The Farewell Tour – 52 Ancestors #264

Sometimes, you just need to say goodbye.

Call it closure, resolution, moving on, or what have you.

Some things just need to be done.

This door closed, ever so gently, but not before wandering around one last time.

Smiles, tears, laughter and oh-so-many memories – along with an amazing surprise.

I did it all in the summer of 2018.

Recently, my daughter-in-law mentioned that my grandchildren are interested in where grandma grew up.

When I drove away for the last time on that Sunday morning in the summer of 2018, I had no intention of ever returning.

For two days, I did a driving “Farewell Tour,” which I’ve now transformed into two articles. Not only is this for my grandkids, but I realized, especially since my family left no descendants in the city where I grew up, it’s especially important for me to document my memories.

Otherwise, they die with me. Mom’s already gone.

Perhaps your family would enjoy a similar article about your memories.

Return to Kokomo

I left Kokomo, the town in which I was raised, almost 40 years ago now, for all the reasons that seem so familiar in my ancestors’ stories. Better opportunity, education, higher wages, hope for my children.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just a relocation, but a huge fork in the road. Actually, more like a sharp turn than a curve.

I not only left the location behind, but the culture, the people and everything that went along with it. Good and bad.

Until my parents passed away, I returned fairly often, so it didn’t seem like a dramatic departure, more like a new job with different scenery.

However, I slowly grew distant from all things Kokomo. After my stepfather, then my stepbrother, then my mother died, there was nothing left to go back to – so I didn’t.

By that time, everything having to do with Kokomo was about death and loss – estates, attorneys and battles. Deceit and lies. Not good memories.

Reunion

My high school class hadn’t been terribly active in terms of reunions. There was a 10-year reunion, which I attended.

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I had just finished my master’s degree, was working in research and was proud of my hard-won accomplishments. I hadn’t stopped to realize, until I arrived at the reunion, that I couldn’t afford senior pictures – and I hadn’t kept in touch – so my nametag literally had NOTHING on it except my name.

I was incredibly glad to see my friend Kim who had finished her medical degree, against astounding odds. Back in the summer of 1970, she and I had studied together in Europe on a scholarship. I don’t know about her, but that experience had changed my life forever.

The 20-year reunion in 1993 occurred on the same weekend that my (now) former husband had a massive stroke.

I think there were other reunions after that, but the years following that stroke consumed every ounce of my time, money and patience. I happened to be in town for one other reunion, dropping in briefly, but I don’t recall when.

Then, in 2018, classmates began planning an informal get-together at a local craft brewery. Alright, my kind of event.

Plus, there were a few people I would really like to see. What happened to them? Would Kim be there?

I hadn’t been back to visit Mom and Dad’s graves for several years. They weren’t, and Kokomo wasn’t, on the way TO anyplace. I thought a combined trip to visit Mom and Dad at the cemetery and meet-up with my classmates would be fun.

What I didn’t realize was that I would be taking a trip down memory lane.

Literally driving into, and through, my past.

And…that this would be my last trip.

My own version of a rock star Farewell Tour.

There is truly, truly nothing to go back for now.

The tiny tendrils that initially held me have dropped away one by one.

Now, I’m free.

The Cemetery

No trip home is complete without a trip to the cemetery. My only immediate family in Indiana lives in cemeteries now.

I wanted to visit Mom’s and Dad’s graves, even though I know they “aren’t really there.” Their physical remains are, and that’s as close as I can get for now.

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They rest side by side but with separate headstones. My stepfather’s first wife is buried beside him. I always laugh, thinking about him between both of his wives keeping a watchful eye on him.

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I know this sounds bizarre, but I took my small car quilt and had a picnic with Mom and Dad.

My stepsister who died as an infant and my stepbrother who died in 1999 are buried there too, as well as the father of my friend, Peggy.

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I stopped and bought flowers for all of them.

Peggy

Peggy was my long-time friend. Our mothers had worked together and we were close friends in high school, and after.

We hung out, got into trouble together (oh yea!), and eventually supported each other on our life’s journeys as we both experienced joys and tragedies – pretty well summed up by the phrase, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

We visited each other in multiple states across the county.

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Peggy saw my Facebook posting that I was planning to visit Mom in the cemetery in Galveston, and she replied that her dad was buried there too. I found his grave, recorded two videos for Peggy so she or another family member could find it in the future, and left flowers on her behalf.

Little did I know that Peggy, who lived in Alaska, would pass away just a few months later, in January 2019.

I’m incredibly glad I recorded Facetime live at her father’s grave and posted it on her timeline for her family – albeit with a quivering voice. It was such an emotion-filled day for me.

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Mom, below at left, with Peggy and me at Highland Park in Kokomo having a picnic the last time were all together, about 20 years ago.

Peggy and I never did tell mom all the stories. I don’t think she would have appreciated them – certainly not in the way Peggy and I did.

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The Kokomo Speedway

After I left the cemetery, I drove south from Galveston past the Kokomo Speedway – a hangout of mine at one time.

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I never raced at the Speedway, a dirt sprint track.

My racing days began on drag strips and ended a few years later when I rolled a Datsun 240Z while pregnant.

Kokomo Datsun 240Z

My Datsun looked a lot like this one that’s for sale today, except mine was “souped up” with spoilers, an air dam, pin striping and different tires – not to mention a roll bar which is probably what saved my life and that of my unborn child.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually roll the car racing, but doing doughnuts in a vacant shopping mall parking lot one Sunday morning after a snow. I spun into the snow bank (more like a mountain) left by the plow, slid up the bank with enough momentum to flip the car. I can’t tell you how mad I was at myself – not to mention I couldn’t get out of the car until someone noticed my predicament and called for help. That was long before the days of cell phones, but I digress.

I decided at that point that maybe racing, at least for me, probably wasn’t such a good idea anymore. Having children changes your perspective. The only thing, other than the car, that had been hurt was my pride, but it was a close call. Too close.

My favorite events at the Speedway as a child were the figure 8 races, often on the 4th of July when racing was accompanied by fireworks. The stands were always full that night.

A lot has changed here over the years. I wouldn’t have recognized it as the same place.

B&K Rootbeer Stand

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Right down the road, the B&K Rootbeer stand looks almost exactly the same. Memories of frosty mugs served on trays hung on the edges of rolled-down car windows as we parked under the drive-in canopies. The canopies appear to be gone, but the building itself remains, although didn’t appear to be open.

It was here that I remember, on a very nervous first date, saying something that caused my date to accidentally snort his rootbeer up his nose – and back out again. I desperately tried not to laugh but it’s difficult to pretend rootbeer running out of someone’s nose isn’t happening. And yes, there was a second date. Meet Eddie – you’ll see him again.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Eddie would one day be at my wedding. But not as the groom – as the best man. Now THAT’S a story:)

A block on further down the street was a local favorite – of teens and adults both – for entirely different reasons.

Ray’s Drive-In

Even the sign at Ray’s Drive-In is the same today.

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As teens in Kokomo, we “drove around,” meaning we piled into cars – mostly owned by our parents – and cruised through several locations popular with teens. We wanted to see who was riding with whom. Who was sitting “close” to whom? Were girls sitting right next to boys on the bench seats, with no one in the passenger seat? If so, they were a couple. Or were they a couple and NOT sitting side by side? Were they arguing? Who was absent from cruising meaning they might be on a date?

Inquiring minds wanted to know!

So much to observe and interpret – and of course we didn’t want to miss ANYTHING!

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Ray’s Drive-In, just a block from B&K Rootbeer remains a drive-in today. Ray’s was famous, literally, for their huge elephant ear tenderloin sandwiches and their frozen custard. I’m drooling just thinking about it. They are still on the menu.

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I discovered after moving away that these fried tenderloins are a regional treat. Translate – you can’t get them elsewhere.

You also can’t get another regional favorite, Sugar Cream pies, and try and I might, I CANNOT get them to taste right.

Northwest Park

The next stop on the teen cruising circuit was Northwest Park, a half mile or so west of Ray’s on Morgan Street.

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The last time I visited Northwest Park, in the 1970s, I played frisbee in a field of grass that you can barely see behind the tunnel of trees that had just been planted at the time. They were about 3 feet tall. You always remember things the way you saw them last, so imagine my surprise.

North-N-Tavern

Driving east on North Street, I passed this *historic* tavern, pronounced “North End Tavern.”

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Some places are iconic. I’ve never been IN this tavern, but it has always stood on this corner, and has never looked great. It was always a known “trouble spot,” not where kids gathered, but regularly on the police scanner on weekends. It was close to the north Delco plant and several smaller factories that paid lower wages.

What’s that old saying. “In good times, people drink, and in bad times, people drink.” This neighborhood watering hole seems to prove that adage.

If I was going to go to a bar in Kokomo, it was going to be one with music, preferably a live band. Drinking wasn’t my thing, but music certainly was.

For the most part, when I lived in Kokomo, my time was consumed by college, family, work and children.

Quilts

I learned to quilt at home and in the Missionary Circle at church, but I wasn’t a quilter, per se, back then. Things have changed!

I was thrilled to discover that a quilt show was being held the same weekend as the reunion. In fact, that might have been the tipping factor to convince me to go😊

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When my Mom married my stepdad, we moved to the farm. The farmhouse had been constructed by the Amish who lived quite prevalent within the community.

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Amish are prolific quilters and maintain beautiful gardens.

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I learned to love flowers in Kokomo. Rose of Sharon blossoms remind me of the beauty of flowers blooming their hearts out on the farm.

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In fact, farm life and flowers often appear as a theme in my quilts today, influencing the choice of fabric, design and color selection.

Not everything in Kokomo was beautiful though.

