life. (Should I mention that he pointed out where the back door was in case I wanted to change my mind???)

Gratitude makes everyone feel good and good memories just wash over you.

Favorite pictures engender positive stories that will make everyone smile and perhaps give us the opportunity to tell someone how much we value them. Right now, that means more than ever.

Idea #3: Rethink Traditions

Yes, yes, I know. Turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing is traditional – but only because we’ve made it that way.

How about a new tradition, or maybe reviving a very old tradition? Even in a colder climate.

How about meeting, if you live close, to take a family walk – outside – socially distanced and with masks if you’re within several feet of each other. You can each bring snacks and drinks or picnics for your own family. You can sit on park benches or at picnic tables if there is no snow. Rethink cold.

You can light candles if it’s evening and sing – far apart of course, with masks. You can walk in the woods carrying candles and luminaries.

You can share stories about ancestors and strength and virtue and how you are all loving each other by protecting each other. And you can do this together apart if necessary by Facetime or some other technology on your phone. At least we HAVE the technology to bridge the divide.

Our family began this winter tradition last year with St. Lucia day, walking outside in the snow at night. It was incredibly beautiful.

Here’s a stunning Youtube video for inspiration, and another here, along with a very cute historical how-to video here. Like mulled wine? Celebrating St. Lucia might just be for you! What fun!

Protecting each other is indeed the way of bringing light into the darkness.

Idea #4: Reschedule the Holiday

One winter, Mom couldn’t find all the ingredients she needed for her traditional sugar-cream pies at the holidays.

So, she punted. She had frozen strawberries we had picked, cleaned and frozen together in the summer and she had the ingredients for shortcake.

We had strawberry shortcake with strawberries from her garden for Christmas dinner. And you know what? We had that every single year after that too.

Shortcake became a cherished tradition because an existing tradition had to be changed.

It may help you feel better now to reschedule a “Thankful Holiday” in the summer where you can be outside if necessary.

You’ll all be thankful that everyone stayed safe and EVERYONE SURVIVED TO BE THERE.

Help for You

If you are struggling, and we have all struggled this year, might I suggest you create a playlist of music for yourself.

Music soothes the soul. Singing along lifts your spirits.

Here are some to try:

It’s hard to be brave enough to be the one who says “no” this holiday season with grace and love, knowing that not only will you miss out, but that some family members may be angry. I can’t help but think about the alternative. As I’ve explained, I love them enough to overlook their anger to keep them, and everyone else, safe.

It’s Really About Next Year

Yes, not seeing family at the holidays is a sacrifice – but think of it as the life-saving, life-giving, most loving thing we can do for those we love. It’s really about us and THEM being around for Christmas, and the holidays next year – for our own family members and other people’s family members too.

It’s about love and making good memories out of a difficult situation. Lemonade for Thanksgiving.

You got this!

Let’s make this holiday season forever be remembered as the year we, together, saved everyone by celebrating a different way.

Cool DNA Masks – Plus Tips for Mask Issues & Fogged Glasses

With the advent of the President of the US, First Lady, along with multiple aides, workers, and politicians diagnosed with Covid in the last few days – hopefully, mask-wearing will no longer be viewed through the lens of political allegiance. Each day that goes by sees more and more people who were unknowingly exposed testing positive for Covid.

Mask-wearing is the ONE thing we can all do to protect others from the spread of the virus. Other people’s mask-wearing protects us. Our own mask-wearing protects everyone else. Everyone is responsible to prevent the spread of their own germs.

If we can’t keep the President of the United States safe, and he is distanced from everyone outside of his inner circle – no one is safe without barriers like masks.

Clearly, the virus infected one person, who infected another, who infected another, and so forth. And for the record, the virus is aerosolized and can be caught through airborne transmission, meaning 6 feet distance really isn’t adequate. Virus particles stay in the air and float for some time especially in areas with multiple people and poor ventilation. Viruses don’t understand 6 feet and droplets have been measured as far as 26 feet. Article here with links to studies.

We are still learning about this virus, so what we thought were adequate precautions a few months ago really aren’t.

The best strategy for protection is a combination of:

  • face coverings, including outside when in close proximity
  • hand washing
  • as much distance as possible – more than 6 feet
  • exposure for as little time as possible

In other words, limit exposure in any way you can.

Just today, this new article in The Atlantic summarizes what we’ve learned and what we know today, including the following quote:

In study after study, we see that super-spreading clusters of COVID-19 almost overwhelmingly occur in poorly ventilated indoor environments where many people congregate over time — weddings, churches, choirs, gyms, funerals, restaurants, and such — especially when there is loud talking or singing without masks.

This virus is highly contagious, lethal, and often leaves those who do recover with severe disabilities. This group of people even has a name – the Longhaulers. It’s possible that Covid isn’t something that we entirely recover from, but live with for the rest of our lives with unknown consequences.

Stay home. When you absolutely must go out, wear a mask, and maintain as much distance as possible.

Some people are emboldened when they go out and nothing happens, so they repeat the behavior again and again. Eventually, the sheer probability catches up with them. It would be one thing if only the person who refused to act responsibly became ill – but that’s not what happens. By the time they have symptoms, IF they ever have symptoms, they have infected legions of others.

Just look at the circle of people surrounding the President’s super-spreader rose-garden event. We don’t know who had Covid “first’, and we’ll never know the full extent of who infected whom downstream.

Here’s the bottom line, if the most insulated, protected man in America can get Covid – so can you. If you don’t take precautions and protect yourself from those who don’t – it’s only a matter of time until you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time with or after someone who didn’t wear a mask and left Covid behind.

Once the virus begins its rampage through your body, or your family, there is no redo.

This image from the Northshore School District shows how interconnected we all are, whether we realize it or not.

Covid Strikes Close to Home

As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, I’ve lost family members to Covid. By now, I can’t imagine that anyone in the US doesn’t know someone who has contracted Covid, and probably at least one person who has died. It’s inching its way closer and closer.

On August 25th, my cousin, Bob died. In his early 50s, Bob worked from and stayed home, ordered grocery delivery even, and had no co-morbidities. Yet, he’s gone.

Currently, my husband’s aunt in her 70s is infected, along with half of the people at her assisted living facility. She is not critically ill – yet – but others are and all of them are contagious. More than half of the staff is infected too and everyone is quarantined. They infected their family members before they knew. Their children attend school and take it to school, infecting others who take it home to their families. And so it flows, this monster creeping through the communities in heartland America. Community spread.

It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. This. Way.

I can’t even begin to describe the hellish roller coaster we all lived through while Bob was in ICU, night and day, for a month, 31 very long days, 744 agonizing hours, each of which we hoped and prayed for Bob’s recovery.

Our spirits elevated as one symptom would improve, then plunged again as new, life-threatening ones developed. In the end, blood clots and bacterial pneumonia took him. That’s what’s on his death certificate. Covid was only listed as a contributing factor – but he wouldn’t have had pneumonia, pulmonary embolisms or cardiac embolisms were it not for being infected with Covid.

Some might say that he “didn’t’ die of Covid” which is technically true if you look at the first three causes of death on his death certificate. But that statement isn’t accurate. Covid caused all three conditions, and his death, pure and simple.

But what really stole his life was the fact that this virus is running rampant. Bob’s death occurred when we had experienced 179,000 deaths in the US. Just 6 weeks later, we now have another 31,000 deaths for a total of more than 210,000 and 7.5 million US citizens infected. At this rate, with no increase. we’ll see 300,000 deaths around year-end. Happy New Year.

My heart goes out to every single one of those people and their families.

How Did This Happen?

Someone didn’t wear a mask, was probably asymptomatic and never knew they had the virus, at least not before they spread it – to someone else who did the same, to someone else, to someone else…until it got to Bob at a family gathering where one person didn’t wear a mask.

All it takes is one person. YOU are that one person, for bad or for good.

Here’s how this works. For full effect, just substitute your name or your loved one’s name, maybe your parent, for “Bob.”

The first red person was asymptomatic and still thinks all is well and that nothing bad happened, because they have absolutely no idea that their germs infected three other people and ultimately killed Bob, several people away, someone they might not even know.

If just one person in the contact chain between that first red person and before Bob had broken the chain of contagion by wearing a mask, had distanced and been responsible, the virus would not have been able to make its stealthy way to Bob.

JUST ONE PERSON wearing a mask would have made a life-and-death difference.

That second red person, above, wearing a mask, is literally a life-saver. They unknowingly saved Bob’s life – along with who-knows-how-many other people too.

The second red person contracted the virus from the first red person who did not wear a mask, but the second red person who wore a mask didn’t infect the first green person, who wore a mask, who didn’t infect Bob. That’s just it, everyone assumes, if they aren’t sick, that they are green – but they might not be – and someone clearly wasn’t.

In this scenario, Bob is alive today, not a box of ashes. So is the first green person who has no idea how close they came. The red mask-wearing person may or may not have gotten sick, may or may not have died, but either way, they didn’t spread Covid to others – breaking the chain of misery and death.

God bless the mask-wearers.

However, we are not condemned to suffer those 300,000 deaths by the end of the year. We can help ourselves – but it requires everyone to play by the same rules, including wearing masks. Regardless of what others do, YOU can wear a mask and YOU can make a difference. Please do.

