A Heartfelt Thank You to a Wonderful Community!

In the past few days, I’ve had the honor of working with the family of Navajo Code Talker William Tully Brown to assure that he had the funeral he deserved which meant that funds needed to be raised quickly, using both GoFundMe and a Facebook Fundraiser.

This is not a solicitation, as those are both closed now, but something much different that will warm your heart.

A’hee’he, Thank You

Today, I want to say a huge thank you, from me and from Vee Browne-Yellowhair, the daughter of Navajo Code Talker, William Brown. In Navajo, A’hee’he means thank you.

William Brown thank you from Vee.png

Vee’s comment about “the scientists” is referring to many Family Tree DNA employees who contributed personally when they became aware of the circumstances, as well as the broader community. I explained to Vee that “the scientists” as well as others were rallying around her after her father’s passing, and indeed, so many people did.

As you know from my article a few days ago, William Brown passed away. Unfortunately, the family was unexpectedly short funds for the funeral. My family knows never to tell me you have a problem if you don’t want me solve it, so that’s what I set about to do.

In this case, the amazing genetic genealogy community came together to raise the needed funds in just over 24 hours.

I learned a lot about both GoFundMe and Facebook Fundraisers, neither of which I had ever set up before – but better yet, I learned a lot about the hearts of people – including perhaps you. Many contributors are my friends, family and followers and I was overwhelmed by their generosity, especially given what I know about some of their own circumstances. I shed many a tear as I saw the list of contributors. People from different countries, religions and walks of life.

I intentionally did not publish an article, nor did I invite any of my friends individually because I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or like they were being pressured. I posted the fundraisers on my own timeline, and thankfully, people began sharing. Not just sharing the link but contributing very generously.

  • The GoFundMe page had 928 shares, 72 donations and raised $3464.
  • The Facebook Fundraiser garnered 53 shares and 64 donations totaling $2319.

Both fundraisers have been discontinued. After the funeral yesterday, the family requested to turn the fundraisers off as they had at that time received the support they needed.

The family will receive all the funds less whatever small processing fees are withheld by GoFundMe and Facebook’s processing agents.

The Funeral Brochure

Today, Vee so kindly shared the brochure from the funeral and asked me to share with others, thinking those who contributed might appreciate a copy.

William Brown funeral brochure

William Brown funeral brochure 2

William’s Military Funeral

If you’d like to participate in William’s funeral virtually, Judge Sam Crowfoot videoed the military funeral and shared on his Facebook page, which I’ve shared publicly on mine. Thank you, Judge Crowfoot, for preserving this historic event for posterity and allowing us to participate. You can watch at the links below.

I must say, the service was perfect and beautiful in the lovely Arizona sunshine, the land that William loved with mountains in the distance.

I was incredibly impressed with William’s great-grandson and great-granddaughter, in uniform, both proudly following in his footsteps by serving in the military. William’s great-granddaughter read the poem in the funeral brochure written by her grandmother, William’s daughter, Vee, graveside. I’m sure William was smiling down, beaming with pride and showering love on all of his family.

Rest in Peace, William Tully Brown.

“You’ve reached your Rainbow.”

Veterans Benefits

Prior to this week, I didn’t have a reason to understand veterans’ burial benefits. I was surprised to learn that many people believe that the military or the government pays everything for a veteran’s funeral. The only way that happens is if the individual experiences a service-related death.

If you’re interested in the burial benefits for any veteran who does not die as a direct result of their service, you can read the government document here regarding burial compensation.

The burial benefit is much lower than I expected. For someone like Mr. Brown, it would be $300 in addition to a tombstone. He was buried in a military cemetery.

A friend recently received the $300 veteran’s burial benefit for her husband who was a military retiree after 22 years of service, but then was not able to collect his $250 Social Security benefit because she had received the $300 veteran’s benefit. Hardly fair, but it’s the sad reality.

A Pickle

No one ever wants to find themselves or their family in a pickle like this – and I’m extremely grateful to the genetic genealogy community for coming together and solving this problem.

The last few weeks in the genetic genealogy community have been difficult due to a chasmic divide that has generated lots of hurt feelings, but I was relieved to see many people sharing and giving without regard to those issues.

Perhaps this has been the beginning of healing.

It feels good to reach out and help others.

I realized by the end of the day, as I saw donations rolling in, that I felt better than I had in weeks. Perhaps William Brown’s legacy includes yet one more thing. 😊

Thank you everyone for all love, contributions and the respect shown to Veteran Brown and his family. Every bit helped!

You’re amazing!

A’hee’he

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

William Tully Brown, USMC Navajo Code Talker, Passes Over

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

Photo courtesy Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair.

USMC Veteran, William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker, wearing his uniform for the last time when he swabbed to provide his DNA for posterity. What a legacy this man leaves, literally from the beginning of his life to the very end.

William Passes Over

This isn’t the article I was supposed to be writing. 

My flight was booked for Wednesday, June 5th. On the afternoon of the 5th and the 6th, I was supposed to be meeting William Brown. Explaining his DNA results to him in a way that a 96-year-old man can understand and thanking him for his service. I was preparing a little booklet for William so he could show visitors.

I was looking forward to hearing the stories of this incredible man who made history.

William reminds me of my father and was born exactly 2 months before my mother. I referred to him as “Cheii,” or “Grandfather” in Navajo. In the Native culture where I was raised, Grandfather is an honorary way of addressing someone older and for whom you have great respect.

William was incredibly proud of his Navajo heritage as well as his service to his country as a Code Talker.

William passed over early this morning, “walking on” to the next world. You can read more about his passing, here. I honored William on Memorial Day with a special article, here.

My condolences to William’s family and especially his daughter, Vee, who has become my sister-of-heart.

The Code Talker Quilt

As we were arranging the trip to Arizona, I knew I needed to make William a quilt, and quickly. It had to be a very special quilt – fitting for a true American hero, one of very few who had received the Congressional medal of honor.

Code Talker Quilt

I was incredibly honored to be able to provide this gift of love and comfort to one so richly deserving. The person in the star part of the quilt is a Native American wearing a Congressional Medal of Honor. Could there be a more fitting image?

Thankfully, everything worked perfectly, and the quilt went together seamlessly (pardon the pun), albeit mostly in the middle of the night. My special friend, Pam, quilted it the next night, and the following day, the quilt was photographed, boxed and on its way. Record time!

Roberta Estes with Code Talker Quilt

As William’s quilt was winging its way to Arizona, his DNA was winging its way to the Family Tree DNA lab in Houston for advanced Y and mitochondrial DNA testing thanks to Vee.

My husband overnighted the quilt on Friday before Memorial Day when we realized that William might not live until my visit on the 5th. Plus, I wanted William to be able to enjoy the quilt for as long as possible, given that his time on earth was limited. But, ironically, the Memorial Day holiday interfered.

I was looking forward to taking a picture with William and the quilt this week. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

The quilt will now be used by William’s family to honor him Thursday at his funeral.

Unfortunately, I cancelled my travel plans when William was so gravely ill, not wanting to be intrusive at a difficult and private time, so I won’t physically be there with them – only in spirit. His family was very generous with their invitation.

William’s Legacy

William left an incredible legacy, stretching over three quarters of a century. First, saving our Nation in our time of desperate need followed by his final act 74 years later being that of a humanitarian. Contributing his DNA to unknown generations in the future – connecting them through the threads of time. Vee said that he loved everyone, and it showed.

Veteran, patriot, hero, humanitarian.

Ahee’hee

Rest in Peace, William Tully Brown.

Semper fi

USMC Navajo Code Talker patch

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Honoring Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, 97-year-old Navajo Code Talker of North Cottonwood, Arizona, holding his DNA kit from Family Tree DNA after swabbing, photo courtesy Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair.

I can’t even begin to describe the honor I feel to be able to write a Memorial Day article honoring WWII USMC veteran, William Tully Brown, one of the few living Navajo Code Talkers.

I first became aware of William because he matches the Anzick Child in one of the DNA projects at Family Tree DNA that I administer. I reached out to his daughter Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair who has graciously facilitated communications with her father.

William is 100% Native American, Navajo, as confirmed by his autosomal DNA, family genealogy and tribal history.

If you’re wondering about how a Navajo man born on the Navajo reservation in Arizona might match the DNA of a child buried approximately 12,500 years ago in Montana, the answer is because they share a common ancestor very long ago from a highly endogamous population.

Neither Anzick Child nor William have any ancestors that weren’t Native American, so any DNA that they share must come from Native American ancestors. In other words, their DNA is identical by population.

The original group of individuals migrating across Beringia who would settle in the Americas, the ancestors of all of the Native people extending across North, Central and South America, is thought to have been very small. Of course, there were no humans living in the American continents at that time, so that founding population had no new DNA sources to introduce into the expanding population. All aboriginal people descended from the original group.

beringia map

By Erika Tamm et al – Tamm E, Kivisild T, Reidla M, Metspalu M, Smith DG, et al. (2007) Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders. PLoS ONE 2(9): e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829. Also available from PubMed Central., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16975303

It’s believed by some scientists that over time, additional migrations arrived from far Northeast Asia, in what is now Siberia, but that founding population in Asia is the same population that the original group left.

Today, we see fully Native people, including William, with ethnicity results that include North and Central America, Siberia and often, a small amount of East Asian, totaling 100%.

William’s DNA contributions are amazing, and we’ll cover them in a future article, but what I’d really like to do today is to honor his military service and incredible legacies. Yes, legacies, plural. When I think I couldn’t love and respect this man any more, he contributes selflessly again as he approaches the century mark. God Bless this man!

Let’s begin by talking about William’s incredible service with the Navajo Code Talkers.

The Navajo Code Talkers

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker WWII

William Tully Brown in a younger photo, courtesy Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair.

The Navajo Code Talkers, highly intelligent and incredibly brave men, were the heroes of WWII. The original group of Navajo Marines recruited specifically for their language skills to serve in the Pacific theater numbered 29 but had been expanded to more than 400 by the end of the war.

Only 7 Code Talkers are still alive today. William Tully Brown is 97 years old and is pictured at the beginning of this article in his Marine uniform, which he still loves, and above in a younger photo.

The great irony is that the Navajo had been forbidden as children to speak their Native language, practice their religion, arts or culture, raised often in boarding schools intended to assimilate them and rid them of their Native “ways.” It’s those same children, as men, who saved the very country that tried to “beat the Indian” out of them, teaching them to suffer in silence, according to now deceased Code Talker, Chester Nez.

We should all be incredibly grateful that the Navajo were so forgiving.

Navajo is a very complex language with many dialects, making it unintelligible to other language speakers. It was estimated that only about 30 non-Navajo individuals spoke or understood Navajo in 1942 – making it a wonderful choice for a secret code.

The Navajo language proved to be undecipherable, even by the best cryptographers, and remained so for decades. Meanwhile, the Code Talkers translated communications and tactical information to and from the Navajo language, utilizing radio, telephone and other communications on the front lines of the war. The work of the Code Talkers was essential to the Allied Victory of WWII, with Code Talkers being present at many important battles including Utah Beach and Iwo Jima.

At the Battle of Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. Connor later stated, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”

For many years, the humble Navajo men weren’t recognized, keeping their military secrets, even from their families. It wasn’t until 1968, a quarter century later, that the documents were declassified, resulting in recognition for the brave Code Talkers.

