Notes to 40 Year Old Me


Sometimes milestones make us think. Life is seldom what we expect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t influence the outcome. In fact, life is an amazing journey that takes us to incredible places we never expected. When I was 40, genetic genealogy hadn’t yet been born – yet here we are today!

One of my beloved family members is having a 40th today, and I’d like to share some “accumulated wisdom” for her and also for my genealogy friends.

Looking back, here are the things I would tell my 40 year old self.

1. It’s not too late. You’re just now ripe.

2. Someday isn’t a day on the calendar.

3. Risk is not a 4 letter word. Fear is.

4. Love undeniably.

5. Remove toxic people, and jobs, from your life. You’re worth it!

6. Listen to your gut. It’s seldom wrong.

7. Life’s too short to drink bad wine or eat bad food.

8. Dark chocolate is not bad for you. Excesses of anything are.

9. Unpursued dreams will kill you, slowly and painfully.

10. Life is about the long game. In 10 years, if you’re lucky, you’ll be 50 – so investment in your own life so that you’re 50th will be perfect, because you’ll be 50 whether it’s perfect or not and you have 10 years to make it happen.

11. You are your greatest barrier.

12. You are your greatest asset.

13. A positive attitude makes most of the difference between being happy and miserable.

14. If you’re unhappy, fix the problem whether it’s external or internal.

15. If you can’t bloom where you are planted, uproot yourself and move on.

16. Always entertain the possibility of new opportunities.

17. When looking at employment, think about opportunities to make a difference.

18. Most regrets are born of what we didn’t do. Just do it!!

 Relative to genealogy:

19. Write it down. Yes, you will forget it otherwise.

20. Back up your computer, religiously, and store a backup outside your home.

21. Share. Post your tree. Be kind. It’s good for everyone.

22. Pay it forward. Someday you will be the beneficiary – in spades.

23. DNA test every relative you can find, because you’ll lose the opportunity if you don’t.

24. Be prepared. Carry a DNA kit with you at all times. Learn how to beg effectively:)

In Summary

Give some thought about how you’d like to be remembered. Write your own “dream obituary.” Then, do what’s needed to grow into that legacy.

Those of you past this birthday, what would you add?

Dateline: Father’s Day – The Unexpected Gift

On Father’s Day, NBC’s Dateline aired a full segment about what happened to one family as a result of DNA testing. And it’s not at all what they expected.

A woman tested her DNA, but the family she found was not the family she was looking for.

“I knew everybody, right???”

“She’s just been waiting for us all these years….”

“A moment 50 years in the making…”

“It was a gaping hole…”

Put another way, by Bennett Greenspan, CEO, Family Tree DNA, “History may get righted.”

“DNA is like a history book written into your cells and only now in the beginning of the 21st century are we learning how to read the book.” – Bennett Greenspan

“It was the middle of the night.  He told her he found me.  I can hear her crying…”

“He couldn’t hardly talk…”

“We watched pain turn into joy.”

Poverty and prejudice is evil. In all of its incantations.

Two families about to become one.

There is absolutely no way on this earth that you can get through this dry-eyed, so just get the box of Kleenex now and click the link to watch the segment.

https://www.nbc.com/dateline/video/fathers-day/3745516

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The Gratitude List

You know, I’m sneaking off from what I’m supposed to be doing, like laundry and getting ready for Rootstech, to quickly pen this note to everyone.

Why?    

Because people are really amazing – including each of you, my faithful followers and genealogy addicts!

I’ve decided to create a gratitude list and tape it up right by my desk where it’s in plain site where I can see it.

Every. Single. Day.

Some days, I really need to see my gratitude list.

Everyone has things that go wrong, just about every day. In the past couple weeks, here’s the list of what I can think of, off the top of my head.

  • Furnace broke. Both need to be replaced. Probably AC unit too. Blah…
  • Garage door broke, in the middle of a storm no less.
  •  Water softener isn’t, which means I’m going to have slightly orange clothes.  Gets replaced Thursday.
  • Had to purchase new sewing machine. Old one succumbed to injuries from being forcibly ejected from dining room table. Has to do with a very excited rescued puppy.
  • Grass is growing in the perennial garden even though it’s only 43 degrees and the snow isn’t even entirely melted. I don’t even stand a fighting chance!
  • Ran sewing machine needle into the bone of my thumb beside my nail. Yes, I swore (and bled), a lot. No, this is not how the machine came to hit the floor.

Ok, I’ll stop.  You’re cringing – I can tell.

