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

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

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

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

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

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

The best strategy for protection is a combination of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid Strikes Close to Home

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

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

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

It. Doesn’t. Have. To. Be. This. Way.

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

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

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

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

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

How Did This Happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless the mask-wearers.

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

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

Two Cool DNA Masks

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

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

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

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

Tested DNA Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MitoYDNA Mask

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

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

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

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

Mask Tips and Tricks

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

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

Here are three tips and tricks that may help you.

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

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

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

I found 3 ways to retrofit my existing masks easily.

Option 1 – Aluminum Roasting Pan Nose Bridge Hack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 3 – Kleenex Tissues Hack

Don’t laugh.

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

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

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

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

Please, Wear a Mask

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

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

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

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

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

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23andMe Genetic Tree Provides Critical Clue to Solve 137-Year-Old Disappearance Mystery

DNA can convey messages from the great beyond – from times past and people that died long before we were born.

I had the most surprising experience this week. It began with receiving an email with the sender name of my long-time research buddy, cousin Garmon Estes.

It’s all the more surprising because not only did Garmon never own a computer, despite my ceaseless encouragement, he passed over in 2013 at the age of 85. So, imagine my shock to open my email to see a message from Garmon. Queue up spooky music😊

As it turned out, Garmon’s nephew is also Garmon. I had communicated with the family off and on over the years since the death of Garmon the elder. Garmon, the younger, had written to tell me that the second “great brick wall” that haunted his Uncle Garmon had fallen – and how that happened, thanks to DNA.

Garmon, the Elder

Estes Garmon

Garmon Estes, the elder

I first met Garmon the elder, via letter, back in the 1970s or maybe early 80s. He was an experienced genealogist and I was beginning.

At that time, Garmon had been chasing the identity of the father of our common ancestor, John R. Estes, for decades, and I was just embarking on what would become a lifelong adventure, or perhaps it could better be called an obsession.

John R. Estes had moved from some unknown location to Claiborne County, Tennessee with his wife and family about 1820. That’s pretty much all we knew at that time. Garmon had spent decades before the age of online records researching every John Estes he could find. I can’t even begin to tell you how many John Esteses existed that needed to be eliminated as candidates.

Garmon lived in California, far from Tennessee. I lived in Indiana, then Michigan – significantly closer. He began caring for his ill spouse, and I began traveling to dusty courthouses, sometimes reading musty books page by yellowed page, extracting everything Estes. Garmon worked from his local Family History Center when he could and wrote letters.

Between our joint sleuthing and many theories that we both composed and subsequently shot down, we narrowed John R. Estes’s location of origin to Halifax County, Virginia. However, there were multiple John Esteses living there at the same time, about the same age, none using middle initials reliably, and some not at all. How inconsiderate!

I began perusing every possible record. I had eliminated some Johns as candidates, most often because they clearly remained in the community after our John had moved to Claiborne County. Late one night, in our local family history center, I found that fateful clue – John R. Estes noted as (S.G.) short for “son of George,” on just one tax list. All it takes is that one gold-nugget record.

It was after 10 PM when I left the Family History Center and even later when I got home. I debated whether I should call Garmon or not, but I decided that indeed, he would want to know immediately, even if I did call at an inconvenient time or wake him up.

The discovery of John’s father, of course, opened the door for much more research, and it solved one of Garmon’s two brick walls that had haunted his genealogy life.

He never solved the second one, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

What Happened to Willis Alexander Garmon Estes?

Willis Alexander Garmon Estes was born on December 21, 1854, in Lenoir, Roane County, TN. His nickname was Willie.

Willie married Martha Lee Mathis in 1874 and they had 4 children beginning with the first child born the next year in Roane County. Sometime between 1875 and the birth of the second child in 1877, they migrated to Greenwood, Wise County, Texas where their next two children were born in 1877 and 1881.

Martha was pregnant for their fourth child in 1883 when something very strange happened. Willie disappeared, and I do mean literally and completely. Just poof, gone.

Not sure what to do, Martha’s father, who lived in Missouri, went to Texas to retrieve his pregnant daughter and her children and took her and the children home to Missouri where their last child was born that September.

Willie was only 28 when he vanished. The family, of course, had many stories about what happened. Texas at that time was pretty much the “wild west” and the stories about Willie reflected exactly that.

Texas was sometimes the refuge of outlaws and shady characters. One story revealed that Willie had shot a man back in Tennessee and the family fled to Louisiana, then Texas. Of course, that doesn’t tell us why he disappeared in Texas, but it opens the door to speculation and casts doubt on his character, perhaps.

Another story was that he was shot by Indians.

A third story stated that Willie settled in Indian Territory north of the Red River, now Oklahoma, and that he had an altercation with an Indian over the supposed theft of firewood, although who was accusing who was unclear. Willie shot the Indian, then had to flee for his life, leaving his pregnant wife and children as a posse of Indian Police surrounded his house. Willie supposedly promised Martha that he would return, but never did. It was reported that he was shot in Mexico, but no further details emerged.

Aren’t these just maddeningly vague???

Yet another story was that Willie headed for the goldfields of California, struck it rich, and was murdered on the way back home. The details varied, but one version had him murdered by a traveling companion on the trail. Another had him becoming ill and dying in a hospital in St. Louis where his wife went to search for him, to no avail. That might explain why she went back to Missouri, Garmon postulated. And yet a third version was some hybrid of the two where “someone” tried to find Willie’s family for years to reveal what had happened, and where, but was never successful. Of course, how did the family know about this if the mystery person was unable to find the family? But I digress.

Garmon desperately wanted to solve that mystery. He wanted closure.

I didn’t realize that the genealogy bug had bitten Garmon’s nephew too, but it clearly has. Garmon would be so proud.

With Garmon the younger’s permission, I’m publishing “the rest of the story,” Connecting the Dots, as written by Garmon the younger, with a few technical interjections from me involving DNA from time to time.

Connecting the Dots

In 2015, My dad Richard Estes, my brother Corey Estes, and I took a trip to Texas and Oklahoma to see if we could find out more about Willis Alexander Garmon Estes’ disappearance.

Estes greenwood

We visited Greenwood, Texas and nearby Decatur where we looked at historical records at the Wise County Clerk Office. We also went up to Oklahoma City to see the state archives and to Tishomingo to look at any records that might be available.

Estes Oklahoma history.png

Interestingly enough, we did not find any clues as to the disappearance of Willis Alexander Garmon Estes. There were no newspaper articles or criminal records concerning any incidents with Willis Alexander Garmon Estes. The only new information that we found was a couple of land deeds showing that Willis Alexander Garmon Estes’ brother Fielding had bought and sold land in Wise County during the time that Willis Alexander Garmon Estes was living in Greenwood.

We left empty-handed on our trip but our curiosity remained strong and we began talking to each other about going on another trip to Tennessee to speak with Estes family members in Loudon County to see if they might know something about Willis Alexander Garmon’s disappearance.

DNA Testing

In December of 2018, my wife, children, and I had our DNA tested using the service 23andMe. We received test results within a month of sending in saliva samples. The results did not reveal anything unusual.

Fast forward to October 2019. 23andMe introduced a new Family Tree feature that automatically creates a family tree based on the DNA results that you share with relatives in 23andMe. This was a fascinating feature and I noticed that all of my family members were automatically placed into the correct position on the family tree without me having to do anything.

[Roberta’s note – this is not always the case, so don’t necessarily expect the same level of accuracy. The tree is a wonderful innovative feature, just treat family placement as hints and not facts.]

Every few weeks as more and more people had their DNA tested on 23andMe, new relatives were added to the family tree.

In February 2020, I noticed something interesting under the location of Willis Alexander Garmon Estes on the family tree. A woman by the name of Edna appeared as a descendent of Willis Alexander Garmon Estes. The first thing I did was to try and get in contact with her on 23andMe. No luck. Next, I thought maybe she was the descendent of one of Willis Alexander Garmon’s sons (James, John, or George). However, after researching the descendants of each of those lines, Edna’s name did not appear.

The next step I took was to look up as many Ednas by that last name on ancestry.com as I could find and trace their ancestry back to see where it led.

There were two Ednas by that last name in the United States whose age matched the one on 23andMe. I traced both of their ancestry lines back to the 1800’s. Neither one had Willis Alexander Garmon Estes as an ancestor.

Breakthrough

During the middle of March 2020, when I was quarantined at home from work due to the COVID-19 virus, I took another look at Edna’s family lines. I noticed there was a gentleman by the name of James Henry Houston mentioned as an ancestor.

The interesting thing about James was that he was born on the same day, same year, and in the same county as Willis Alexander Garmon Estes. James Henry Houston was born on December 26, 1854 in Loudon County, Tennessee. This seemed like possibly more than a coincidence, so I dived into the data a little bit more.