I found some cool DNA masks and have some tips for people who are experiencing challenges wearing masks.

Two Cool DNA Masks

It looks like masks are going to be with us for a while – at least throughout the winter.

If we need to wear a mask, it might as well be cool. Cool masks inject an element of fun!

In my case, I want to wear DNA masks. Recently, other than the DNA masks I’ve made for myself, I found two created by members of our community.

Ordering these helps one of our genealogy vendors and a nonprofit stay afloat in these challenging times.

Tested DNA Mask

This mask from Jeannette at BlingGenealogy, normally a vendor at RootsTech, FGS, and other genealogy conferences, is quite substantial. In fact, with two layers plus an interfacing layer in between, it’s the most substantial mask I’ve seen other than N95 masks.

Yes, I have one. I particularly like the tieable elastic ear bands. You can adjust them easily and they aren’t actual elastic which can be irritating, but soft stretchable ties.  I’ve adjusted mine to pull the mask snug but not uncomfortably so. They don’t bother my ears or my glasses earpiece.

There’s more to this story than a cool DNA mask.

Jeannette mentioned that this mask was tested at Northeastern University, testing better than 2 of the 3 medical-grade surgical masks they tested.

I asked how she managed to get this done, and here’s what she said:

Getting Northeastern University in Boston to test them was interesting. I was sewing like a crazy woman and my husband told me about the article he read that Northwestern was testing masks. I think it was one of the first.

I emailed the engineers that were on the project and told them how I constructed the masks them. They didn’t have any masks that were tested using the interfacing filter I use. In fact, the only reason I had that type interfacing was that I use it in my prairie bonnets, so I had huge bolts of it. None was available anywhere for a few months.

They said to send 3 for testing. I was nervous because I had made a lot of them by then. I felt I would need to make a better one to send to everyone if it didn’t test well. I just couldn’t live with myself if it didn’t test well. I had nurses buying them to wear after hours and wear over their N95 masks to extend their use. But wow, my mask tested better than 2 of the 3 commercial medical grade surgical masks they had tested. So relieved!  Then I started working on genealogy themed masks.

You can see her genealogy masks, here. I need a Mayflower mask too, especially this year with 5 Mayflower ancestors.

Jeannette has other VERY COOL items too. Take a look. I own several which you may recognize from earlier articles.

Jeannette will give you $5 off of anything with the coupon code of DNAeXplained.

MitoYDNA Mask

Another DNA mask or neck gaiter is available through the non-profit, mitoYDNA.

For those who don’t know, mitoYDNA.org is a free, volunteer, upload site for both Y and mtDNA that was created when both YSearch and MitoSearch bit the dust due to GDPR. You can read about them, here, and be sure to watch the videos, here, if you are interested.

I keep meaning to write about mitoYDNA in detail, and I will eventually, but for now, suffice it to say that you can view your matches actual results, meaning mtDNA mutations and Y STR values AND integrate with WikiTree.

I like to support nonprofits when I can, and I love the double helix mask, although I don’t own one of these – yet.

Mask Tips and Tricks

I prefer wearing the cloth masks I’ve made because they are an opportunity to reflect something important to me – DNA, genealogy, quilts, cats, etc. I do, however, always keep a few spare paper masks in the car and tucked elsewhere. Sometimes I give them to other people. It’s so easy to forget and walk out of the house without one!

My biggest mask challenge is that my glasses fog up. The problem is becoming more pronounced as the weather cools, and I expect it’s going to get even more difficult during the winter.

Here are three tips and tricks that may help you.

I made a lot, and I mean a wardrobe of face masks that I wear every time I go anyplace. What I need to do, now, is to add some kind of metal stabilization to my existing masks in order to make the top of the mask conform to my face.

Conforming the mask to my face allows it to fit snugly up under my glasses and helps immensely with the fogging issue. Not only that, but the less air that escapes, the less of my germs escape too.

The fewer gaps, the less I’m breathing in other people’s germs. It’s a win-win.

I found 3 ways to retrofit my existing masks easily.

Option 1 – Aluminum Roasting Pan Nose Bridge Hack

I find this first option to be the one that works best for me, sometimes with the addition of Kleenex – option 3.

Buy relatively substantial aluminum roasting pans or salvage aluminum lids, like the one above, from takeout pans. With scissors, cut 7 inch-long (or the length you desire) by one inch wide pieces.

Fold the one-inch width in half to half an inch wide. I used a ruler to make a crisp fold line.

I also trimmed off the sharp edge of the aluminum corner by rounding so it won’t poke me or damage the fabric.

Here’s a YouTube video providing instructions. Although her metal strip is only 4 inches long, the process is the same.

Sew a small pocket on the back of your existing mask along the center top, leaving one end open. I used a 2.5 by 8-inch strip of fabric. I folded the fabric in thirds lengthwise and sewed it to the back of the mask, turning under the raw ends one-quarter inch. I sewed one end down but left the other open to allow room to insert the aluminum stabilizer, as illustrated below.

Just slip the 7-inch (or however long) by one-half inch piece of aluminum into the little pocket and shape to your nose when you wear the mask.

The reason you leave one end of the little pocket open is so that you can remove the aluminum piece to wash the mask, although if you hand wash, you don’t need to remove.

Look how beautifully this conforms to my face and holds its shape, including my cheekbones which prevent my glasses fogging.

Some people make iron-in metal nose-pieces, but I like the idea that I can retrofit the masks I already have, and that I can remove and replace the metal piece to wash the mask with no problem.

Please note that I’ve found that items like twist-ties and pipe cleaners don’t have enough rigidity to maintain their shape on my face and often aren’t long enough to eliminate fogging.

Option 2 – Salvaging the Nose Support from Throw-Away Masks

The blue throw-away paper masks, available here, have a reasonable rigid nose support that’s about 4-5 inches long.

I cut the paper mask when I’m going to throw it away anyway and just remove the nose piece, inserting it in a pocket of my fabric masks. My friend uses bias tape for the pocket.

I like the aluminum nosepieces better, but you may have ready access to these, they are free and hold their shape reasonably well. I’ve also tried twist ties and pipe-cleaners, and they just don’t have enough rigidity.

Option 3 – Kleenex Tissues Hack

Don’t laugh.

If you STILL have issues with your glasses fogging up, and I sometimes do, Kleenex may be your saving grace. If you need something quickly, you can always grab a tissue.

If your glasses are still fogging, it’s because your hot breath is escaping between the mask and the inside of your glasses lens, creating condensation. This probably occurs beyond where the metal nose bridge reaches if it’s less than the width of your mask.

The tissue gently fills in those gaps between the mask and your face, with the elastic ear-piece pulling the mask just tight enough across the Kleenex to prevent your own breath from escaping behind your glasses.

You’ll want soft tissues, not the more rigid, cheaper ones. Just fold the tissue into a thin line the length of the Kleenex and insert the folded Kleenex inside your mask at the top, between your face and the mask.

Please, Wear a Mask

Masks are our best weapon during this pandemic, second only to staying inside and away from other people,

Masks aren’t political statements. If they ever were, they surely aren’t now that the President and many others in his orbit have been diagnosed with this disease. Hopefully, everyone that was a mask-doubter has experienced a reality reset and realizes that masks, if everyone wears them, prevent or at least reduce Covid infections.

Masks say you care about saving lives and are willing to do this one simple thing to protect other people. Other people protect you with their masks. Beyond kind, it’s essential.

Whatever mask you choose, however you decide to do it – be a hero – wear a mask.

Please feel free to share this article and helpful hints with anyone and everyone.

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Pandemic Journal: Chaos

I didn’t want to write this article, because it’s tough, and sad, and awful. But, I would have wanted my ancestors to record those times too, maybe especially those times, so I am doing the same. Think of this as a letter from someone far away – in the past. You know the outcome when you’re reading this, but I don’t as I write it.

Dangerous Myths

Let me begin by saying that anyone who states any of the following is not only flat out wrong, they are a danger to everyone else:

  • Covid isn’t real (it is)
  • Covid is a hoax (just no)
  • Covid isn’t any worse than the flu (very wrong, here’s why)
  • Covid isn’t that bad (ask those dead people and their families, see here)
  • Covid is just going to go away (guess again)
  • Almost everyone recovers (nope, many are left debilitated)
  • Covid doesn’t affect children (tell that to my friend whose 6 -year-old is dead, see this article)
  • Masks are an attempt to take our rights away (think drunk-driving laws and seat belts)
  • Masks don’t work (wrong, view this)
  • Covid only kills “old people” or people “something is wrong with anyway” (this thinking horrifies me)

Not only is that last statement incorrect, but it’s also a horrible statement, all by itself.

Update – please note this compiled resource titled “You asked, we’re answering: Your top Coronavirus questions” for questions and answers about Covid, including sources.

And yes, those are actual quotes that I’ve heard SINCE my cousin was diagnosed in late July. Not months ago when no one knew much about this virus, this month, the month where we’ve crossed 5.6 million Covid cases in the US alone, the month where deaths have topped 174,000. Oops, that was yesterday. Today that number has grown by 1,113 to more than 175,000 and that total is assuredly significantly undercounted.