But that list is not what I want to focus on, because all told, it’s really just an inconvenience. It’s not terribly important, well except for that furnace issue in the middle of a Michigan winter. Here’s what is important. This list all happened while I was having my bad day(s):

  • My friend Tom is finding information for me to lookup at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in order to further unravel my line of incredibly confusing ancestors from Steinwenden, Germany. He has been tirelessly translating German script, making new discoveries in places I didn’t even know to look. Nominate this man for sainthood.
  • My friend Chris who lives in Germany surprises me almost every day with something else he’s found about Steinwenden, or one of those unruly ancestors. This week, he found a history of an early cemetery that was “leveled” in the 1950s. I’m so lucky Chris found me. Chris and Tom are an awesome team.
  • My new cousins on the Melsheimer line (discovered thanks to Chris) are e-mailing me AND are penning an extensive genealogy. Oh, to verify that indeed, this IS my line. I look forward to getting to know my new cousins.
  • My cousin’s mitochondrial DNA full sequence upgrade came back. Her mtDNA line confirms my ancestor’s mother is Lydia Brown (c1790-1840/50) whose mother is only known by the first name of Phoebe. For a long time, there was some question as to who my ancestor’s mother was, and now we know. How cool is that!! Maybe her mtDNA will help find her mother’s family. New blog fodder! 
  • A lovely blog subscriber/distant cousin sent me such an amazing thank you note that it stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to cry. Sometimes saying thank you is an incredibly powerful tool of love.
  • I met my brother’s amazing biological half-sister (now my sister of heart too) and she is testing at FTDNA to attempt to resolve the question positively of whether she is a half sister or first cousin to my brother. What a Valentine’s Day gift from *our* brother.
  •  A man in Hawkins Co., TN is helping me try to find the land of my Charles Campbell. (Dang those non-recorded deeds.) If this man can’t do it, it can’t be done. By the way, positive thoughts for this man and his family please – their home and farm was flooded last week. 
  • Someone I’ve never met in person sent me a surprise gift – a miniature quilt measuring in total 6.5 inches by 6.5 inches. From her deceased mother’s miniatures collection, no less. Wow. Just wow. I am so touched. The beautiful tiny quilt has taken up residence in my display case with my mother’s doll clothes from when she was a child.

  • My husband is bringing me Starbucks and food, as I type this. Bless this man!
  • I received a thank you note from a young recipient of a care quilt. My quilt sisters and I make care quilts, as we can, for those who need some sort of special care, encouragement, love or a hug. Few people say thank you, let alone write notes. (Some are simply too ill.) This young lady is amazing for all sorts of reasons! She is the bright face and hope of the future.

My gratitude list is a LOT longer than that other list-that-shall-not-be named.

Know what all of these positive things have in common?  Yep, you guessed it.  With the exception of my husband and quilt-sisters, I would never have met any of these amazing people were it not for genetic genealogy combined with my blog.

So, DNA test, contact your matches, share stories, write, create a family tree, blog (it’s free), get the word out. Do whatever it is you need to do, in your own way, but do it.

If you’re alive, it’s not too late! (If you’re dead already, please let me know because there are a few people on the other side that I’d like you to ask questions of on my behalf.)

Then, create your own gratitude list so that you forget all about that “other” list of what went wrong. Best yet, those people on your gratitude list will be among the first to step up and help you when that “other” list gets overwhelming. Especially if you’re on their gratitude list too.

My research, my care-quilt mission in cooperation with my amazing quilt-sisters, and my blogs are my own ways of making the day brighter for others – paying the love forward. (Yes, I have two other blogs, here and here.)

May each and every one of you be blessed with many cousins and family of heart, especially if your blood family is rather small. Most of all, may you have an extremely long gratitude list.

What and who is on yours?

Tell them and make their day!

Merry Christmas – And To All A Good Life

I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to say about Christmas this year. Truthfully, I haven’t felt much like celebrating.

This year has been filled to the brim with mortifying events, the likes of which I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

Barely a day goes by that I’m not frightened anew – for my Black, Native and Spanish friends, family, and their children. For our brave soldiers, police and firefighters of all colors and races. For the country I love and call home – the same one that my ancestors spilled their blood and gave their lives to defend. For my children, grandchildren and their descendants.

So, for Christmas or Hanukkah or Solstice, whatever you celebrate, I decided to share with you a story – one of hope – one of kinship – one of reaching beyond the stereotypes that have sometimes been ingrained in upbringing and the communities and families in which people are raised. A story about the power of choice that each of us has within us.

A story that I recall again and again because it gives me hope when my days feel hopeless. It renews my soul.

It’s a story about love, but not at all your typical love story.

The Reunion

A few years ago, a DNA group that I administer decided to host a homecoming and conference of sorts – before the days of genetic genealogy conferences.

We rented a hotel and the conference room, and before we knew it, the “reunion” was filled to capacity.

Three days of presentations were scheduled, with many of the attendees giving sessions about genealogy, and in particular, about genetic genealogy which was still  new at the time.

The Reveal

One of the draw cards was a “reveal.” My cousins and I had discovered each other a few months before and had busily been DNA testing to prove or disprove whether in fact William Herrell was the ancestor of both groups of people. Me on the one side and my cousins on the other.