I looked at federal census records to find out more about James Henry Houston’s past. Strangely there were no official records of him until May 12, 1889 when he married Allie Ona Taylor in Erath, Texas. Normally, if someone is born in 1854, they would show up in one of the federal census records of 1860, 1870, or 1880. James Henry Houston does not show up in any official federal census records until 1900.

According to ancestry records, James Henry Houston married Allie Ona Taylor in 1889 and resided in the Hood County region of Texas until 1910. During this time, he raised 8 children with his wife Allie.

In 1920, the federal census placed him and Allie in Whitehall, Montana. The last federal census he appears in is 1930. He lived in Pomona, California where he died in 1933 at the age of 78.

At this point, I thought it was highly likely that James Henry Houston and Willis Alexander Garmon Estes were the same person. If my hunch was correct then a photo of James Henry Houston would most likely show a resemblance to his son, my great grandfather John Alexander Estes.

Estes James Henry Houston

The photos above show a remarkable similarity in the eyes, nose, mouth, and facial structure between the two men. To me, the photo and historical evidence is enough to conclude that Willis Alexander Garmon Estes is James Henry Houston.

Garmon’s Concluding Thoughts

As I reflect on the fact that Willis Alexander Garmon Estes renamed himself James Henry Houston and moved from Wise County down to Hood County, Texas – approximately 60 miles distance to marry and raise a new family, many more questions come to mind.

What exactly happened to cause Willis Alexander Garmon Estes to leave his wife and children behind? Was it simply a marital dispute or did it involve a criminal offense and running from the law as was mentioned in the family lore?

Did my great grandfather know that his father lived in Pomona in 1930, which was only 6 miles away from where he was living in Rancho Cucamonga? Were there other family members that knew what happened but promised not to tell anyone else? We may never know.

Finally, I want to add one more piece to the story that I found fascinating. On ancestry.com, many of the family trees for James Henry Houston state that the mother and father of James Henry Houston was Jennie Bray and Henry Houston. No information is given for their birthdates or where they came from. The mother and father of Willis Alexander Garmon Estes was Jennie McVey and William Estes. The names Jennie Bray and Jennie McVey are very similar. In order to hide his true identity, James Henry Houston would have to make up a surname for his father since he called himself Houston, not Estes. Willis Alexander Garmon Estes had a brother named John Houston Estes. This might explain why James Henry Houston chose to use the surname Houston rather than another name.

Congratulations Garmon

I know this made Garmon the elder puff up with pride for Garmon the younger’s sleuthing skills and leap for joy at the solve. Garmon, the elder, had two main genealogy goals throughout his entire life. One was solved while he was living, but it took another generation to solve this one.

Great job, Garmon!

About the 23andMe Genetic Tree

23andMe is the only vendor to construct a “trial balloon” genetic tree based only on how the tester matches people and how they do, or don’t, match each other. This occurs with no input from testers in the form of genealogical trees of identifying how people are related to the tester.

Family Tree DNA has Phased Family Matching, MyHeritage has Theories of Family Relativity, and Ancestry has ThruLines which all do some sort of DNA+tree+relationship connectivity, but since 23andMe does not support user-created or uploaded trees, anything they produce has to be using DNA alone.

On one hand, it’s frustrating for genealogists, but on the other hand, there is sometimes a benefit to a different “all genetic” approach.

Of course, the only information that 23andMe has to utilize unless your parents have tested is how closely you match your matches and how closely your matches match each other. This allows 23andMe to place your matches at least in a “neighborhood” on your tree, at least approximately accurate, unless your parents are related to each other and that shared DNA causes things to get dicey quickly.

I wrote about 23andMe’s new relationship triangulation tree when it was first introduced in September 2019, nearly a year ago, here. The launch was rocky for a number of reasons, and if you’ve done genealogy for a long time, your research goals are likely to be further back in time than this 4 generation relationship tree will reveal.

23andMe tree

Click to enlarge

This is what my relationship tree looked like at the time the function was launched. You’ll note that 23andMe places relationships back in time 4 generations, to your great-great-grandparents, meaning that you might have 3rd or even 4th cousins showing up on your genetic tree.

I initially had a total of 18 people placed on my tree, with 3 being close family, 4 being accurate, 4 unknown, 1 uncertain and 6, or one third, inaccurate.

Keep in mind that 23andMe doesn’t make any provision to accommodate or take into account half-relationships, like half-brother or half-sister, either currently or historically. Therefore, descendant placement predictions can be “off” because half-siblings only carry the DNA from one common parent, instead of two, making those relationships appear more distant than they really are.

In Garmon’s case, his great-great-grandfather is the ancestor who was MIA, so the genetic tree has the potential to work well for this purpose.

Estes 23andme tree today

click to enlarge

Today, my tree looks somewhat different, with only 14 people displayed instead of 18, and 6 waiting in the wings to see if I can help 23andMe figure out how and where to place them.

Since the initial launch, customers have been given the opportunity to add their ancestors’ names to their nodes. This works just fine so long as nobody married more than once and had children from both marriages.

Estes Willie Alexander today

click to enlarge

 

Here’s a closer image of the left-hand side of my tree where I’ve super-imposed the location of Willis Alexander Garmon Estes and Edna, as they are related to Garmon the Younger, at bottom right. Ignore the other names – I only utilized my own tree for an example tree structure.

One more generation and it’s unlikely that 23andMe would have made the connection between Edna and Garmon the younger.

Not only does this illustrate the perfect reason to test the oldest generations in your family, but also never to ignore an unknown match that seems to be within the past 3 or 4 generations. You never know what mysteries you might unravel.

Four generations actually reaches back in time quite substantially. In my case, my great-great-grandparents were born in 1805, 1810, 1812, 1813, 1815, 1816, 1818 (2), 1820, 1822, 1827, 1829, 1830, 1832, 1841 and 1848.

If you have mysteries within your closest 4 generations to unravel, the genetic tree at 23andMe might provide valuable clues, but only if you’re willing to do the requisite work to figure out HOW these people match you.

You can’t transfer your DNA file TO 23andMe, so if you want to have your results in the 23andMe database, you’ll need to test there.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Garmon Estes, the younger, for generously sharing this story and allowing publication. My heart was warmed to see your generational research trip.

Thank you to Garmon Estes, the elder, for being my research partner for so many years. You can finally RIP now, although somehow I suspect you already have these answers.

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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.

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Genealogy Research

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

Pandemic pig.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Fatigue

pandemic fatigue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pandemic garden.jpg

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

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

pandemic wildflower garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Common Thread

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

pandemic contrails.jpg

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

There’s a lot of loss, for sure.

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

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

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

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

Pandemic phlox

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

pandemic lily.jpg

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

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

pandemic red lily

Maintaining an Even Keel

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Rainbow

When will the Pandemic Journal series end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pandemic plague doctor

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

pandemic rainbow.jpg

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Plea to Ancestry – Rethink Match Purge Due to Deleterious Effect on African American Genealogists

I know this article is not going to be popular with some people and probably not with Ancestry, but this is something I absolutely must say. Those of us in the position of influencers with a public voice bear responsibility for doing such.

Let me also add that if you are of European heritage and you think this topic doesn’t apply to you – if you have any unidentified ancestors – it does. Don’t discount and skip over. Please read. Our voices need to be heard in unison.

Ancestry Lewis.jpg

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line. Ancestry’s planned purge of smaller segments, 6-8 cM, is the exact place that African Americans (and mixed Native Americans too) find their ancestral connections. This community has few other options.

I’m sure, given the Ancestry blog post by Margo Georgiadis, Ancestry’s President and CEO on June 3rd that this detrimental effect is not understood nor intentional.

Ancestry Margo

Margo goes on to say, “At Ancestry, our products seek to democratize access to everyone’s family story and to bring people together.”

Yet, this planned match purge at the beginning of August does exactly the opposite. The outpouring of anguish from African American researchers has been palpable as they’ve described repeatedly how they use these segments to identify their genetic ancestors.

Additionally, my own experiences with discovering several African American cousins over the past few days as I’ve been working to preserve these smaller segment matches has been pronounced. I can even tell them which family they connect through. A gift them simply cannot receive in any other way – other than genetic connections

These two factors, combined, the community outcry and my own recent experiences are what have led me to write this article. In other words, I simply can’t NOT write it.

I trust and have faith that Ancestry will rethink their decision and utilize this opportunity for good and take positive action. Accordingly, I’ve provided suggestions for how Ancestry can make changes that will allow people on both sides of this equation, meaning those who want to keep those smaller segment matches and those glad to be rid of them, to benefit – and how to do this before it’s too late.

I don’t know if Ancestry has African American genealogists who are both passionate and active, or mixed-race genealogists, on their management decision-making team or in their influencer group, but they should.

I don’t think Ancestry realizes the impact of what they are doing. African American research is different. Here’s why.

African American History and Genetic Genealogy

Slavery ended in the US in the 1860s. Formerly enslaved persons who had no agency and control over their own lives or bodies then adopted surnames.