Universal Steel

Kokomo was an industrial, automotive, manufacturing and steel-town. Many people from Kentucky, Tennessee, western Virginia and West Virginia moved north to work in the factories, creating a microcosm of all things Southern. This explains my accent. My father’s family was from Tennessee and we didn’t know we had accents. We talked just like everyone else!

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Many factories sprang up, as did an entire secondary layer of service industries. While I was in college, I worked at Universal Steel, a recycling steel company where I gained experience outside of college on computers. My first management job, I was responsible for their entire system that managed everything from inventory to accounting to payroll.

To make life interesting, episodically the “frag” machine that shredded cars would blow up if the gas tank wasn’t entirely empty, often causing the office building across the “yard” to lose power. That’s death to computers and caused no end of problems for me.

Computers and education were the path to a better life. Hard to believe my professional computer science career started here, a place where I had a flat tire almost daily.

It was Universal Steel that sent me to classes at the Burroughs training center in Detroit. From there, I was on my way.

Wildcat Creek

Creeks and rivers were central to the lives of our ancestors. I didn’t realize it, but the Wildcat Creek, located only a block or so from the house where I was raised was ever-present in my life too. I could literally see it between the buildings in the distance.

You’ll notice throughout this article many references to Wildcat Creek.

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Shortly after arriving in town the day of the reunion, I met with my classmates for lunch at a restaurant located on Wildcat Creek, a couple blocks from where we went to high school. From the parking lot, I could see the old iron railroad bridge. Today walking trails span the banks of the Creek.

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I’m amazed this old iron bridge still exists. It was old when I was young. At that time, only railroad tracks crossed this bridge. Today there’s a pedestrian path.

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Wildcat Creek was never beautiful. Slow-moving and green – it was never inviting. Yet, it holds such good memories – mostly because of the parks along its length. The Wildcat flooded often. Where you can’t build structures, you build parks.

Foster Park, along the river, was where David Foster, an Indian trader first located in a cabin reportedly belonging to Chief Kokomo. I waded along the riverbanks here as a child.

I walked with boyfriends as a teen.

The older part of town is found along the creek. To the north, on hills above the floodline, the historic Victorian homes. To the south, the older, less opulent homes that were sometimes flooded.

I started my driving tour when I left the restaurant after lunch.

Ghosts of Places Past

The main drag east and west on the south end of town was Markland Avenue.

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Stopped at the corner of Markland and Main, I spotted the old triangle shaped factory building, located along the now-defunct railroad track, so important to shipping in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these factories were built.

I hadn’t thought about his oddly shaped building in years.

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Elwood Haynes, automotive pioneer, built factories and brought industry to Kokomo. Many buildings like this one, scattered throughout town, harken back to that time.

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When I lived in Kokomo, these buildings housed smaller factories that produced supplies for the automotive industry. The structures have been repurposed several times since then.

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This one was at one time a maintenance facility for the interurban railways, or trolleys. They were gone by the time I lived in Kokomo. Today, this building appears to be used for storage.

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Driving down the street, you can see the ghosts of businesses past in the long triangle-shaped building along Main Street.

I had a boyfriend, we’ll call him “R,” who worked either in this building, or the next one south, now gone – then Kolux. I used to walk the mile and a half or so from home and meet him when he got off work in the summer. No AC in those buildings, so he was always drenched with sweat. No mind – I didn’t care. We’d roll the windows down in his red 65 Chevy SuperSport 4-on-the-floor, also with no AC, and drive to Ray’s Drive-In or B&K Rootbeer for refreshments.

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Across the street to the right, my favorite pub still exists – even though I drank very little. Always a factory town, the Corner Pub was a family place, famous for their steaks and drinks. I always had one, just one, Apricot Brandy Sour. They certainly had the best plate-sized New York Strip steaks in town at the time.

Yum!!!

Mid-States Electric

A few blocks on south at Defenbaugh and Market, I found the building that was once Mid-States Electric, a supplier to the automotive manufacturing industry, where Mom used to work.

Kokomo Mid States.jpg

Mom’s office as the bookkeeper was just inside the door sheltered by the right canopy, which didn’t exist at the time.

Mom ran the office in addition to being the bookkeeper. Inger, Peggy’s mother, sold light fixtures when they added services for builders. The lighting showroom was in the door under left canopy, above.

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The electronic parts were stocked in the rear where the contractors entered, the red area today on the side, above.

I remember the old Coke machine back there. Cokes were 5 cents each, in glass bottles that you slid out of their row.

Mid-States’ claim to fame was that one or more of their parts were incorporated into the early space capsules through Delco Electronics which manufactured some of the components.

After my father’s death, and before Mom met and married my stepdad, she eventually dated the owner of the company. Let’s just say that didn’t end well. It seldom does for the woman.

Thankfully, it did end and as a result, Mom landed a better job elsewhere a few years later.

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Looking north from the parking lot, I can still see the old factory water towers in the distance.

It wasn’t a short walk to our house, probably a couple miles, but I walked it often. We didn’t worry about kids being kidnapped back then.

Mom worked at Mid-States for at least a dozen years and I worked there as well from time to time on Saturday mornings to help out and earn some spending money. Mostly, I carefully addressed envelopes by hand and did filing.

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Mid-States was a supplier to Delco Electronics and was strategically located a block away. The huge Delco plant was 3 or 4 blocks long and as wide. Imagine my surprise today to find green grass and nothing else.

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Ghosts of train-tracks past, partly paved over, leading now to nothing and no-place.

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Delco may be gone, but many old factories are still in use. This is the water tower I saw from the Mid-States parking lot, now part of an automotive recycling facility. It may have once been Kokomo Opalescent Glass, now located nearby.

Pictures like this graphically explain the term, “rust-belt.”

Kokomo Opalescent Glass

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I remember Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company quite fondly, the current factory shown above.

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In business since 1888, they produce amazing art glass and it’s quite affordable in the gift shop. I do own a couple of pieces.

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I bought this plate in the 1970s at the Treasure Mart.

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Of course, ashtrays are out of vogue today, but that wasn’t always the case. This ashtray, about 5 or 6 inches across,  has an interesting backstory.

Mom was a very attractive lady.

Mom Graduation color

Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company purchased electronics from Mid-States Electric. A man named Bill was the vice-president and sales manager, at least eventually.

Bill paid an awful lot of attention to Mom. He brought her gifts, and when a dog bit me on the playground at school, he bought a goldfish for every hole the dog’s teeth left in my hand. Of course, he didn’t give the fish to ME directly, but took them to Mom.

I do recall that Mom and Bill had a couple of dates, but something happened and not only was she angry with him, but avoided him henceforth. Whatever happened, she was madder than a wet hen.

All I know for sure is that she was NOT discussing this with me.

In 1966, Bill made her a custom one-of-a-kind ashtray.

At that time, every home had ashtrays sitting on the tables.

Kokomo Opalescent bottom of ashtray.jpg

I didn’t realize Mom had labeled this until I flipped it over just now to see if anything was written underneath.

Today, this graces my desk, holds my thumb drives and makes me chuckle thinking about the memories.

I would like to have purchased another piece of Opalescent Glass while I was there. I was hoping for a colorful butterfly signifying metamorphosis.

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Maybe something like this.

Now I wonder if I could talk them into making a double helix. That would be stunning! Hmmm.

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Unfortunately, the gift shop was closed, but the factory was operational. I found the trash while walking through the parking lot.

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This is the trash heap. Just wow!

This was one of my favorite parts of my Farewell Driving Tour. Beauty is where you find it.

Highland Park

Driving back past the building where Mid-States Electric used to be, west on Defenbaugh Street, with the railroad tracks down the middle of the street for the full length, to Highland Park.

Today, the tracks only run for a couple blocks and then center flower containers that form a median barrier are located where the tracks used to be. The tracks became useless when Delco was no longer at the end of the line.

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There’s still an essence of Mom there – both in that building and in Highland Park where she often took me as a child.

Highland Park

There were three main parks in Kokomo.

Northwest Park, the “new” park where I played Frisbee and the pine trees are now tall. We already visited there.

Foster Park, along the Wildcat Creek downtown, which we will visit shortly, and Highland Park, in the south part of town.

Highland Park was by far the largest with lots to see and do.

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Today, both Old Ben and the old Sycamore stump are housed in this building. When I was young, the Sycamore stump stood outside and Ben had a small building that vandals broke into and damaged Old Ben’s horns and tail.

Who is Old Ben, you ask?

A mammoth, iconic steer.

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I know his name is “Old Ben,” but I distinctly remember everyone calling him Big Ben – because he was HUGE!

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Ben doesn’t look bad for being over 100 years old now.

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I remember marveling at Ben as a child, pressing my nose against the window to get a better view.

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This Sycamore stump, housed in the same building, is massive too – more than 57 feet in circumferance.

It was very difficult to photograph with the close proximity and glass. The stump was actually a phone booth when I was a child and probably 20 people could have easily fit inside.

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Nearby is an old shelter that used to house a well.

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We pumped water with the handle on hot days when I was a kid.

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The stonework is original, but the well is now defunct.

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When I was a child, the main playground area had 2 sections. One was smaller and fenced. When I was about the age in the photo above, the officer on duty approached mother and suggested that we needed to play in the smaller fenced area. I was “too dark” for the white playground, on the “non-colored” swings and merry-go-round.

Of course, the smaller fenced area’s swings and other items weren’t nearly as nice. They were the “colored” area – and the sign said as much.

Mother was furious. I now realize that in part, she didn’t want anyone to see me playing in the “colored” playground because I could not have attended the “white” school where we lived. In fact, we couldn’t have lived where we lived either. So being sent to the “colored section” was about a lot more than appears on the surface. As a child, I clearly didn’t understand. I just wanted to play.

We left, despite my protests, and I don’t recall that mother and I ever went back to that particular playground.

It was only shortly thereafter that desegregation was legislated and the issue disappeared, at least officially, as did the secondary playground which then became a special protected area for young children.