The complicating factor was that William Herrell had two wives, at the same time – one black and one white. Not only that, but he had purchased the black wife, Harriett, as a slave – but the white wife, Mary, raised Harriett’s child, Cannon, with her own children after the death first of Harriett and then of William.

Was Cannon William’s biological child? Oral history said yes.  What was the truth of the matter?

Given the location of the reunion, I had some consternation about this topic and particularly about the reveal.

My cousins, however, were not concerned. It was them I was concerned for, not me, so the plan progressed smoothly. Adding to our excitement was the fact that we would all get to meet in person for the first time.

On the first day of the conference, we presented the attendees with the back story, which is actually quite interesting, then we left them with a cliffhanger. Were we related? We asked them to vote. What did they think? We would tell them the following morning.

The vote, by the way, was about half and half.

The Next Morning

On the morning of the second day of the conference, we were shocked to discover that people were simply showing up at the hotel. They had heard, through the local grapevine that there was to be a BIG REVEAL and everyone was interested.

We didn’t quite know what to do.

We crammed as many seats into the room as possible. People crowded in behind the seats and stood, and more people filled the lobby craning their necks to see.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine anything quite like this.

My cousins Carlos (Los) and Denise and I revealed the answer.

Yes, Cannon was the son of William Herrell and yes, we are all related.

But that’s not the punchline, nor is this the main story.

Los, Denise and I began on a journey as curious genealogists. Before we even knew that we were related, we had formed a relationship with each other, one which we maintain today. We’ve added more family members as well, and we are indeed “kin” as they say in the south, not just because we are blood relatives, but because we have gotten to know each other as people and we love each other. (And for the record, I have other relatives I’m not nearly so quick to claim.)

Yes, you might notice that some of us have more skin pigment than others, but our family runs the entire pigment range and truthfully, I don’t even think about it or notice anymore. It’s irrelevant. We all bleed red, feel both pain and love and are good people. It’s really that simple, and it’s all that matters.

Bottom line is that I love them, not because they are black, or actually, part black, not in spite of it, simply because they are who they are. At one point, we thought we might NOT be related, and we were all horribly disappointed, and rejoiced when we discovered that we actually DO share an ancestor and ARE cousins (thank you autosomal DNA).

The Preacher

One of our attendees at the conference was a retired Baptist minister. In his 80s, he didn’t get around well and while not wheelchair-bound, he used both a wheelchair and a cane to increase his mobility and keep himself safe. I had known him for years.

We’ll call him Reverend Jim. All of the names of people other than my cousins have been changed.

Reverend Jim and I thought that we might share a particular line, that of his surname, but Y DNA testing proved that our lines were different, a fact that frustrated us both, because we would have liked very much to share research.

Reverend Jim felt that his time was running out as he aged and his health failed, but he remained an upbeat, avid genealogist and welcomed DNA testing to advance his knowledge. Hence, his difficult trip to the conference.

After the big reveal, people gathered in the conference room and the lobby to visit with each other and discuss the results along with DNA testing. My cousins and I were talking to people, when voices dropped and it became evident that something interesting was happening across the room.

I was holding Los’s daughter who was about 18 months old at the time, wishing we lived closer and I could be another grandma to her.

Suddenly Los and I both realized that all eyes were on a table near the front window.

Curious and concerned that something might be wrong, especially given that Reverend Jim was seated there, I ambled with purpose towards the table, not wanting to appear nosey, but cognizant of the fact that I was the defacto hostess. Besides that, there seemed to be an intense discussion occurring and I wondered if it might have something to do with DNA testing.

Reverend Jim was sitting at the end of the table on one side in his wheelchair, and a black gentleman of about the same age was facing him across the table. We’ll call him Doug. Listening for just a minute revealed that they shared the same surname and were debating whether they could be from the same paternal line.

Now I understood the hushed room.

Given that one was black and one was white, the answer, if yes, meant that perhaps they had experienced something in their families like Los, Denise and I had discovered in ours, with all of it’s painful ramifications about slavery. Needless to say, this was a sensitive subject, and both people were trying to have a nice conversation without offending anyone. I’m sure both men were thinking, “probably not,” but didn’t want to say that out loud. Or maybe they were secretly wondering, “What if?”

Suffice it to say that not everyone is nearly as accepting of newly discovered interracial family as my cousins and all of our extended families. And yes, I really do mean that – ALL OF OUR EXTENDED FAMILIES.

So, I stood and listened, as other people gathered round.

The Railroad

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked for the railroad and was gone a lot. He missed a lot of Christmases with the family.”

Doug: “My Daddy too.”

Both men smiled and chuckled, clearly harkening back in time and thinking about their own fathers.

Reverend Jim: “We lived in the town of X back then. Did your Daddy work for the railroad too?’

Doug: “Sure did. We lived at the other end of the line, near the depot in Y.”