We find them in the 1870 census carrying a surname of unknown origin. Some adopted their former owner’s surname, some adopted others. Generally today, their descendants don’t know why or how their surnames came to be.

Almost all descendants of freed slaves are admixed today, a combination of African, European and sometimes Native Americans who were enslaved alongside Africans.

Closer DNA matches reflect known and unknown family in the 3 or 4 generations since 1870, generally falling in the 2nd to 4th cousin range, depending on the ages of the people at the time of emancipation and also the distance between births in subsequent generations.

Ancestry freed ancestors.png

The three red generations are the potential testers today. The cM values, the amount of potential matching DNA at those relationship levels are taken from DNAPainter, here, which is an interactive representation of Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.

Assuming we’re not dealing with an adoption or unknown parent situation, most people either know or can fairly easily piece together their family through first or second cousins.

You can see that it’s not until we get to the third and fourth cousin level that genealogists potentially encounter small segment matches. However, at that level, the average match is still significantly above the Ancestry purge threshold of 6-8 cM. In other words, we might lose some of those matches, but the closer the match, the higher the probability that we will match them (at all) and that we will match them above the purge threshold.

Looking again at the DNAPainter charts, we see that it’s not until we move further out in terms of relationships that the average drops to those lower ranges.

Ancestry DNAPainter

Here’s the challenge – relationships that occurred before the time of emancipation are only going to be reflected in relationships more distant than fourth cousins – and that is the exact range where smaller segment matches can and do come into play most often.

The more distant the relationship, the smaller the average amount of shared DNA, which means the more likely you are ONLY to be able to identify the relationship through repeated matching of other people who share that same ancestor.

Let me give you an example. If you match repeatedly to a group of people who descend from Thomas Dodson in colonial Virginia, through multiple children, especially on the same segment, you need to focus on the Dodson family in your research. If you’re a male and your Y DNA matches the Dodson line closely, that’s a huge hint. This holds for any researcher, especially for females without surnames, but it applies to all ancestral lines for African American researchers.

If an African American researcher is trying to identify their genetic ancestors, that likely includes ancestors of European origin. Yes, this is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s the unvarnished truth.

Full stop.

How Can African Americans Identify European Ancestors?

While enslaved people did not have surnames from the beginning of their history on these shores until emancipation, European families did. Male lines carried the same surname generation to generation, and female surnames changes in a predictable pattern, allowing genealogists to track them backward in time (hopefully.)

Given that African American researchers are literally “flying blind,” attempting to identify people with whom to reconnect, with no knowledge of which families or surnames, they must be able to use both DNA matches and the combined ancestral trees of their matches in order to make meaningful connections.

For more information on how this is accomplished, please read the articles here and here.

Tool or Method How it Works Available at Ancestry?
Y DNA for males Identifies the direct paternal line by surnames and also the haplogroup provides information as to the ancestral source such as European, African, Asian or Native American. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA.
Mitochondrial DNA Identifies the direct matrilineal line. The haplogroup shows the ancestral source such as European, Native American, Asian or African. You can read about the different kinds of DNA, here. No, only available at FamilyTreeDNA
Clustering Identifies people all matching the tester and also matching to each other. No, available through Genetic Affairs and DNAGedcom before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them in June.
Genetic Trees Tools to combine the trees of your matches to each other to identify common ancestors of your matches. You do not need a known tree for this to work. No, available at Genetic Affairs before Ancestry issued a cease and desist letter to them.
Downloading Match Information Including the direct ancestors for your matches. No, Ancestry does not allow this, and tools like Pedigree Thief and DNAGedcom that did provide this functionality were served with cease-and-desist orders.
Painting Segments Painting segments at DNAPainter allows the tester to identify the ancestral source of their segments. Multiple matches to people with the same ancestor indicates descent from that line. This is how I identify which line my matches are related to me through – and how I can tell my African American cousins how they are related and which family they descend from. No. Ancestry does not provide segment location information, so painting is not possible with Ancestry matches unless both people transfer to companies that provide matching segment information and a chromosome browser (MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA)
ThruLines at Ancestry Matches your tree to same ancestor in other people’s trees. ThruLines is available to all testers, but the tester MUST have a tree and some connection to an ancestor in their tree before this works. Potential ancestors are sometimes suggested predicated on people already in the tester’s tree connected to ancestors in their matches trees. For ThruLines to work, a connection must be in someone’s tree so a connection can be made. There are no tree links for pre-emancipation owned families. Those connections must be made by DNA.
DNA Matching Matching shows who you match genetically. Testers must validate that the match is identical by descent and not identical by chance by identifying the segment’s ancestry and confirming through either a parental match or matching to multiple cousins descending from the same ancestor at that same location. Segments of 7 cM have about a 50-50 chance of being legitimate and not false matches. Of course, that means that 50% are valid and tools can be utilized to determine which matches are and are not valid. All matches are hints, one way or another. You can read more, here. Ancestry performs matching, but does not provide segment information. Testers can, however, look for multiple matches with the same ancestors in their trees. Automated tools such as Genetic Affairs cannot be used, so this needs to be done one match at a time. The removal of smaller segment matches will remove many false matches, but will also remove many valid matches and with them, the possibility of using those matches to identify genetic ancestors several generations ago, before 1870.
Shared Matching Shows tester the people who match in common with them and another match. Ancestry only shows shared matches of “fourth cousins and closer,” meaning only 20 cM and above. This immediately eliminates many if not most relevant shared matches from before emancipation – along with any possibility of recovering that information.

The Perfect, or Imperfect, Storm

As you can see from the chart above, African American genealogists are caught in the perfect, or imperfect, storm. Many tools are not available at Ancestry at all, and some that were have been served with cease-and-desist letters.

The segments this community most desperately needs to make family connections are the very ones most in jeopardy of being removed. They need the ability to look at those matches, not just alone, but in conjunction with people they match in clusters, plus trees of those clustered matches to identify their common ancestors.

Ancestry has the largest database but provides very few tools to benefit people who are searching for unknown ancestors, especially before 1850 – meaning people who don’t have surnames to work with.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to African American researchers, but any genealogist who is searching for women whose surnames they don’t know. This also applies to people with unknown parentage that occurred a few generations back in time.

However, the difference is that African American genealogists don’t have ANY surnames to begin with. They literally hit their brick wall at 1870 and need automated tools to breach those walls. Removing their smaller segment matches literally removes the only tool they have to work with – the small scraps and tidbits available to them.

Yes, false matches will be removed, but all of their valid matches in that range will be removed too – nullifying any possibility of discovery.

A Plan Forward

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m no longer invited to the Ancestry group calls. I’m fine with that because I’m not in any way constrained by embargoes or expectations. I only mention this for those of you who wonder why I’m saying this now, publicly, and why I didn’t say it earlier, privately, to Ancestry. I would have, had the opportunity arisen.

That said, I want to focus on finding a way forward.

Some options are clearly off the table. I’m sure Ancestry is not going to add Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, since they did that once and destroyed that database, along with the Sorenson database later. I’m equally as sure that they are not going to provide segment location information or a chromosome browser. I know that horse is dead, but still, chromosome browser…

My goal is to identify some changes Ancestry can make quickly that will result in a win-win for all researchers. It goes without saying that if researchers are happy, they buy more kits, and eventually, Ancestry will be happier too.

Right now, there are a lot, LOT, of unhappy researchers, but not everyone. So what can we do to make everyone happier?

Immediate Solutions

  • Remove the cease and desist orders from the third-party tools like Genetic Affairs, DNAGedcom, Pedigree Thief and other third-party tools that researchers use for clustering, automated tree construction, downloading and managing matches.

This action could be implemented immediately and will provide HUGE benefits for the African American research community along with anyone who is searching for ancestors with no surnames. Who among us doesn’t have those?

  • Instead of purging small segment matches, implement a setting where people can define the threshold where they no longer see matches. The match would still appear to the other person. If I don’t want to see matches under 8 cM, I can select that level. If someone else wants to see all matches to 6 cM, they simply do nothing and see everything.
  • Continue to provide new matches to the 6 cM level. In other words, don’t just preserve what’s there today, but continue to provide this match level to genealogists.
  • Add shared matches under 20 cM so that genealogists know they do form clusters with multiple matches.

Longer-Term Solutions

  • Partner with companies like Genetic Affairs and DNAgedcom, tools that provided not just match data, but automated solutions. These wouldn’t have been so popular if they weren’t so effective.
  • Implement some form of genetic networks, like clustering. Alternatively, form alliances with and embrace the tools that already exist.

The Message Customers Hear

By serving the third-parts tools that serious genealogists used daily with cease-and-desist orders, then deleting many of our matches that can be especially useful when combined with automated tools, the message to genealogists is that our needs aren’t important and aren’t being heard.

For African American genealogists, these tools and smaller matches are the breadcrumbs, the final breadcrumb trail when there is nothing else at all that has the potential to connect them with their ancestors and connect us all together.