That’s the size of Pembroke Pines, Florida, Salem, Oregon, the state capital, Oceanside, California, Newport News, Virginia or Providence, Rhode, Island, another state capital. There are many smaller cities, including 8 more state capitals. Check it out here.

If a bomb had dropped and annihilated every single resident of one of these cities, the entire country would be in mourning and everybody would be doing everything possible to help. But there is no collective effort to do anything as simple as even wearing a mask to eradicate this preventible Covid-bomb.

If anyone came across a car flipped upside down in a lake with someone trapped inside, and all they had to do was put on a mask and the trapped person would magically be levitated out of the car, with no risk whatsoever to the mask-wearer, every decent person would be donning that mask immediately. They would be lauded as a hero, yet every single one of the 175,000 deaths that have occurred since spring is the direct result of someone ELSE not taking appropriate precautions.

Our personal safety is directly connected to the actions of the unknown people around us – unless somehow we can manage to stay home, contact-free entirely for the duration. Click either image above or below to enlarge.

Now the bad news – we’re on track to cross 300,000 deaths by Thanksgiving.

Those predicted death numbers may be LOW, depending on what happens between now and then. Best case, with universal mask-wearing beginning now, that total would “only” grow to a quarter million. Another 75,000 dead souls, families suffering, and that’s the best case.

If you click the above image to enlarge, look at “mandates easing” where the death toll is north of 540,000. Keep in mind, schools have just opened, in-person in many places. You can’t eat in a restaurant or gather in groups, but hundreds of kids can be together without masks all day. Talk about an infection vector for the entire community. What is wrong with this picture?

You could be one of those deaths, or someone you love, including children.

Even the kids understand, at least some of them. The headline of the student newspaper, the Observer, from ill-prepared Notre Dame University reads, “Don’t make us write obituaries.”

The US has more than a quarter of the deaths worldwide, yet we only have 4.25% of the world population.

How can anyone read these numbers and not realize there’s something TERRIBLY wrong here and that Covid is excruciatingly real.

If I sound outraged, I am. Frankly, I’m furious. Furious about the needless suffering and deaths of all the people I’ve already told you about in my past pandemic journal articles. Now, for my friend’s brother that died 4 days ago, and no, he was not co-morbid and was only 44. There was nothing “wrong” with him. Outraged about the unnecessary pain being experienced across this country.

And, for my cousin and his family.

My Cousin’s Story

I’m sharing my cousin’s story, disguised to obfuscate his identity. His identity doesn’t matter, because his story is the exact same story of thousands and thousands of other people. Multiply this by 175,000 plus another thousand or so people added every single day.

Not everyone who becomes ill with Covid dies, but 175,000+ people have been mowed down one-by-one by the Covid-monster, and this is their story too – and that of their families and friends. Not to mention all of those undercounted and who died later of complications. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the actual count is double or more.

Many who become very ill with Covid and don’t perish, don’t fully recover either. We’re only just learning the extent of the after-affects because Covid hasn’t even been with us a year. Yet it has ruined countless lives across the globe and is no place near finished.

I’m calling my cousin “Bob,” just for purposes of reference. I met Bob through genealogy, just like I’ve met so many of my dear cousins. My immediate family is very small, and I’ve been very blessed over the years to make connections with many cousins with whom I’ve forged long-lasting relationships. If you are thinking, “well, at least this wasn’t someone close to her,” you’d be wrong. When you have a small family, others, if you’re lucky, become your family-of-heart.

Bob and I researched our common genealogical line together, sharing frustrations and victories. He looked forward to the day when he could retire and spend more time on genealogy research. We planned our next avenue of attack.

Bob’s is in his early 50s. In fact, I think he “celebrated” his birthday while in a Covid coma, in the hospital on a vent. Happy Birthday Bob.

Bob was fortunate because, in his profession, he could work from home. He did and always wore a mask when he absolutely had to go out. He even ordered his groceries and wiped them down.

Bob lived in a city that became a Covid hotspot this summer. So much for the virus being destroyed by heat. He became even more cautious. Covid got him anyway.

His Facebook profile photo shows Bob wearing a mask, setting a good example, and he encouraged others to wear masks too. He washed his hands, often, and was sad that he couldn’t see family members. Bob lived alone. His children had fledged before Covid.

Just 42 long days ago, Bob decided to attend a family birthday party. It was inside, but he told me that everyone had been distancing from others, washing hands, and wearing masks. He was missing his family terribly and wanted to go.

I know how he felt, because those of us who have been the MOST cooped up are feeling the effects the most profoundly. You look at these opportunities and wonder, if you don’t attend, if you’ll ever get another opportunity. Someone there could die, including you. You’re squandering the days of your life missing out when others get to have fun, laugh, and you’re alone, in isolation. Stuck at home. Without your family. Looking at pictures of everyone else enjoying themselves. And most of the time, nothing bad happens, which of course makes you feel like it’s safer than it is. I mean, what are the chances, right?

No wonder depression is rampant and alcohol purchases are up 25%.

With Covid, you only get to be wrong once and other people are contagious long before they have any idea they have it.

Bob was exceedingly grateful for Facebook, social media and smartphones so he could connect with people, especially his kids – and talked about how difficult quarantine was.

He especially loved dogs and cats and enjoyed walking outside in the open where he could see other people’s dogs, although he didn’t ask to pet them anymore because that makes distancing awkward and difficult.

As it would turn out, Bob was “safe” at home, not “stuck at home,” although that’s certainly how it feels some days – especially when you’re watching other people engaging in the activities you want to do.

Bob attended that party. He told me a few days later that everyone there, EXCEPT ONE PERSON, wore a mask.

EXCEPT ONE PERSON

Two days later, Bob and I were chattering, exchanging our favorite memories of John Lewis who had passed away. John inspired Bob who told me that John “never bowed,” inspired him to do better, be better, be courageous, and to stand up for what is right. His favorite photo of John was walking with children at Comic-Con, lighting the way for a future generation.

The next day, Bob asked if anyone knew where there was a rapid Covid testing location, couching the question as “asking for a friend.” Queue up nervous laughter. No one wanted to be nosey and ask, but rest assured, every one of us wanted to know.

Bob took every opportunity to educate positively, and Covid was no exception.

Bob obviously found a Covid testing location, because two days later, just 6 or 7 days after the party, he posted that he had tested positive, then explained that his symptoms began with a cough but no fever, so he thought it was just bronchitis. Then, the rest of the symptoms followed, one-by-one, including a few non-standard symptoms like diarrhea and nausea. The fever seemed to be the LAST traditional symptom to develop.

Surely, he thought, he couldn’t have Covid. Everyone except one person wore masks and they distanced as best they could inside. And it was only once, one event. He had only taken one slight chance.

Bob’s Facebook feed was filled with well-wishers, of course, but also of some people who either currently had Covid or had had Covid recently, offering advice. Others were, themselves, waiting for test results.

I suspect if you posted on your Facebook page and asked how many have had Covid, you’d be quite surprised. I personally know several. Many people don’t talk about it, because there is some level of social stigma attached. ESPECIALLY if they haven’t been wearing a mask or have been out-and-about without distancing – because no one likes to hear “I told you so,” even if it’s unspoken.

Bob and I messaged and emailed back and forth. We discussed the situation in a couple of exchanges, then…..silence.

SILENCE

Do you have any idea how difficult silence is to endure when you know that someone you care about has Covid?

You have no idea how you’re going to find out what is going on. All you can do is wait, and attempt patience.

Bob’s friends and family who live distantly, me included, began posting encouraging but not nosey notes of encouragement on his timeline.

We all knew something was very wrong, because silence is not like Bob. Neither are short postings. Bob is never at a loss for words.

Three days later, one sentence. “I’m in the hospital.”

A family member posted a few hours later that he was stable. Thank goodness.

Exhale.

The next day, they started Bob on Remdesivir, but two days later, one word from Bob on his Facebook feed.

“ICU”

A few hours later, Bob posted that he was feeling better, and again another few hours later, just a couple words.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief, because although he was in ICU, he was obviously on the mend and improving. That’s the purpose of the ICU, but he was clearly very ill.

The next day, Bob posted a very odd message that he was listening to a specific song. When I listened to the lyrics, I wondered if he was trying to tell us something. I was relieved that he was finding comfort in music, and that was allowed in ICU. I hoped he had a phone charger and earbuds.

And then, for 6 days, there was nothing at all.

Not. One. Peep.

I know Bob’s family had to be going through living hell, so I wasn’t about to bother them. Not only was he obviously critical, but they couldn’t be with him. Bob was even more “alone” than he had ever been at home, and in a much worse way.

I remember vividly when my former husband had a massive stroke at age 47. He had been fine. There was nothing wrong with him until our world fell apart – much like Covid.

Then, a few days later, another stroke, then blood clots, DVTs that moved into pulmonary embolisms. Every minute of every hour of every day could be his last – and that went on for days, weeks and then months. Death by inches. The difference is that we knew he wasn’t contagious AND I was sleeping in the chair in his hospital room for much of the time.

That period of time was so horrific that I literally came away with what could probably be considered PTSD. It affected other family members in different ways, none of them good, literally tearing the family and family members into shreds.

Bob’s family, I’m sure, is experiencing even more extreme stress, watching him deteriorate from a distance with a cascading series of critical issues – any one of which could take his life – unable to comfort or touch him.