Reverend Jim: “My Daddy worked between X and Y most of the time, but sometimes he went on other lines too.”

Doug: “My Daddy did too. When did your Daddy work for the railroad?”

Reverend Jim: “From about 19XX to about 19XX.”

Doug: “I bet they knew each other. What was your Daddy’s name?”

Reverend Jim: “William.”

Doug, very slowly: “Mine too.”

Silence.

The men and the entire room now.

Both men stared at each other across the table.

End of the Line

Reverend Jim broke the spell and reached down in his wheelchair bag, extracting a three ring binder. He opened the cover and started leafing through the contents. I thought perhaps this discussion had gotten too close to a topic that perhaps he wasn’t comfortable with. Given his age and where he had lived his entire life.

Finally, Reverend Jim found what he was looking for. I suspected it was a pedigree chart that he wanted to share with Doug.

Reverend Jim turned a page toward Doug, placing the binder on the table. I saw an old black and white photo in a plastic sleeve. Reverend Jim, smiling, said, “That’s my Daddy. Did you know him?”

Doug leaned over politely and looked at the photo, glanced quickly at Reverend Jim, then back at the photo. Doug picked the book up and evaluated the photo more closely. The photo wasn’t in good shape, somewhat dogeared, old and grainy. A woman with Doug looked over his shoulder, peering at the photo to see if she knew the man, I’m sure.

Doug reached towards his chest, looked at Reverend Jim and said softly, “That’s my Daddy.”

Reverend Jim leaned in towards Doug, straining to hear. “What?”

Doug, now louder, still clutching his chest, “That’s my Daddy too.”

My mind raced.

Was Doug having chest pains? Is that why he was clutching his chest?

Did I need to call an ambulance?

Should I ask him?

Was his father white?

Was he sure that was his father?

Was that photo really good enough to tell?  For sure?

How could this be?

Doug must have been wondering the same thing.

Doug handed the binder with the photo to the woman behind him, and asked her, “What do you think?”

She looked closely, squinting for a long minute, scrutinizing the picture, handed the binder back to Doug and said, “Yep, that’s him.”

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

Silence!

The entire room was deathly silent now. Not one peep out of anyone.

You could have heard a blink.

Both men must have been processing this information.

Both men must have realized that their father deceived them.

Both men must have realized that their father cheated on their mother.

Both men must have been wondering how he pulled this off.

Both men must have been wondering how they didn’t know about each other.

And both men must have realized that they had a brother, and perhaps other siblings, of another skin color, born in a time in America when black and white drinking fountains were the norm and racial separation by the name of segregation was expected.

Was this a horrible moment or a wonderful moment?

Some of each perhaps?

What would they do?

It was one thing to watch my cousins and I reveal our journey, in a preplanned way, but quite another to have a surprise reveal of your own in a hotel lobby filled with an unwitting audience.

What happened next would set the tone for the entire rest of these men’s lives.

What would it be?

Acceptance or Rejection?

I realized that Reverend Jim was trying to struggle to his feet. I didn’t know if I should help him, leave him alone or gently encourage him to remain in his chair. I was frightened about what might be coming.

Doug stood up too, trying to stabilize Reverend Jim.

His face revealed confusion and pain.

Reverend Jim managed to get his cane in place, stood, wobbling and somewhat stooped, and leaned over the table to Doug, reaching for him.

I held my breath.

For an excruciatingly long minute. Everything was happening in slow motion.

Reverend Jim put his free arm around Doug and pulled him into a close hug.

Doug stepped around the table and put both arms around Reverend Jim. Reverend Jim dropped the cane, fully embracing Doug.

I realized both men were crying. Tears streaming down their faces.

Reverend Jim blurted out, between sobs, “I have a brother!”

I remember huge waves of relief washing over me. The tears, hot and salty came.

Joy.

Pure unfettered joy.

I knew this was only the beginning of the questions these men would have for each other.

A wonderful new chapter had opened. Wonderful based on their perceptions of the present, not the past.

My memory of the rest of that day is blurry now, much like that black and white photo.

The people in the lobby were quite astir with this news.

The following day, ALL of Doug’s family arrived loaded with photos and an impromptu  family reunion occurred in the lobby with family pictures scattered all over a table salted with chatter and laughter.

Reverend Jim was so overwhelmed and excited that he managed to lock his keys in his car, and later, lose them entirely. He never attended another presentation. He had much more important things to do!

I know both families were in shock.

Here’s what else I know.

Love Won

Those men had a choice to make and they had to make it in an instant.

Their families had the same choice. Most of Reverend Jim’s family was gone, but Doug’s was large and it was evident that Reverend Jim went home with far more family that he arrived with.

They had been blessed.

Hatred didn’t win that day.

Neither did bigotry.

Nor racism.

Or prejudice.

Pure and simple.

Love won.

Merry Christmas and may love bless you in the new year.