Let me say this again – many African Americans have nothing else.

To remove these small matches, rays of hope, is nothing short of immeasurably cruel, and should I say it, just one more instance of institutionalized racism, perpetrated without thinking. One more example of things the African American community cannot have today because of what happened to them and their ancestors in their past.

Plea

I will close this plea to Ancestry with another quote from Margaret Georgiadis from Ancestry’s blog.

Ancestry Margo 2.png

Businesses don’t get to claim commitment when convenient and then act otherwise. I hope this article has helped Ancestry to see a different perspective that they had not previously understood. Everyone makes mistakes and has to learn, companies included.

Ancestry, this ball’s in your court.

Feedback to Ancestry

I encourage you to provide feedback to Ancestry, immediately, before it’s too late.

You can do this by any or all of the following methods:

Ancestry support

Ancestry BLM.png

Speak out on social media, in groups where you are a member, or anyplace else that you can. Let’s find a solution, quickly, before it’s too late in another 10 days or so.

As John Lewis said, #goodtrouble.

Make a difference.

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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

Pandemic Journal: Rise Up

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

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

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

Straight Up

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

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

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

No One is Exempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dichotomy

4th sky.jpg

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

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

4th roses

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

I mean, what could it hurt? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

In for the Long Haul

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

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

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

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

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

The 4th of July

pexels-photo-769525

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Want to Either

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

We’re all exhausted and we need a break.

4th lavender.jpg

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

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

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

Choose Love as Your Legacy

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

Maybe I’m just whistling past the graveyard.

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

Think about your legacy. You are living it now.

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

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

Or will you be the voice of kindness and reason?

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

Will you rise up to meet the challenge?

Rise Up

Now’s the time.

Rise up.

Rise up and be counted for what you believe.

Rise up for good.

Rise up for right.

Rise up to protect others.

Rise up to defeat hatred.

Rise up and wear a mask.

Rise up and bring someone else with you.

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

Trust me on this one.

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

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

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

4th rise up4th rise up mother

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Rise. Up.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

MyHeritage New Photo Enhancer – Seeing Family Faces for the First Time

MyHeritage has introduced a wonderful new photo enhancement tool.

A few months ago, MyHeritage introduced their photo colorization tool. I uploaded many photos and colorized old black and white family photos. I wrote about that here and colorized several photos of Mom and her amazing dance partner, here.

I knew that improvements were underway, but the newly released MyHeritage Photo Enhancer, which works in conjunction with, or separately from the colorizer, is absolutely wonderful.

The new Photo Enhancer brings blurry, grainy or fuzzy photos into focus. It works amazingly well on old photos, especially groups, that were taken in black and white although it works on color pictures too. For black and white, colorizing the result makes them literally come to life in an unimaginable, breathtaking way.

And of course, there’s a story…my grandfather was a photographer, that is, when he wasn’t bootlegging. Yea, a moonshining photographer – and not one picture of his mother-in-law. There’s a joke in there someplace.

My Grandfather

I never knew my father’s side of the family. My parents were divorced and my father died when I was a child. His father, my grandfather, William George Estes, known as Will, lived to be almost 99 and died when I was in high school.

My grandfather lived in another state, 800+ miles away, and wasn’t the most upstanding of citizens. He, apparently, was not interested one iota in me. I never met him and didn’t even realize he had been alive during my lifetime until some years after his death.

Retrospectively, that’s probably for the best, considering I would likely, as a rebellious teen, have been easily influenced by a bootlegging grandpa. Maybe influenced isn’t the correct word. I would have welcomed Grandpa with open arms, wanting to sample each of his wares that he had spent decades perfecting. I would have volunteered to be the taste tester. That combined with the “less than stellar” aspect of his character is probably exactly why my mother never mentioned him.

Some of the stories I’ve heard about him since since would curl your toenails.

All that said, after I began researching my genealogy, I was intensely curious about the side of my family that I never knew. I found and made contact with my father’s sisters – the elderly, eccentric crazy aunts.

Photographer 

Will married my grandmother in 1892 at the ripe old age of 19 and drifted from job to job for years. Not long after the wedding, rumored to have taken place on horseback in the road at the county line, since he was from Claiborne County and she was from neighboring Hancock County, the young couple left Tennessee for Springdale, Arkansas.

Had he stayed in Claiborne County, Will would have farmed. There was little else to be done. He would have built a cabin in Estes Holler and tried to eek a living out of some rocky area not already being cultivated. Opportunity beckoned elsewhere.

In Arkansas, my grandmother, Ollie, ran a boarding house and according to her, Will fished all day and drank, generally at the same time, and was pretty much good for nothing.

A few years and four babies later, Ollie grew tired of his shiftlessness and aversion to work, and the couple, now with two living children headed back for Tennessee. He promised to do better back home, and at least she would have her family nearby.

I don’t know exactly when Will bought his first camera, but I can get some idea by when he began to take photographs of his parents, Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.

color Lazarus black and white

In the photo where they look the youngest, I’d say they are about 50, which would date the photo to about 1898 or so. You can see that Will used a backdrop, because you can see the field stones in the building to the right.

I had colorized this photo before.

color lazarus

Now, I’ve enhanced it too.

Estes, Lazarus Enhanced.png

This resolution is remarkable. Just look at this.

Now, for the closeup.

Estes, Lazarus close

Aren’t these just amazing? I have no idea what the caterpillar-looking “growth” is beneath Lazarus’s nose – perhaps a flaw in the more than century old photo. I don’t have the original.

Estes, Elizabeth Vannoy close.png

The census tells us that Will and Ollie had returned to Claiborne County, Tennessee by 1900. Will reported when the census-taker came around that he was a farmer and that he had been out of work for 6 months. Given that the census was taken in June, that meant he had been out of work for the entire year. The couple lived next to Lazarus, who was also a farmer, but hadn’t been out of work at all. Hmmm….maybe Will was fishing again.

It was about this time that Will bought a camera. Maybe Lazarus bought it for him, purchasing the “high-falutin’” camera on one of his trips to Knoxville as a way to encourage his son to do something – anything.

Will would travel around the countryside attending various family reunions and taking pictures with his black camera, perched on a tripod, with a black cloth that covered Will’s his head and the top of the camera. People still remembered him riding a horse with that camera in the saddle bags when I first began interviewing the older people in the 1970s and 1980s.

Will would join people’s family reunions and take pictures all weekend. Most reunions weren’t just a day, but lasted for several, complete with great food and plenty of liquor.

Will would then develop the photos and go back to visit for another weekend where the family would gather to purchase or order photos. More food and liquor.

He loved this setup. Seeing another opportunity, soon, he was taking along some of his home-brewed liquor to sell too.

Ollie, as you might imagine, was left home tending to the children – and none too happy with Will.

Then, one Saturday night, tragedy struck.

Their cabin burned, claiming the life of their son, Robert. Neither parent was at home. The oldest child, Estel, age 12 or 13, had been left in charge and tried to get Robbie out of the cabin, but he hid under the bed, where he died. Estel was able to get the rest of the children out of the house.

Estes Ollie and kids 1907 colorized and enhanced

Photo both enhanced and colorized using the MyHeritage photo tools.

We don’t know exactly when Robbie died, but we know, based on Estel’s age at the time, what Aunt Margaret said about the event, her age in this photo, and Robbie’s absence, that the fire occurred before April, 1907.

This is not the picture of a happy family. This is a picture of grief.

Uncle George eventually planted a willow, also now gone, on the bank of the creek where their cabin stood – a silent marker to Robbie. His grave in the family cemetery, long since lost, is probably marked with a field stone.

Willow in Claiborne cabin location.jpg

Ollie and Will were never the same after Robbie’s death, although they did remain married for a few more years.

The Man Behind the Camera 

Because Will was the person behind the camera, we have very few photos of him. Not only just during this time, but for the duration of his life.

None of the photos of Will are either large or clear. I was lucky to obtain any at all.

After their divorce, his children by Ollie didn’t see much of their father, so photos were altogether quite scarce. The few I have of him in later years were contributed by other family members.

MyHeritage

The earliest photo that includes my grandfather is from about 1910 when Will would have been about 37 years old. My aunt told me the camera had been fitted with a timer or remote release so he could be in photos too.

Estes 1910 family

I uploaded this photo to MyHeritage, without much hope. It’s small, at least somewhat blurry and has lots of people.

Estes 1910 family enhanced.png

Here, the photo has been both colorized and enhanced. Better than I expected.

But what I saw next took my breath away.

Estes William George 1910 close

That’s my grandfather.

I have never seen this man.

And he’s staring right at me with soul-piercing eyes – across a divide of 110 years.

I presumed Will looked similar to my father, and while he does, he also looks different. (Yes, the DNA has been verified – no NPEs in this line.)

Will’s draft registration tells us that he was medium height and build and had brown eyes and black hair.

That looks accurate.