Bob’s last message was 22 days ago.

He was put on a vent and remains in a medically-induced coma.

Every few days, a family member updates the rest of us.

Updates

First, I’m extremely grateful for any news, because otherwise all I would be able to do is google daily for an obituary. How morbid is that?

Bob’s family has been riding an emotional roller coaster. They are living in the first ring of hell, closest to the fire. Been there, done that and no one escapes unscathed. The pain never abates or stops.

I remember all too well: “Oh, we have improvement. He’s getting better.” Only to be followed by: “Can you step into the consultation room please.” That room should just have been labeled the “bad news” room because, trust me, good news was not conveyed there. Just those words struck terror into your heart. And if the doctor called your phone, it was critical. I remember my phone ringing once while I was in line in the hospital cafeteria, just minutes after I had left my husband’s bedside. I just left everything where it was and literally ran.

For days, I’ve checked for information about Bob the last thing at night before I go to sleep, first thing in the morning before I get out of bed, and roughly every hour in-between. It’s emotionally exhausting, and I’m no place close to the first ring of hell where his family is living right now.

I can’t even make him a care quilt, because he obviously can’t have anything in Covid ICU, and even if he could, he couldn’t take it home with him for fear of exposing others.

Six days after the final message from Bob, his kidneys failed. Bedside surgical dialysis, because on a vent, he can’t go to the dialysis center.

Still hoping for a full recovery.

I couldn’t help but think to myself that I, at age 38, was entirely unprepared to deal with the sudden onslaught of medical terminology and rapid-fire leaning that had to occur in order to advocate for my husband. Bob’s poor kids, much younger than I was at the time, must be struggling mightily. My heart goes out to them. I wish I could help.

Then, more days of silence.

On my end of the world, my cat, Phoenix, our rescued fur-child died, my friend’s brother died of Covid, and two close family members are in need of immediate care quilts which means they may need other types of assistance as well. The nastiness on social media has ramped up. I have friends whose homes are threatened by wildfires in California and I don’t even want to talk about the stress surrounding my husband’s job. Things are coming a bit unraveled. Together, we’re managing. Thank Heavens the flowers are blooming and I can walk outside in the yard.

chaos glads

A rogue gladiola has popped up, somehow. Could it be a wink from Dad on the other side that somehow, things are going to be alright? I want to believe that.

Still Hopeful

I check many times every day for news about Bob and try to remain positive.

Seven days later, a family member says that Bob’s kidneys are improved, thank God, BUT now he has blood clots and a blood infection. He’s still on the vent and in a coma.

The family is discouraged but still hopeful for a full recovery. Imagine the story Bob’s going to hear about what happened during that coma when he is revived.

By the time we finally received the blood clot news, Bob had been on a vent for 13 days. All I can say is that I hope his brain is actually silenced and asleep and he’s not suffering in a “closed in” way.

More silence, then hopeful news. Bob’s oxygen levels had improved and so had the blood infection. Hurray!!!!

Permission to be hopeful. Bob was headed in the right direction.

Roller Coaster

But then, two days later, the roller coaster plunged again. Bob has a new and different type of blood infection, AND the blood clot in his leg moved to his lungs which means it’s a pulmonary embolism.

I lived through this with my husband. Pulmonary embolisms can be fatal without the complications of Covid. My husband said it was the worst pain he had ever experienced in his life. He begged to die. Maybe the coma is a good thing for Bob right now.

Bob’s family said they would update us as soon as they had something to report.

That was 4 days ago – 98 hours and counting.

Radio Silence

I know his family members are suffering terribly. It must be exceedingly difficult for them to post updates when the last thing they feel like doing is posting to social media. Sometimes reducing things to words is more than the mind can bear, especially when you’re trying to remain positive, but the news isn’t. Not to mention they may not be ready for a deluge of communications.

Grieving, especially real-time in public, is difficult at best and something most of us have little experience with. No one wants that baptism-by-fire experience either.

I’m sure they are completely overwhelmed. I can only hope they have some sort of support.

I pray that no news means Bob hasn’t passed and that he is on the road to recovery. That’s all I can do. I feel entirely helpless. Perhaps telling his story will help even just one person avoid Covid.

As for me, I’ve had a headache for more than a week now, and I’m still checking for news every hour or so. Compared to the utter hell and agony that his family is living through, my experience is nothing. I’m sure it’s just cumulative stress because, well, you know, 2020.

Checking…

Waiting…

Checking…

Waiting…

Bottom Line: Wear the Mask, Stay Home, Wash Your Hands

Here’s the bottom line:

chaos wear the mask.png

  • Wear the mask
  • Stay home or stay distant
  • Wash your hands

I did not ask Bob if the person at the party who did not wear a mask had tested Covid-positive. They could never have tested if they were asymptomatic and never knew they were spreading death and misery at a level beyond anyone’s imagination.

Does whoever gave Covid to Bob know that they are responsible for his illness and perhaps his death? Probably not.

It’s possible that Bob picked the virus up elsewhere, NOT at the party. We have community spread throughout the US now. Maybe getting gas or who knows. However, if everyone had worn a mask and isolated, all at once, in the spring, and weren’t taking unnecessary chances, we’d have wrestled this viral scourge to the ground months ago and it would not be burning through our population like a wildfire consuming dry timber.

Stay safe at home. If you don’t need to expose yourself, don’t. Just don’t. If you could ask Bob if any outing is worth the price he’s paying – I know what his answer would be and so do you.

The devastation on Bob’s life, assuming he lives, may include life-long disability.

If Bob passes away, his hospital bills will decimate his estate.

If he lives, those bills may wipe out his retirement nest-egg, if they don’t force him into outright bankruptcy. My husband’s hospital bill was in the millions. Thankfully, insurance paid most of it, but it took me years to pay the balance even AFTER I used all the retirement funds.

If anyone seriously doesn’t know someone who has had a severe case of Covid, or a family who has suffered through this, PLEASE send this article to them. Although, at this point, I’m beginning to think that people who oppose wearing masks and continue spouting talking-points that justify their anti-mask and anti-distancing positions are engaged in willful ignorance.

Think about all of those 175,000+ people who have died. Every single one of those families is going through this or some similar experience. These deaths are torturous, not just for the victim, but for their family and friends too.

Some people who “recover” don’t completely recover, even though they don’t die.

The toll a Covid illness takes isn’t just on the patient, but radiates like ripples in a pond, affecting their immediate and distant family, ripping a hole in the stability of their family fabric, inflicting trauma that will never heal. Those ripples spread further into the community and society as well, through networks of friends and colleagues. While every single family is individually devastated, with their own hell-version of this story, the tentacles reach throughout our society, destabilizing everything from family units to the economy.

And you want to know what’s worse – we are still NOT in control of this virus.

We’ll have another 175,000 deaths before long unless we change our approach. We’re headed into winter when people are back inside, flu season hits and schools are reconvening in person now.

When I titled this article “Chaos,” I was referring not just to what is happening to my cousin’s family and friends, but to the pit of hell inferno and unrelenting sorrow that the rest of us collectively are staring into if we don’t do something different, and quickly.

The best predictor of future performance is what happened in the past – and 175,000 deaths over 6 months is a grim prediction. There’s still time to change our collective behavior, but we absolutely must if we want to slow and stop this raging wildfire. There is no miracle cure. The only thing that can save us – is us.

Slow Dancing In A Burning Room

It’s not a silly little moment
It’s not the storm before the calm
This is the deep and dyin’ breath of
This love we’ve been workin’ on

We’re goin’ down
And you can see it too
We’re goin’ down
And you know that we’re doomed
My dear
We’re slow dancing in a burnin’ room

Don’t you think we outta know by now?
Don’t you think we shoulda learned somehow?

chaos just wear it.png

Epilog

August 25th – My cousin, Bob, died today, a month to the day after he was diagnosed and 28 days after being admitted to ICU. Yesterday, just four hours before he died, his family posted that while he still had bacterial pneumonia and blood clots, that his lungs were improving. Then, he was gone. His body just couldn’t fight anymore.

This monster took him, but not with out the assistance of the legions of people who refuse to wear masks. They killed him just as assuredly as if someone had driven drunk and hit him. The difference being that because we can’t trace this virus back to the string of people who transmitted it, the responsible parties can glibly live their own lives, in full denial of the havoc, wake of destruction and grief that they are leaving behind.

Pandemic Journal: Mud-wrestling with Pigs and a Pandemic Rainbow

Pandemic pig.jpg

My Hoosier step-father used to have a slew of wonderful sayings, but one of his favorites was:

Never mud-wrestle with a pig. You can’t win. You get dirty. The pig enjoys it and the spectators can’t tell the difference.

We used to call this time of year “the dog days of summer” but right now, I’m calling it the “mud-wrestling season.” Pretty much everyone is miserable one way or another. I’m afraid this will extend throughout 2020. I don’t know, but that certainly looks like a possibility.

I started the Pandemic Journal series of articles for a couple of reasons. Initially, to inform, then to discuss in the context of what our ancestors went through. I expected the Covid experience to be relatively short-lived, a couple of months that seemed like years, and these journal articles to be short-lived as well. I thought we would all isolate and wear masks and get this monster under control. But that’s unfortunately very clearly not what has happened.