August 14th was designated as National Navajo Code Talkers Day in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. In 2000, Bill Clinton signed a law which awarded gold medals of honor to the 29 men who developed the special Navajo military code, and silver congressional medals to all Code Talkers. You can view William Tully Brown’s name in the Congressional Record, here.

Their pride and loyalty remains unwavering.

You can read more about the Code Talkers here.

The Language of Our Ancestors

Veteran Code Talker, Kee Etsicitty said, ” We, the Navajo people, were very fortunate to contribute our language as a code for our country’s victory. For this, I strongly recommend we teach our children the language our ancestors were blessed with at the beginning of time. It is very sacred and represents the power of life.”

The Navajo language isn’t the only language and legacy that William Tully Brown will be remembered for. His DNA, yet another language, is a second selfless legacy that he leaves.

William Brown tested his DNA at Family Tree DNA which matches not only with the Anzick child, but with many other individuals who are Navajo or carry Native American DNA.

The Navajo history tells us that they migrated from the far north. Remnants of that journey remain in their oral legends. Archaeologists suggest that the migration from the northwest occurred around the year 1500.

The Navajo language roots confirms that connection.

Navajo is a Na Dene language, a derivative of Athabaskan which is also spoken in Alaska, in northwestern Canada, and along the North American Pacific rim.

Athabascan language map

CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=147052

This map shows the areas where the Na-Dene languages are spoken today.

The languages spoken in areas of the southwestern part of the US are referred to as Southern Athabaskan languages.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that we find DNA matches to William Brown by several individuals whose ancestry is Native from and who still live in areas within the northern orange regions.

DNA is Forever

William Tully Brown’s legacy isn’t only in the Navajo code words he spoke in WWII, or his bravery, but also the code carried in his DNA that he has so generously contributed. William’s DNA has now been documented and will endure forever.

William’s genetic legacy reaches out to future generations, extending the connection to the ancestors through the threads of time, back to the Anzick child and forward for generations to come – drawing us all together.

Thank you Marine veteran William Tully Brown for your immense generosity, sacrifices and altruistic contribution of both life-saving and live-giving codes. How fitting that your heroism began 80 years ago with a war-winning language that would rescue both our country and democracy, as well as our Allies – and now, near your century mark, you are leaving a remarkable legacy by contributing your own genetic words, your DNA, for posterity.

Preserving our country then and our Native heritage now, uniting past, present and future. Gathering the generations together, lighting their way home.

_______________________

Attribution:

Thank you to Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair, the daughter of USMC veteran William Tully Brown, Code Talker, for permission to write this article, her generosity, and for his photos.

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

RootsTech 2019: The Conference Experience

I hope you’ll come along with me as we experience RootsTech 2019 together.

I’ll be writing a companion piece to this about the vendor’s announcements and new tools, but this article is meant to allow you to virtually enjoy a bit of the ambience of the conference itself.

Night and Day

I have to start out by saying that I was extremely skeptical that the RootsTech powers-that-be would truly listen and take the attendees suggestions from 2018 to heart – and I’m very, very glad to say that my skepticism was unwarranted. The 2019 RootsTech conference was amazing. Night and day difference from last year – with this year being the day😊

And no, in case you’re wondering, I am not and was not a RootsTech Ambassador. Ambassadors receive free passes in exchange for promoting the conference in a positive light. By now, you know that I say what needs to be said, so I’m not (ahem) Ambassador material.

RootsTech is unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended. My expectation last year was that I’d go from session to session and visit with people in-between, at meals and in the evenings. That’s what other conferences are like. Understandably, I was extremely upset when the venue was too big to get from session to session, the sessions were too full, etc. etc. No need to rehash that now.

The reality of RootsTech is that there are many, many sessions to choose from at any one time, yet many people actually don’t attend sessions and instead choose to visit or walk the massive expo hall engaging with the various vendors.

Any vendor who is anyone in the genealogy world is here. I actually wasn’t able to visit with many. Too many people and booths and just not enough hours in the day. Plus, everytime I go anyplace I wind up talking to someone – so I almost never get to where I was going! I think my ancestors immigrated haphazardly in the same manner😊

“Yes, I know we declared that we were going to Minnesota, but let’s stop in Indiana for a break.” 100 years later…

For me, the very best part of RootsTech was catching up with friends, meeting new people, hearing their stories and receiving suggestions about help on my own brick walls.

This year I purchased the Ultimate Pass, which assured me of getting into the sessions I wanted. I must admit, that was a relief for me, but the long lines of yesteryear were gone for everyone, not just Ultimate Pass holders. The only badge scanning that occurred was for the paid labs so they could verify that the attendees were registered and that took only a second.

My evaluation of RootsTech 2019 is that is was a smashing success.

Thank you RootsTech, Steve Rockwood and the amazing RootsTech crew for listening, resolving to and making the needed changes, and for a job well done! I mean that sincerely.

I also want to say an especially big thank you to the amazing RootsTech team – both paid and volunteer. The “ASK” folks in the turquoise shirts were extremely friendly, helpful and were everyplace. You didn’t even need to ask. Just look a mite bewildered and they were right there.

One big difference is that RootsTech this year expanded to take over the entire Salt Palace Convention Center. The rooms for each session were much larger, overflow rooms existed, and the crowds weren’t packed into small spaces. Even with a large number of attendees, the experience was never uncomfortable. Badges were mailed, check-in for goody bags provided by MyHeritage was a breeze and conference life was good.

DNA Clothes

I didn’t really mean to start this tradition, but most traditions aren’t begun intentionally. I made DNA clothing, wearing something different every day.

Wednesday’s vest is our “genetic family tree.”

2019 genetic family tree front

2019 genetic family tree back.jpg

Wednesday

Sessions began on Wednesday during the day, but the vendor expo hall didn’t open until Wednesday evening at 6.

I attended Amy Johnson Crow’s class, “Social Media Tools for Your Genealogy Business.”

2019 social media tools

For those of you who might not know, Amy Johnson Crow initiated the “52 Weeks of Ancestors” series several years ago which is why my (nearly) weekly article about my ancestors includes the words, “52 Ancestors #xxx.” The fact that my 52 Ancestors stories will number 230 with the next article speaks to how inspirational I find Amy.

2019 Amy Johnson Crow

It was wonderful to meet Amy in person.

RootsTech Selfie Culture

I need to take a minute to explain about the selfie culture at RootsTech. There is almost always someone to take a photo for you, but the act of taking selfies together is part of the RootsTech culture. It’s fun, marks experiences together and creates memories. In other words, it’s not just the picture but the act of taking the selfie.

Strolling

I took a stroll to see what was going on.

The vendors were still setting up in the hall, and I noticed this lovely family.

2019 booth setup

Genealogy, even conferences, is truly a family affair.

2019 connect belong web

The belong-connect board is beginning to look like a spider web.

2019 lab

The labs are very popular. Daniel Horowitz with MyHeritage is teaching about how to verify your MyHeritage DNA matches.

Keynote by Steve Rockwood

The opening keynote was given by Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch.

2019 Rockwood keynote

This venue is absolutely huge. I took this about half way inside.

2019 Edge Effect

Throughout the evening, the a capella group, Edge Effect performed, and they were amazing!!!

2019 edge effect video

Each of the group members was given DNA tests sponsored by one of the vendors at the conference and their ethnicity results were revealed on videos.

2019 Rockwood

Steve Rockwood followed. Most CEO’s strong suites aren’t public speaking, but Steve is engaging and entertaining.

Of course, the theme of the conference is “connect belong,” so as you might expect, so was his speech.

Michael B. Moore with the International African American Museum Center for Family History traced his family via DNA and returned to Africa. Upon his return, the chief’s wife asked him, “are you my son,” to which he answered, “yes.” The chief and his wife adopted Michael into their family, thereby welcoming him home.

2019 Michael Moore homecoming

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Why can’t everyone be that inclusive?

This emotional story of discovery and homecoming was followed by the announcement of a 2-million-dollar donation to the International African American Museum Center for Family History by Elder David Bednar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

2019 museum

The Museum representatives on stage with David Bednar.

I’m extremely pleased to see the focus on reunification of families. It was also stated that the Church would be involved with other museums in the same way, to encourage that family history be incorporated into history. As I mentioned to Steve Rockwood later, I hope they include DNA, and not just autosomal DNA, but Y and mitochondrial as well. All three types of DNA are critically important to genealogy and finding family no matter who you are.

2019 King

Martin Luther King III then addressed the audience about his father’s dream…the end of racism and discrimination.

I fervently hope that bringing people and families together will help heal the wounds of slavery, Jim Crow America and perhaps even the divisions we see today.

I was thrilled to hear Mr. King speak and only wish history had been kinder. Dr. King’s life was cut much too short and we are left to wonder what he might have achieved had it not been for racial intolerance that led to cold-blooded murder.

The Edge Effect returned again with a particularly appropriate rendition of a beautiful song.

The Expo Hall

After the opening session, FamilyTreeDNA was kind enough to host the DNAexplain blog meetup in their new presentation center.

I gave two short presentations, one titled, “Taking Sides – Family Finder Maternal and Paternal Bucketing” and the second, “Family Finder Search Tips.”

I wasn’t able to grab any photos since I was presenting, but fortunately, Marie Cappart did and shared. Thanks Marie!

2019 ftdna booth presentation

FamilyTreeDNA hosted several sessions throughout the conference, given by staff and other guest speakers as well.

Meeting With Steve Rockwood and Crew

The long day wasn’t over quite yet. Steve Rockwood had been meeting with a focus group to which I was invited from 7-8. I respectfully declined, stating that I was already committed in the FamilyTreeDNA booth with the DNAexplain meetup.

Steve graciously agreed to wait along with much of his staff that had been up since 4 AM. That’s commitment!

I arrived just as the focus group was finishing, but Steve and the RootsTech team had indeed graciously been waiting and were quite welcoming.

Given my criticism after last year’s RootsTech, my reception was surprisingly warm. I expected something entirely different.

About 15 people from the RootsTech team were present.

I was extremely impressed with the professionalism and the fact that they acknowledged that they missed the mark last year and make a commitment at that time to make a course correction.

They remediated every single point.

They also asked for suggestions and feedback and made changes during the conference this year to accommodate those suggestions immediately when possible.

For example, they originally ended the livestreamed sessions when the presenter finished the presentation, but after complains that the people watching wanted to see the Q&A, they extended those sessions to include Q&A.

I must say, kudos to the team and thank you Steve!

I’m not saying that I’ll be back next year, but I’m saying that I’d certainly consider returning.

Thursday

One of the wonderful aspects of the conference is seeing old friends.

2019-Blaine-1.jpg

Blaine Bettinger and I have been passing like ships in the night for the past couple of years. We go way, way back to his first FTDNA conference – before either of us were blogging – before he had a family – when he was still in college.

It was so good to see Blaine and to actually have some time to talk, albeit not enough, of course. Genealogists could talk forever.

2019-ask.jpg

The RootsTech volunteers were wearing the turquoise “ASK” shirts. This gentleman sews. He noticed my vest and twice we had a chance to compare notes. I’m always so pleased to meet men that sew or quilt.