He’s not clean shaven. I didn’t realize that in the other photo. He’s also not balding – perhaps a nod to our Native American ancestors who generally don’t bald.

About this time, Will and Ollie moved to Fowler, Indiana as tenant farmers. A year or two later, family was visiting, so another picture.

Estes 1913 Fowler cropped

Next, colorized and enhanced.

Estes 1913 enhanced.png

And now for my grandfather again.

Estes 1913 Will close

Was Will trying to grow a beard, and couldn’t? This one looks a bit scruffy. Is that his beard below his ear on the left-hand side of this picture?

Shortly after this photo was taken, Will and Ollie divorced. Ollie moved to Chicago, and Will went back south, settling in Harlan County, KY – bloody Harlan – moonshine capital of Appalachia.

There are no more photos of Will until more than 20 years later, in the 1930s or 1940s.

Estes, Will and Cornie.jpg

Will and his sister, Cornie Estes Epperson.

Estes, Will and Cornie enhanced

And again, his closeup.

Estes Will 1940 close.png

Hmm, his beard – you can see it’s thin and scruffy here too. I wonder if he couldn’t grow a beard – another hallmark of Native American heritage.

It’s one thing to see photos of my grandfather where he’s a small grey entity in a black and white photo, and another to see him literally in living color, just as if I were looking at him in person today.

And do I ever, ever have questions for this man. So many questions.

Next, I’d like MyHeritage to implement Photo Speaker where the ancestors answer questions😊

It’s Your Turn

Surely you must already be thinking about your photos that can potentially be enhanced. There’s nothing to lose by trying. It’s free.

If you already uploaded photos to be colorized, you can simply sign in to your account, click on “My photos” under the “Family tree” tab, select a photo and click on the Enhance “magic wand” icon. There’s more, too.

Let’s walk through this step by step.

Enhancing Photos – Step-by-Step

First, scan your photos at the highest resolution possible.

Click here and you’ll see the following image:

Estes MyHeritage enhance

You can either drag and drop a photo onto that page, or upload your photos by clicking on the little orange “Upload photo” link. If you don’t have an account already, you’ll be asked to create a free one.

There are additional benefits to having an account and working with your photos at MyHeritage. I’ll show you momentarily.

I have only one photo of me with my Dad. My fingers are crossed that this will work. We’re going to find out together.

Me and Dad

I dragged this photo of me and my Dad, plus an unknown child at bottom left and dropped it into the frame. The Enhancer got busy and in a few seconds – which seemed like the longest minute ever – the photo was ready.

Here’s the enhanced “after” photo.

Drum roll….

Estes me dad enhanced.png

You’re being shown the composite view, but you can click on the various people to see their faces.

Estes Dad 1956 enhanced

I think my Dad has my grandpa’s hairline – what do you think?

Estes 1956 me enhanced.jpg

And here’s me as a baby.

Next, I’m going to click on colorize.

Estes 1956 dad me colorized

What does Dad look like now?

Estes 1956 dad colorized.jpg

Dad’s hair was salt and pepper grey by this point, and I suspect the last photo of my grandfather where his hair looks lighter means that his was grey too.

Estes 1956 me colorized

I look for this baby’s face in my face today, and I look for me in my father’s face too.

Estes go to photos.png

You can download your enhanced photos, but they are automatically saved for you at MyHeritage.

There’s MORE!

Next, click on “Go to my photos,” or you can simply click on My photos” under the Family Tree tab, below.

Estes my photos

You can do everything you need to do with photos from this tab.

If you’ve just set up your account, import your GEDCOM file of your tree to give yourself a head start.

You’ll want your family members to be in your tree, because now you’re going to tag and link the photos to the correct people.

On your My photos page, you’ll see all of the photos you’ve uploaded whether you’ve colorized or enhanced them or not. Both versions are here, before and after.

If you have photos you uploaded prior to these features being available, you can easily colorize them and enhance them by simply clicking on the photo. You can tell which have been colorized or enhanced by the icons displayed over the photos

Estes photo gallery.png

The first two photos have the magic enhancement wand button and the colorize button displayed, so those photos have had both treatments. The third photo, at right, has only been enhanced. You always see the original photo displayed on your page initially.

To tag people in photos, click on the photo, which will expand to a screen, shown below.

Estes tag

You’ll notice that you can type a comment and also that you can tag photos. If you fly your mouse over the faces of the people, you’ll be able to tag them with their name, if they are in your tree.

Estes dad tag
I clicked in the frame to start tagging, began typing the person’s name, and the system showed me candidates. William Sterling Estes is the only person in the database with that name, so I’m selecting him.

I tagged myself too. At right, the photo information is updated.

Estes two tags

Now, when I see this photo and fly over the people, the tag box shows me the identity of that person.

Estes tag box.png

By clicking on the little dots to the right of the name of the person you’ve tagged, you can visit their profile page, among other things.

Estes profile page.png

The photo you tagged is automatically saved to their profile page.

Estes dad profile page

When you look at your tree, you’ll see that it’s now “decorated” with the ancestors you’ve tagged, and you likely have different kinds of hints waiting for you.

Estes tree with photos.png

You’ll notice informational icons for each person in your tree.

Estes smart matches

  • The green icon indicates Smart Matches to other people’s trees which may include additional photos, if they’ve uploaded photos to their trees too.
  • The brown sheet-of-paper icon indicates historical record matches, such as census, books and other records.

MyHeritage allows a complimentary 250 person tree for free, but you’ll want to add more people or better yet, upload your GEDCOM file. You’ll also want to take advantage of Smart Matches, super searches, hints, DNA tools and record matches that are benefits of a subscription.

I’m so grateful for the integration between the various MyHeritage tools – and I especially love seeing the faces of my ancestors.

Thank you, thank you, thank you MyHeritage!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Pandemic Journal: Memorial Day 2020

Memorial half mast

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

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

Why didn’t I round 98,004 to 98,000?

Because every single one of those people matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the Worst That Will Happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And…this outcome is avoidable.

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

Who’s Vulnerable?

Everyone.

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

But…of those 7…

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

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

If they die, that gaping wound would never heal.

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

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

Honoring the Dead

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

Memorial poppy

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

Volunteers often place flags on graves of all veterans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you one and all.

Memorial Arlington

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

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

Family Traditions

Memorial cemetery cleanup

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

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

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

Memorial cemetery picnic

Military Family Members Honored

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

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

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

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

Samuel Bolton Plank Cem

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

Frank Sadowski

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

All, lives cut short.

The Covid War

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial week planes

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

Just today.

Memorial month planes

Here are the planes from just this week.

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

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

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

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

Would preventing one plane crash be worth it?

Two?

Half of the crashes?

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

Memorial poppy field

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

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

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

10 Ways I Wish I Had Organized My Research Library

library.png

No, I don’t quite have that many books – it just feels that way. Nor are my books that neatly organized, believe me. In fact, that’s the problem.

My organizational lament isn’t so much about the physical locations of my books, but about the organizational tools and methods of finding the correct book when I need it. I know I’m missing things in my research as a result.

Let me explain.

My bookshelves today are organized by county and state, sort of. Keep in mind that I’ve been accumulating books and resources for decades, and I’ve moved during this period, more than once.

Accumulation over time tends to outgrow the originally allotted space. And no, Marie Kondo and books should not even be in the same article. ALL of my books bring me joy – and that’s that.

However, organizing books usefully for genealogy research has been challenging. How is “usefully for genealogy research” defined? Genealogy is in some ways different than library systems and books for pleasure reading.

Let’s take a look.

My Library

To begin with, genealogists often deal with published resources that aren’t published in the traditional manner.

This is (a small) part of my area for Tennessee county records.

library spiral.png

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to shelve or even see the names of spiral bound resources. I also ran out of space, so some books are stacked on top of others. Notice how few names I can see.

library 3 ring.png

Then of course, those 3-ring binders. Real libraries don’t have to deal with 3-ring binders either, but they are an organizational staple for genealogists.

I have bookshelves, but not enough shelf space. Who does?? Some things that probably belong in spiral binders are in filing cabinets, and vice versa. I actually Marie Kondoed something and threw away the printed 1790 NC census (yes, seriously) because it’s available online in lots of places.

My shelving resources were not all created at the same time. It’s kind of like a house that has been added onto for years. I did not redo my shelving plan with each addition. I just started using the added shelf space. So some things are in separate rooms from others. These county and state resources are intermixed.

library place books.png

Another problem is that some books have information that doesn’t really “go” in any one place. For example, the Virginia records could have information for many families and counties. How do I remember to check them for each family that they might/would pertain to?

Some books are even less specific – about Native American, Acadian or Scotch-Irish people, or women of a particular genre. And what is “Lethal Encounters” about, anyway? If I take it off the shelf to look, I may get nothing else done for the rest of the day.

library leftovers.png

Now add into that mixture technical and academic papers about genetics, labels that fell off, misfiled resources (why is Tinkling Springs in with the haplogroup binders?), ebooks that I own but are not on a shelf and therefore, easy to lose or forget about, papers on my computer along with physical overflow – and I’m sunk.