Highland Park is a park because it’s low, sits in a bowl of sorts, floods often and you certainly can’t build there

Across from the main playground area today are many picnic tables scattered along the length of the creek as it zigzags through the park.

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Unfortunately, the curved iron table legs stick out beyond the edge of the seats as the iron curves up underneath the seat. Many years ago, Mom got her foot caught in one while carrying a dish at an Avon picnic, fell, and broke her pelvis in 3 places. I would think they would have changed the design, but looking at Google maps today, I noticed it’s still the same.

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Maybe a lawsuit would have hastened a safer design, but mother would never have done that. I made that suggestion to the powers that be, and didn’t even get so much as an “I’m sorry.” Not exactly heartwarming when your mother is hospitalized and incapacitated.

Amazingly, she eventually recovered.

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This footbridge leads to a small island skirted on all sides by the creek. As teens, we used to cross onto the island and sit on the banks of Kokomo Creek. People driving by can’t see you, but they can see your car in the lot.

Intrigue!

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Kokomo Creek is much more inviting that Wildcat Creek, in part because it’s shallow and there are no polluting factories.

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As kids, we used to catch crawdads here in conical shaped paper cups after having Sno-Cones at the concession stand, still standing in the distance, above.

We never kept the crawdads – always let them go. I never wanted to hurt a living creature. The fun was in the wading and catching! There is no joy in killing.

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Looks like kids still take off their socks to wade!

Back then, there was a child-sized amusement park too.

Today, the child’s train and other children’s rides are gone, but they were so much fun at the time.

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That’s me in the second car with the pigtails above, and right behind the engineer, below!

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The train used to run along the banks of the creek from one end of the park to the other, blowing its whistle. I don’t know when the train disppeared, but it was gone before I had children.

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This little child-sized ferris wheel was so much fun, and not frightening at all. You could only ride if you were age 5 or under.

I was so disappointed when I was too big.

I vaguely remember another picture that I didn’t find in mother’s box of photos.

Near the old Sycamore stump was a small children’s play area. There were a few swings and 3 slides of varying sizes. You can see several of these pieces of now-known-to-be-dangerous playground equipment in this article, but the slide I’m referring to is the second photo into the article.

It had small edges about 3 inches tall and a hump near the top. The author calls it the “metal slide of doom” and I can vouch for that.

I climbed to the top of the BIG slide, sat down, and started sliding, only to hurtle over the side from the top, falling onto the ground with a dull thud.

I vaguely remember hearing my mother scream, seemingly distant, then nothing.

Apparently my father ran up to me and snatched me up off of the ground to him – terrifying my mother even more, in case I’d broken my neck.

Kids are pliable, and I, thankfully had broken nothing.

However, I forever thereafter hated slides. Still do.

I rememer once after that having to climb back down the steps, with kids in the way.

I never did THAT again either.

The Covered Bridge

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Indiana is the land of covered bridges. Thankfully, they disassembled this bridge in the countryside and brought it to Highland Park instead of tearing it down.

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Today, it graces Kokomo Creek near ancient trees.

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Couples used to hold hands and sneak kisses in the privacy of the bridge.

I remember. (Teehee.)

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Today, I’m alone here with my memories.

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A time traveler of sorts, peeking backwards.

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Viewing life through the knotholes is somehow fitting.

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The park was also on the teenage cruise path, because there were several places that couples could park their cars and take walks.

Mom sometimes ate lunch here on her Avon route, and I used to come and sit at the picnic tables and pen letters to my merchant seaman penpal, Robin.

The other end of the park sported a dam and a pond.

A little later, back at my hotel, I realized I had forgotten to drive to that part of the park. I returned, because I wanted to take one last walk there.

The Dead, Raised

The sunshine was warm and lovely, with very few people. I parked the car and began strolling along the creek, lost in thoughts of old friends and exciting times like when I slipped off the algae-covered dam into the creek and emerged, both abashed and completely drenched.

Of course, I was in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to be ON the dam in the first place.

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I see the geese are still residents. I used to feed the geese and have fond memories of coming here when I was pregnant, walking my rescue dog, a small Sheltie named Lady.

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These geese are VERY tame.

One time, Mom, me and a very handsome boyfriend named Eddie brought popcorn one Sunday afternoon to feed the ducks.

Eddie wanted to impress both of us, but he could do nothing to convince a duck to eat out of his hand. He tried calling, talking, chasing – but absolutely nothing worked.

Mom sat down on the ground, and within a minute or so, the ducks were not only eating out of her hand, they were in her lap.

Several ducks!

Then the geese joined in. Eddie gallantly rescued Mom from the Great Goose Ambush. Or maybe I should say that Mom allowed herself to be rescued😊

Of course, that rescued Eddie’s hurt pride too.

This is the park where Mom, Peggy and I were last together.

Where Mom tripped over a picnic bench leg and broke her pelvis when she was in her 70s.

I was lost in memories here, having drifted back in time, when I noticed someone else in the distance. Other than the two of us, this part of the park was empty, and I didn’t want to disturb her.

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The other person was playing a guitar and singing. Lovely, just lovely. And Carly Simon too.

You’re So Vain

“You probably think this song is about you.”

One of my favorites from my years in Kokomo and seemingly written about a beau.

“You gave away the things you loved…”

Be still my aching heart.

Then, Janis Joplin. Me and Bobby McGee.

Music speaks to my soul which was experiencing a full range of emotions.

The tragedy in Janis’s voice, and life, mirrors my feelings about Kokomo perfectly.

Tears welled into my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

I needed to cry.

My life there was so hopeful…until it wasn’t anymore.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Oh God.

“I let him slip away.”

This truly, truly harkened back to my life there.

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”

This lady’s voice was hauntingly familiar.

I closed my eyes and strolled quietly along the water, hoping that she wouldn’t see me and stop singing.

My heart needed this.

Many of my Kokomo memories are extremely sad. Soul searing.

I stood completely still, eyes still closed, letting her aching voice float me back in time.

She finished that song, and another.

Then she stopped and didn’t start again.

Kokomo Highland Carla.jpg

I opened my eyes to see that she had stood up and was walking towards me, slowly, hesitantly, gingerly.

“Uh-oh,” I thought.

I wrenched, lurchingly back to the present.

She peered at me questioningly…and said my name. Not Roberta, but Bobbi, my nickname used among friends.

I was utterly stunned, but stammered, “Yes. Yes, but who are you?”

“Carla” she said.

And together, we both blurted out, “what are you doing here?”

Kokomo Highland me and Carla.jpg

We grabbed each other, hugging and crying.

Carla was one of my best friends in high school.

We had lost track of each other entirely – 45 years ago.

In fact, at the last reunion I attended, I had been told that Carla had passed away, so imagine my shock!

I thought I had seen a ghost and it took every ounce of self-restraint to NOT blurt out, “but I thought you were dead.”

I presumed she was here for the reunion too and was SO VERY GLAD because I had lost track of nearly everyone, and I knew that a couple of the people I really wanted to see, like Kim, weren’t attending.

“What reunion?” she asked.

She was in town to visit her brother.

We sat and talked for some time, catching up. Time flew. I told her I was going to the reunion and where it was being held. Thankfully, it was not a reservation affair, so she could attend too. We traded information and I told her I hoped to see her that evening.

I still can’t believe how fortunate we were to be brought back together again for that instant in time. The stars aligned.

Truth truly is stranger than fiction.

What a beautiful gift.

But now it was time to go.

Continental Steel

Leaving Highland Park the back way took me past the old steel mill, now defunct, vacant and a hazardous waste site.

Kokomo Cabot site.jpg

This toxic land probably reaches a mile in each direction. A solar farm occupies part of the acreage. The once loud, booming steel mill now eternally silent.

Kokomo Cabot field.jpg

I remember, as a child, riding by the steel mill in Mom’s car and peering inside to see if I could see the red-hot molten steel being poured from huge vats.

Kokomo Continental.jpg

At night, liquid metal cast an ominous orange glow over everything. It was both exciting and frightening, seeing the eerie orange men, just feet or inches from molten death.

The entire neighborhood for blocks in every direction had layers of gritty grey dust that constantly permeated everything – for decades.

Kokomo Steel Inn used to be.jpg

Across the street where this building stands today was a tavern that catered to the steelworkers called, you guessed it, The Steel Inn.

More than one wife went to retrieve her husband from the Inn’s clutches on payday. They cashed checks!

Many Kokomo husbands and fathers worked at “the mill.” The pay was good, even though the work was hot and miserable. In the end, those families lost their pensions due to corruption and mismanagement.

The Seashore Swimming Pool

Kokomo Seashore.jpg

Driving on north toward Foster Park, the old Seashore Swimming Pool is now known as Kokomo Beach.

Kokomo Seashore 2.jpg

The Seashore was one of my favorite places. I remember it as huge, of course.

We bought a season pass so I could swim daily in the summer. I walked to the babysitters in the morning, then to the pool after lunch, walking home when the pool closed at dinner.

These were some of my best memories of Kokomo. I loved to swim and bake in the sun by the hour.

Kokomo Seashore me.jpg

I swam and dove and danced.

Of course, I avoided those “metal slides of doom” 😊

Kokomo Beach.jpg

Kokomo Beach has a lot more to offer today than when I was a kid, but we loved it just the same. Summers were hot and the water was cool.

Kokomo Beach 2.jpg

Not to mention that the pool was also on the teenage circle cruising tour to see who was talking to whom and wearing what. Or not wearing what. Bikinis were in, but I wasn’t allowed to wear one! I did however “adjust” my two piece a bit. Ahem.

At that time, you could drive around the entire pool in a circle, half on the street side, the other half being the circle driveway that also passed the dance hall.