2019 MyHeritage booth

Ran Snir presenting in the MyHeritage booth. Many of the larger vendors have a presentation center.

2019 King Henry

Hey look, I found King Henry in the WikiTree booth! If you want to see if you’re related to King Henry, you can make that happen at WikiTree, assuming accurate trees of course.

2019 WikiTree

Peter Roberts, my good friend and WikiTree angel for taking me under his wing long ago and getting my tree set up!

Peter provided me with a wonderful tip which I’ll be sharing with you in a blog article soon!

While I was in the WikiTree booth, I asked Mags Gaulden, who writes at Grandmas Genes to take a photo of today’s DNA vest.

2019-helix-vest.jpg

This one’s a little different – a rather op art helix.

2019 helix vest back

I really struggled with this vest and wasn’t nearly as happy as with Wednesday’s genetic family tree vest.

2019-Mags.jpg

Here, Mags and I are sporting our matching helix necklaces! We always have so much fun together and I’m looking forward to seeing Mags again at the FamilyTreeDNA conference at the end of March in Houston.

I had intended to attend the Ancestry lunch, but what I expected and what happened were two different things. I discovered that the Ancestry lunch wasn’t the CEO or product managers with insights or even new product announcements, but that the Ancestry speaker was Henry Louis Gates. I’ve seen Dr. Gates before and my intention was to see what Ancestry had planned for the future. At least I made this discovery before the lunch and not after I had arrived when it would have been awkward to leave.

Instead, I had lunch with a friend and spent the time catching up.

By the end of the day, my every single body part ached, and I was extremely grateful that the hotel I was staying in was across the street and for the heating pad in my suitcase.

Unfortunately, I missed the Living DNA Roundtable dinner, but the thought of walking another few blocks and back was just more than my back could handle. Plus, Friday was the tough day and I HAD to be able to function.

Friday

Friday was the long hard day, beginning at 7AM with the MyHeritage breakfast for MyHeritage Friends, a group of influencers who MyHeritage interfaces with, providing product announcements and such.

One of the benefits of MyHeritage is their international reach, meaning not only Israel, but Europe and Scandinavia. They are doing amazing things in multiple languages, including closed captioning and ASL at their conferences.

Of course, MyHeritage is also promoting the second MyHeritage LIVE Conference in Amsterdam September 6-8th which is going to be amazing!

2019 MyHeritage breakfast

Our table at the MyHeritage breakfast.

After breakfast, on to the expo hall.

2019 familytreedna booth

Walk tall, test your DNA at FamilyTreeDNA and carry a big stick.

I had been looking forward to the “Google for Genealogists: Maps, Satellite and Earth” class with Lianne Kruger.

2019 Lianne Kruger

I have to tell you, Lianne has the patience of a saint. Lab classes are difficult to teach, even with room assistants.

I learned a great deal and I can’t wait to apply what I learned, mapping for my blog and also planning trips from ancestor location to ancestor location.

The next thing on the agenda was a tech check of my computer equipment in the room where I would be presenting at 3.

Everything went well and fingers crossed that it would in the afternoon as well.

Saroo Brierley

Each day at RootsTech includes a General Session or keynote that is sponsored by one of the vendors.

MyHeritage sponsored Saroo Brierley and Geoff Rasmussen began with announcing their new Genetic Affairs integration.

2019 Saroo Brierley

That quickly moved to how Saroo Brierley had lost his way as a young child in a train station in India and had eventually been adopted by an Australian couple. Saroo always wondered what happened to his family in India and set out to find them, using the few memories he had from childhood.

2019 Saroo triumph

Not only did Saroo locate his family, they were reunited and in his words, he now has two families.

2019 Saroo book

Saroo wrote a book about his moving miracle story.

MyHeritage then announced the continuation of the DNAQuest project by adding another 5000 free kits for adoptees, in particular those who might not be able to otherwise afford testing.

2019 DNAQuest

If you know someone who could benefit, applications will be accepted at www.dnaquest.org until April 30, 2019.

MyHeritage Lunch

Of the lunches I attended, the MyHeritage lunch was by far the most beneficial.

2019 Gilad Japhet

Gilad Japhet, the CEO and founder of MyHeritage spoke and shared another recovered piece of his own fascinating family history. Gilad recently discovered a missing family photo that he remembered from his childhood.

Gilad’s grandfather immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1920. A year later, the family in Poland took a photo of family members gathered to send to Gilad’s grandfather. He surely must have been feeling at least somewhat homesick by that time.

Gilad’s grandfather kept this photo on the wall of his home, and when he passed away, the photo got packed up and disappeared. Just a few weeks ago, Gilad found the photo safe and sound with an unsuspecting relative.

2019 Gilad family

This is the only photo in existence of many of these people today. The individuals circled in orange perished two decades later in the holocaust.

Can you see that the little boy is holding a photo?

2019 Gilad boy photo

That photo is Gilad’s grandfather, taken before he immigrated. The little boy is holding the photo to show that even though Gilad’s grandfather was physically gone, to Israel, he is still with them. If Gilad’s grandfather hadn’t gone to Israel, Gilad would not be here today.

No wonder Gilad’s grandfather cherished this photo his entire life.

Gilad shared other details as well, such as:

  • MyHeritage has now photographed, transcribed and translated all of the cemeteries in Israel, a 5-year project including over 2 million photos of 1.5 million stones in 638 cemeteries. These records are now available on MyHeritage and BillionGraves. Israel is the first country to reach this monumental achievement. I don’t know of any similar initiative in any other country.
  • Of course, my ancestors didn’t originate in Israel, except perhaps for one that we are still researching in the Netherlands – so I’m very pleased about the fact that MyHeritage has reached out successfully to the European community for DNA testing. Gilad noted that most of their DNA sales today are in Europe, with their data base size being approximately 2.5 million, with 2 million of those being original tests and half a million being transfers. If you haven’t yet transferred, please do by clicking here.
  • Gilad mentioned that he had hoped to announce the completion of the stamp and envelope DNA extraction project, but it’s still in process.
  • Gilad said that soon MyHeritage will provide a feature to reconstruct the DNA of family members based on the DNA of other family members tested. I can hardly wait. I’ve dreamed of this feature for years and I have a list, believe me.

Gilad then shared with the attendees the details of the new feature announcements at RootsTech.

Theory of Family Relativity

2019 Theory of Family Relativity

The Theory of Family Relativity is explaining DNA matches using family trees and historical records. This super new feature was rolled out during RootsTech. I’m not going to provide examples and details here, because I’ll be writing separately shortly. I want to emphasize, as did Gilad, that these theories are just that, theories and NEED TO BE VERIFIED!

In fact, you may have more than one theory for any connection based on DNA matching, trees and records, and you can verify or dismiss the theories. This is an incredible tool. The first three I quickly reviewed were all accurate. One person had three separate theories, and of course, only one of those three could be accurate under the circumstances, but I immediately knew which one was the right path based on my already proven genealogy.

2019 theory 1

2019 theory 2

2019 theory 3

2019 theory 4

2019 theory 5

Gilad spent some time explaining the Big Tree. The most important aspect to realize is that the “Big Tree” is not constructed and stored indefinitely. The Big Tree is created “as needed” so it’s never stale. It’s not an old tree, and every branch and logical step is documented so you can view the logic for the theory path selected.

I can’t even begin to explain how critical this is for researchers.

There is no “trust me” or actually, “trust other people’s trees” at MyHeritage.

2019 theory 6

Here’s one last example building upon various relationships and records!

2019 theory 7

If you want to try this for yourself (please do) you can filter your matches by those that have Theories.

Warning – you may not do anything else for days, including sleep! I looked around in the presentation and you could see people signing on and trying this while Gilad was speaking. If I hadn’t been sitting right in front, I would probably have been doing the same thing.

2019 theory 8

If you’re wondering how Theories of Family Relativity differs from Ancestry’s ThruLines, here are some of Gilad’s observations.

2019 theory 9

Genetic Affairs Integrated Autoclustering

2019 autoclustering

Gilad announced Autoclusters – an integrated version of Evert-Jan Blom’s Genetic Affairs clustering software for MyHeritage users, used within and integrated into the MyHeritage product.

The great news is that the science team has improved the clustering software to cluster Jewish people successfully.

2019 autoclustering 3

The graphic on the left is a Jewish autocluster at Genetic Affairs, and at right, the same person clustered at MyHeritage. Big difference.

2019 autoclustering 4

Autoclustering can be accessed from the new Tools page. The resulting autocluster file will be sent to you via e-mail. In the days since this announcement, there has been a substantial backlog so expect to wait for several hours or even a day. This tool is exceptionally popular because of the power of clustering matches.

2019 autoclustering 6

In essence, if you can recognize the known relationships of some cluster members, then you pretty much know that the rest of the group is related through the same ancestral path.

However, in your tree pedigree “above” the ancestral couple identified, the people in a cluster may well diverge. For example, I have a cluster that I can track to my great-grandparents, but I know that some of those people descend from her ancestors and some from his ancestors. Clusters represent the MRCA or most recent common ancestor, not the most distant common ancestor of the cluster members

2019 autoclustering cost

Gilad described the various cost options. In essence if you tested at MyHeritage, uploaded before December 16, 2018 or if you are a subscriber, these tools are free for you. Initially, I was skeptical about how useful a MyHeritage subscription would be for me, but this past year, my subscription has proven indispensable – and now even more so with the fact that Theories of Family Relativity combines actual records with DNA and trees!

2019 autocluster summary

DNA Everyplace

After lunch, I couldn’t sit any longer, so I walked part of the expo hall. One booth that attracted me like a moth to a flame was CelebrateDNA.

2019 Celebrate DNA

Yes, I ordered 3 t-shirts.

2019 DNAbasics

New at RootsTech this year is the DNA Basics Learning Center – not sponsored by a vendor but by RootsTech itself. They had a presentation area and various DNA presenters rotated in and out throughout the day. Furthermore, the Learning Center was staffed with knowledgeable volunteers.

I remember the days when every single genealogy society wanted a basic DNA lecture! Today, most societies have people to mentor others in DNA.

Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA Booth

I spent the early afternoon, before my own presentation with Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA booth. One of the FamilyTreeDNA giveaways was an individual session with Kenyatta for 3 lucky winners. I served as honorary photographer as well as DNA consultant.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway1

It was fun listening to the brick walls that these lucky winners brought to Kenyatta.

2019 Kenyatta giveaway2

This gentleman is Native American and his family history is sooo interesting.

2019-Kenyatta-giveaway3.jpg

Kenyatta’s book, The Family Tree Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry and Researching Genealogy, was recently released and I can’t wait to actually have a chance to take a look.

After Kenyatta’s meetups, it was time for my own session.

My Session – Beyond Pie Charts: Using Y and Mitochondrial DNA to Solve Genealogical Puzzles

2019 black helix vest

I have a confession to make. I had a terrible case of nerves about my session. I’m used to speaking in general – it wasn’t that.

My jitters arose from a combination of the fact that I had to create not one, not two, but three sessions with about a week’s notice. If these sessions had been “intro to DNA,” I could have done them blindfolded and from memory – but the topic had been selected by the original presenter – and I had to work around that.