Thanksgiving Suggestions From a Dysfunctional Family

I hope that you are enjoying or preparing to enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and friends.

I also hope that you are getting a breather – although if you’re the host or hostess, probably not. And if you’re the turkey, you’ve already breathed your last.

I have distinct memories of my Mom making herself crazy with food prep for company that we only saw once a year – at Thanksgiving. Some family members we were so glad to see…and then there were a couple of others.

I always felt terrible for Mom, but as a child, I really couldn’t do anything about the situation except to set the table and stay out from underfoot.

That’s changed, of course, and now I’m in her shoes, so, here are my (and my evil twin’s) Thanksgiving suggestions to get you through the day:

  • Help the hostess clean her house the day before, especially if she works outside the home which means her time is quite limited, or if she is older. In this case, “older” starts about age 30.
  • If you don’t want to do that, consider having Thanksgiving at your house and all of a sudden vacuuming at the hostess’s house will seem really attractive.
  • Have family members DNA swab BEFORE eating – that way if they begin to discuss politics during the meal and someone half the family stomps out – you’ll already have collected their DNA.
  • As soon as DNA swabbing is over, consider serving, as an appetizer, the brownies brought by your really laid-back cousin who lives in a medical marijuana state. There’s a reason why he smiles all the time. Thanksgiving will go much more smoothly.
  • Lend a hand – meaning be helpful. Do not be a smart-aleck and clap your hands. Otherwise, you’ll never know what is really in your food.
  • Do not give the hostess who has been up since 5 AM wrestling with a turkey and has not eaten anything all day long an alcoholic beverage, or one of those brownies.
  • Bring a dish – preferably with enough food in the dish to feed more than a goldfish. Yes, uncle, this means you.
  • Bring flowers for the table – nice flowers, not leftover half-dead mums from the frost earlier in the week.
  • Set the table before the meal with real, not paper, plates. Forks go on the left, knife at right closest to the plate and spoon to the right of that. Just put a roll of paper towels on the table for napkins.
  • If the hostess replaces the paper towels with cloth napkins, do not blow your nose on them.
  • It’s impolite to hang out on your cell phone during the meal. Also impolite anytime conversation is taking place. Yes, we can tell what you are doing in your lap or under the table.
  • However, it’s OK to go in the bathroom and discretely search for recipes that include Xanax, possibly as frosting for brownies. Christmas is only a month away and you have get to see these folks again.
  • The reason there is now a timer installed in the bathroom is because you took up residence in the ONLY bathroom last Thanksgiving for an hour and a half. Not cool. #notyouroffice
  • Clear the table after the meal. Don’t let the dog lick the plates even if you are done with them. At least not where anyone can see.
  • Help with the dishes. No, you cannot just throw the plates away. Also, see above.
  • Don’t disappear onto the couch leaving everything for someone else – especially not the same someone who cooked the meal. People have died for less.
  • If you do this and are married to the hostess, let’s just say you will have had your last child whether you meant to or not.
  • Watch the kids. Yes, your kids and someone else’s if need be. And that does not mean watch them get into trouble.
  • Do not feed said children your cousin’s special brownies. Or alcoholic beverages. That does not count as watching them.
  • Take a deep breath and drink in the scene, because everyone may not be here next year. It’s considered bad form to fantasize about who you would like to be absent next year.
  • Love them while you can, if you can.
  • Take a moment to remember those who have departed, but are still among the family in spirit this year. To honor them, discuss their most memorable moments. Like the summer Mom got her false teeth stuck in a corn cob, or maybe when she was cheering so hard for her grandson running at the state track meet that her dentures fell out of her mouth, onto the track below – causing him to be embarrassed and emotionally scarred for life. To hear him tell it anyway. He did have to go and hunt for them and pick them up as an auditorium full of people laughed. He waved those things like a trophy as he trotted off the track, waving at Grandma. She, on the other hand, was utterly mortified and tried to disappear into nothing. Yep, they will love haunt you for this.
  • On the other hand, there are the “other” still-living relatives. You know who you are.
  • Speaking of which, if you are the lecherous uncle, this might not be the year. Just saying…
  • On second thought, if you’re the lecherous uncle, become suddenly vegetarian and stay home, because knives are sharp and so are memories.
  • If you’re not the lecherous uncle, but he has the bad judgement to attend, again, spend your time walking from person to person, whisper behind your hand into their ear, look at him furtively and nod in his direction as you’re whispering.
  • Write #metoo on postit notes and leave them where Uncle Lecherous will find them at the most inopportune times. Or, better yet, stick one on the bottom of his cup where he won’t see it, but others will. Every. Time. He. Takes. A. Drink. Act surprised and after an hour or two, say aloud “I wonder what that is stuck to your cup” and everyone else can chime in, “Me too.”
  • It is not OK to out grandma at the dinner table, no matter how happy you are to have discovered that Uncle Lecherous is only your half uncle. This massive faux pas will cause you to become immediately and permanently exiled to the “bad” list as well as the children’s table. Just be silently grateful to grandma.
  • Try really hard to appreciate everyone’s differences. If you can’t do that, attempt to be tolerant, unless Uncle Lecherous acts up again. If tolerance doesn’t work, or Uncle Lecherous needs his comeuppance, try not to get blood on anything. It makes a mess and stains.
  • If the family member with whom you have an altercation is genetically related and did not DNA swab before the altercation, attempt to recover some of their blood, so long as it’s not mixed with yours. (Just kidding, sortof.)
  • If you must altercate, do so preferably after dinner, outside. Do not upset the Thanksgiving table or use a drumstick or cast iron skillet as a weapon. Drumsticks are ineffective and you won’t have leftovers tomorrow, and you might damage the  skillet.
  • If the police arrive due to the altercation, hope that the officers are related (to you) and be prepared to feed them. I don’t know about donuts in the afternoon, but chocolate anything has been known to work as has pumpkin pie. However, do NOT allow anyone to give the officers the special brownies.
  • If the officers begin to ask questions about the brownies, tell them how happy you are that Uncle Lecherous brought his special secret-recipe brownies. Again, everyone can chime in with, “me too.” Watching the results will provide world-class entertainment and stories for decades!