I tell you what – that open air dance hall with the juke box was HOT, and I don’ t mean the weather, and only accessible from inside the fenced pool. However, those crusing by could clearly SEE the dancers and watchers through the chaink link fence.

Anyone who was anyone made an appearance there, preferably daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the pool was open. And if you were wearing a very cool bathing suit, all the better. If you were a guy, you fed the juke box quarters to keep the girls dancing. Mostly, girls danced with each other, except for slow dances. Very few boys had the self-confidence to dance quite so openly. Except one boy whose mother was a dance teacher at Arthur Murray. He could dance up a storm!

Mother didn’t want me to go IN the dance hall, but she really couldn’t keep me out since she was at work. In the dance hall? Who, me? Noooo, must have been my evil twin!

A pedestrian bridge now connects the pool property to Foster Park, across the Wildcat Creek, but when I lived here, we had to walk the long way.

Kokomo Beach walk.jpg

A beautiful fountain has now been installed in Wildcat Creek, definitely improving the appearance.

Kokomo Beach bridge over Wildcat.jpg

This was a welcome surprise as I walked across the pedestrian bridge.

Kokomo Wildcat at Foster Park.jpg

Looking up the Creek, I can see the bridge over the main North/South street, Washington, in the distance. Across Washington Street used to be a long-abandoned gravel pit with a high fence. That place with its rusting abandoned equipment was ghostly and frightening.

I mean, what if you fell in and couldn’t get out? No one would know. You would die there. No thank you.

Today, the gravel pit has been filled in and there is nothing but mostly-forgotten memories and grass where residents walk their dogs.

Foster Park

Named for David Foster who first settled here in 1842, trading with the Miami Indians along the Wildcat, this park was only a block from the house where I grew up.

Kokomo Sycamore house from Foster Park.png

In fact, today from Superior Street along Foster Park, I can still see “my house,” between the buildings. As a child, we used to cut between the houses on the hill where the gravel leads to the lower church parking lot today.

It’s on that hill, walking to the pool one day, that I found a half dollar coin dated 1852 in the dirt.

It was also through this gap between buildings that I watched the Palm Sunday tornado tear across the south part of Kokomo on that devastating Sunday afternoon in 1965, not realizing what I was seeing.

Kokomo Foster Park tennis.png

Here’s roughly the view of Foster Park that I saw from my bedroom window, except from higher and a block further distant. Softballs diamonds were located where the tennis courts are today. Playground equipment is to the left, and Wildcat Creek is just the other side of the drive, in the trees, at the rear of the photo. I could see the Creek from my bedroom window, because the house stood on a hill. When the Creek flooded, it never flooded beyond the park, but it looked like a massive lake.

I played softball in Foster Park (poorly), swung on the swings (joyfully), played miniature golf (terribly), and it was here that I sat in the car with my friends on July 20, 1969, listening to the moon landing.

Kokomo Foster Park tank.png

This tank has “always” been in the park in front of the playground area and kids climbed on it when I was young. They obviously discourage that today.

Foster Park houses the log cabin that was the Girl Scout office. We had special meetings here.

Kokomo cabin Foster Park.jpg

At that time, the cabin was one room and heated only with a large fireplace. I remember the wonderful wood-smoke smell so vividly.

Kokomo Girl Scouts.jpg

It’s apparently still a Girl Scout building with at least one addition. I’m sure it has central heat and probably air too.

Progress.

While the log cabin is still there, many places in Kokomo aren’t.

Lord-Jon’s Tacos

My favorite Kokomo food place, Lord-Jon’s Tacos has been closed for years now. The owners sold the recipe to another local business, and while the tacos aren’t the same, they’re better than *not* Lord-Jon’s at all.

I found a photo I took some years back when I introduced a friend to Kokomo’s best.

Kokomo Lord-Jon's Tacos.jpg

Lord-Jon’s started out in a small restaurant and then moved to a tiny fair-type food trailer when I was a teen. We often drove there for lunch in high school.

There was no eating in, so we often bought our tacos by the bagful, then drove down the street to the A&W Rootbeer. We pulled into the drive-in area, ordered icy rootbeers and ate our tacos and rootbeer. To this day, I still think of those two unlikely food items going together.

I craved these tacos when I was pregnant for my children. Thankfully, they were 3 for $1 at the time.

Later, Lord-Jon’s would purchase two buildings, one on the east side of town, one on the west, and discussed franchising. I don’t know what happened, but not only did franchises not happen, they closed both locations and sold the recipe.

Kokomo Handle Bar.jpg

Today, the Handle Bar in Kokomo offers something similar, although I understand that they’ve now changed hands too. Sadly, each change moved those tacos further from the originals.

Kokomo Tacos.jpg

Just the same, my mouth is watering just looking at these.

We’ve tried to reproduce Lord-Jon’s tacos, to no avail. The tortillas appear to be deep-fried masa flour, but I really don’t know – and no one is talking.

More Memories

Lord-Jon’s isn’t the only thing that’s gone of course.

So are the drug stores, restaurants and groceries that I remember as a kid.

The old A&P grocery store had coffee grinders by the checkouts that ground coffee beans by the bag, dispensing ground coffee back into their own bag. While Mom shopped, I offered to pour coffee beans into the big grinders and push the button for people because I loved the smell. I still love the smell of coffee.

Outside the A&P, in the parking lot, were tie-ups for horses for the Amish families. There were always horses and buggies there. We thought nothing of it.

The “other” drive in restaurant was Frisch’s Big Boy on the south side of town.

Kokomo Frisch's.jpg

You can see the drive-in canopies in the rear in this 1962 phone book ad. This was the southern point of the well-worn teenage cruising circle. Over the course of the evening of cruising, around and around and around, you had to pull in and purchase something at each place, at least once. It was necessary to see who else was driving around. Otherwise, you might miss something!

In Forest Park, the shopping plaza on the west side of town, the Ben Franklin store. In the building to the left, Haag Drug became the Huddle Restaurant and eventually, the Dairy Queen.

Kokomo Forest Park.jpg

Mom’s job after Mid-States would be located about where the National Grocery was in this photo. This photo looks to have been taken in the 1950s or 1960s and Mom worked at Kokomo Land Company in the 1970s.

Upstairs on the second level, we played Bingo. I was pre-school, but I got my own card and was I ever PROUD, especially the first time I got to jump up and shout BINGO. Legitimately – for myself I mean. I shouted bingo all the time. If someone bingoed, they let me shout!

My Jobs

I began babysitting when I was about 10 for the neighbors across the street, with mom nearby. By the time I was 12, I was experienced and in demand.

Kids could work part time at age 14. That was a rite of passage.

Kokomo Hutto Drugs.jpg

My first “real job,” the summer I turned 14 was covering for vacations at the lunch counter at Hutto’s Drug Store.

I was so VERY excited. I learned all about making flavored cokes. Yum!!!

I remember getting my very first quarter tip and how thrilled I was to have a tiny cache of change in the cup bearing my name under the counter at the end of the day. I didn’t know about that part in advance.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I saved my money to buy my boyfriend, “R,” a birthday present. She didn’t like that at all. I also used to call him from that phone booth out front and ask him to come and give me a ride home. She REALLY didn’t like that. She didn’t like him at all – and as it turned out, she was right.

About 2 blocks down the street from where we lived, Scotty’s Hamburgers opened a couple years later.

Kokomo Scotty's.jpg

I worked at Scotty’s in high school. We always contributed food to the police officers and firefighters.

Kokomo old police station.jpg

The old police station and fire station was just across the street in this old “castle.” The arched doorways housed the fire trucks. The doors were always open, and the firefighters sat just inside or outside on the sidewalk in chairs. They were always ready to leave on a moment’s notice and also loved to talk. Kids visited with them often. At Christmas, they made and collected toys for children in the community and made sure Santa visited everyone.

If you were a child and your toy broke, they could, and would, fix it. They fixed my doll somehow. I was just sure they could fix anything!

I don’t think this was meant as community outreach, but it surely was!

Kokomo praying mantis.jpg

Today, there’s a Subway and praying mantis on the corner.

I don’t know, so don’t ask. (I think it’s supposed to be art.)

One of my favorite places was the Treasure Mart. In today’s vernacular, it was a resale shop. It had a little of everything. Scratch that. It had a lot of everything, except clothes. No clothes.

Kokomo Old Treasure Mart

Located at Sycamore and Delphos, it too was a huge repurposed building. Located on the main drag, it was always convenient to stop by and see what they had.

Across the street is Crown Point Cemetery where my friend, Marianne, was buried following a tragedy that that ended her life, and others, far too soon.

Kokomo Crown Point.png

Cristo’s Club – My Guilty Confession

Ahem, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I used to love Cristo’s. It was a bar, but more specifically, a dance club type of bar – and I loved to dance.

The difference between Christo’s and other bars was that Christo’s had live music. The only other location within 50 miles with a band was an upscale place beside Delco that catered to Delco employees – which I wasn’t.

Cristo’s could also be a bit “rough” from time to time. I never had a problem, and I did things I would never do now – like leave my purse on the table while I was dancing.

I went there with dates, without dates, with girlfriends – it didn’t matter. I was comfortable regardless.

Disco was in. Eventually, I danced in competitions with a specific partner – one of my college professors.

If I die of lung cancer, it’s because of the second-hand smoke from Cristo’s😊

I wondered, does Cristo’s still exist?

Kokomo Vaile.png

I drove down Vaile Avenue and spotted the old PPG (Pittsburg Plate Glass) plant.

Kokomo PPG.png

Cristo’s was located across from a factory, like most of similar establishments in Kokomo. We’re getting close now.

Kokomo Cristo's.png

This is, or was, it.

The building was in bad shape back then, so I’m not surprised that it’s gone. But what great memories!

Celebrate, Celebrate – Dance to the Music

I suddenly feel like dancing!!!