And now, school in person in a few days? Oy!

Pandemic Fatigue

pandemic fatigue

The sheer magnitude of this monster Covid-storm that has overwashed us, combined with the length of time and some degree of hopelessness has combined to create what I’m referring to as pandemic fatigue. I don’t know if that’s a real word or not, but it should be.

Not only are we actually physically exhausted because of the constant emotional upheaval of pandemic+politics, the second of which I’m not going to touch on at all, but we’re tired of being at home. We are grieving our “former lives,” not to mention all of life’s stressors that still occur but may be exacerbated by job loss, income loss, insurance loss, and of course, the virus itself.

It’s like normal life is still trying to take place under the unrelenting cloud of Covid. For example, people are marrying, graduating from school, having babies, and dying.

My cat is dying too, slowly, making our family extremely sad. Layers of grief on layers of grief. Still, we distance, trying to clutch as much of pre-pandemic life as possible while staying safe. For example, when the time comes, probably in a few days, we won’t be able to be with our beloved Phoenix when she crosses the rainbow bridge, assisted by our kind vet. There’s no need to expose him or us, no matter how much we want to be in the room with her. I can’t help but think of all of the Covid victims dying alone too, and their families.

Some people aren’t continuing to distance and are paying a hefty price. Many are taking chances that really aren’t necessary.

My methodology for making these decisions is really simple. What’s the worst that can happen?

  • If I wear and mask or stay home when I didn’t need to, nothing truly bad happens. Am I happy? No. Am I at risk? No. Am I risking anyone else’s health? No.
  • If I don’t mask and distance and get Covid, I can spread it to friends and family, I can die, kill others, or live with horrid debility and/or incur massive bills. We still don’t understand the extent of what this virus does to human bodies or long-term effects. My friend went to the ER for Covid symptoms, tested positive, was not admitted, went home only to receive a 12K medical bill a month later. The Covid test itself was free, but the rest was not. She had already lost her job and has no insurance. How is she supposed to pay that bill?

For me, the decision pretty much makes itself. The gray area is introduced when defining “necessary” and that line-in-the-sand is different for everyone, or at least different in every state with so many disparate and inconsistent levels of “rules” about what can and cannot be done.

Not to mention, “can” and “should” are vastly different things.

pandemic garden.jpg

Thankfully, I can go outside and sit on the deck and walk around my yard, but those aren’t options for everyone.

However, it’s still difficult for me, sitting by myself, seeing photos of places I’d like to be and people I’d like to see – but I can’t. Especially if they are seeing each other and I’m the odd man out. I can’t help but think, “just this once,” but that’s exactly how this disease is spread. You only get to be wrong once.

pandemic wildflower garden

Try not to think about what you’re missing. Try to be positive. Take a deep breath. Try not to cry, again. Here, have another garden picture.

My situation is better than a lot of people who don’t have a deck to sit on or a yard to walk in. They live in multi-generational households where they can’t distance or in apartment buildings. Some people are exposed because their family members are essential workers.

Some people are exposed because they are cautiously optimistic and venture out when they probably shouldn’t. Some have simply thrown caution to the wind. In a pandemic, everyone’s decisions affect everyone else. Six degrees of separation on steroids.

For some time, people on social media were saying that they didn’t even know anyone who had contracted Covid, so it didn’t exist where they lived or was being exaggerated. I don’t really hear that much anymore. I have cousins who have died. One is in intensive care as I type this. Close friends have it and others have had it. Yet another friend’s mother died. One of the places I obtained carry-out is now closed due to an employee testing positive this week. It’s killing people in the nursing homes here as well. There’s no doubt, it’s every single place in America now. No one is safe or exempt.

By now, Covid has directly affected almost everyone, and I’m not referring to financially through shutdowns and job loss which some would argue were political in nature. (I’m not touching that topic either.) I’m referring to the virus itself.

And anyone who is looking clearly understands what’s coming. Our only prayer is if by some miracle everyone magically starts to wear masks and stay home. And indeed, I mean everyone, because only “some” people wearing masks didn’t work before and is why we are where we are right now – with an epidemic spiraling out of control.

And yes, a vaccine, IF it works, and IF it arrives by year-end will help immensely, but we all have to survive that long. Many won’t. We’re at 153,314 deaths from Covid today and most models have us hitting 200K within a month. I’m afraid to look at the projection by year-end.

Oh yea, and because pandemic stress wasn’t enough, we’re now having pandemic+politics+hurricanes too. In Florida of all places, already a Covid hotspot, with Hurricane Isaias projected to make landfall today with high tides making things even worse there and up the east coast over the next few days. Batten down the hatches.

2020 promises to be the year we all want to forget.

The Common Thread

There is one common thread in all of this though – and that is that everyone is super stressed. If you just thought to yourself, “that’s an understatement,” you’re right.

pandemic contrails.jpg

We are all looking up at the contrails of planes in the sky and thinking about what we aren’t doing that we want to do. Where we were planning to go, but now can’t. Activities we want to do or events we want to attend, but can’t. Who we long to see, but can’t. Who has died and we’ll never see again. We can’t even attend funerals.

There’s a lot of loss, for sure.

I’m hoping that I can do some of these things in the after-time, and that there will be an after-time. Some days, gratitude to be alive and hope for the future is all we have.

As a result, people have more time for social media, are commenting more, and are “less nice.” Yes, I know that’s an understatement too. Everyone seems to have their knickers in a knot just now.

“Less nice” often translates into hurtful commentary to or about others, when no comments would suffice. When a “negativity leader” emerges, more people pile on. Of course, that just raises the stress level of everyone involved, especially the person being bullied. Adrenaline and stress hormones flood bodies, causing people who feel they are under attack to have a “flight or fight” response – and in an electronic world, that means either disengage and go for a walk or “fight” online as a keyboard warrior.

No one wins and the exchange is simply ugly and hurtful. Have another flower picture.

Pandemic phlox

Take a deep breath and count to 10. Have some lilies.

pandemic lily.jpg

Now we’re at the point where my Dad’s mud-wrestling with a pig commentary comes into play.

Seriously, no one is going to even consider anyone’s point of view because they are too busy “talking and typing,” to listen, even if they had once been inclined. And that’s assuming there isn’t any other agenda or issue in the mix. Yea, more flowers…

pandemic red lily

Maintaining an Even Keel

When people are stressed, especially for a long period of time, like pandemic fatigue, it seems to bring out either the worst or the best in people. It also dramatically affects mental health. Here are some thoughts and ideas, aside from flower pictures, that you may find helpful. I try to think of these when I see people reacting, and when I consider my health and behavior as well.