I needed case studies, and I didn’t have time to remember and then obtain permission for other people’s stories – so they had to come from my own family. Thankfully, I have done a lot of work, so I had fodder to work with. I was SOOOO grateful for those 52 Ancestor stories!

On top of that, the session had to fit exactly into the time slot, and this was the first time presenting this particular presentation. Getting the timing down pat means lots of practice and tweaking.

RootsTech encourages their speakers to dress professionally, of course, so I took a business suit along with me. However, every person I spoke with in the days before my session encouraged me to ditch the suit and wear my DNA clothes which have become somewhat of a signature item. Who knew that I had a “personal brand?”😊

I dressed in the morning in my black DNA vest and red leggings. But wow, is this bright!

Perhaps I should have opted for a black shirt and leggings, but that seemed too dull. Maybe the suit after all??? I went back and forth and back and forth.

Needless to say, this was the first time I’ve presented in something this bright and unconventional at a national conference.

I made my last tweak to my presentation about half an hour before the session, AND, I hoped fervently that the humor I planned went off as planned. Some of my jokes were a bit subtle and others, less so.

Humor is particularly difficult and requires impeccable timing.

Nerves, timing and humor sometimes don’t work well together. That made me even more nervous!

2019 ballroom b

In case you wonder what these rooms look like empty. They sort of run from sea to sea. The lights are so bright on the speaker that they generally can’t see much of the audience after the house lights are dimmed in these types of venues, except for the first row or two directly in front of the stage.

I should have given my cell to someone to snap some candid photos, but since I had a professional photographer, I didn’t see the need to do that. The professional photos won’t be ready for a few days.

I included my brother Dave’s story as an example of integrating Y and autosomal DNA results, thinking I could get through it dry-eyed. I did in practice, but not so much in the session. My voice cracked and let’s say that there is no graceful way to hide that – and if you try to sneak a little nose wipe the mic picks it up as something that sounds entirely different. I’ll just claim that was part of the planned humor – right?

The attendees are asked to provide feedback on the sessions, so I’ll be interested to see what worked and what didn’t. Since I was a last-minute speaker covering for someone else, I wasn’t able to provide a handout in time to be included for attendees, so I’ll make up for that by writing blog articles in the weeks to come. I hope everyone subscribed! To help make up for no handout, I gave everyone who attended a DNAexplain ribbon!

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

After my session, I was pleased to meet people back in the FamilyTreeDNA booth to answer any remaining questions. The ballrooms are too large to take questions from the floor.

By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted,

Saturday

Friday was my very long super-tough day, so by Saturday, for me, the conference had begun to wind down. That wasn’t true for everyone though, because Saturday is the busiest day.

RootsTech opens the doors for free for members of the LDS Church and specifically encourages children with the hope of infecting them with the genealogy bug early. Roughly 30,000 people attend.

In that vein, there are lots of interesting family-friendly activities for everyone.

For example, Jason Hewlett who had been emceeing all week told a story about his young daughter who shocked him by announcing that her favorite artist was Lady Gaga. Jason says that sometimes he “rewrites” songs in a more child-appropriate way for his daughters and proceeded to demonstrate.

Respite in the Speaker’s Lounge

I had originally planned to attend a couple of classes, but I was physically and emotionally drained. I escaped to the speaker’s lounge for a respite.

RootsTech provides a speaker’s lounge so those of us who are speaking, and therefore generally available for questions throughout the conference can find for some peace and quiet, to prepare for sessions or sometimes for interviews. The background noise makes recording interviews difficult elsewhere.

2019 white helix vest

Yes, the black DNA vest is reversible to this white one. Trust me, I’ll never do that again. Reversible=engineering challenge!

Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele Master

Saturday’s main event was sponsored by 23andMe who opened by encouraging everyone to test and told the story of a woman who discovered that she, her mother and sister have the BRCA1 gene that may signal a propensity to breast cancer, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish women. Please note that there are multiple genetic factors and genes that contribute to some types of breast cancer, so if you DON’T have this mutation, that does NOT mean you should rest easy if breast cancer is a particular concern. 23andMe only tests for a limited number of breast cancer genetic indicators. Talk to your physician who may order medical genetic testing.

2019 Jake

Jake Shimabukuro, a very talented young ukulele player, was up next.

2019 Jake 2

Here’s a very short clip just to give you an idea.

After Saturday’s general session, I discovered hula dancers in the main hallway that I enjoyed immensely.

I know you can’t see their clothing very well in the video, so here’s a cropped photo. It was snowing outside. I’d think they were freezing to death.

2019 dancers

While I was watching the dancers, I noticed a gentleman filming over my shoulder. I turned around to see if I was in his way. The dancers ended about that time, and the man filming, Jarrett Ross and I began chatting. That’s the RootsTech way.

Jarrett is a videographer who can be seen at his GeneaVlogger YouTube channel here.

As luck would have it, I was on my way to find the face painting, and Jarrett wanted to video face-painting. Voila! Match made in Heaven.

2019-Denise.jpg

Here’s Denise Cole who owns Painted Party, the artist who created my wonderful double helix face painting last year. She hit a home run this year too.

2019 face helix

You can count on the fact that I’ll be looking for her if I attend next year!

2019 Jarrett Ross

Jarrett and I with the finished product in our obligatory RootsTech selfie!

Instead of going to the 23andMe lunch, Jarrett and I hung out in the hallway where he interviewed me and we ate snacks. I’m actually glad I spent the time getting to know Jarrett and learning about Jewish genealogy in the Netherlands. 23andMe didn’t make any product announcements or provide insights, so the only thing I missed was mediocre food.

Jarrett will be posting the videos of several RootsTech interviews, including mine, on his YouTube channel soon.

2019 sushi burrito

I did eventually have to try a Sushi Burrito though and it was pretty good, consisting or all of the typical sushi fixings inside a nori wrapper wrapped like a burrito.

2019 connect belong end

Back to the entrance on the last day, the yarn on the connect-belong board is almost solid.

The conference ended mid-afternoon, but my flight wasn’t scheduled until Sunday mid-day.

2019 last dinner

My last evening in Salt Lake City was spent having a nice leisurely dinner decompressing with Blaine Bettinger and Angie Bush (left). In the lobby, we found Michelle Patient from Australia who I had never met before in person.

Often at conferences, people are unable to connect for more than a few minutes. I hadn’t seen Blaine and Angie in years, let alone long enough to sit down and actually visit. The perfect ending to a wonderful conference.

In Summary

I know this article has been long, but I hope for those who weren’t able to attend RootsTech in person that this conveys a bit of the feel of the actual experience. I hope everyone took advantage of viewing the livestreamed sessions. The general sessions and the dozen or so free livestreamed sessions will be available here.

RootsTech has the ambiance of a very large family reunion. My goal in sharing the photos and in essence “taking you along” is to provide the RootsTech experience through the eyes of an attendee.

RootsTech has made a concerted effort to remediate the issues present in 2018 and they have done an excellent job. I have a few suggestions, but no complaints.

It’s not an inexpensive trip between the airfare, hotel and food, so I don’t know if I will return, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for RootsTech 2020.

My take away was something we discussed on Saturday evening at dinner. At one time not so long ago in history, we had “internet” classes, but now the internet is ubiquitous. DNA and genealogy is becoming the same way. It’s no longer separate and different, but part of an integrated genealogical whole.

Please join me in the next couple days when I’ll be reviewing the new DNA feature announcements by both Ancestry and MyHeritage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little mini-tour of RootsTech 2019.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Journey to RootsTech 2019 – US Heartland From the Air

The week before RootsTech was a series of unplanned disasters. But then again, who plans a disaster.

The good news is that I got through them. I now have a new car, because the old one decided to go belly up at the most inopportune time. My laptop decided to boot after all and the rest of the issues got taken care of too.

I didn’t have the full-fledged meltdown, but I was close.

A last minute presentation combined with last minutes changes and of course, a winter storm.

Hey, it’s Michigan – of COURSE we had a storm.

Now that’s all just a memory to smile about. All I can say is thank goodness for my husband who does in fact know how to do laundry as well as work on computers!

Why RootsTech?

For all the years I didn’t go to RootsTech, I always looked at the venue, Salt Lake City, and wondered why anyone in their right mind would go there in February – unless you were a ski buff.

The answer is three-fold:

  • You’re going to be inside most of the time, so who cares what’s going on outside. (Assuming you can actually get to SLC.)
  • The Family History Library (FHL) which is open until 11 PM the Monday and Tuesday before RootsTech. If I come next year (do not laugh at me), I’m coming a week early to research. Right now, the library is packed and I’m a bit overwhelmed. However, I’ve never been in a friendlier, more helpful library anyplace!
  • The energy. I can’t even begin to explain this – but it’s a real phenomenon. Meeting people you know online and distantly. Things like discovering a new cousin sitting across the table from you at lunch. Excitement’s in the air and it’s palpable!

Everyone here treats you like family. You’re included at tables and in conversations. Yesterday, someone noticed me sitting at a table in the FHL library and asked me if I’d like to join the blogger group for Mondays With Mert. Needless to say, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow!

I’ll share those photos tomorrow!

The Heartland from the Air

You’re coming along with me this week, so let’s start with the flight.

2019 chocolate carrots

Well, actually, the gift shop before the flight. Here’s to chocolate carrots! I knew someday, someone would convince me to like carrots!

Seeing America from the air is amazing. This time, there were varying amounts of snow cover, which I found both interesting and beautiful. These photos are east to west, Detroit to Salt Lake.

2019 sky

We had light snow cover in Michigan. Some places had less, and some more. This was right after takeoff.

2019 sky 2

The clouds look like puffs of cotton. Most of the Midwest seemed to have about the same amount of snow cover. I wonder what river I’m looking at. It’s not small, that’s for sure. Could be the Mississippi.

2019 sky circles

These irrigation circles remind me of mud pies. Hmmm, can I work these into my presentation “Beyond Pie Charts?”

2019 sky terrain

By now, we’re certainly west of the Mississippi. The snow highlights the terrain features when you can see some earth beneath.

2019 sky begin mountains

The beginning of the mountainous area and lots more snow.

2019 sky tectonic

You can see the tectonic plate uplift here. Flat on one side, then the mountains raise up majestically.

2019 sky river

Lots of snow in the mountains. I wonder how much snow is actually on the ground here. Of course, I don’t know where “here” actually is.

2019 sky houses

The tiny dots are houses and that river has many twists and turns.

2019 sky lake

Not far from Salt Lake City now. Beautiful lake reflecting the blue sky.

2019 sky mountain

Just popped out beneath the clouds, beginning landing approach.

2019 mountains on approach

Wow, approaching Utah and Salt Lake City was just stunning!

2019 mountains sun salt

The salt flats are under about an inch and a half of water right now, which made for an incredible view.

2019 salt flats

I had a terrible time selecting photos for this article. So much beauty. You can see the salt flats better in this and the next photo.

2019 final approach

Final approach.

2019 SLC

There’s the city.

2019 landed

At the airport, obviously.

2019 SLC distance

In Salt Lake City, there are mountains everyplace you look. That’s Salt Lake City in the distance on the left. You can see it if you squint. The size of those buildings contrasted to the mountains reminds us of the insignificance of humans.

After I checked into my hotel, I decided to take a walk. It’s chilly, but not cold by Michigan standards.