The Kokomo Tribune

After high school, I worked as a proofreader at the Kokomo Tribune – a building that took up an entire block after purchasing the building on the end that used to be a funeral home. I remember walking through the embalming room before the new purchase had been remodeled and integrated into the Tribune building. There were instruments hanging on the wall. SCARRY!!!

Kokomo Tribune.png

The Tribune was located across the street from one of my favorite places, the library, and believe it or not, I actually checked books out and read them in lulls when I wasn’t proofreading.

The old Carnegie Library was been replaced with a contemporary building in 1967.

Kokomo library.png

When I was 11, I was invited to display my salt and pepper shaker collection in the old library building, just before the new library opened. I was VERY excited, because the newspaper reporter came, took my picture and interviewed me!

When you’re 11, that’s a VERY big deal.

The Post Office building remains across the street from the Tribune, below. I worked there for a few months during the Christmas season one year, sorting bags and bags and bags of mail. I remember seeing the bag being set aside for a special delivery to Santa at the North Pole.

I laugh every time I see this building.

Kokomo post office.png

As teens, we could leave high school to eat lunch. One day on a lunch errand with two girlfriends for someone’s mother, we just happened to be following an old farmer wearing overalls up the steps into the Post Office when his suspenders snapped and his pants fell to the ground, around his ankles.

Quite startled, he tried to hobble up the stairs, but could not with his pants preventing him from walking or climbing stairs.

He had already seen us behind him.

He tried to hobble while attempting to pull his pants back up, but couldn’t do that either.

In the mean time, he dropped the mail he had been carrying. We wanted to help him, but couldn’t bring ourselves to approach him, in part, because we couldn’t control our laughter.

Even funnier were the boxer shorts he was wearing – with large red hearts.

We progressed from laughing to howling.

I can just hear him saying to his wife that he didn’t care, he wasn’t going to let a perfectly good pair of shorts go to waste.

Or, maybe, that was her saying that to him.

In any case, we laughed until we cried and couldn’t breathe. We sat down on the steps because we could not go inside and face him – after he finally GOT inside. Tears streamed down our faces.

Finally, we had composed ourselves at least somewhat, figuring he had exited out the door on the other side. I would have.

We continued up the steps and opened the door, only to run smack dab into him face-to-face.

He hurried out the door. We hurried in and the hilarity began all over again.

We noticed that the clerks didn’t need to ask why we were laughing and they were trying to compose themselves too.

It was a hopeless endeavor.

That poor man. I wonder if he ever told his wife.

I bet he threw those shorts away AND got new suspenders.

The Newspaper Route

College required lots of money, especially when you also have to pay for child care. In addition to my proofreading job, I needed extra income to make ends meet. My husband and I both decided to adopt a driving newspaper route. The routes paid fairly well and only required 2-3 extra hours per day, 7 days per week. The most difficult part was getting up extremely early to pick up your bundles of newspapers at 5 AM on weekends. The newspaper published in the evenings during the week, but in the morning on holidays and weekends.

Kokomo Tribute carrier.jpg

Originally, we shared one route, but eventually, we each had our own. We paid off our car loans, student loans and bought a house.

On Saturday, I would come back from delivering the papers to go to work proofreading for the Sunday paper.

Then, in an instant, life changed.

One October day during mid-terms in college, when the corn was full height but harvesting had not yet commenced, a woman ran a stop sign at a country crossroads.

Kokomo accident location 800W 500N.png

I couldn’t see that she was approaching the intersection due to the corn, and as I began to enter the intersection, she shot in front of me at high speed. I knew I was going to hit her, so I slammed on the brakes, threw the transmission into reverse to slow my speed as much as possible and then it happened.

BOOM!

I remember the impact and my car flipping end-over-end over her car, airborn, into this field. Again and again and again.

When my car finally landed, I was upside down and the front of the car had been crushed into me. I was hanging by my seatbelt with sheet metal and glass all around me. I drifted into and out of consciousness and vaguely remember seeing someone, who turned out to be the other driver, peering into the windshield – then screaming.

It was a pretty awful sight.

Suffice it to say that the neighbors who lived on the corner went to our church and called my parents who lived a few miles down the road. Next, I remember hearing my mother screaming. That would have woke the dead, believe me.

Thank God I had just left my son with Mom because he would have been killed. That was before the days of car seats and he played in the back of my Pinto wagon while I drove the route, delivering papers.

The neighbor had the presence of mind to take my son into the house so that he wouldn’t see me like that.

I survived, obviously, but that accident began a chain of events that would eventually lead to me leaving Kokomo – not immediately – but a few years later.

The butterfly effect.

Let’s talk about something else.

The Gas Tower

Every city has landmarks, and Kokomo was no different.

People could see the gas tower for miles in any direction.

Kokomo gas tower mom me.jpg

The tower was “always there” and for many years, I didn’t realize what it was. It looked like a trash can we had at home, so as a small child, I thought it was just a very large trash can.

Kokomo gas tower 2.jpg

The gas tower stored natural gas which had been discovered in the area in the 1880s. This gas boom encouraged industry and was directly responsible for Elwood Haynes establishing his automobile business in Kokomo.

The tower was constructed in 1954, 378 feet tall, storing 12 million cubic feet of gas.  Looking back, I realize it was a huge bomb just sitting there on the south side of town.

Eventually, maintenance costs became atrocious – $75,000 per year and a million for a paint job. In 2003, the tower was demolished, leaving a vacancy on the horizon.

I remember when I was about 10, my great-aunt visited. She wanted to see the town, so we drove around while Mom was at work and promptly got lost.

I had her pull over into a parking lot, and as soon as I could find the tower on the horizon, I could orient myself and knew how to get back to something familiar.

While everyone in Kokomo was familiar with the tower, I had never been in the old train depot before the reunion, at least not that I recall.

The Reunion

After changing into my “skinniest” clothes, it was time to join my classmates.

Kokomo Depot.jpg

The reunion itself was held in the old train depot, now a craft brewery, located on North Buckeye. I love the original bricks on Buckeye Street.

Kokomo Depot inside.jpg

The reunion consisted of buying a beverage and sitting on the patio. Given the informal nature of the event, people wandered in and out, and it was impossible to take a photo when everyone was present. Fortunately, we did have a photographer among us (whose name unfortunately escapes me.)

Kokomo reunion at depot.jpg

The less-formal environment was lovely. Clearly, the majority of the 300+ classmates didn’t attend.

I was initially surprised to discover that many of my classmates are retired, until I thought about the factories and remembered that they have 30-and-out retirement plans.

While going to college, obtaining degrees and “living the American dream” of business ownership seemed like a great idea at the time – it’s with no small amount of envy that I realize had I simply stayed in Kokomo and continued working at Chrysler, then I too would be retired today with a full pension.

There is no pension, ever, when you’re self-employed.

Of course, I clearly wouldn’t be writing this blog, or involved on the frontier of genetics – so only occasional tinges of regret about that road not taken.

Kokomo restaurant.jpg

The building across the street from the depot had been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. I would have eaten there, except I wanted either Pizza King pizza or Lord-Jon’s Tacos, or at least a close facsimile!

Unfortunately, Lord-Jon’s Tacos is gone, but Pizza King isn’t!

Kokomo Pizza King old.png

The Pizza King, an Indiana franchise, used to be located in this building on Phillips at Taylor. Mom and I used to order a pizza very occasionally for a special treat. Eddie, that boyfriend I mentioned, used to work here and he would call us if they had a pizza that was burned a bit or someone didn’t pick up their order.

Today, the Pizza King has moved across the street and down half a block into the building that used to be the old Hansel Coal Company that dated from the 1920s. No one has heated with coal in decades and I’m actually surprised that the building remains.

Kokomo Pizza King now.png

Unfortunately, they were closed and I didn’t get pizza after all☹

Kokomo Pizza King pizza.jpg

I grew up on Pizza King pizza, and like Lord-Jon’s Tacos and Ray’s tenderloins, this is the best pizza EVER!

The next morning, I would leave Kokomo for the last time – but I had one last thing to do first. The hardest part of all.

For the rest of this story, click here to read The Farewell Tour: The Morning After.

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Thankful

Perhaps this article will reach you early on Thanksgiving morning while the day is still calm and quiet, before anyone arrives. Maybe you’re enjoying a cup of coffee or tea while you’re pondering, perhaps a little nervously, what the day will bring.

Thanksgiving only comes around once a year to remind us, but I try to think thankfully as a habit, not just when reminded.

I know, I know. It’s difficult – especially right now if you live in the US with all of the hatefulness and divisiveness nationally, and within the genetic genealogy community this past year.

It’s been rough. There is lingering sadness for more civil times.

Sadness is a fact of life, but you can’t grieve without having loved – and that’s the gratitude part of the equation.

Sometimes we just have to be thankful for lemonade and look beyond recent difficulties – focusing on the larger landscape and big picture.

I’d like to share what I’m thankful for.

Expressing what we are thankful for when people visit has the unintended (or intended) consequence of educating the younger generation about our family history while the adults reminisce. Maybe they’ll ask questions about topics that provide an opportunity to discuss ancestors and genealogy – without them realizing that’s what’s going on.

For example, my grandkids like old family photographs, so I’m using those in this article, plus a few leading questions:)

What Am I Thankful For?

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving Day?

Mom Dean wedding

Mom and Dad’s wedding in September 1972

I’m thankful that I got to spend so many wonderful years with my mom and stepdad, even though they are gone now. They blessed me with memories that make me smile and cry at the same time. How is that even possible?

Thanksgiving Dad

Dad and first grandchild at Thanksgiivng

I’m thankful for those “first Thanksgivings” when we got to welcome a new family member. These memories are priceless today. That little tiny yellow sleeper is in my “special box” in the basement. Wanna guess what else is in there?