  • People who already suffer from depression or other mental health issues may need to have their medications adjusted.
  • People who never previously suffered from depression may be suffering from it now. Here’s a list of symptoms to watch for. If this might apply to you, make sure to exercise, get enough sunshine and disengage from triggers, like social media if that’s affecting you negatively.
  • People who had borderline mental health issues pre-pandemic may have crossed over the edge due to any number of stressors and need medical assistance now. You may be viewing the results of that on social media, or seeing it in the behavior of family members.
  • Doomscrolling. I didn’t even know this was a “thing,” but apparently it is, related to the consumption of news which is almost entirely negative (what news isn’t negative today,) and I’m guilty of it to some extent. You can read about doomscrolling and its effects, especially during the pandemic, here.
  • To address doomscrolling and negativity, I’ve done a number of things:
    1. Unfriended or unfollowed people who bring pain or unpleasantness into my life. Unfortunately, there have been more than I would have anticipated and some that were shocking. I will discuss any topic. I will not tolerate attacks, disrespect, condescension, or hatefulness, directed toward me or others. If there’s any good news to this part of the equation, it’s that the pandemic has unmasked many people for their real selves, many of whom I’ve found very disheartening and disappointing. That discovery adds another level of grief, but their removal from my social media feed removes the chronic negativity issue.
    2. Focusing on people who are positive by nature. That does not mean they are Pollyannas, irresponsible, or unconcerned about the pandemic, but it does mean they are not pushing conspiracy theories or constant negativity by default. I don’t mind seeing some negative things, because that is our reality right now, but I also want to see pictures of your kids, your cats, your lunch, a flower, your family tree, your new t-shirt, your Amazon order, something, anything that feels “normal.”
    3. Find ways to support others, to the best of my ability. You already know I made masks, and have a few more to make over the weekend. I also make care quilts, but right now, there is no way to make them fast enough. I’ve also been making quilts to keep for myself, because they make me feel good, and right now, I’m important too.
    4. I do feel that as a responsible adult, I need to stay current with what is occurring. However, I’ve located a couple of non-inflammatory daily summary sources and I have specific times of the day that I check social media.
  • I’m limiting my work time because my “default” is to work more and more and sit in front of my computer longer and longer each day. Unfortunately, at this point, I can never catch up, so that just makes things worse. I receive hundreds of emails every day, many asking questions that the sender thinks will “only take a minute,” which is a compliment, but nonetheless incorrect. (I do offer Quick Consults, here.)
  • People with addiction issues are relapsing. Addiction doesn’t only mean alcohol or drugs but includes other compulsive self-medicating comfort disorders. Eating comes to mind, but there are many more. Counselors and support groups are available online – just google. Is buying quilt fabric an addictive behavior? Asking for a friend😊
  • People with mental health issues are really struggling, and they are not always who you think they might be. When you observe someone acting hateful or awful towards someone else, it’s one of a few things – an active choice meaning their real personality is showing through, a really bad day (that excuse doesn’t work for repeated incidents) or a mental health issue. Regardless of which it is, you don’t need to engage with or tolerate their behavior. Some days my mantra is “just keep on scrolling.”
  • Sometimes when people are silent, it’s not because they can’t or don’t want to “defend themselves.” It’s because they’ve chosen to be kind and not act hatefully or hurtfully. Attempting to hurt someone else is never beneficial and “winning” in that manner doesn’t make someone a good person or a winner. I always remember who behaved that way. Silence does not equate to “losing.” Losing one’s composure publicly is rarely a good thing.
  • Develop a self-imposed embargo policy. When I’m angry, my personal rule is that I don’t reply for 24 hours. If I’m still angry, it’s 48 hours. By then, it seldom matters. This has saved me a lot of grief over the years and probably a lot of embarrassment too. An embargo doesn’t mean I’m silent to my family or close friends, it just means publicly.
  • People don’t have to engage in every fight they’re invited to. There’s no requirement to take the bait. Generally, bait is a sure-fire sign of danger. Ask any fish!
  • Each of us chooses how to behave, both on and offline. Choose to be kind, or silent. You never have to regret that choice.
  • Sometimes, kindness is simply keeping my mouth shut. Having said that, I do feel from time to time that I have a moral imperative to speak truth to power, understanding that it will likely cause me to become a target. Still, I always say what I have to say respectfully. I will not engage in the “nasty girls” game. There is a fundamental difference between a difference of opinion, a movement for change and a war. If people choose to target me after I speak truthfully, so be it – it’s probably a sign of effectiveness. Still, it takes courage to speak, knowing what will likely be forthcoming. I’m grateful to people like John Lewis, John McCain, William Tully Brown and Rosa Parks for their courage and inspiration. One day I’ll write about attending Rosa’s funeral visitation. John and Rosa peacefully spoke, stood their ground and have inspired me repeatedly over the years, especially when I’m frightened. If or when we are attacked, we can always choose to be kind and be silent, taking into consideration the situation. Silence is sometimes more powerful than words. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Words, however, can cut like a knife, so choose wisely. People are already hurting.
  • On the bright side, when speaking truth-to-power, you immediately discover who your friends are and who are fair-weather acquaintances of convenience. That holds true as well for when bad things happen in your life and you need help. Those who step-up are gold! The rest weren’t really your friends and culled themselves. Be grateful.
  • I always weigh my behavior based on how I would feel if a potential employer or my granddaughters as adults saw what I said. Am I being my best self? How would I feel if one of my granddaughters posted what I was about to say? How would I counsel them?

In other words, never mud-wrestle with a pig. You can’t win. You get dirty. The pig enjoys it. The spectators can’t tell the difference.

Besides that, if I do perish in this pandemic, I don’t want to be remembered for being hateful. I may not be able to control this pandemic, or what others say or do, but I surely can control the substance of my own legacy.

Pandemic Rainbow

When will the Pandemic Journal series end?

Truthfully, I don’t know. This might be the last article in the series, because this seems to have become a way of life, not a temporary glitch.

Of course, by now, I thought I would have already written the “victory” “we’re free again and it’s over” article. I thought I’d be going to genealogy conferences and quilt retreats, but I’m not and everything this fall and much of winter has already canceled or simply wasn’t scheduled.

I don’t know if or when this plague will ever end. As we enter into the days of diminishing light, the fall and winter in the northern hemisphere, I expect the pandemic to worsen, along with its associated challenges.

I don’t want to write negative articles or those that only serve to depress already depressed people.

One positive aspect that I’m seeing is that some people’s obsession is genealogy and with more time, they are really focusing on uncovering those ancestors. This is one kind of addictive behavior I heartily endorse!! I’ve been the recent beneficiary and I’ve been able to gift others as well.

I hope that you think about the life and times of your ancestors, the situations they encountered, the decisions they made, and how plagues and pestilences influenced, affected or ended their lives. Perhaps fear of a viral enemy that seems to be overpowering us sheds light on their lives before the days of modern medical care.

Now you can understand the ever-tightening fingers of fear that clutched their hearts as the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death because of what it did to the bodies of its victims, engulfed their world. Ironic, isn’t it, that Plague doctors wore masks then, thinking that the beak filled with aromatics would filter out the offending disease particles present in “bad air.”

Today, we know masks work and greatly improve the chances of staying well, yet not everyone wears them.

pandemic plague doctor

I hope your ancestors bring you comfort, in their presence or their absence that causes you to have to search for them. Perhaps we can think of this grey and difficult time, retrospectively, after the storm has passed and the sun sets on this chapter of our lives as the time of great genealogy breakthroughs. Perhaps our ancestors will serve as a pandemic rainbow.

pandemic rainbow.jpg

Partial double rainbow beneath storm clouds with the sunset reflecting off of the clouds, taken from the center of the labyrinth.

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Disclosure

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.

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Pandemic Journal: Rise Up

I haven’t said much, because I literally just don’t know what to say anymore.  My heart aches and I’m tired. Very emotionally tired.

Is there an opportunity, someplace, buried in this bleakness?

God, I hope so. My lips to God’s ears.

Straight Up

We, in America, are on a run-away pandemic freight train. The graphics in this article from National Geographic show the ugly going-straight-up line of daily new infections on the chart. Yet, we seem unwilling to do the small things, specifically one small thing, that can and does make a huge difference.

For many, perhaps including you, a life-and-death difference.

If that’s not bad enough we are enduring the most toxic, divisive political Hell I’ve ever experienced, mixed with civil unrest. Plus – hate speech everyplace. Social media has become unsocial media. That’s like multiple rings of Hell with multiple Satans in every one.

No One is Exempt

No get-out-of-jail free card. No pass. No redo. This is not an escape room. There is no escaping this one.

There is only action – NOW! By each and every one of us taking personal responsibility.

Friends are ill or unemployed and many have experienced deaths of family members.

Two friend’s mothers dead of Covid, my other friend’s uncle, another and another and another are added to the list – someone almost every day now, horribly ill or gone after a torturous battle. And those who “recover” don’t exactly get well. It’s not “like the flu.” Just google for those stories. They are brutal and people are left with permanent organ damage, still suffering miserably weeks and weeks later.

Very few people, if any, are NOT at risk right now, either physically, economically, or both. Businesses are shuttering and cutting back. Not to mention those who are losing their employer-sponsored health insurance when they need it most.

You may want to read the personal accounts of Dr. Erik Martin, a physician who survived the Covid trenches of NYC and is now fighting Covid in his overwhelmed community in Missouri. This isn’t primed and edited for publication – just his personal journey on his Facebook page as he does battle with this monster. Every. Single. Day.

If you don’t like the media, listen to Erik. He has no agenda.

Dichotomy

4th sky.jpg

Yet, if you look outside, you see sunshine and blue skies which belie the tsunami which is unarguably rolling towards us, one by one, at breakneck speed. I fear we have no prayer now of avoiding some form of personal devastation. That opportunity is gone. Now we must mitigate damage as best we can and deal with the rest.

Our eyes tell us one thing – everything’s fine in the back yard. Flowers are blooming and life is just like it is every other hot summer day, in all the years that have come before.

4th roses

No need NOT to BBQ and have family over. Right?

I mean, what could it hurt? Really?

Then, turn on the TV news and look at the hospitals overwhelmed in Houston with over 22,000 currently active cases in their county which is also home to the largest medical complex in the world.

Read the story about the birthday party at which 18 of 25 adults caught Covid, including both elderly parents and a cancer patient who are hospitalized. Family members said they tried to social distance and the party was only for a couple hours. But, that clearly wasn’t enough and there’s no way to tell until it’s too late, way too late.

All it takes is one time, the wrong time. Getting way with “cheating” once instills a false sense of security. Nothing happened so let’s do it again. That false feeling that “it’s OK, nothing happened” emboldens people to engage in repeated risky behavior.

It’s kind of like not using birth control. Do it enough and pregnancy will happen. You just don’t know which time. I know several of those surprises that are lovely people. However, Covid is never lovely. It’s deadly. There is no upside or redeeming qualities.

No, warm weather doesn’t kill this virus. Neither does denial. And clearly, if other countries have wrestled this monster to the ground, we could have too, but we haven’t.

In for the Long Haul

For the record, I’m still staying home, wearing a mask when I do need to go out, and I will until we have a vaccine or the virus finishes with us. Let’s hope it’s the former and soon.

And yes, I do other socially responsible things to protect myself and others too, like pay for insurance, wear a seatbelt, and not drink and drive. You get the drift I’m sure. Making those decisions are easy because the potential consequences certainly aren’t worth non-compliance.

Wearing a mask isn’t any different and it unquestionably saves lives – yours, those you love, and people you don’t even know but can infect even though you’re asymptomatic.

We don’t think anything of paying for house or car insurance that we hope we’ll never use – but some people are very resistant to wearing a mask which is both easy and free and we unquestionably need in the current circumstances. It’s free insurance for both us and everyone around us.