I hope this has made you smile. Feel free to add your own “suggestions” in the comments!

The holidays are special and family gatherings are the time and place to share memories and swab family members while everyone is still in a good mood and before the fight begins.

Thanksgiving is a good time to prepare for the Christmas holidays by asking people to bring photos and other memorabilia to share.  Bring a scanner along with DNA swab kits.  Sharing gets everyone thinking about genealogy and they’ll be a lot more willing to swab if they are excited about their common family history and understand that their DNA is an important part of the puzzle.

Friday, and for some even later on Thanksgiving day, the great shopping rat-race begins. Here’s hoping you get to spend quality time with family and make Thanksgiving a day of peace and joy.

Safe journey and see you overhome!

Worldview of LeVar Burton

On February 10, 2017, Levar Burton gave the keynote at Rootstech. I wrote about LeVar’s speech at that time, but the video link was removed so most of you never got to see his incredible session. The link has since been permanently (I hope) added here.

I implore you to watch this 22 minute clip of LeVar’s presentation. I guarantee, you’ll leave with a…oh never mind the sales pitch… just trust me and watch the clip:)

I’ve heard a lot of speeches and presentations and I have two words about this one.

Best. Ever.

It’s incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Especially, especially, LeVar’s secret “one minute exercise.” Nope, I’m not telling you. You’ll just have to watch, but here are a few quotes from LeVar:

“I could easily have been one of those statistics…..”

“My mother had hopes for me….and expectations…”

“My mother taught me that there are no limits to what I could accomplish in my life except those that I myself impose.”

“I would be…frustrated with the unfairness of that injustice.” 

“Two most important words in combination in the English language….’What if…’”

“…lifechanging.”

“That upon which we focus our imagination is what we manifest in this realm.”

“We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us.”

“Close your eyes and bring into mind someone who saw you and recognized your brilliance and helped bring it into being.”

“None of us get through this thing called life on our own.”

“God and time are synonymous.”

“Unless we can be still we will never hear that voice of God within.”

“Pay attention, because if we’re not paying attention, we might miss something that is incredibly important that is key to us delivering our gift to the world.”

Your One Minute Person

Please enjoy the video, and when you’re done, tell me in the comments who you brought into your mind in your “one minute of silence,” and why.

I’ll go first.

My step father, because he told me, literally, that I could do anything I set my mind to and to never let anyone tell me otherwise. And he meant it.

He made me recognize the power of possibility and that it resided within me. I never understood the magnitude of that gift in his lifetime, and I sure hope he can hear me now. He changed my life in an instant by empowering me to change my own. It’s the best gift he could ever have given me.

The Shoes

During my recent overseas adventure, I visited both Nuremburg, Germany and Budapest, Hungary, among other locations. These two cities, especially in combination, were intensely moving.

My husband’s family immigrated from the Austrian-Hungarian empire in the early 1900s. The area had been ravaged by multiple wars followed by desperate economic strife and geographic displacement of the residents – not to mention changing national borders. However, that history, as difficult as it was, was overshadowed a few years later by the horrible history of the Nazi era. It’s a good thing his family left when they did, because they would likely have not escaped later. Many did not.

He probably would not have been on this earth today.

Nuremberg

It’s sad that a city lives in infamy for its worst moments. Thankfully, today, rather than attempt to whitewash the past, the Nuremburg citizens realize that they can use the past as a source of education about what they refer to as “our dark time in history.”