2019 Salt Palace

RootsTech will be at the Salt Palace Convention Center in just another day. The locals call this structure “the salt shaker.” Seems appropriate. I doubt the designers had that in mind.

Downtown is deserted right now, but it will be bustling soon.

2019 Temple Square

On Monday, I walked to the Family History Library. I’m not Mormon, but I find the beauty of churches inspiring. Temple Square is behind the walls. The Mormon Office building (with a nice cafeteria) is the white tall structure in the distance.

2019 Angel Moroni

Another beautiful view of the Temple. Can you spot the gold Angel Moroni statue?

2019 Temple Square entrance

The entrance to Temple Square across from the Family History Library. Free tours are offered.

2019 cabin

I flew from Michigan to Utah in three and a half hours. Even with the time getting to and from the airports, the trip was still less than a day. This same journey took our ancestors months traveling in covered wagons and they had to build housing once they arrived. This small, typical log cabin is preserved outside the Family History Library to remind everyone of their ancestor’s humble beginnings.

As luck would have it, a man arrived to open the building just as I was taking photos outside. I stood just inside the door with enough space to turn around to take these pictures.

2019 cabin quilt

Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves quilts.

2019-cabin-bed.jpg

Every inch of space was utilized. Just think of the parents and all the children living in this very small one room cabin. You can see half of the dresser between the two beds – so the entire cabin is the width of those two beds and the dresser.  The length of the cabin is about 2 beds, roughly,

2019 spinning wheel

Spinning was an important part of making clothes. Of course, those pioneers had to make everything from scratch.

2019 stove

Later cabins had stoves for warmth and cooking. Earlier ones had simple fireplaces.

2019 barrels

Somehow my ghostly appearance is fitting, peering into the lives of our ancestors from another time and place, so far away.

I’m going to go inside the Family History Library now and search for those ancestors, so join me in a day or so for the next step in our Journey to RootsTech 2019.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Childhood Christmas Memories

This is the time of year, of course, that families gather.

But families change, sometimes slowly, and sometimes abruptly.

Slowly as babies are added, one by one and children grow.

And abruptly when people depart this earth, leaving behind that empty chair and its accompanying empty cavern in our hearts, having carved great gashes with the roughhewn saw of grief.

For some of us, when the here and now become a bit overwhelming, there is a happier place to visit in that space of our childhood. Those first Christmas memories when we dreamed all starry-eyed of what Santa would bring. No matter what was wrong, everything would be alright – because after all – Santa was coming and we had been (relatively) good.

Your Earliest Memories?

What are your earliest memories of Christmas?

Roberta second Christmas

I was too young to remember anything in this photo, but this is me in the first recorded Christmas photo at my grandmother’s house. This would have been my second Christmas and I was probably full of energy; bound and determined to get into that attractive distraction called a Christmas tree.

That’s my ornery brother, John on the right side of the photo, and my cousin, Mike on the left. Mike’s sister, Nancy is holding me. I wonder what was going on, because both boys are eyeing me askance. I do believe that’s called the “stink eye” and brothers excel at that!

Christmas Tree Special Delivery

At our house, Santa Claus also visited a week or two before Christmas and put up the Christmas tree. I waited daily, for days and days and DAYS until that fateful morning when Santa would have arrived secretly during the night. As I cracked the door open, the Christmas tree stood silently waiting with its lights twinkling and its tinsel gently swaying with the air currents in the living room.

I KNEW when Santa arrived one year, because I HEARD him. Not in the living room, mind you, but on the roof. I was just positive and sure enough, I discovered the next morning that he had in fact been there. If I ever doubted, I was convinced.

Roberta Christmas age 4

I do remember the Christmas in this picture when I was age 4. See that tiny piano against the wall – I LOVED that piano. I think I loved it so much that it disappeared or maybe I loved it to death!

My father was present that year, because I was holding his little dog, Timmy. Dad’s arrival, with Timmy, would have been the best present EVER. Kids are so exuberant.

My Dad bought that rocking chair for me and I still have it, although I clearly haven’t sat in it in decades. But my children did and bears with quilts do now too.

Roberta rocking chair

I also recall my absolutely favorite gift that year.

A drum.

Yes, that’s right, a tin marching drum. Somewhere I know there was a photo at one time, but that photo apparently disappeared.

I’m sure my mother wished she could have made that drum disappear too. I’m positive that my much-beloved father brought me said drum, because I’m equally as positive that my mother would NEVER have bought me that noisy thing. NEVER!

I distinctly remember proudly parading around the house in my new too-big brown bathrobe gleefully beating with all my strength on that drum, much to my mother’s chagrin.

Grandmother’s House

Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.

Our version was a tad bit different, but we did indeed go “home” to grandmother’s house every Christmas. For mom, Christmas wouldn’t have been Christmas otherwise.

As you can see, my brother was by that time a teenager and had begun to drive. He didn’t have much use for his pesky little sister.

Roberta Christmas age 4 grandmother's house

I don’t recall this particular day, or Christmas at my grandparents. Christmas, the holiday, was overshadowed by what followed.

My grandmother suffered a heart attack, collapsed on the floor and died just a few days later, on January 4th.

Roberta Christmas grandparents

This photo of my grandmother and grandfather, with Nancy’s son, Bruce was taken that Christmas. I notice that the photo was printed in July, and it must have pained my mother greatly to open that packet of photos when she picked them up at the drugstore.

My grandmother loved Christmas and the fact that her grandchildren, and then great-grandchildren were all gathered together at home. My mother inherited that from her as well.

I’m in the corner of a second very poor photo taken at this same time. I remember the throw on the back of the couch. I could put my fingers in the little inverted popcorn-like shapes. The couch was brown and made from scratchy rough fabric. It’s amazing the memories these photos trigger.

While I don’t specifically remember this Christmas, or any Christmas at my grandmother’s house, I do have very fond memories of my grandmother herself. In particular, she always ran to hug me.

I also have very vivid memories of the heart attack, her laying on the kitchen floor, and the aftermath. For a young child, it was a frightening time. Not only was something wrong with my beloved grandmother, but my mother and everyone else was a wreck too, and I didn’t understand why. My understanding of “sick” was that you threw up, and I kept looking at the floor for evidence of her being sick.

Sick meant something else altogether. Sick meant our life was about to change forever.

I’m glad we had that final Christmas together.

Suffice it to say, my mother was never really “alright” with Christmas again, although she made every effort to hide that fact from me.

Over time, as her grandchildren began to gather in her home as well, enough Christmases had been put between her and that devastating year that she could smile and sing again.

But that didn’t happen for a very long time.

Change Cometh

Christmas and our family traditions changed dramatically at that point in our lives.

I have only vague recollections of the next several Christmases. My grandfather was still living in December of 1960, but would have been ill in December of 1961. I remember that he asked for peanuts for snacks and I was so pleased to give him a can of peanuts. The kind with Mr. Peanut on the side.

My grandfather passed away in June of 1962 and by that December, the house my mother had grown up in had been sold. Mom took her portion of the inheritance and purchased a house. We moved in, you guessed it, on December 23rd.

I was in first or second grade that year, and I was quite worried that Santa wouldn’t be able to find us at our new house.

Would he know to come on the night of the 23rd to put the tree up?

Yes, mother asserted me, Santa was magical.

Would we have to do without a tree that year?

“No, of course not,” mother assured me.

I wasn’t very reassured.

Not only that, but I couldn’t sleep very well in my new bed in a strange new house and I heard a strange “rustling” in the living room, right beside my bedroom.

Sure enough, the next morning, Santa had somehow managed to find us and put up that tree among the boxes of our still-packed household.

What a sight, boxes and boxes and a fully decorated Christmas tree.

All was well in my young world again. My mother, however, was incredibly sleep-deprived for some reason. Apparently, she had been up waiting for Santa too!

Three Years Later

The next Christmas photo I have was taken three years later in 1965 sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace and the Christmas tree. In fact, there’s my rocking chair again.

I’m hugging my mom, who is dressed up for Christmas Eve, and my sister-in-law is to our right. My brother is partially visible behind her. They didn’t have children yet at this point, so it would have only been our small family gathered. My father had passed away the year before. I think my Mom’s boyfriend must have taken the photo.

Mom always decorated the fireplace mantle with the Christmas cards we received after faithfully writing any changed addresses on the Christmas card list.

Roberta Christmas age 9

At the time, I didn’t realize of course that my grandmother’s tree had merged with our own, but looking at our Christmas tree now, I realize that’s exactly what happened. Of course, today my tree and Mom’s have merged too.

The Ubiquitous Camera

In that day and age, photos were rarely taken and then only on very special occasions. It wasn’t unusual to go for years with no family photos and one roll of film often lasted several years. So long that you had no idea what photos were actually going to be printed.

The next Christmas photo was taken in 1970 when my mother just happened to have the flu on Christmas Day. She opened her packages laying on the couch. She’ll haunt me if I publish that one.

Roberta Christmas age 15

Grandchildren’s pictures are on the table, of course, with the ever-present Christmas candle choir in front. God help you if you decided to light one of those candles.

By this time, our tree was artificial but still dripping with tinsel. Artificial trees were so much easier. In fact, I think that tree itself was a gift one year.

I have several of these ornaments on my tree today.

This was the first year that Christmas photos were in color.

Roberta Christmas Snowball

What memories – the “record player,” our old television, the stuffed Santa that I still own and our rescued cat, Snowball. Um, now that I think about it, I might still own that record album too.

These photos sure bring back memories of what life was like then.

Roberta Christmas age 15 gifts.jpg

In case you’re wondering what the heck was in that huge package, I had saved my money for weeks to purchase Mom this “painting” at Woolworths. Did she want this? I have no idea, but it hung in her house for the next 25 years. I surely hope she liked it!

The small framed item was a print I had purchased in Paris as an exchange student. Mom had the set of prints framed for me. I still have those as well.

Of course today, we’re used to taking digital pictures with our cell phones and photos are just a daily fact of life. Instant gratification, no printing costs and delete them if they don’t turn out well.

Of course, finding them in another few years, or decades – well, that might be quite another matter because today’s photos aren’t printed and in most cases, aren’t archived either.

Poof, the phone or computer is gone and so are your photos.

What About Your Family Memories?

I bet by now you’re thinking about your own childhood Christmas photos.

  • Where were they taken?
  • Who was there?
  • What year was it?
  • What gifts did you give or receive?
  • Do items in the background jog any forgotten memories?
  • How did life change in the following years?
  • Was that photo of a first or last something?

The best thing you can do with your photos is to get them out of the box and share them with your family this Christmas, as you gather.

If you have siblings or older family members, ask them to share their memories with you.

As they tell their stories, write them down.

If you ARE that older family member now, share your memories with others. They might not appreciate them today, but they will be polite and humor you. (If they don’t, just cast that stink-eye in their direction – just like my brother did.)

Then, do them a favor – write down your memories. Include the photos.

Some day they will wish desperately that they had paid attention, and you can leave them the best gift of all!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Connect With Your Inner Viking

Let’s take a walking heritage tour of Oslo, Norway. We’ll see the city of Olso, the harbor and waterfront, excavated Viking ships, historic Norwegian villages, the Sami people and the Museum of Cultural History. Yes, Oslo has all that…and more.