Yes, ahem, I do have two copies of the same book in those pictures. I just noticed. Another reason why I need a better system and to check it before I make purchases.

I know I should be embarrassed to even publish these pictures – but it’s the truth and I’d wager every one of you has something similar.

And I haven’t even gotten to that thing called pleasure reading. Those books are overflowing off of a different shelf in another room with little organization other than by general topic. For the most part, I haven’t touched them with the exception of historical stories, including novels, especially juicy ones. My pleasure reading tends to be something about my ancestors or genetics although I have a shelf full of good intentions.

My Solution

Several years ago, I paid one of my college-student offspring to help me set up a spreadsheet to track my holdings. You can use Excel in MSWord or if you have a Google account, Sheets is free under Google Docs.

Library Docs.png

Library Sheets.png

That student-labor approach worked great for a while, at least until said child no longer needed extra income. The project wasn’t complete, and I didn’t complete or continue the project myself. My bad. I’d rather work on genealogy, genetics or write blog articles.

Library spreadsheet.png

As you can see, this spreadsheet is a good start. Because it’s in spreadsheet format, it’s sortable. This helps immensely, but I’ve discovered it’s not enough.

What I Wish I Had Done

  1. I actually wish I had numbered the books and numbered the shelves too. In essence, similar to a library system, just not as complex. Then the books could be assigned to a shelf and I would know where to look for them. You might notice that I have a general location, but nothing more. If I knew where to look, even if the book was spiral bound, I’d see that in a note, know what I was looking for, and find the location between the shelf number and county affiliation or topic.
  2. I wish I had added a column for geography, probably counties, that the resource pertains to. I could add several in one cell, but that means I’d have to search, not sort, for the county name, like Wilkes, North Carolina. The state would need to be a second column, because county names repeat between states.
  3. Another alternative, of course, would be to work with a database instead of a spreadsheet because databases allow multiple entries for a single field. I could have Wilkes, Ashe, Surry and several more counties and states for a single book. In a different spreadsheet for another topic, I entered a duplicate row for each separate resource. In this case, I would have the book entered once for Wilkes County and once for Ashe County, which negates the need for a database in a bit of a clunky way.
  4. I wish I had added a column for the surname lines that each resource would or might pertain to in my genealogy. For example, I have several surnames in the same county, because that’s what happens when your ancestors stay in the same place for a few generations. When I discover a new surname, or need to recheck something, I need to be able to find the resources that are available for that location, and then add the new surname to all books that could be useful for that ancestral line.
  5. I wish I had added a column to track which resources I’ve used for a particular surname and person. For example, did I search in the 1787 Lunenburg County census for all of the surnames and people, or do I need to review that resources for people I’ve found more recently?
  6. I wish I had recorded when I added that resource to my library which might help me remember who I have and have not used it for.
  7. I have not added any resources that I don’t own, but that are available for counties elsewhere. I use FamilySearch and FamilySearch wiki for county information, but it’s not complete. Generally, it also doesn’t list more general resources that might pertain to that county. For example, I just discovered transcribed court notes for Wilkes County on Lulu.com. Now I need to search at Lulu for all of the rest of my research counties and surnames. Who knew?
  8. I wish I had made notes. For example, what exactly is “The 10,000 Year Explosion” about, and how might it pertain to my research, either genealogy or anthropological? I don’t remember if I read it.
  9. I need to add a disposition (de-accessioning) field. Yes, although the thought is traumatizing for me, I will be passing some books on before I pass on, hopefully, and have already begun that process. I need to know when the books left and who they are now living with. Having said that, it might be nice to note where I got the book in the first place and how much it cost. I do have a few rare books and some that are first edition signed collectors’ items. I fear those being sold at a garage sale after my death for a dime. (I think I might have an unnatural attachment to my books😊)
  10. The ever-changing DNA testing landscape and multiple (kinds of) tests providing DNA matches from multiple vendors needs to be recorded, somehow, as a resource too. For example, did I search for a Y DNA tester for my John Combs (1705-1762) line? If so, are they in the Combs surname project at Family Tree DNA? Did I send an Ancestry or MyHeritage message to someone to see if they would take a DNA test, or about their results? Have I used DNAGedcom.com to search for specific target surnames in my match list or GeneticAffairs to look for ancestral clusters? You get the idea.

DNA is a resource by line, surname, individual ancestor, both known and unknown, as well as location because sometimes that’s all we have to work with. I actually have two separate spreadsheets for DNA which I’ll share in a separate article – but DNA results are also a research resource that needs to be tracked along with various tools applied, and when.

What Have You Done?

Have you addressed this research organization problem, and if so, how?

What resources are you using?

What works for you, what didn’t, and why?

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Pandemic Journal: It’s a Web

Recently, I saw something that’s at once amazing, alarming, and haunting.

This YouTube video, here, shows aggregated anonymized cell phone data from March, provided by Tectonix Geo, a data analysis company. This is the same company that provided the maps showing travel patterns of spring-breakers on one beach in Florida, shown here.

A huge thank you to Tectonix Geo.

In the first Tectonix video about fixing the supply chain, they track travel to and from meat processing plants across the country during the month of March. I’m familiar with the plant in Logansport, Indiana, so let’s take a look.

Logansport, Indiana

I grew up in central Indiana, near Logansport. People I knew worked at the slaughterhouse in Logansport.

I don’t recall who owned the plant back then, but I do vividly remember the squalid working conditions. Most employees never lasted beyond their first shift. It was the one place someone could ALWAYS find a job because the heat, smell, death, noise, and packed working conditions were overwhelming, and they always needed workers. I hope things have improved since then.

Let’s just say that I can’t eat either hotdogs or bologna to this day, but this conversation isn’t about that.

As most people are now aware, those same close working conditions are fostering Covid outbreaks among workers in meat processing plants across the nation. Different states, cities, and companies are reacting with varying levels of alarm, testing, and remediation plans. I’m also not going to comment on that, given the associated politics, but what I am going to discuss is the map and associated cell phone traffic patterns.

pandemic tyson map

This satellite google map shows the Tyson plant itself, with the adjacent employee parking lot to the south, the trucking areas where the animals arrive and the processed meats leave, the retention ponds to deal with the fluids and waste, and the local roads. There’s also a train track leaving the facility.

I counted approximately 410 semi-trailers at the plant and adjacent, connected businesses in the photo, above. Each one of those semis, of course, will be arriving or leaving with cargo, traveling to and from other locations, as will the 2200 employees as they go home in Cass County and adjacent communities.

Pandemic logansport

The packing plant is on the outskirts of Logansport, near highways that conveniently connect it with other local communities. In other words, you don’t have to go through town to get to work. Being located away from town is necessary anyway, due to odors.

pandemic logansport rural

Many people from rural farms, nearby cities like Kokomo, Lafayette, Monticello, Rochester, Wabash, and Peru, along with residents of other small towns travel to Logansport daily to work in the plant.

When I lived there, many people didn’t work at the plant for long, just until they could get a better job, so they never moved closer. Or, their parents owned a farm. This is prime Hoosier farm country.

Often, workers at the plant were among the most economically disadvantaged. They lived paycheck to paycheck and worked for minimal wages in conditions that served as inspiration for many of us to continue our education so we could work someplace else. Anyplace else.

Yet, these people go to work every day, sometimes even when sick because they can’t afford not to. Trust me, they work very hard.

Tectonix Geo Data

The Logansport Tyson plant became a Covid hotspot when more than 900 of the 2200 employees, or more than 40%, tested positive in April. The plant reopened last week after being closed for cleaning for two weeks, a politically hot-potato topic in general that I’m also not discussing.

Tectonix Geo analyzed anonymized cell phone data from the plant facilities throughout March 2020, beginning at the first of the month.

pandemic tectonix tyson

The blue on these maps shows the dots representing cell phones that are transmitting location data as they connect with cell towers. This first map shows the cell phones in the Tyson facility on one day in early March.

pandemic tectonix tyson close

Now that you know the lay of the land, we can identify which dots represent specific areas.

pandemic tectonix tyson markup

At the top of the plant area, you can even see the row of blue that tracks to the row of parked semis in the aerial photo of the plant.

pandemic tyson dot

To put this in perspective, this tiny blue dot is the Tyson plant, shown in the Google images.

Pandemic tyson begin spread

Throughout the month, every few days, the Tectonix data shows the highlighted blue as the cell phones moved away from the plant. You can still see the plant as the brightest spot, of course, because that’s where people with those phones gathered every day for work.

The areas most commonly inhabited and travel locations, according to the blue lines and clusters, were in Logansport itself, and along the feeder highways.

pandemic tyson spread local

Next, we see adjacent communities light up. Lafayette, Kokomo, and Peru have a lot of people who work in that plant, driving back and forth. It’s about 25 miles to Kokomo, 20 to Peru, and 40 to Lafayette. Of course, lots of smaller communities are lit up too, like Delphi, half-way to Lafayette, and Monticello, 20 miles due west of the Tyson plant.