Wikipedia contains a short description about Nuremburg history during this timeframe:

Nuremberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era. Because of the city’s relevance to the Holy Roman Empire and its position in the centre of Germany, the Nazi Party chose the city to be the site of huge Nazi Party conventions — the Nuremberg rallies. The rallies were held 1927, 1929 and annually 1933–1938 in Nuremberg. After Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 the Nuremberg rallies became huge Nazi propaganda events, a centre of Nazi ideals. The 1934 rally was filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, and made into a propaganda film called Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will). At the 1935 rally, Hitler specifically ordered the Reichstag to convene at Nuremberg to pass the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws which revoked German citizenship for all Jews and other non-Aryans. A number of premises were constructed solely for these assemblies, some of which were not finished. Today many examples of Nazi architecture can still be seen in the city.

We all know what happened next.

As a member of the human race, one my biggest fears is that discrimination, racism and misogyny on this level will once again manifest itself.

Visiting Nuremburg, seeing those places for myself was at the same time sobering and spine-chilling. The cavernous locations of Hitler’s rallies, large enough to encompass a full city block and drive multiple busses around inside the arena. The arena below was filled with people and you’re only seeing about one fourth of the size.

The now-silent cheers of Hitler’s legions of Nazi supporters haunt this place, those who would advance his agenda and follow his lead to condemn millions of Jews and other “undesireables” to death – simply because of how they looked or their religion. Fear-incited genocide propagated by a charismatic leader sewing fear and mass hysteria.

Hitler is known for systematically killing Jews, but they weren’t his only targets. Additionally, he singled out LGBTQ individuals, the physically and mentally disabled, Roma gypsies, Poles and other Slavic peoples, Jehova’s Witnesses, blacks, mixed race “mulattos” and members of political opposition groups. According to the Virtual Jewish Library, Hitler killed more than 11 million people in total – 6 million Jews and 5 million others.

Eleven. Million. People.

Think about that for a minute.

New York City’s’s estimated population in 2016 was only 8.5 million. Eleven million is the size of New York City and Chicago, combined. The equivalent populations of both of those cities, today, died at Hitler’s hands.

In 1986, the Hands Across America benefit united 6.5 million people in a human chain from literally sea to sea. If every person stood 4 feet apart, 6.5 million people would have covered the contiguous 48 states. So, 11 million people standing shoulder to shoulder would stretch about the same distance – or standing at 4 feet – across America – twice.

By Buchoamerica at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4213272

Eleven million is an astounding number. I have to ask myself, how did Hitler, or anyone, manage to convince so many Europeans that the horrific murder of 11 million people was not only alright, but justified, AND convinced them to assist and abet this mass murderer by either willfully participating or turning a blind eye?

And in case you’re feeling particularly self-righteous as an American, our collective hands were not without bloodstain. In 1939, a ship, the MS St. Louis, carrying 937 Jewish refugees sailed from Hamburg first to Cuba, where only 29 individuals were allowed to disembark, and then to Florida and Canada seeking asylum, where the ship was not allowed to dock. The ship’s captain subsequently attempted to find safe haven for his passengers in European ports, having no place left to go, but 254 of those turned away by Cuba, the US and Canada were subsequently killed in the Holocaust after the ship and her 907 remaining passengers (one died in route) were forced to return.

Turning a blind eye to fellow humans is aiding and abetting. Failing to condemn horrific behavior is aiding and abetting.

The poem, “First They Came,” was written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a former Nazi supporter who survived a Nazi prison. His poem addresses the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis‘ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And then, there are the heroes, like Sir Nicholas Winton who saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi death camps. For a tear jerker, watch Nicholas meet those children decades later as adults. Just ordinary people – look at them. Get the Kleenex, because you will not get through this with dry eyes, I guarantee. You’re in good company, because neither could Nicholas.

Speaking about Nicholas, the Dalai Lama said,

“We must carry his spirit generation to generation.”

To forget history, or to ignore it, is to repeat it.

Budapest

A few days after Nuremberg, we arrived in the lovely city of Budapest, an incredible combination of the old medieval city shown by the spires in the distance combined with a cosmopolitan modern city that was sporting the international diving championships (the blue scaffold) along the Danube while we were visiting.

Having injured my knee at the beginning of the trip, I was skipping out on many of the walking tours, because I simply couldn’t handle that many hours on my feet.

However, as we returned to the ship after a bus tour in the morning, I noticed the shoes.

The tour guide, busy talking about the diving championships, didn’t say anything about the shoes, but I knew immediately what they were when I saw them.

In 1944 and 1945, 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews, were killed in Budapest by the Hungarian fascist party by being lined up on the banks of the Danube River, ordered to remove their shoes, then shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were whisked away – like so much human rubbish.

By Tamas Szabo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2054459

The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial was created with 60 period-appropriate shoes cast of iron and affixed along the riverbank for 40 meters. If all 3,500 pairs of feet had been represented, shoes side by side, the memorial would have stretched for the length of more than a mile.