But first, let’s talk about the Vikings, their history and why you might just care – as in personally.

The Vikings and You

Might you have a bit of Viking blood? If your ancestors came from, well, almost anyplace in coastal or riverine Europe, you might. The Vikings tended to follow the waterways, both sea and river.

Earth map by NASA; Data based on w:File:Viking Age.png (now: File:Vikingen tijd.png), which is in turn based on http://home.online.no/~anlun/tipi/vrout.jpg and other maps.

If your ancestors came from Scandinavia, Normandy, Ireland or England, you probably do have a Viking someplace in your past whether they show up in your DNA or not.

Max Naylor – Own work

However, you may find hints in your DNA.

I’m still complete fascinated by the fact that my mitochondrial DNA originated in Scandinavia even though my most distant known matrilineal ancestor is found in Germany. My Scandinavian matches are shown clustered below.

My mitochondrial match list at Family Tree DNA is full of surnames like Jonsdotter, Nilsdotter, Jansdotter, Larsdotter, Martensdotter, Persdotter, Olsdotter, Pedersdotter, Karldatter, Johnson, Palsdatter, Olausdotter and so forth. There’s no question about where this line originated. The only question is how, when and why Elizabeth Wenig’s matrilineal ancestors traveled to Germany where she was married to Hans Schlicht and gave birth to Elizabeth Schlicht in 1698. Elizabeth married in Wirbenz, Germany, far from Scandinavia.

That white pin shows where my most distant ancestor, Elizabeth Wenig lived. My best guess, and that’s what it is now, is that her arrival may have been connected with the Swedish involvement in the 30 Years War.

Regardless, Scandinavia is my mitochondrial heritage and I loved it in Oslo. I was quite surprised, because I never thought I’d fall in love with a “cold” country – but I did.

My paper trail genealogy suggests that I also descend from Rollo, the Viking warrior best known for having besieged Paris and ruled Normandy. Of course, given that Rollo was born about 860 and died about 930, there’s no genetic proof. It’s a fun story, but my own mitochondrial DNA holds proof of my Scandinavian heritage.

Is there a bit of Viking in you too? Join me in exploring the cultural heritage of Oslo and Norway. I’d love to share this beautiful city with you and your inner Viking. Come along!

Oslo

Welcome to Oslo, a beautiful city located on a fjord, full of history and Scandinavian charm. This was my first glimpse through the clouds. Even sleep deprivation of the red eye trip couldn’t mute my excitement.

One of the things I noticed is that dusk falls early, beginning about 2:30 in early November.

I didn’t realize until the second day that this really was dusk, not just a cloudy sky. The latitude is about the same as Anchorage, Alaska.

The Scandinavians have adapted art to dark.

This beautiful fountain in front of the University of Oslo along the main street, Karl Johann’s Gate, changes from pink to red to white to aqua to apple green to teal to magenta to red to dark purple to royal blue to kind of a frosty blue – and back again. This isn’t night, it’s late afternoon and the city center is full of people.

Bordering the public fountain area on one side we find the National Theater.

Ulven, which I think is a rock musical is playing, but we didn’t attend.

Standing between these stately columns of the Oslo University building, looking across the beautiful cobblestones, you see the National Theater. The fountain is between these two buildings, to the right slightly, just outside this photo.

I just love this design. Even art-inspired cobblestones.

We strolled through the Oslo University campus, enjoying every minute. Trash on the streets and ground is almost non-existent. The Natural History Museum is visible in the distance.

Statues grace the streets and parks. Some older and some contemporary.

Historic buildings are around every corner.

Experiences are made of people. Dr. Penny Walters (England), Martin McDowell (Northern Ireland) and me were the dynamic trio for two days, immersed in as much culture as we could cram in, including our own version of a haunted troll bridge.

This blue structure was designed to keep pedestrians safe in a construction area, but when you stepped on the end, something back in the middle, behind you, clunked disconcertingly. We joked and laughed, a bit uneasily perhaps, about having our own Norwegian troll, because it happened every single time😊

Trolls are part of the cultural heritage of Norway, a legend of Norse mythology.

Here’s the front of Oslo City Hall. The other side is the waterfront area.

This contemporary art is found along the waterfront with the masts of the tall ships showing at right, above the sign, in front of the Nobel Peace Center and Museum.

The entire waterfront area is cultural, with performers and ever-present activities.

I’m not exactly sure what this is, other than interesting. Coffee shops abound, and don’t bother asking for decaf, or Starbucks.

The waterfront is both lovely and historic.

The Nobel Peace Center and Museum faces the harbor.

The old fort still stands sentry in the distance above the harbor.

Viking Ship Museum

We caught tram number 30 on the waterfront and rode some distance to the Viking Ship Museum.

This incredible museum was literally built around and for salvaged Viking ships that had been pulled out of the sea and used for burials of high-status Vikings, probably chieftains or warriors, or perhaps individuals who were both.

In addition to the ships, this museum holds the remains of burial mounds, skeletons (I want their DNA), artifacts, a beautifully carved cart and more – much more.

This is the welcome that greets visitors. Utterly breathtaking.

I particularly love the shadows of the ships on the walls. Graceful elegance – perhaps this design needs to work itself into my future quilts.

These ships were incredibly crafted and are amazingly well preserved.

Is this the Viking version of a sea serpent? A creature from mythology? Dragon ships, called Drakkar from Norse mythology carried dragons and snakes on their prow. No actual dragon ship has ever been discovered, but these prow creatures might serve a similar function.

The grace and artistry on these longships is absolutely amazing. They were huge, more than 70 feet long and 16 feet wide.

When sailed, they could travel more than 11 MPH and they traversed the open sea – to Iceland, Greenland and eventually, as far as L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada, called Vinland.

These ships could also be rowed. Notice the oar holes on the sides and the brackets on the top of the sides to hold the oars.

The fact that these people were willing to sacrifice something so valuable and beautiful to become a virtual casket says something profound about the person being buried.

This museum was created to house these priceless relics. Each burial was accompanied by a burial hut, with a mound on top. The ship was buried first, followed by the hut on top with the mast sticking through. Then the entire ship and hut were covered with an earthen mount. The top of the mast was left protruding through the top of the mound.

The museum created an amazing 3D experience projected on the walls and ceiling around the ship in one of the four rooms housing the ships and artifacts, representing what the burial process must have been like – as historically accurate as possible, reconstructed from the archaeology. It’s almost like reaching back in time and standing right there as the burial occurred. I took this short 5 minute video and it’s incredible!

If you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking here, you can’t get in touch with your inner Viking!

Viking Grave Goods

This carved cart was excavated from one of the burials. The Vikings clearly sent their dead to the afterlife with the finest they had to offer.

Those wheels! Notice the human face above the wheel.

Every ship had a different carved creature on the prow. Was this a good luck charm of sorts, a protecting amulet or perhaps meant to frighten anyone who might come into contact with the ship or its inhabitants?

I so wonder what these were meant to portray. Good luck? Fear? A deity? Confer protection?

These designs remind me of later Celtic work. I have to wonder which came first – chicken or egg?

I wonder if these are mythical creatures, each with a long-lost story. Imagine sitting by the fires at night, or sailing in the ships themselves as they rocked on the waves, listening to stories about the Norse Gods that had been handed down in the same way for millennia.

Viking shoes laced up the center and then the laces were tied around the ankles. The people’s feet were small compared to ours today.

A carved sled, one of two on display.

These artifacts are pieces of art.

I wonder if these items were actually used or were ceremonial in nature, given their intricate carving.

Norwegian Museum of Cultural History

Next door to the Viking Ship Museum is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, called the Norsk Folkenmuseum. It’s an outdoor “folk museum.”

We are actually moving forward in time, from the Viking era to early Norwegian villages scattered along the coastlines and protected from the open sea inside fjords. Of course, many of these villages probably began as Viking encampments and evolved into farming and agricultural hamlets.

We walked along the sidewalk and the thickly vine-covered wall. .

This coffee-shop was just too inviting and as it so happened, the gateway to the folk museum – a series of “villages” designed to represent various historical regions of Norway.

The outdoor museum was constructed as groups of structures, clustered in villages from various parts of Norway. Instead of destroying these old structures, they were disassembled piece by piece and brought here to be conserved and preserved.

Let’s go inside for a walk – or as it turned out, a hike.

Notice the sod roofs.

The roof was layered with grass, sod, wood or rock edges and birch bark.

We couldn’t tell if the rocks simply lined the edge or were a base layer. This would seem awfully heavy.

Some roofs were shimmed.

The doors were small, probably to conserve heat.

Many buildings were elevated to keep rodents out.

Buildings clustered around a plowed field.

Look at this incredible decorative carving. Each structure had the owners initials and the year of construction incised above the door. (You can click to enlarge the images.)

Around a curve, we discovered a Sami family homestead.

A barn or animal enclosure.

Some of the Sami structures, called lavvu, look like teepees of the Native Americans in North America, but genetically, they don’t seem to be related. The Sami are, however, related genetically to the Russian people of the Uralic region.

The Sami people of the north are nomads, traditionally living a subsistence culture centered around the reindeer.

Their bone carvings and weaving are stunning.

Nothing goes to waste.

We should have known we were in trouble when we noticed mile markers. How many were there? A lot!

Notice the roofs in the background. The museum is quite hilly.

In some places, outright steep. Notice those stacked rocks beside the path.

Maybe a barn in an odd shape?

One of the museum highlights was the incredible stave church.

The church, from the 12th century, saved by the very visionary King of Norway in 1881 is undergoing repair but was open to visitors.

The King with the church.

Interior door. The carving on this doorway is very similar to the carving on the Viking prows – so you can see that the Norwegian culture evolved from the Vikings to contemporary residents. The Vikings didn’t “go” anyplace and live on today.

The church interior Last Supper painting after the Norwegians were converted to Christianity from Paganism.

The carved doors are amazing. Notice how worn the thresholds are from millions of footsteps.

What a beautiful, peaceful, view.

Ornate church roof structures.

So, how many genealogists does it take to decipher the roman numerals on the front of this church?

The answer: III

The construction of some of these buildings is amazing.

These were built to last!

Saying goodbye to the church, we found ourselves overlooking another village.

The sod roof is also being repaired (replaced?) on one of the structures.

Another milestone.

Do you see the face? Is this a troll?

Buildings from another region with rounded and taller arches over doorways.

I love this fence.

Walking down this hillside feels like we are arriving from the country into the village. This village has its own sauna drying laundry facility.

Complete with scented herbs.

This barn smells with the sweet scent of hay. Reminds me of home.

Regional differences in architecture are quite visible.

Each door and post is carved.

Love these ornate doors but mind your head.

I think we found the jail.

These structures had one room that functioned for everything for the entire family. No such thing as privacy.

Smoke exited, light entered. These were carved in the wall, not the roof.

For the most part, windows didn’t exist. We did not notice vent holes on the top or in the roofs of most structures.

Although some had chimneys with metal tops to keep the birds out, weighted down by rocks to keep the tops from blowing away.

This larger home was ornate and 2 story.

Built in bird houses.

Martin pondering Norwegian heritage.

I just love these different fence styles – many of which I’ve never seen before. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

Just humor me and my fence infatuation.