It’s like refusing a free gift that will save your life.

The 4th of July

pexels-photo-769525

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

It’s the 4th of July, and I don’t feel like celebrating in the traditional way this year. I fear for our democracy. I cringe when I hear vile, hate-filled words spewing from the mouths of Americans, directed at each other.

Vitriol and ignorance combined are a horrible, lethal, toxic brew. I’m stunned to witness the behavior of some people I thought I knew much better. Others, however, like cream, have risen to the top. I’m so proud of them.

I ask myself, is this hatefulness really what we have become? Or, has this climate simply unmasked selfishness and lack of concern for others that was always present? Can those who refuse to comply with something as easy as wearing a mask actually still be ignorant after all this time?

How did wearing a mask to protect yourself and others in the middle of a pandemic, a MASSIVE, overwhelming pandemic that’s killing Americans by the 10s of thousands, infecting more than 50,000 each and every day, and RISING, become a weaponized political statement? Not to mention people continue to gather when it’s unwise, even if not forbidden.

I hope the tide is turning. I’m afraid it will be too little, too late. I pray I’m wrong and that this tide turns quickly.

Every one of us needs to be that good example to help turn this boat around.

I Don’t Want to Either

I fully understand why no one wants to think about this. I understand why people want to try to pretend it doesn’t exist – especially in warm weather when it seems everything is just fine.

We’re all exhausted and we need a break.

4th lavender.jpg

The lavender is blooming, the butterflies are flitting. All looks superficially well with the world. Everything just looks so, well, normal. But this picture is deceptive because life is not normal this year – regardless of bucolic appearances that serve to confuse our aching brains.

I don’t want any of this to exist either and I certainly don’t want to think about what’s coming. But it’s going to arrive, one way or the other, and your actions, or inactions, literally will make the determination of who lives and dies in the Covid-lottery.

And to be clear, you don’t get to vote on the question of who – because by the time you know, it’s way, way too late.

Choose Love as Your Legacy

Perhaps this mental overwhelm, anguish and emotional fatigue is why I’ve been so focused on genealogy, quilting, and yes, even cleaning things – in the hope that there IS a future to be lived with those I love. Plus, I can do all of those at home.

Maybe I’m just whistling past the graveyard.

You don’t know who will be left at the end of this journey. Love everyone like there’s no tomorrow. Because there might not be.

Think about your legacy. You are living it now.

How do you feel about the last thing you said to someone, or posted on social media being the last thing you say – ever? Are you satisfied with those as your parting words?

Will you be the person who infected someone who dies, like that family of 25 who had the party? My friend’s mom who died contracted Covid on Mother’s Day when her family visited? Try living with that for the rest of your life. Her Dad’s life is still hanging in the balance.

Or will you be the voice of kindness and reason?

You get to choose one way or the other with your every action. In these pandemic times – your choice really does matter.

Will you rise up to meet the challenge?

Rise Up

Now’s the time.

Rise up.

Rise up and be counted for what you believe.

Rise up for good.

Rise up for right.

Rise up to protect others.

Rise up to defeat hatred.

Rise up and wear a mask.

Rise up and bring someone else with you.

I decided to write this article because I want to share this incredibly beautiful song; Rise Up – an inspiration even on the darkest of personal days. You need this even if you don’t know it😊

Trust me on this one.

Music that will touch your soul with love, raise your spirits and infuse you with hope.

This unbelievably moving duet by mother and son will cause your allergies to act up, immediately. Unlesss you’re already cutting onions, of course.

I give you….Rise Up – Andra Day // Cover by Mother and Son (Jordan Rabjohn Cover)

4th rise up4th rise up mother

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Rise. Up.

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Disclosure

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

Pandemic Journal: Trouble in the Heart Land

No words black3

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough, there’s more.

This week, two more deaths, mothers of friends who both died horrific Covid deaths, alone – one after a physician declined to test her and sent her back home to isolate. Turns out, he sent her home to die.

I delivered yet another care quilt. There aren’t enough tears or enough quilts to assuage the unrelenting hemorrhaging.

There is overwhelming grief in so many families as the number ticks up to and passes 109,000 deaths in this country. 5890 people have died of Covid in the US in the past seven days, and 1500 just yesterday.

It’s not stopping and it’s not over. Not even close.

And yet, I observe people in public, walking around in stores, many with children, with no masks for anyone.

They may be “done with Covid” as one t-shirt proclaimed, but mark my words, Covid is not done with us yet.

My friend’s mother’s death occurred after a family member infected her on Mother’s Day weekend, and now her husband, my friend’s father, has it too. So, killing Grandma just got very real for this family, not just a platitude people think is meant to scare them into compliance with something as horribly personally invasive as wearing a face mask.

Once it’s too late, it’s too late. There is no redo.

As my friend said, “We would do anything, absolutely anything, to bring her back.” She explained, in detail, her mother’s horrific death, alone. I desperately wanted to put my hands over my ears and block it out, but my friend had to live it, and her mother had to die it, so the least I could do was listen to it. My friend is suffering too.

She said, “All we had to do was NOT visit her, or wear masks, and everyone didn’t. I didn’t press the issue. It seemed like it was OK – and now she’s dead. I’ll never forgive myself.”

And now, with the focus shifted to what borders on a national emergency, the importance of masks, social distancing and other prevention measures has retreated to a much less visible back burner.

Trouble in the Heart Land

There are few times in my life that I’ve been left entirely without words, bereft of inspiration. This day, this past week, is that time. So please forgive no DNA article this week.

I. Just. Can’t.

Furthermore, I feel that publishing about genealogy right now is disrespectful of the gravity of what this nation, and we as citizens, are facing. I’m not referring solely to the pandemic.

With the unrelenting pandemic, mounting deaths, unemployment, dams breaking in Michigan causing thousands to be evacuated, their homes destroyed, and then the horrific death of George Floyd last week and resulting violence – many of us have been pushed beyond the limits of our personal emotional endurance.

Not only that, but life’s “regular” frustrations and challenges continue too, complicated sometimes by our new reality, in addition to these added stressors.

It’s almost impossible to discuss this situation without an injection of politics, but I’m going to, because right now, the toxicity of politics is fueling all of these fires.

These “problems” belong to everyone, regardless of their politics, because we will all suffer the consequences – good or bad.

I am strongly, with every ounce of my being, opposed to what I saw happen to George Floyd in Minneapolis. I’m opposed as well to the system that allows that to happen to anyone.

Secondarily, I’m heartsick to see our cities and property within those cities burned and looted. Many of those mom-and-pop businesses were barely surviving Covid, and may not survive at all now.

Not only is that behavior unacceptable in and of itself, but it also distracts from and diminishes the message of non-violent protesters, whose voices clearly need to be heard – because obviously change wasn’t going to happen otherwise.

Opportunistic looting and violence detract attention that should be focused on George Floyd’s death and the cumulative situation and actions across days, months, years, and decades that allowed and caused this day to arrive.

George Floyd’s homicide was a horrific human rights violation that we have all now seen, from several, indisputable angles thanks to readily available video technology.

And yes, it just so happens to have occurred while the US is a tinder box, in the middle of a pandemic with record unemployment and the most toxic, divisive, political climate of my lifetime. Everyone is on edge and many are frustrated and angry for any variety of reasons. All it took was a spark and the result is a explosive fire stoked with gasoline.

Having said that, I also feel compelled to say that not all police officers are like the man, men, whose names I won’t utter, that murdered George Floyd.

My son is an officer, and so are my friends, both black and white, male and female, and I know first hand that the majority of officers choose to serve and protect and do so honorably. Those officers are horrified too, and right now, many officers are being targeted with violence because of their uniform, both on and off duty, along with their families, which is also wrong.

The difference this time, in Minneapolis, with George Floyd’s murder, is that with multiple public videos, there is no question about what happened before or during the encounter. The “resisting arrest,” excuse falls short, because one can’t “resist” very effectively after being handcuffed face down. After being restrained, there is no need to be “held down” for another 10 minutes by 3 men until the very life-breath is squeezed out of you.

We, the public, don’t have to try to figure out who to believe this time, because we can see the situation unfolding with our own eyes, watching every horrific second, for nearly 10 minutes in total, as even bystanders begged the officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck to stop and an EMT repeatedly asked to check his pulse. Yet, that officer continued compressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 7 minutes as George repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, called for his mother near the end, and finally, begged the officer not to kill him. Then, the officer continued for almost another 3 minutes after George lost consciousness. There is absolutely no possible justification.

George Floyd died, face down in the street, at the hands of 4 (now former) officers, in the full light of day, in front of a crowd, nonchalantly – like this was nothing out of the ordinary and happens every day.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s because it does.

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

We need answers.

We need an impartial investigation.

Justice needs to occur.

Along with change.

Not just for George Floyd, but for all of the George Floyds in the future – regardless of the color of their skin.

The next George Floyd could be your father, son, brother, spouse, uncle…

We need to do better, as a society.

As humans.

Not just in Minneapolis.

We need to find ways to unite and not divide.

To heal these freshly re-opened wounds so that the next generation, and the next, don’t have to replay this scenario over and over again.

I thought we were past this as a society. We aren’t.

We need to provide the same protections for all Americans, all humans, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex or gender – whether or not they look or act the same as or different from us.

