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:

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the 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.

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!

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!

Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

John McCain: Maverick

The last time I cried when a politician died was, well, never.

I feel for Senator McCain’s family of course, but my true grief is for the American people who so sorely need his leadership now…as he has slipped away from us.

Today, in Berlin, I stood in front of the American embassy and saw our flag, my flag, the flag John fought for, served for and nearly died for, at half staff as his body lie in state in Washington. Being so far from home, in a foreign country, standing on land that had once been held behind a wall by the Communist Party, I openly wept.

The Brandenburg Gate, standing beside the American Embassy, divided Berlin into communist East and free West and stands as a historical reminder of the grimness of division. Bullet holes are still in evidence on the columns, standing in silent testimony to those who sought to escape to freedom – and failed.

The remnants of the Berlin Wall stand as silent witness to what humanity can never allow to happen again. How did humans ever hate this much? Ever sanction those atrocities?

As the graffiti on the wall asks WHY, I too wonder why, and how this atrocity ever came to pass. Why didn’t someone, many someones, step up and stop this train before it became an avalanche.

I was sorely reminded of why we so desperately need John’s vision to unite. To refuse to hate simply because villianization is easy.

He respected those with whom he had political divisions – as he did President Barack Obama when John was questioned on the campaign trail about then-candidate Obama’s religious affiliation. The easy answer and easy road was never the path John selected by default.

We need what John stood for. His dignity, his statesmanship, his honor and humanity. John McCain was a Maverick alright, standing tall when others failed to do so.

We need heroes to look up to.

We need hope that we as a nation, can heal. John gave us that.

I didn’t always agree with John.

I didn’t always disagree with John.

I always respected John.

A prisoner of war who was willing to lay his life down for America, every single day for many, many years, through unrelenting torture that surely seemed unbearable, through disfigurement, throughout every humiliation he endured.

For you.

For me.

For all Americans, of every color, faith, gender and every combination of all of those.

We are all diminished by John’s passing.

In John’s final statement that would become his legacy beyond the fact that he asked both Republican and Democratic former Presidents to provide eulogies at his funeral, he said this to the American people:

“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”

Now that John is gone, it’s up to all of us, personally, individually, to make it so.

Rest in Peace John McCain. You already saw Hell in Vietnam and deserve nothing less.

May each and every one of us carry your torch.

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

_____________________________________________________________________

Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

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!