I’m thankful that I can look around the room in those old pictures and see my home as it used to be. Not only is this “home” gone today, so is the house and most of the items on the shelves have been scattered to the winds.

I do have a few. Here, let me show you…:)

Last Thanksgiving William George Estes

Last Thanksgiving with William George Estes in 1970 or 1971

I’m thankful for the “last Thanksgivings” because it means there were so many before.

Did you know my grandfather lived to be a really old man? How old to you think he is in this picture?

Dave Estes 2010

Dave, Thanksgiving 2010

I’m oh so thankful that I found my brother, Dave, in 2004, was able to spend time with him before losing him in January 2012. I learned so much about love from this rough, tough guy – even though he turned out not to be my biological brother.

Did you know that Dio, his dog, rode in his semi with him? Did I ever tell you about how Dave got Dio?

Helen and me - Two sisters

Me meeting Dave’s sister

I’m thankful that I was able to find Dave’s biological family. Knowing they had a brother was such a gift for them – and me. I now have a sister-of-heart. Helen brought me a symbolic white rose the day I met her almost exactly 6 years to the day after Dave passed away.

cousin-nancy-farm

Uncle Lore and Nancy at Mom’s in the 1970s

I’m thankful for family traditions, both old and new, and cameras to record those traditions for future generations. This was Thanksgiving on the farm in the 1970s, with lots of people crunched into the kitchen, sitting at card tables. All that mattered was that we were together. Uncle Lore and Nancy are both gone now.

Do you know how Uncle Lore got his name?

Mom only got the Fostoria dishes out for holidays. I had forgotten about that until I saw this photo. Who has those plates anyway?

Thanksgiving Tim

Tim at the Thanksgiving buffet

I’m grateful for the new family members that have joined us, bringing their talent, traditions and blessings with them. I hope we enrich their lives as much as they enrich ours. We have a new holiday tradition.

Thanksgiving new family

Shawn’s family

I’m grateful for wonderful memories of life-altering moments when families are indelibly joined forever. Is there a name for how you are related to your daughter-in-law’s family? We’re all blood relatives to the same grandchildren.

Wedding lobster bride and groom

Now this picture just begs to tell a story…

If you’re thinking there’s a story just waiting to be told here – you’re right and I think Thanksgiving would be a good time to share it with others. What do you think?

Thanksgiving Grandpa and girls

Grandpa and the girls making rolls at Thanksgiving

I’m grateful that my granddaughters like to help grandpa make crescent rolls for Thanksgiving dinner and that they get to spend time with us.

What are your favorite memories of your grandparents?

Girls cookie making

Making cookies is FUN!

The granddaughters are coming in a few days to bake Christmas cookies. Passing those traditions, and recipes, on.

What is your favorite cookie recipe?

Red Umbrella

Having fun on a rainy day along the Rhine.

I’m thankful that grandpa thinks that sitting under a red umbrella with grandma in the rain and carrying the bag of fabric because I hurt my knee is fun. Or at least tolerable. We had so much fun that day! Did you know I broke my leg on that trip?

Thanksgiving fortune cookie.jpg

I’m grateful that Family Tree DNA began testing in the year 2000 because it allowed me to test long-time researchers, then in their 80s and 90s, whose DNA has proven so critical to unraveling our genealogy, sometimes in very surprising ways.

How’s that?

For awhile, I thought that my father might not be descended from the Abraham Estes line, but Uncle Buster’s DNA matches proved that he was. Thank goodness!

Thanksgiving Uncle Buster

Uncle Buster

I’m grateful for the more than 80 family members who have tested over the years in order to further our family genealogy. Many have passed on, including Uncle Buster, above, who is really my first cousin once removed. Is it any wonder families are confusing?

Why do we call him Uncle if he isn’t? It’s a southern thing – save yourself, don’t ask.

Thanksgiving swab

Swabbing as a family during the holidays – but before eating

I am grateful for my family members who have tested their DNA in more recent years, became interested, picked up the research mantle and will continue after the current generation is gone. (You know who you are!)

Oh, you haven’t tested? Hold on – I have a kit right here in my purse…

Thanksgiving Speak trip Whalley church

Speak family tour in Whalley – all the cousins – what FUN!!!

I’m thankful for all of the new cousins I’ve met and known cousins I’ve confirmed thanks to DNA testing.

I love the collaborative research, the discoveries they’ve made and shared with me, and the joyful adventures we’ve embarked on together. My Speak cousins above, in the church in Whalley, Lancashire that our ancestors attended. Y DNA proved our family connection to the Speak family of Lancashire. This was the trip of a lifetime. Well, except for that fire alarm in the middle of the night…

FTDNA triang browser select

Phased Family Matching at Family Tree DNA

I am grateful for the ongoing development by the DNA testing companies to bring us tools like triangulation, Phased Family Matching, Theories of Family Relativity and Thrulines.

Chromosomes are cool! Who do you think you got your hair color and dimples from in the family?

DNAPainter garden

My painted chromosomes at DNAPainter based on segment data of identified common ancestors

I am grateful for the third party tools like DNAPainter, Genetic Affairs, Genetic Families (dnagedcom.com) and GedMatch who provide additional tools. Between them all, I might, just might, be able to break through some of these brick walls yet in my lifetime.

Want to see which pieces of DNA you got from grandma? I made you a painting of your own.

Me as Dutch

“Me” in traditional Dutch clothes

I’m grateful for my ancestors who were:

  • European
  • African
  • Native American
  • Jewish
  • Middle Eastern
  • Asian
  • Muslim
  • Christian
  • Bigamists
  • Catholic
  • Baptist
  • Quaker
  • Sultan
  • Puritan
  • Brethren
  • Dancer
  • Mennonite
  • Acadian
  • Bootlegger
  • Alcoholic
  • Preachers
  • Mentally Unstable
  • Immigrants
  • Refugees
  • Murdered
  • King
  • Queen
  • Pauper
  • Pilgrim
  • Crusader
  • Shipwrecked

Just look at all of those stories waiting to be told. Without every one of those ancestors, I would not be me and you would not be you!

I’m incredibly thankful that I have been graced with the privilege of being the storyteller, of chronicling my ancestors’ lives. They did the best they could with the resources at their disposal in the time they lived.

Did you know that for a long time, women weren’t allowed to own things separately from their husbands? Or vote?

The ancestors I admire most are the ones who stood up for what they knew was right, spoke truth to power, even when it was inconvenient, dangerous, or both.

Just ask Dorothy Durham who had the audacity to show up in open court “on behalf of her husband,” who was notably absent, and place bond for Anne Kelly, a servant impregnated by Dorothy’s son so that Anne would not be whipped and imprisoned for “having a bastard child.”

There is no assurance of a happy ending. Sometimes the price of integrity and resistance is death.

Ask Elizabeth Day, who was murdered. Ask the Native Americans or the Jews in the Holocaust and the Jewish ancestors that my husband can’t find in his family. Genocide wipes entire peoples from the face of the earth and their records along with them.

May their brave, heroic souls rest in peace.

Wedding quilt sisters

Quilt sisters

I’m extraordinarily thankful for my family and my family-of-heart, in particular, my quilt-sisters.

Wedding bride out the door

After literally sewing the bride into her dress

Family-of-heart is your family-of-choice. The people who will literally come over to your house and do whatever is needed to get your house, you and your daughter ready for her wedding.

Lentz Mon Ami wedding

Such a beautiful day

Or get you ready for your own outdoor wedding.

Thanksgiving quilt sisters.jpg

These are the people who have a key to your house, and your heart. Your dog thinks they are family, and vice versa.

These are the people who may literally save your sanity or your life, and we have.

Thanksgiving Connie Quilt

Memory quilt for quilt sister moving away

These are the people who go to the doctor with you, make care-quilts or lovingly offer to take you in when disaster strikes. Like losing your job or that fire at Mary’s house.

They bring over chicken soup when you’re sick – then show up anyway when you tell them to stay home.

You share happy or sad tears, and either is better together.

me mary quilt

They are the ones who will help you hem a quilt for an ill family member at their son’s house. Their family is your family and vice versa.

You develop your own shared traditions, together, over time. Like Christmas Eve…

kathy mary quilt

They are the people whose family you know well enough to collect their handprints to make a surprise anniversary quilt, without the recipient being any the wiser until the great unveiling.

mud buddies

Mary’s gonna kill me for this one:)

Or they’ll play in the mud with you, er, I mean garden. Yep, that’s the garden out back. It looks a lot different today.

mary puddle

Bet you can’t guess who is who

Or splash in mud-puddles, er, I mean, clean your shoes off. You’re never too old to play in puddles.

These are the people who make life worth living, and for whom I’m very, very thankful.

What about you?

What are your thankfulness memories that you could share with your family around the table today?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Fun DNA Stuff

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

Lineage Societies: Requirements and DNA

I’ve been hesitant to rock this boat, hoping this ship would right itself, but I’ve decided that this vessel needs to be swayed a bit with the hope of providing encouragement and perhaps positive motivation for change.

Based on my ancestors, I qualify to join multiple lineage societies, including both the DAR and the Mayflower Society.

I checked the qualifications for both, and did not apply to the DAR, but did inquire about membership to the Mayflower Association for several reasons:

  • 2020 is the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Colony, meaning there should be lots going on next year.
  • I descend from Pilgrims; William Brewster, Patience Brewster, William’s wife Mary Brewster, Stephen Hopkins and Gyles Hopkins.
  • I felt that my expertise might be beneficial to the organization, in multiple ways, especially given the upcoming opportunities to recruit new members in 2020.

The first thing I ran into was a brick wall, not an ancestral brick wall, but an organizational one.

Birth Certificates

Lineage societies require your birth certificate.