In the first few days, these blue pathways and clusters likely represent where employees live or visited in the local region.

pandemic tyson midwest spread

As time passed, the blue clusters and lines became more pronounced and spread further from the plant, each tiny point of light representing a cell phone traveling – at first primarily within the state of Indiana, but then further.

Given this data, it’s not surprising that Cass County has an infection rate higher than any other county in Indiana.

pandemic tyson region spread

The tiny blue dots are too small for us to see individually, but each one is a potentially Covid-exposed person as their travels take them throughout Indiana and into major metropolitan areas in other states and Canada. Look at Chicago, for instance. Indianapolis, the state capital, becomes blue too, as does Fort Wayne, both of which are travel and economic hubs to elsewhere.

The time-lapse video shows the blue web extending across the US and on into Canada.

pandemic tyson country spread

By the end of March, you can clearly see that all of Indiana is pretty much blue, meaning that people who were in that plant on that initial day in early March have traveled to all of those locations. For a location to literally “turn blue,” many, many people need to have visited that location for the cell tower to pick up those signals thousands of times.

The Midwest is heavily affected by just this one plant, and the tendrils reach into many other parts of the country, along with southern Canada. Some of these may be trucking routes whose drivers loaded at the Tyson plant, but many represent travel by production employees and perhaps a few visitors who were present in the plant that initial day in March when Tectonix took their first snapshot in time.

What probably isn’t represented here is air travel, especially outside the US. Air travel was on a decline increasingly in March anyway, and stay-at-home orders had already begun in many places. Indiana’s governor ordered Hoosiers to stay at home on March 23rd, limiting their activities to only essential travel. Food production is an essential activity, and the Tyson plant remained open at that time.

As I look at these maps, I’m reminded that this is ONLY the phones of less than 2200 people who were in the plant on one day in March. It doesn’t even begin to speak to the people they interacted with and exposed, who traveled as well.

That’s the purpose of contact tracing of Covid-positive people – to determine the identities of those exposed people.

The gravity and importance of this web of contact and exposure don’t become apparent until Covid visits a facility near you, or a family member, or maybe your neighbor who may be exposing you or exposing someone else at the local convenience store or gas station who will expose you. Then, suddenly, this is all critically important.

The Message

I’m a visual person. That old adage about a picture being worth 1000 words holds true for me.

My first thought was how much this looks like a cobweb. Then I thought of the world-wide-web and how electronically interconnected we are.

I remember initially hearing about 6 degrees of separation years ago and being surprised when I discovered several cases where it was true. Now, older, wiser, and a genealogist, I’m no longer surprised.

With Covid, it’s more like 2 degrees of separation, if that. If you don’t know someone with Covid, or who has died of Covid, I guarantee you, one of your friends does. Me, and probably others as well.

As a society, in our lifetimes, we’ve never dealt with a run-away pandemic before. A situation where our very high degree of mobility which facilitates physical connectedness threatens our very safety.

Those 900+ infected Tyson employees were contagious long before they knew they were ill – perhaps as long as two weeks – if they even became ill. Super spreaders, as we now call them, a Covid-created term.

Infectious but not ill, they went to work and about their business in the community, and clearly, outside of the community, along major corridors – at work, church, family gatherings, restaurants, eating, shopping, touching doors, gas pump handles and using public restrooms where uninfected people assuredly followed. Truck drivers, upon whom we depend for our food supply, among other things, drove cross-country, truck stop to truck stop, warehouse to warehouse, perhaps taking an invisible passenger along with them.

Social distancing guidelines are being relaxed in some places, and people are clearly sick and tired of them, that doesn’t mean those unwelcome precautions are any less necessary.

If you have doubts, just look at this Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map of confirmed cases by county for where you live and think about the map of the contact spread from that one Tyson plant in Cass County, Indiana.

pandemic johns hopkins cass county

It’s Not Over

Easing of restrictions doesn’t mean the danger is over. It’s not.

If you were at risk before, you’re still at risk now. Epidemiologists estimate that only 5% of Americans have been exposed in total. 95% of us are yet to be exposed. Think about that. That’s almost everyone.

Put bluntly, everyone is at risk. No exceptions. We don’t even know if previous infection conveys immunity. We are still one big social epidemiological experiment with the outcome still unknown. The global “we” will undoubtedly survive, but our personal outcomes and those of our loved ones may be a different story.

The line of Xs shows how societies survive pandemics.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The bold Xs, approximately 70%, get infected. The red Xs die. Yes, society as a whole, represented by the entire row of Xs, survives, but several individuals do not. Not only that, but many of the bold Xs, even though they live, are not unscathed and not entirely recovered. In other words, surviving is not necessarily equivalent to “getting well” and returning to life as before.

To date, 294,000 worldwide have died, with 83,807 deaths in the US, and those numbers are still rising at an alarming daily rate. In the US alone, that’s more than 28 times the number of people who died during 911.

Those red Xs representing 84,000 dead aren’t just Xs, or numbers, or dry percentages heard daily on the news, they are people who are someone’s beloved family member. And there will assuredly be more to follow, probably more than have already died.

We may be getting numb to bad news, but that doesn’t mean the news is better.

The POINT of social-distancing restrictions was to flatten the curve so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed all at once. In other words, so that people would get infected slowly, across time. A flattened curve and easing of restrictions just mean that now, there’s probably a hospital bed and maybe a ventilator available for you when you become a bold X, hoping not to become a red X.

The GOAL, at least my goal, is to be a boring non-bold black X, meaning to remain uninfected until we at least have a relatively successful treatment and, preferably, a vaccine. I don’t want to become infected, nor do I want to infect anyone who winds up being one of those people needing a hospital bed, a ventilator, or a body bag.

Some infected people are entirely asymptomatic or exhibit only slight symptoms, but others begin an uncontrolled spiral into death. There’s no telling in advance which you might be, and once begun, there’s no brakes or steering on that run-away train.

Prevention is much easier, albeit inconvenient.

Easing of restrictions does NOT mean Covid is gone and does NOT mean you won’t catch it.

We still don’t fully understand this disease, have any reliable treatments, nor a vaccine. Dr. Fauci stated yesterday that a 2020 vaccine is unlikely, so we’ll need to protect ourselves, and others, for some time to come. Protection and prevention need to become our new way of life – at least for the foreseeable future.

If you ever doubted how you and others potentially spread germs – and in this case, a deadly virus – look again at that blue spider web on the Tectronix map that was seeded by fewer than 2200 people in one place on the same day.

Your life or that of someone you don’t know, do know, or love may depend on internalizing the spiderweb message from that map.

This isn’t like the flu. Those who survive Covid are physically (not to mention economically) devastated.

However, there are still positive messages to be found amid the Covid-carnage, and I’d like to share two of my favorites with you.

Finding Our Way

Here’s a wonderfully inspirational story and beautiful video telling the story of a young couple who both contracted Covid. Both nearly died, barely escaping death, but both survived and were in rehab facilities because of the utter devastation Covid wreaked on their bodies.

Yes, I said a young couple. Covid-19 doesn’t just kill old people, as if that was any kind of justification for anything, anyway.

Yes, I know, I’m sick of social distancing too, desperately want to see my family and friends and have a haircut – but certainly not unhappy enough to risk lives – mine, those of people I love, or yours. Any inconvenience pales by comparison to the possible consequences.

By the way, I wrote the draft of this article on Mother’s Day afternoon, safely tucked away at home. Yes, I’m sad not to see my family, but oh-so-grateful that we are all being safe and that my family cares enough about me to keep me safe too.

Please, don’t take chances.

  • Distance – remain at home unless you really have to go someplace.
  • Do more genealogy.
  • Engage in things that bring you joy.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Wear a mask when you do need to go out in public.
  • Walk outside, away from others. Wave to others.
  • Stay out of crowds and away from people not taking proper precautions.

A Kindness Web

That blue web that we see on the map…it’s a web of warning today, prompted by pragmatic fear of this virus. But keep in mind that our human web of contact can also be a web of good, helping others in many ways. We don’t always need to see each other in person to do that. Failing any other act of kindness, the kindest thing we can do is to stay home.

Our ability to bestow kindness continues, and there are more people in need today than ever.

Donations, contributions, and porch-pickups or drop-offs work. Make an act of kindness and charity a part of your pandemic experience.

Your kindness, in whatever way you can, may make all the difference in the world and change someone’s story.

Telling the Story

Speaking of telling the story, I’d like to leave you with something quite uplifting and inspirational.

The Great Realisation: Hindsight 2020 is a short bedtime story told sometime in the future about the time of “the virus,” back in 2020, read to a little boy by his father. The storybook tells how “the virus” changed us, our world, and the future in which they live. I so want this to be our clarifying, unifying truth, the silver lining to this cloud. Please listen, here, after the obligatory ad, of course.