Two styles of fences along with two styles of rock walls – all in one picture.

Yet another fence type in another region.

In Hardanger, a few buildings had slate roofs.

This building’s cornerstones look like they might break under the weight.

Snuck another fence in on you😊

It was getting dark by the time we finished our tour of Norway’s little villages, so we caught the tram back into Oslo. The next morning, we visited the Museum of Cultural History.

Museum of Cultural History

The ticket for the Viking Ship Museum included a free pass for Museum of Cultural History, visible from my hotel room, a block or so from the hotel. The outside is getting a facelift and inside, new exhibits, so only portions were open – but they were well worth the visit.

While this museum held several fascinating exhibits, the ones I enjoyed the most were the ones related to Scandinavian history.

I can see myself drinking out of this beautiful Viking drinking horn. Mead perhaps?

The Vikings were clean people, combing their hair regularly and the manes of their horses as well.

The Vikings and Scandinavians were incredible craftsmen.

That Stave Church again with life-size carved religious statues.

A runestone from Tune, 400 AD, that discussed three daughters and an inheritance.

Oldest Sami drum in existence, confiscated in 1691 by the Norwegian authorities. The Sami were very resistance to acculturation. It’s somehow ironic that the only reason this artifact still exists is that it was taken away from the Sami people.

Sami medicine man robe. For every vision or trance, he tied another piece of fabric onto his robe.

The back. I was curious what happened to these robes when the medicine man died. Obviously, this one came to live at the museum.

As we exited the Sami exhibit, we found ourselves on a different continent entirely.

How About Egypt Next?

Although these Egyptian mummies are clearly not Norwegian, I can’t resist including them because I’ve never seen mummies in this condition. These are amazing, ornate and beautiful.

Penny Walters who has spent a significant amount of time in Egypt was thrilled with this part of the exhibit. We learned a great deal from her as well.

I think the pyramids might officially be on my bucket list now.

I so want to sequence the mummy’s DNA.

The walls of the tomb where this mummy was found were painted with these stars. The sign below provides information about the mummy above.

Thankfully, some of the signage includes an English version for us language-challenged visitors.

These colors are incredibly vibrant, even today.

I love these hands.

Notice her breasts too. I had to wonder if this is the first known depiction of a bra.

We exited the Egyptian gallery to find ourselves celebrating the Day of the Dead. That’s a pretty dramatic cultural shift!

Day of the Dead

The Latino Day of the Dead roughly corresponds to Halloween in the US, but it’s a wonderful cultural celebration of ancestors – those who have gone on.

This lovely celebratory “Day of the Dead” weekend includes food, the honoring of ancestors by creating altars and inviting them back with their favorite foods, and festively decorating graves.

This exhibit was colorful, cultural and fun. After all, it is the Museum of Cultural History – and not just Scandinavian culture.

Day of the Dead altar and skeletons of course.

This beaded skull is stunning. Click on this picture for a close-up.

Good thing they didn’t have one of these in the gift shop. It would have been named and on its way home with me.

The Pub

How can I possibly develop “favorite places” in just a few days? I seem to do this wherever I go and often, they are pubs.

Many restaurants in Oslo aren’t open until evening which makes lunch challenging.

Fortunately, right across the street from the hotel was a wonderful pub. The best thing about pubs is often the laid-back and welcoming atmosphere.

By the last day, I was exhausted. A combination of the excitement before the trip, the overnight flight itself, followed by three jet-lagged conference days, then two days of cultural absorption. I was running on adrenaline alone, because I certainly wasn’t sleeping well.

On the final day, Penny left for the airport around noon. Martin and I went back to the pub for lunch after discovering two other choices were closed. We had originally decided to walk to the fort on the waterfront after lunch, but lunch led to coffee which led to more conversation and another coffee and let’s just say when it started getting dark, we decided to simply go back to the hotel and pack. I took my leftovers and had them for dinner.

Our pub afternoon was lovely, sipping coffee (Martin) and Ginger Joe (me.) We caught up on what had happened since our last adventure outside Belfast, Ireland last year.

The Summit

But before we began packing, we had one more stop to make – a visit to the summit bar of the Radisson Blu hotel which is the highest location in the city.

The Cultural Museum (with the Egyptian and Day of the Dead exhibits) is the white building in the left lower corner.

On the other side of the hotel, the palace is illuminated at center left.

There was too much glare for me to take good pictures, but you can see the hotel’s gallery here and some beautiful photos here.

I loved Oslo. I made fond forever memories with both old and new friends. But alas, it was time to leave.

You can read about my incredible 5 AM ride to the airport – and yes, it really was amazing: Norwegian Cultural Gems – Burial Practices, Cemeteries, Heritage Clothing and Family Traditions

One Final Treat – Greenland

On my way home, winging through the air at over 500 miles per hour as compared to those Viking ships clipping right along at 11, I was treated to an incredibly stunning view of Greenland.

Glaciers, fjords, the sea and sunset. How does it get better than this?

The Vikings wouldn’t have believed their eyes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to Norway and the wonderful culture this country has to offer. If you’d like to learn more, please check out my earlier articles:

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Thankfulness Recipe

Sometimes I talk to myself, and truth be told, I answer myself too. Often my own questions and research are what provide the foundation for my articles that I share with readers. Today, I’m talking to myself once again, and you’re invited to eavesdrop.

Thanksgiving is about thankfulness. Really, it’s not about turkey, pie or the football😊 I know, that’s hard to digest. Pardon the pun.

As we age, sometimes holidays become very bittersweet. The pain of loss is intermixed with the thankfulness, and from time to time, that pain is overwhelming and swamps everything else. It’s sometimes hard to be thankful, so I need memory-joggers – hence talking to myself.

We all experience these type of life events, because the human state is not static. We are born, live and die. If we are born, the only question left is the duration of the other two. And, how we decide to live for the time we have on earth.

I’m sharing my own personal thankfulness recipe, because Lord knows sometimes I need to be reminded. In no particular order. Mix, serve and repeat as necessary.

Feel free to improve this “recipe” by substituting or adding your own ingredients.

Thankfulness Recipe

  • I’m thankful for my cousins that I’ve met through genealogy, because they far, far outnumber my immediate family that has dwindled to only a few.
  • I’m super thankful for all of the cousins who have agreed to DNA test. None of us can do this alone. Thank each and every one of you!
  • I’m grateful for social media to connect us, even though that same platform has been used to manipulate people as well. I hope I, we, are all smarter now and evaluate everything from every source for accuracy. I’d hate to lose social media as a connection mechanism because it has so much positive to offer.
  • I’m thankful that I can shop on the internet and don’t have to enter any store or drive anyplace close to any mall on Black Friday!
  • I’m thankful for my fur family, who is always here for me – even though their lives are proportionally shorter and their crossing the rainbow bridge is excruciatingly painful for their humans left behind. I hope I’ve enriched their lives as much as they’ve enriched mine. (Confession – I have funerals and write “obituaries” for my fur family. It helps – a little.)
  • I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve enjoyed. Yes, I’ve worked hard to be “available” for those opportunities to appear, so I won’t call them “luck,“ but sometimes being in the right place at the right time eclipses everything else. Call it synchronicity, fate, whatever – I’m grateful.
  • I’m thankful for my genealogy and DNA friends who have helped me immeasurably over the years. You know who you are.
  • I’m incredibly thankful for Chris and Tom, two men who reached out to me through my blog years ago and have shepherded me unflaggingly through my German lineage. I’d be lost without them. They are now among my fast friends.
  • I’m thankful for my home, and that it still stands, unlike so many in California and elsewhere. Makes me feel guilty for the fact that I hate cleaning it.
  • I’m thankful that I’m in a position where I can make “care quilts” for others, not need one for myself. And for my quilt sisters who work as a team in this endeavor. And that I can express love in such a tangible way.
  • I’m thankful for the physicians, nurses and support staff that work hard and study initially for years, plus incessantly for their entire careers to provide medical care that enables us to escape the grim reaper that gathered our ancestors far too early.
  • I’m thankful for every year that I continue to be healthy, or at least healthy enough to do what I love. When I can’t do that any longer, I want to join the ancestors and the fur family across the rainbow bridge. Family, take note!
  • I’m thankful for genealogical DNA testing that has allowed us to piece our disparate families back together again and to Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan for founding this industry 18 years ago. Really, we are all one family – it’s only a matter of distance and degree.
  • I’m thankful that my ancestors were my ancestors, even those who I really can’t embrace personally (one probably murdered his wife), because without each and every one of them, I wouldn’t be here, or wouldn’t be me.
  • I’m thankful to be able to identify the DNA I carry of each ancestor. This confirmation process helps me bond with each ancestor personally. I cherish the chase of discovery and documenting their lives as best we can from a distance. I’m still awed by the fact that the clues to their identity are held within me and their other descendants. The life journey I’ve taken as a result of chasing them is amazing indeed – movie worthy!
  • I’m thankful to my mother for her many sacrifices that I never understood until I was an adult. I’m correspondingly sorry for being a shit (yes, I was), but perhaps that tenaciousness ultimately served me well. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
  • I’m also incredibly, INCREDIBLY grateful that Mom DNA tested before she left us. I thank her for this every single day.
  • I’m thankful to my father but I’m not exactly sure why. He was quite the wild child, but he also had a hole in his soul not of his own making that he spent his entire life trying to patch. I’m working on this one.
  • I’m thankful that I have the ability and willingness to learn and change and that much of the “normalcy” of the time and place in which I grew up came to serve as an example of what I oppose, not embrace.
  • I’m thankful that I’m not too stubborn to admit when I’m wrong, because you can’t change directions until you admit that you’re lost. This one took awhile, trust me😊
  • In an odd way, I’m thankful to the people and circumstances that have made me miserable (but not too miserable), because they, retrospectively, became learning tools and catalysts of change, enabling me to grow and mature personally. (This is a tough thing to be thankful for.)
  • I’m thankful for my step-father, who I met too late, loved with all my heart, and who left too soon. His quiet steadfast example and Hoosierisms have served as my guiding light for many years. “Never mud-wrestle with a pig. You get muddy, the pig enjoys it and the spectators can’t tell the difference.” Many of his sayings were much more colorful and I smile every time I recall them😊
  • I’m thankful that I learned what racism and discrimination (of all types) were in an era and place where I’m not condemned to suffer the full effects of either. My heart breaks for people that suffer so unfairly. In my step-father’s words, “I don’t care if he’s purple, as long as he’s good to my daughter.” I hope to see the demise of the weaponization of human differences within my lifetime.
  • I’m thankful for my brother Dave who turned out not to be my brother, who I met as an adult, who loved me by choice and in sharp contrast to other biological family members who did not. He taught me a lot about the definition of unconditional love.
  • I’m thankful for my husband in spite of the fact that he sometimes exasperates me terribly, and because he bakes me the panettone bread that I love – from scratch. I’ve come to recognize that there are different ways to say “I love you,” many of which we may not recognize as such. (I think I’ll tape this up on the mirror so I can remember this when I really need it😉)
  • I’m thankful that I’ve learned how, when and where to draw the line to eliminate toxic people from my life. My gut knows even when my head doesn’t. When it’s time to walk away, it’s time to walk away.
  • I’m thankful for my family and “family of heart” who over the years have stepped up to the plate when there was nothing in it for them. That’s the measure of true love.
  • I’m thankful for my son-in-law who took care of me when I was ill and couldn’t take care of myself.
  • I’m thankful for my grandchildren, both human and canine, and every minute I get to spend with them.
  • I’m thankful for my daughter-in-law who I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know as a friend over the years. It takes a strong woman to deal with the rest of us!
  • I’m thankful for second chances – for everyone (except for the Charles Manson level ilk). Second chances arrive in the form of addiction support groups, surgery, treatment, divorce, returning to school, life-changing decisions, etc.
  • I’m thankful to my children for becoming such fine adults, in spite of the fact that when they were teens I wondered if any of us would survive and if I would ever receive the gift of being this thankful. I’m immensely proud of both of them. Both are amazing in such different ways and I swell with pride to see the mark they are  leaving on this earth and humanity. Sorry for the brag on them. I can’t help myself. Our children are our lasting legacy, one way or another.
  • But mostly, this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that a decades-long rift within my family seems to be healing. Sometimes love can be entirely masked by pain, and isolation becomes a reinforcing form of self-defense. Risk, reaching out, makes people vulnerable to rejection and pain. I’m so very grateful that this healing appears to be happening before my funeral. Fingers crossed – about the rift closing of course, not the funeral.
  • Last, but not least, I’m thankful to all of you for the time you allow me into your lives. I hope you are having a wonderful time with your family and friends – or that you’re blissfully buried in your genealogy. Better yet, maybe these two things are one and the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