Birth certificates are the most personal document you will ever have. Birth certificates are utilized for passports and are the premier document, meaning the most highly prized, for identity theft. Once compromised, you can never obtain a different birth certificate. It’s not like a credit card that you can cancel and have reissued.

Furthermore, you don’t actually need a birth certificate if you have tested the appropriate parent – and I have.

In fact, here’s my predicted relationship to my deceased mother at Family Tree DNA.

Lineage me mother.png

My mother is deceased, so her identity can no longer be compromized. I don’t have any problem providing her birth and death certificates in addition to an obituary that states that I’m her daughter – plus the genetic evidence of course. In fact, I could join the Mayflower DNA Project, and as administrators, they could see that relationship for themselves.

Furthermore, birth certificates are sometimes wrong – very wrong.

When Birth Certificates are Wrong

Birth certificates are wrong or misleading in the following circumstances:

  • People who are adopted and don’t know it
  • People who are adopted and know who their relevant biological parent is but have no access to a birth certificate showing their biological parents
  • People whose parent is not who they believe it is

In some circumstances, the child’s birth certificate isn’t incorrect, but the lineage may be incorrect when people’s ancestors beyond their parents are not the recorded individuals. Yes, I’m referring to the dreaded NPE, non-paternal event or not parent expected. You can read more about that here.

Aside from the issues above, there’s the issue of security when storing the birth certificate and privacy associated with the parents named on the birth certificate, especially if they are living.

Security and Privacy

Let’s take the issue of privacy first. Let’s say, for example, that an applicant’s parents weren’t married. The relevant parent is the applicant’s mother, not the father, so the identity of the father (or lack thereof) is irrelevant for lineage society membership.

The father’s privacy is compromised, along with the fact that the society now knows that the applicant’s parents weren’t married at the time the applicant was born. That’s entirely irrelevant to the application, and an invasion of the privacy of all 3 people involved.

Requiring applicants to submit a birth certificate, especially when genetic forms of identification are now readily available, forces the applicant to disclose information not relevant to joining a lineage society.

Frankly, anything beyond confirming an applicant’s connection to the relevant parent is none of anyone’s business.

Second, the applicant has absolutely no idea who is going to have access to their birth certificate in the future, once submitted, where it will be stored and security precautions taken, if any.

When inquiring about birth certificates at the Mayflower Society, I was told then are kept in locked cabinets but would probably be scanned soon.

While I’m sure this was supposed to make me feel better, it struck terror into my heart.

Often, organizations are slow to adopt technology as a whole, and when they do, they often aren’t aware of and don’t utilize safety and security precautions. Organizations owe it to their membership to stay current with security requirements and maintain up-do-date security measures. So, while I was already concerned enough about who has access to the filing cabinet key, I’m terrified about savvy hackers taking blatant advantage of an ill-secured or unsecured computer.

The sad part is that today, this is really a moot point because with DNA, many times we don’t need birth certificates for proof – and the only reason to continue doing what has always been done is ignorance, inertia and resistance to change.

Adoptees

Because birth certificates without genetic evidence are considered as the only accepted proof of a relationship to the applicant’s parents, this means that many adoptees have joined believing they are a linear descendant of the ancestor in question. Legally, they are.

Each organization needs to consider whether they want to honor linear paper descent as membership criteria or whether they are looking for linear biological descent. Or perhaps both.

Today, some adoptees who discover their biological parents would be eligible if they had not been adopted – but they are not eligible for membership because they don’t have a birth certificate with the biological parent’s name as their parent.

This creates an awkward situation, at best.

People who should be able to join, can’t, because of the birth certificate issue. And some people who are not biological descendants can join with no problem.

Is this the intention?

This is not small consideration. According to the University of Oregon, 5 million living people in the US are adopted, with 2-4% of all families having adopted, and 2.5% of children under the age of 18 being adoptees.

Y DNA

The DAR requires direct linear descent from a Revolutionary War Veteran. Like with the Mayflower Society, I won’t provide my birth certificate, so I’m not eligible to join.

The DAR has for many years accepted Y DNA at 37 markers as a portion of proof. According to this document, one close relative of the application must match the Y DNA of a descendant of an already “proven” patriot exactly at 37 markers.

This protocol is flawed in multiple ways.

Let’s say we have 2 men who descend from a common patrilineal ancestor, but we’re not sure which ancestor.

Today the Y DNA of these men matches at some level. STR mutations do not occur on a schedule and the reality of when/how often mutations occur varies widely. It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that in the roughly 9 generations, using a 25-year generation, since that patriot was born, that a marker mutation occurred. That would disqualify the applicant from using DNA evidence.

Conversely, if I’m a male Estes applicant and I want to apply to the DAR based on my descent from George Estes, my Y DNA may match the descendants of George at some level whether or not I’m descended from George or George’s brother, father or uncle. Y DNA really can only disprove a direct paternal relationship, not prove it.

In other words, there’s no or little analysis involved, simply a rule that doesn’t make sense.

Lineage chart

Click to enlarge

Let’s take a look at this example.

George Estes is the patriot, born in 1761. George had 3 brothers, Josiah, Bartlett and Winston.

George’s father, Moses II, had two brothers, John and William, who also had sons.

I’ve shown only one son’s line for both John and William, and I’ve named each man’s descendants the same name as his – for clarity.

John R. Estes, descendant of George was our original tester, and therefore, every other person who applies and submits Y DNA MUST match John R. Estes exactly at 37 markers.

George’s other descendant, George, comes along, but he does not match John R. exactly, having had one mutation someplace in the line between the patriot and George the tester’s birth. Therefore, George the tester’s Y DNA cannot be used – even though he is a descendant of George the patriot.

Based on my experience, it’s more likely that they won’t match at 37 markers, after 8 or 9 generations, than they will. That’s certainly the case in the Estes surname project.

In reality, in colonial families, everyone named their sons after their father, grandfather and often, brothers – so the names in all of these generations are likely to be the same, meaning John, William, George and Moses would likely be sprinkled in each generation of every line – causing confusion when attempting to genealogically connect back to the right Estes ancestor.

We see in our example chart, that by chance, William actually does match John R. exactly at 37 markers, even though George doesn’t. Therefore, if William was trying to use DNA to prove descent from George, even though that’s inaccurate, the Y DNA evidence would be allowed. So would Winston, descendant of George’s brother.

The only three that were accurate, based on the full 37 match rule is John, who does not descend from George, Josiah who was adopted and Bartlett who does descend from the same Estes line, but has too many mutations at that level to be considered a match to John R. Estes at all.

In other words, the only real descendant of the patriot is excluded, where 2 men not descended from the patriot would be included if they thought they descended from George.

Furthermore, one can be descended from George through a daughter and still qualify for DAR membership. If I believed, due to the Estes surname and other evidence, like a mention of a grandchild by name in George’s estate, that I descended from George’s son, but I actually descend through George’s daughter who was not married and gave her child the Estes surname – I would still technically qualify to join but the non-matching Y DNA would disqualify me today.

Another issue is if the original tester had been adopted or descended from a non-Estes male, every future tester would be compared to the wrong Y DNA and while the incorrect Y DNA would continue to be the reference sample for the patriot – even after it could be proven that was inaccurate due to multiple matching tests from multiple sons of George.

Rules without thoughtful analysis simply don’t work well. We know a whole lot more today than when these rules were put in place.

Parental Autosomal DNA is Definitive

Parental autosomal DNA is definitive unless you are dealing with an identical twin.

In addition to the actual match itself, you can see that parents and children match on the entire length of every chromosome.

Lineage parent child chromosome browser.png

Here’s my Mom’s chromosome browser match with me. There is no question that we are parent and child. Furthermore, looking at DNAPainter’s shared cM project tool, we can see that there is no other relationship that has the same match level as a parent/child relationship. My match with my mother is 3384 cM.

Lineage DNAPainter.png

Could someone go to a great deal of trouble to change a siblings name to their name or change their child’s name to their parent’s name to “fake” the identities of the people involved? Yes, they could if they had proper access to all accounts.

However, I can do exactly the same thing with a paper birth certificate, even with a seal.

My DNA test matching my mother, in conjunction with my mother’s birth and death certificates, in addition to her obituary identifying me as a child is about the most definitive evidence you could ever produce – far, far, more reliable than a birth certificate which would state that my mother is my mother even if I’m adopted.

This scenario works for adoptees as well in multiple scenarios, such as full siblings who clearly share both parents. In this case, if the non-adopted sibling is a lineage society member, then based on a DNA match at the full sibling level, the adopted individual should qualify for membership too. This isn’t the only example, just the first one that came to mind.

Thoughtful analysis and understanding of DNA is required.

Distant DNA is Not Black and White

While a parent-child autosomal relationship is evident, other autosomal relationships require analysis by someone experienced with that type of evaluation.

Furthermore, Y DNA can be deceptive as well, because the extent of what Y DNA can tell you is that two men descend from a common ancestor, not which common ancestor, nor how long ago, with very few exceptions. The exception would be when the actual Revolutionary War veteran experienced a SNP mutation that his sons have, but his brothers don’t.

However, no lineage societies that I know of utilize Y DNA SNP or even autosomal DNA evidence – even at the most basic level of parent/child.

With increasingly advanced testing, analysis versus line-in-the-sand rules needs to be implemented.

If lineage societies are going to utilize DNA testing, they need to stay current with technology and utilize best practices of genetic evidence.

Lineage Society Suggestions

Lineage societies need to re-evaluate their goals with applicants’ privacy and security in mind, in addition to how they can utilize genetic and other evidence to replace the existing birth certificate requirement – both in terms of traditional applicants like myself, as well as adoptees.