I walked alone along the riverbank on a sweltering summer afternoon in the middle of a heat wave named Lucifer for its punishing intensity, the sun searing and miserable. This memorial is not something you should be comfortable seeing. Discomfort, as well as pain, was welcome and appropriate – and nothing compared to what those people, and their families, endured.

Can you imagine the fear, the horror of seeing your family members, your parents, your siblings, your children, murdered – and knowing you were marching to your sure and certain deaths? The only unknown was how much you would suffer, and for how long.

And it wasn’t just Jews, but anyone who had the audacity to speak up for what was right, which was politically very unpopular – unpopular to the point of death. Death, intimidation, torture, murder, subjugation and annihilation was the Nazi way.

As my gaze was fixed on the empty shoes representing this waste of humanity, I was struck by how much potential was washed away, not just with these 3,500, but with the 11 million in total. How many never contributed to the good of humanity, but would have? Did the person destined to save us from cancer die? What is the unknown cost to us all?

After all, we all bleed blood – the great equalizer, along with birth and death.

What did we do to ourselves, not only with the wasted lives and unrealized potential of those who died, but with the horrid gash we inflicted upon our own souls?

I didn’t want to look, yet I couldn’t look away. I could see their bodies falling into the water, gasping for breath, hopefully, mercifully, dead by the time they hit the water. I pray their deaths were at least swift.

None of us can afford to look away. We must, in the name of humanity, prevent this from ever happening again.

I spent the afternoon alone, in contemplative silence, although surrounded by other walkers.  I sat behind and among the shoes, reflecting not only upon the deaths of so many innocents, but the challenges we face today in a worldwide atmosphere where rampant hatred and discrimination based on the slight differences of human form and our different religious choices seems to be making a virulent comeback.

I felt shame that we, in a global sense, and as individuals, let this happen. That we failed so many.  We must never let it happen again. We must be wiser now.

More the Same Than Different

The DNA of all humans is 99.9% the same, with very few differences. While we depend upon those differences for genetic genealogy, for the most part, we match every other living human.

Remember how many people whose DNA you match that you didn’t expect and don’t know, but you’re somehow related to?

Think about how many of those 11 million people that died you were related to.

Think you’re not?

I have over 30,000 matches among Ancestry’s data base of 5 million – and even if you generously subtract 25% with the assumption they are false positives, that means that I’m related to about 22,000 of 5 million people I don’t know. That means that I would probably have been related to many of the people who died in the Holocaust, maybe between 45,000 and 60,000 of them. That brings it a lot closer to home.

I’m not Jewish, and still, I’m sure that some of my relatives died.  Assuredly, my husband’s did.

The Future

The Holocaust is no longer simply a lesson in history that happened three quarters of a century ago, it’s a dire warning about what is happening today as well.

Because.

Today we have Charlottesville. The re-emergence of the horrific.

Today we hear, on our own soil, horrible racial and anti-Semitic epithets, espousing hatred and bigotry. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter who leads this country or which party is in power, wrong is wrong.

Hatred is hatred.

Seeds of discrimination and hatred sew discrimination and hatred that leads to violence which is the exact scenario that led to Hitler’s massive genocide.

Refusal to condemn and combat hatred and discrimination on an individual level, as well as a national level, simply begets more of the same. We’ve already seen where that leads. Do we have to go there again?

The recorded history of the world, to date, has been punctuated repeatedly by horrific wars (30 Years War, Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI and II with its atomic bomb, to name a few), slavery (African, Native American, Moorish and English, as a beginning) on every continent except Antarctica, genocide (Native American, Jewish, South American, African, as examples) and the murder and/or displacement of millions of people due to their religious differences (Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, aboriginals, perceived witches and the Crusades for starters).

Not one of us lives today whose ancestors weren’t affected by these factors.

Not. One.

Probably every single one of us had ancestors who were enslaved, killed or displaced – one way or another suffering at the hands of other humans within a genealogical timeframe. On this continent – Acadians, Native Americans and Africans come quickly to mind. In the UK, Catholics and the Irish.  The list goes on – all at the hands of a ruling class that either lost or never had a moral compass.

Are we condemned to repeat that past?

Not on my watch.

Never again.

Not if I can do anything about it.

Not as long as there is a breath in my body.

In the words of Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Mandela:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

I hope that our DNA connections show us how much we have in common with others and serve to bring us together as the human race, celebrating our diverse roots and our humanity. Remember, the Momondo DNA Journey where 67 people were tested to celebrate diversity around the world and travel to where their ancestors were from? Take a look, here for one example. It’s an amazing story, really, that challenges pre-conceived notions and biases.

In one participant’s words:

“There would be no such thing as, like, extremism in the world, if people knew their heritage like that.”

We’re all cousins.

Remember The Shoes…

…and pray, pray, that no one ever has to stand in them again.

This time, it could be you.