People should not be demonized or vilified because of the color of their skin, their sex, or anything about them that they do not have control of. People must be held accountable for behaviors they do control.

Racism and systemic discrimination are what needs to die. Not just related to policing, but in each and every one of our hearts. That’s where evil lives and takes root.

We Are in This Stew Pot Together

I had hoped that this pandemic might convey a much-needed message that indeed, we, all of us, ARE IN THIS TOGETHER, because we are.

“This” isn’t just a pandemic, it’s life on this earth, and if we sanction and ignore crimes against any person or people unjustly, we ourselves become potential candidates for that same behavior when the tides turn one day.

We or another family member could be the next George Floyd – black, white, Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ, female, whatever – fueled by hate and rage. It has happened before and it’s up to us to be sure it never happens again.

Or our mother, grandmother or another family member could be the next to die because we failed to take what really amounts to minor, inconvenient, pandemic precautions. Because we simply CHOOSE not to.

These deaths are all unjust, unnecessary, and preventable.

We just have to “want to” badly enough to do what’s necessary. Before someone dies, not after.

In reality, both situations boil down to respect and acting respectful to others. Wearing a mask is simple, painless and easy. Officers may need to arrest a man, but they don’t need to kill him in the circumstances we saw. There are appropriate situations for deadly force, and that clearly wasn’t one.

Do unto others…

Remember that?

These aren’t other people’s problems; the responsibility belongs to each and every one of us – individually and personally.

There is no us-versus-them. There is only “us.” There is no “them.”

Don’t allow any of these three deaths to be wasted. They didn’t die peacefully, but their final chapter has not yet been written. That’s up to us. We can assure that their legacy serves a larger purpose – these deaths being catalysts for good, for doing better, for change.

Look in the mirror.

What actions are you taking?

We need to ask ourselves how each and every one of us can make a difference, and act, so there won’t be more.

RIP

RIP

RIP

Pandemic Journal: Memorial Day 2020

Memorial half mast

This year, in addition to honoring our brave soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the US flag will be flown at half-mast as a national expression of grief. The brutal trail of Covid as it rips through our country and the world.

5,288 deaths in my state, alone, 98,004 in the US as I write this – probably rolling across the threshold of 100,000, ironically, on Memorial Day.

Why didn’t I round 98,004 to 98,000?

Because every single one of those people matter.

Those 1, 2, 3 and 4 people above 98,000 may seem like a rounding error, but they aren’t. They have names, families and they suffered, just like those 98,000 other souls.

They may not have been old – not that being older should make anyone expendable.

The best of their life may not have been lived. We are all deprived and diminished by the loss of their potential – as are they.

But they all, every single one of them, have something in common.

They were all infected unintentionally and probably unknowingly by someone else. No one, not one person, signed up for this. Most of them had no idea they were putting their life on the line as they went about their business. This isn’t the military – no one enlisted fully aware of what the consequences might be.

It pains me greatly to see wearing a mask in public politicized. Wearing a mask is literally the very least we can do. Taking care of each other by doing such a small thing. Like it or not, we really are all in this together. What goes around, comes around.

Let me explain the very basic foundation of decision making that I’ve utilized for most of my life.

What’s the Worst That Will Happen?

If you wear a mask and you don’t need to:

  • You may never know that you didn’t need it
  • You might be a little uncomfortable or inconvenienced
  • You might be made fun of by someone not wearing a mask

Bottom line – you’re slightly inconvenienced if you wear a mask but you might save someone’s life, including your own.

If you DON’T wear a mask and needed to, the worse is:

  • You take the unnecessary chance of getting infected yourself. No, a mask won’t protect you entirely, but it helps.
  • You may, unknowingly, infect others who may suffer and die. They then infect others too, keeping the cycle of infection and death in motion and the numbers rising.
  • You’ll probably never know that you are responsible for infecting others and possibly killing people because you may never develop symptoms yourself, so you think everything is just fine. If you do develop symptoms, it’s too late to undo the exposures of the days before you manifested symptoms.

Bottom line – you may become infected yourself and/or infect others. You’re not just risking yourself, but everyone you come in contact with. They may suffer and die, or live terribly impaired, and be financially devastated in the process.

And…this outcome is avoidable.

The preventative step of wearing a mask in public, especially in public enclosed spaces, is so simple and entirely painless.

Who’s Vulnerable?

Everyone.

My immediate family, consisting of 7 people, 5 adults and 2 children, is healthy.

But…of those 7…

  • One is over 65.
  • One young person has a partial lung.
  • One child has partial kidneys.
  • One has an ongoing undiagnosed health issue.
  • One has a high risk housemate who is over 60 and had a heart issue last year.

If your family member exposes you, and you expose me, I will expose my loved ones, intentionally or not. If my family member dies because I inadvertently exposed them, I would never forgive myself.

If they die, that gaping wound would never heal.

Right now, 98,004 families feel that exact same way.

And some unknown person infected every one of them, accidentally.

Honoring the Dead

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring our military dead who gave their life defending our country.

Memorial poppy

Memorial Day was called Decoration Day when I was a kid. It’s a federal holiday for honoring and mourning military personnel who died while on active duty.

Volunteers often place flags on graves of all veterans.

A single red poppy has come to represent the fallen, symbolizing each life lost.

The US has suffered a total of 666,441 combat casualties during wars and conflicts from 1775-2019, with an additional 673,929 dying of other causes.

Wars are expensive in terms of lives lost and soldiers torn from their futures and families.

War Years Deaths
Civil War (both sides) 1861-1865 755,000 estimated
WWII 1941-1945 405,399
WWI 1917-1918 116,516
Vietnam 1961-1975 58,209
Korea 1950-1953 36,574
Revolutionary War 1775-1783 25,000 estimated
War of 1812 1812-1815 15,000 estimated
Mexican-American 1846-1848 13,283
Iraq 2003-2011 4,576
Philippine-American 1899-1902 4,196
Spanish-American 1898 2,246
Afghanistan 2001-present 2,216

There is no glory in death and warfare. There is, however, immense gratitude and respect.

Thank you seems like so few and such small words for their sacrifice – but it’s all I have.

Thank you one and all.

Memorial Arlington

On Memorial Day, flags decorate the graves of our brave soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

My friend, Bob McLaren, who died in March will be buried there soon. I have decorated his grave in my heart and made masks in his honor.

Family Traditions

Memorial cemetery cleanup

In my family, Decoration Day was expanded to visiting and caring for all graves in the family. A combination of love for those gone, sorrow at the loss of their companionship and celebration of their life and the upcoming summer together – at least for those of us remaining on the green side of the sod.

Grass was manicured from the edges of the stones, stories were told and retold, and fresh-cut flowers lovingly placed.

In some locations, families spread quilts and have picnics in the cemeteries near their loved ones.

Memorial cemetery picnic

Military Family Members Honored

Ironically, few of my family members killed in the service of their country have stones.

James Claxton died in the War of 1812 and was buried in a now-lost hastily-dug grave just outside the stockade of Fort Decatur, Alabama.

My family members who died in the Civil War are buried anonymously; their battlefield resting places lost to time.

The body of my 1st cousin, Robert Vernon Estes, who died horrifically as a POW in Korea still hasn’t been returned, and likely never will.

Samuel Bolton Plank Cem

Samuel Bolton, my grandmother’s brother, gave his life during WWI. He was brought home and does have a stone. I hope someone is tending his grave today.

Frank Sadowski

And then, there’s Frank Sadowski, my mother’s almost-husband who was killed on Okinawa just days before the end of WWII.

All, lives cut short.

The Covid War

Depending on how you look at this, Covid deaths are approaching the total of all WWI combat deaths, or the combination of Vietnam, Korea and either the War of 1812 or the Revolutionary War.

Since February 28th – just under 3 months – 86 days.

That’s 1116 people on average that have died every single day – that we know of – not counting all the people who died but were never tested or diagnosed.

Look at this another way. The average commercial airliner holds between 150-200 passengers.

Using 150 as the average number, that’s 653 airliners that have crashed in 86 days, with everyone on board perishing. That’s 7.6 crashes per day, or one crash every 3 hours and 15 minutes – in the US alone.

Memorial week planes

Here are today’s planes that crashed and burned with 150 people each on board.

Just today.

Memorial month planes

Here are the planes from just this week.

Now, multiply that picture by 12.29 weeks since February 28th. If you printed that out on your printer it would be about 10 pages of solid airplanes.

And we know there are more coming, tomorrow, and the next day. We just don’t know how many more, or for how long.

So, are you willing to get on a plane and fly? That would take a lot of bravery, right?

But it takes no bravery at all to wear a mask. How about we do that instead, especially since masks can help prevent those Covid-planes from crashing!

Would preventing one plane crash be worth it?

Two?

Half of the crashes?

How many lives saved would be worth wearing a simple mask?

Memorial poppy field

If we need an extra 100,000 poppies this Memorial Day to honor the lives of each of the Covid victims since February, God forbid, if we don’t wear masks, stay home when we can and take precautions, how many will we need next Memorial Day?

If our ancestors can march off to war and lay their lives down for the rest of us, we can wear masks. People taking care of people.

And if we don’t, whose graves will you be decorating next Memorial Day?