I have the following suggestions to be implemented as steps in a comprehensive solution:

  • Decide as a matter of policy whether applicants are allowed to join based on their paper trail descendancy, or their biological descendancy, or both. Paper trail only, meaning no additional evidence would be considered, would allow membership by children adopted into descendant families, but not children adopted out of descendant families. If genetic descendants are accepted, this allows children adopted out of descendant families to join once the relationship is discovered. If both types of membership are embraced, that avoids the issue of how to handle people who have already joined and subsequently discover they or their ancestors are/were adopted.
  • Determine the course of action when a line discovers that their Y DNA does not match that of the ancestor in question, especially given that the person could still potentially be a linear descendant through a female who gave the child her (the patriot’s) surname.
  • Obsolete the requirement for birth certificates at all when possible. If a DNA test proving a relationship can be substituted in lieu of a birth certificate, accept that as the preferred form of evidence.
  • Obsolete the requirement to physically submit any applicant’s birth certificate. Two individuals viewing a certificate with the relevant parent’s information exposed, and the non-relevant parent obscured, should suffice when no other avenue can be utilized. This eliminates the storage and privacy issues and requirements.
  • Implement a system that records the fact that current members and applicants have submitted a paper birth certificate that includes the parent of interest, then shred the existing birth certificates for anyone living. Without proof of death, this is presumed to be anyone under 100 years of age.
  • Allow additional proofs like parents’ obituaries instead of children’s birth certificates. This can easily be verified using publicly available sources such as Newspapers.com., etc.
  • Utilize Y DNA primarily to eliminate a line, and only when the descendants don’t match at 111 markers or are a completely different base haplogroup, such as haplogroup C versus R. Evaluate Y DNA matches along with other evidence, specifically looking for a mutation trail, if appropriate.
  • Remove the out-of-date requirement for future descendants to be required to match the Y DNA of an already “paper proven” ancestor. Paper can easily be wrong.
  • Revamp the DNA policies and procedures to incorporate qualified analysis. Provide guidelines instead of rules.
  • Retain a competent genetic genealogist to analyze applications that include DNA evidence, understanding that a CG, certified genealogist, certificate has no bearing on or evidence of the competence of that individual in DNA analysis. There is no genetic genealogy certification and many people who consult in the autosomal space are not experienced in the Y and mitochondrial DNA arenas.

The Alternate Future

Many older genealogical organizations are struggling for life. For the Mayflower Society, 2020 is a banner year. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity by not hobbling themselves with out-of-date requirements that are unnecessarily risky to applicants.

Younger people won’t join otherwise. Out of date and unreasonably burdensome membership requirements will cause membership to shrink over time until the organization shrivels and dies, going the way of the dinosaurs.

I would like to join multiple lineage organizations, but that won’t happen until the organizations update their policies to utilize widely and inexpensively available technology, along with associated best practices.

If you’d like to see these suggested changes implemented, and especially if you would be willing to help, make your voices heard to lineage societies, especially if you are already a member.

These organizations play an important role in the preservation of the records and information of our ancestors. I hope they choose to adapt.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

A Heartfelt Thank You to a Wonderful Community!

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

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

A’hee’he, Thank You

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

William Brown thank you from Vee.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Funeral Brochure

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

William Brown funeral brochure

William Brown funeral brochure 2

William’s Military Funeral

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

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

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

Rest in Peace, William Tully Brown.

“You’ve reached your Rainbow.”

Veterans Benefits

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

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

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

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

A Pickle

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

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

Perhaps this has been the beginning of healing.

It feels good to reach out and help others.

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

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

You’re amazing!

A’hee’he

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

William Tully Brown, USMC Navajo Code Talker, Passes Over

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

Photo courtesy Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair.

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

William Passes Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Code Talker Quilt

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

Code Talker Quilt

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

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

Roberta Estes with Code Talker Quilt

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

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

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

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

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

William’s Legacy

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

Veteran, patriot, hero, humanitarian.

Ahee’hee

Rest in Peace, William Tully Brown.

Semper fi

USMC Navajo Code Talker patch

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Honoring Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beringia map

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

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

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

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

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

The Navajo Code Talkers

Veteran USMC William Tully Brown, Navajo Code Talker WWII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their pride and loyalty remains unwavering.

You can read more about the Code Talkers here.

The Language of Our Ancestors

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

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

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

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

The Navajo language roots confirms that connection.

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

Athabascan language map

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

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

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

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

DNA is Forever

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

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

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

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

_______________________

Attribution:

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

______________________________________________________________

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RootsTech 2019: The Conference Experience

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

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

Night and Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DNA Clothes

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

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

2019 genetic family tree front

2019 genetic family tree back.jpg

Wednesday

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

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

2019 social media tools

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

2019 Amy Johnson Crow

It was wonderful to meet Amy in person.

RootsTech Selfie Culture

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

Strolling

I took a stroll to see what was going on.

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

2019 booth setup

Genealogy, even conferences, is truly a family affair.

2019 connect belong web

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

2019 lab

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

Keynote by Steve Rockwood

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

2019 Rockwood keynote

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

2019 Edge Effect

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

2019 edge effect video

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

2019 Rockwood

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

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

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

2019 Michael Moore homecoming

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

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

2019 museum

The Museum representatives on stage with David Bednar.

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

2019 King

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

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

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

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

The Expo Hall

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

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

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

2019 ftdna booth presentation

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

Meeting With Steve Rockwood and Crew

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

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

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

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

About 15 people from the RootsTech team were present.

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

They remediated every single point.

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

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

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

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

Thursday

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

2019-Blaine-1.jpg

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

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

2019-ask.jpg

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

2019 MyHeritage booth

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

2019 King Henry

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

2019 WikiTree

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

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

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

2019-helix-vest.jpg

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

2019 helix vest back

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

2019-Mags.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

2019 MyHeritage breakfast

Our table at the MyHeritage breakfast.

After breakfast, on to the expo hall.

2019 familytreedna booth

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

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

2019 Lianne Kruger

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

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

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

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

Saroo Brierley

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

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

2019 Saroo Brierley

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

2019 Saroo triumph

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

2019 Saroo book

Saroo wrote a book about his moving miracle story.

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

2019 DNAQuest

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

MyHeritage Lunch

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

2019 Gilad Japhet

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

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

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

2019 Gilad family

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

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

2019 Gilad boy photo

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

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

Gilad shared other details as well, such as:

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

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

Theory of Family Relativity

2019 Theory of Family Relativity

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

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

2019 theory 1

2019 theory 2

2019 theory 3

2019 theory 4

2019 theory 5

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

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

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

2019 theory 6

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

2019 theory 7

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

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

2019 theory 8

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

2019 theory 9

Genetic Affairs Integrated Autoclustering

2019 autoclustering

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

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

2019 autoclustering 3

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

2019 autoclustering 4

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

2019 autoclustering 6

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

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

2019 autoclustering cost

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

2019 autocluster summary

DNA Everyplace

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

2019 Celebrate DNA

Yes, I ordered 3 t-shirts.

2019 DNAbasics

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

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

Kenyatta Berry in the FamilyTreeDNA Booth

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

2019 Kenyatta giveaway1

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

2019 Kenyatta giveaway2

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

2019-Kenyatta-giveaway3.jpg

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

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

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

2019 black helix vest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humor is particularly difficult and requires impeccable timing.

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

2019 ballroom b

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

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

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

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

2019 DNAexplain ribbon

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

By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted,

Saturday

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

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

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

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

Respite in the Speaker’s Lounge

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

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

2019 white helix vest

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

Jake Shimabukuro – Ukulele Master

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

2019 Jake

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

2019 Jake 2

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

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

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

2019 dancers

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

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

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

2019-Denise.jpg

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

2019 face helix

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

2019 Jarrett Ross

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

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

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

2019 sushi burrito

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

2019 connect belong end

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

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

2019 last dinner

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Journey to RootsTech 2019 – US Heartland From the Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why RootsTech?

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

The answer is three-fold:

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

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

I’ll share those photos tomorrow!

The Heartland from the Air

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

2019 chocolate carrots

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

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

2019 sky

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

2019 sky 2

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

2019 sky circles

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

2019 sky terrain

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

2019 sky begin mountains

The beginning of the mountainous area and lots more snow.

2019 sky tectonic

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

2019 sky river

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

2019 sky houses

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

2019 sky lake

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

2019 sky mountain

Just popped out beneath the clouds, beginning landing approach.

2019 mountains on approach

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

2019 mountains sun salt

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

2019 salt flats

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

2019 final approach

Final approach.

2019 SLC

There’s the city.

2019 landed

At the airport, obviously.

2019 SLC distance

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

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

2019 Salt Palace

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

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

2019 Temple Square

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

2019 Angel Moroni

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

2019 Temple Square entrance

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

2019 cabin

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

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

2019 cabin quilt

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

2019-cabin-bed.jpg

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

2019 spinning wheel

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

2019 stove

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

2019 barrels

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

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Childhood Christmas Memories

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

But families change, sometimes slowly, and sometimes abruptly.

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

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

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

Your Earliest Memories?

What are your earliest memories of Christmas?

Roberta second Christmas

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

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

Christmas Tree Special Delivery

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

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

Roberta Christmas age 4

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

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

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

Roberta rocking chair

I also recall my absolutely favorite gift that year.

A drum.

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

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

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

Grandmother’s House

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

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

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

Roberta Christmas age 4 grandmother's house

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

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

Roberta Christmas grandparents

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m glad we had that final Christmas together.

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

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

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

Change Cometh

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, mother asserted me, Santa was magical.

Would we have to do without a tree that year?

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

I wasn’t very reassured.

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

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

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

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

Three Years Later

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

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

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

Roberta Christmas age 9

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

The Ubiquitous Camera

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

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

Roberta Christmas age 15

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

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

I have several of these ornaments on my tree today.

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

Roberta Christmas Snowball

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

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

Roberta Christmas age 15 gifts.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

What About Your Family Memories?

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

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

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

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

As they tell their stories, write them down.

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________

Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research