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Norwegian Cultural Gems – Burial Practices, Cemeteries, Heritage Clothing and Family Traditions

I must say, I’ve never had such an enjoyable airport bus ride before. Unfortunately, based on my flight time, I was boarding a bus at my Oslo hotel before 5 AM for the hour ride to the airport. Oslo was deserted.

I sat in the front seat, as I tend to suffer from motion sickness. The bus had one, count ‘em, one other rider. I intended to sleep.

The driver must have been bored out of his mind, as he pulled up to stop after stop with no one waiting. He asked me what brought me to Oslo.

“A genealogy conference,” I replied, and he told me that his aunt had done their family genealogy and was watching some “special” on her computer all weekend. Yep, you guessed it, she was watching the MyHeritage LIVE conference.

As we drove through the Norwegian night, he explained a great deal about their family customs and in particular, funerary culture.

Burial Traditions

His family had lived in Oslo for generations, as long as the records reached back in time. They used to own land in the city center, being wealthy merchants and traders. As such, they bought a “row” of 10 cemetery plots generations ago.

I asked where the current generation would be buried because, given how long his family had owned their row, surely it was full by now.

That’s when my education began.

Triple-Bunk Burials

First, he told me that they bury people 3 deep, stacked one on top of the other.

“Oh,” I said, “that’s interesting,” – wondering silently about how deep that bottom person needs to be planted. I asked about concrete vaults and he said they don’t use them in Norway. He asked why we’d want to. I’ve wondered the same thing myself, many times.

Of course, I’m pondering the logistics of how this triple-bunking works, but they’ve had generations to perfect the details.

Then, I wondered whose name is on the gravestone? Or is there a gravestone? He explained, “With each new person buried, another name gets added to the stone.”

He told me that his parents are divorced, but when his mother’s “time comes” they will bury her in the family “row,” but not on top of Dad. Neither one of them would like that. “No, no!” he reiterated, shaking his head vigorously. I’m sure there’s a story there.

Next, I asked when their 30 “slots” would be full and what happens then?

Recycled Graves 

“Well,” he replied, “then we dig up everyone and start all over, reusing the entire grave.”

What? How would they know that the top person was “ready.”

He indicated that they have special probes and they poke around in the grave to be sure the casket and body are sufficiently decayed.

Ok, that took a moment to sink in. I was trying desperately not to see visuals of this at 5 in the morning and couldn’t help but think of bad puns.

Hmm, OK, that makes sense – but that would take a long time. I looked into decay rates when I was considering exhuming my father and discovered that after 50 years, the skin has started to decay – but then, that’s with embalming. Maybe these people weren’t embalmed.

I asked how long they wait before using the entire gravesite again.

Expecting to hear an answer something like 50 or 100 years, I was shocked when he said “10 years.”

So I asked, “What do they do with the bones?”

“There aren’t any bones.”

I decided to spare him the morbidity of the decay rate study I read and the archaeology digs I’ve been a part of. Clearly, there are some bones that survive for hundreds of years.

“What if there are bones?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do they have ossuaries in Norway for any remaining bones to continue returning to dust?”

“What’s an ossuary?”

Thinking that maybe translation was an issue, since ossuary isn’t a common word, I explained that an ossuary is a little house in the cemetery for the bones to be housed in, similar in size to a shed, while they finished decaying. 

“No, he said, nothing like that.”

The Honor of Payment

He paused for a few minutes to pull over at the next stop, then said that the honor of paying goes to the oldest son.

“Paying? For what?”

“For the graves?”

“For maintenance?”

“No, the cemetery takes care of mowing the grass. It’s so that no one else can be buried in the grave.”

“But your family bought the land?”

“Yes, but if we don’t pay every year, someone else will be buried in the grave.”

“How soon?”

“Whenever we no longer pay, unless the entire plot is full, and then it’s as soon as the top grave is decayed so they can dig them all up and reuse the spot.”

“What happens to the headstones if someone else is buried on top that isn’t a family member?”

“The old headstone is removed.”

“Thrown away?”

“No, moved to a different location in the cemetery. The person who keeps the books can tell you where it is.”

“So your ancestors could be in graves 1 and 2 of the triple-bunk graves, then no one pays the annual bill so a non-family-member is buried in the top grave. Your family stone is removed and only the top person has a stone, but your ancestors are still actually buried there, even though the stone has been removed? What happens then?”

“If the family of the third (top) person pays the annual fee, the grave won’t be used for at least 10 years, and maybe not after that if they continue to pay.”

“When they stop paying?”

“Then all 3 graves get dug up and someone else is buried there.”

Cremation

“Are people cremated in Norway?”

“Sometimes. It’s not very popular, but it’s gaining popularity now. Sometimes they create small rows in cemeteries, or you can bury the cremated remains in your own row if you have one. But it’s not traditional.”

“Do they cremate people here because of cost?”

“I don’t know. A full funeral with a visitation costs about 2500.” (US)

“Wow, that’s at least 4 times less expensive than in the US.”

He paused as we rounded a corner.

Gallows Hill

“See that church in the distance? That’s called Gallows Hill. In the dark ages, when someone was hung, everyone from the city came and sat on the hill, looking up, watching the top where the person would be hung, near the church. The actual place of execution is gone today, but it’s still called Gallows Hill.”

I love old cities.

We drove on, stopping at another stop with no people waiting. He had to wait a minute or two, just in case, so he pointed to the right, into the inky night.

Grave Candles

“See those tiny lights flickering over there?”

I squinted.

“Yes.”

“Those are candles in the cemetery, on the graves.”

“Candles? It’s 5 AM.”

“Yes, people leave them to honor their family and ancestors and almost anytime you can see candles burning.”

I saw quite a few, and it was a weekday early morning.

“At Christmas, people decorate the graves and everyone lights candles. The cemetery is lit up beautifully and if it snows, it’s incredibly scenic with an otherworldly glow. I can’t explain it.”

You can read more about candles in Norway, here. Norwegians love candles. You view photos here.

“How do the flames keep from being extinguished?”

“There are special kinds of long-burning candles, but some people just use regular candles. There’s no electricity in the cemetery, of course.”

“Does your family do that?”

“Yes. Several of my siblings and myself don’t believe in religion, but we still all go to church together as a family on Christmas Day. We wear our traditional Norwegian folk costumes. Afterwards, we all go to the cemetery to visit the ancestors. For those people we knew, we light candles, and sometimes we light candles on all of the 10 spaces.”

Birthday Celebrations in the Cemetery

“When it’s warm, we go on their birthday and have coffee and crackers (cookies) and sit round, laugh and reminisce fondly. It’s a celebration. When it’s cold, we don’t stay so long.”

“So, it’s a happy time. No tears?”

“Well, it can sometimes be sad too, but we are together. Often we stay a couple hours and talk about the person, remembering their life. My grandfather, he was the best, most honorable man on earth. I miss him but I like spending time at his grave.”

I reflected on this lovely custom for a few minutes. 

“I like that your culture views it as an honor to be selected to pay for the plots, and not a burden.”

“We have other similar traditions.”

Inheritance of Heirlooms

“In my family, a hand-made clock always goes to the eldest son before he is age 30. It has never been owned by a woman. That clock, when my parents were getting divorced, it was sad.”

“Sad?”

“Yes, sad. We knew because it lost 8 minutes every night. When the divorce was over, it recovered and never lost time anymore. 

Specific antique chairs go to the second eldest child, whether male or female.  That’s me!” and he smiles broadly.

“Another heirloom goes to the oldest living family member. In my case, when my Dad dies, that will be my aunt, if she is still living then.

An ax gets passed to someone, although who gets it is always a surprise, along with the story of who owned the ax and the legend of the ax. It was used by my ancestor to clear the trees for Oslo.”

“Was he a Viking?”

“Maybe!”

He smiles.

Traditional Clothing

“Sometimes our traditional costumes get passed down too. They are very, very expensive, costing several thousands of dollars.” (US)

So, I thought, funerals are cheap by comparison and traditional costumes (called Bunads) are more expensive than funerals, beginning at about $3000 (US).

“Tell me about the costumes.”

“Every person in Norway is either supposed to purchase a traditional costume, their parents purchase the costume, or it’s made or bequeathed to you by a family member. Each village and region has their own style, and you’re supposed to make a traditional style that connects you with where your ancestors were from. There is traditional jewelry that goes along with them too.

See that store over there? They specialize in traditional costumes, but the costumes are very expensive no matter where you purchase them.”

“When do you wear them?”

“I ordered mine for a friend’s wedding, because I needed it quickly. No time to have it made. I also grew a celebration mustache for having my niece baptized last weekend. I wore my costume then too. We wear the costumes for special occasions like that, National days of celebration plus holidays sometimes. When we want to dress up. It’s our finest, most proud clothing and reflects the unique culture of where our ancestors were born, no matter where we live today. Some people can identify your family place of birth by looking at your costume. It’s our way of wearing our heritage.”

Here’s an example of a girl from the fjord near Hardanger, with beautiful traditional Hardanger embroidery on her apron.

Arvind (அரவிந்தன்) – Self-photographed

If you’d like to view some lovely Norwegian heritage clothes, click here and then click on the front, back and side views.

Culture of Tradition 

I so enjoyed his family stories and was so grateful that he chose to enlighten a stranger on his bus in the middle of the night.

These traditions may not be shared by all families, but certainly, they provide a perspective of life in Scandinavia in a family that still values and cherishes their ancestors and family customs.

And yes, I did ask if he had DNA tested and he said that his brother and aunt had both tested, and they were mostly Scandinavian. He was wondering why they were ethnically anything else, which is highly ironic since many of us have been trying to figure out for years why we are Scandinavian.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my bus ride. I surely did!

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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 Services

Genealogy Research