I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

Stay safe so we will all be here on the other side, whenever that really is, to tell our stories.

Pandemic Journal: Dear Mom – A Ray of Hope

Coronavirus, Symbol, Corona, Virus, Pandemic, Epidemic

Well, Mom, it’s been 14 long-years-ago today, and I don’t even know where to begin. It’s not that I haven’t written, because I have, faithfully, every year. It’s just that the most unbelievable things have happened in this past year. You’re not going to believe this.

Actually, it’s like the earth is trying to shake us humans off, like a big, wet, shaggy dog.

First, Australia was being consumed by wildfires – before, during and after I visited. I’m sure you don’t know which thing is the more shocking – the fires or me in Australia, at all, but especially DURING the fires. Yea, I didn’t tell you about that!

While cruising around Australia and New Zealand, we heard about what we thought was a new strain of flu taking hold in China. We didn’t think much about it. It was winter, flu happens.

Then, 2020 arrived. Hold my beer. Or, in your case, some reheated black coffee. I still don’t know how you drank that stuff.

These past couple months have been incredibly bizarre. Surreal. I keep having to pinch myself – but this is real, very real. As far as I’m concerned, 2020 has already worn out its welcome and just needs to STOP! Like now. We can write this one off in the history books and move on, except, we can’t.

And by “you won’t believe this,” I mean, really, seriously, you won’t.

Umm, Things Have Changed

You’ll think I’m writing a script for a bad novel, but I’m not. Actually, there is something novel going on, but it’s a novel virus and trust me, that’s the villain.

In less than two short months that seem like an eternity, our lives have been dumped upside down and disconnected from life before. I don’t mean like when Dad died, or even when you passed over – I’m speaking of a phenomenon much larger. We are being strangled by a global pandemic. I mean “we” in a much larger sense. In fact, the largest “we” possible – the entire world. This novel virus named Covid-19 is running ripshod across every continent on earth, like a murderous sniper raging out of control.

Pretty much all we can do is wash our hands, stay apart and/or wear face masks. We feel like vulnerable sitting ducks. Because we are.

Covid-19, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Infection, Disease

Up until these past few weeks, we though that research and medicine had conquered scourges like this. That we were safe, and that nothing like this could happen here and now in the modern era. We have science and immunizations on our side, making us invincible to something on this scale. We were sorely mistaken, living under a dangerous illusion.

Not only have we never seen anything like this, neither did you. You were born after the 1918 flu pandemic which was caused by a virus related to the one sweeping the world now. Beginning in early 1918 and over the next three full years, the H1N1 virus, the source of what was known as the Spanish Flu, killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans.

In two months, WITH at least some preventative measures in place, so far this virus has killed 218,000 worldwide with 60,000 deaths confirmed in the US alone, more than anyplace else in the world – although that number is likely vastly under-reported for a variety of reasons. The reality is probably at least double that number, if not more.

Nurse, Healthcare, Mask, Pandemic, Covid-19

Now the worst part. There is no vaccine, nor cure. All we can do is treat the horrific symptoms. People, including medical staff and care givers are dropping like flies as most of us shelter-in-place at home, trying to avoid infection.

Shelter-in-place is a term often used when ordering a lockdown as a result of an active shooter, terms you, thankfully, weren’t familiar with. This is a new kind of threat and we can’t see it, making some people think and act like it isn’t real. But it is.

I never thought about the economic effects of the Spanish flu pandemic that lasted three years, or how it might have been connected to the 1929 Great Depression. Perhaps the flu wasn’t causative, but the world had emerged from three years of pandemic-hell, following on the heels of WWI, less than a decade before the Depression began.

empty restaurant

Today, we’re experiencing a combination of the two. We’ve shut down large swaths of the economy in something resembling an economic medically-induced coma in order that people can shelter at home, work from home when possible, protecting themselves from being infected so they don’t infect others.

One of the first things to be cancelled were sporting events. No March Madness in Indiana this year. Yes, I know, you’ve rotated in your grave few times. Sports figures were some of the first to be infected and tested. There were no early tests, and even yet, tests are very restricted. Many people have or had Covid and are never diagnosed, so their illnesses and deaths are not included in the Covid statistics.

This stealthy disease is worse, far worse, than earlier virus strains because it’s highly contagious and very lethal to many. It’s particularly dangerous though, because some people, super-spreaders, become infected, don’t show any or only mild symptoms but still infect others for many days, up to two full weeks. Those who do become ill can spread the virus unknowingly, even before they are symptomatic. This equates to a lose-lose situation. We’ve been hoping a vaccine would be developed quickly, as that seems to be our only way “out.” Quickly in vaccine terms means months, perhaps more than a year, not weeks.

Now we’re receiving reports that people may be able to become reinfected, meaning that immunity is not conferred. Vaccines are based upon immunity. This isn’t good news at all.

We’re still learning about this invisible terrorist. There’s no roadmap and it seems that every day there a new piece of devastating news. Some days, I just feel like I’ve been pecked to death by a herd of angry chickens.

I’m working on a quilt that I’m naming “Black and Blue,” because between this virus and the associated politics, which is a potato far too hot to touch, I feel battered and bruised. Quilting is my sanity right now.

We’re doing our best at “social distancing,” staying home, remaining apart and wearing masks when we do need to go out in public. It’s particularly difficult not to see family. A few days ago, the grandkids came over and we practiced responsible social distancing by walking around the yard, together, apart, separated by at least 6 feet. It’s easier when you make it fun and it’s important to set a good example.

No school, no church, no dinners out, no haircuts, no quilting, nothing social with other humans – not even visiting other people’s houses. After a couple of months, most people are going a bit stir crazy.

Thankfully it’s getting warmer so we can go outside. The snow has melted and the early spring flowers are finally blooming. This is the worst case of cabin fever, ever – but it beats the alternative. Unfortunately, not everyone is complying.

I know you probably don’t understand why this is so difficult, because when you were growing up, your family only owned one car, when you had a car at all. Everyone stayed home most of the time.

You didn’t have a phone, TV didn’t yet exist and there wasn’t even a restaurant in town. Only a few people had electricity. Even as an adult, you never owned a computer, or had email, and you wouldn’t use your cell phone. Now, because we can’t see each other, we’re entirely dependent on those forms of communications.

You probably wonder what our problem is and why we don’t just read a book. Of course, your family was a lot more self-sufficient than we are today. For starters, we don’t grow our own food, have cows to milk or chickens to lay eggs.

Our grocery stores, something you never had either as a child, now sport tape on the floors to keep shoppers 6 feet apart as they wait to enter. Only a certain number of people are allowed inside at a time to minimize contact.

Some groceries can be delivered and we can literally order anything online, even cars.

Doctor visits happen over our computer now using a two-way movie camera built into the system. We carry on all kinds of business, banking and have meetings and conferences where groups of people can see each other on their computer screens which also function as two-way televisions. Now that’s actually kind of funny, because all sorts of unexpected challenges have cropped up.

Jammies are now “office attire.” Yes, I know, you’re gasping. Sometimes we have to put on “business casual” tops, but some people forget that they are not wearing proper attire below the waist.

reporter no pants

Just yesterday, this poor reporter in a suit coat above the waist was sporting the “no pants” look. Based on the background, you know he had strategically placed his chair where he looked the best in his home. He’s now famous, infamous and unforgettable. On his next job interview, they will chuckle and say, “Oh yea, you’re the guy without pants.”

Not only is he VERY relatable to the rest of us, because we share that very fear, he’ll also never live this down. Hopefully it will just be a fond memory soon, shared over a beer in the pub with his buddies.

I’ve transitioned to the “office live” realm too by creating a Facebook LIVE presentation for MyHeritage, a genealogy company. Yes, genealogy combined with genetics is still my consuming passion. You didn’t think that would ever change, did you?

I know you don’t know what Facebook is – but think of it like an online journal where many people say too much and some people don’t say enough.

Imagine writing letters and posting the letter on the fence outside your house for all to see. The viewers are all of your worldwide Facebook friends, or at least the ones that Facebook decides should see your “posting.” Yea, it was weird for me at first too, but in these pandemic times, Facebook is a source of connection to people outside of our general geographic realm, and those within it too. I can see what the grandkids are doing. We can share whenever we feel like it, and almost always, someone is listening. I talk about plants, quilts, cats and genealogy – none of which would surprise you. You’d be talking about Avon, crocheting and posting cat pictures.

Here’s a shocker. I’ve even been cleaning. My least favorite thing on earth to do, but you already knew that. Hey, look what I found.

I’m sure you remember when I used to hang this on the bedroom doorknob of whichever child needed a nudge to clean up their room. I’ll be gifting it to one of those children for their kids’ doorknobs. Karma!

The thing that took the longest for the Facebook LIVE presentation was the technology prep (computers, don’t ask) and cleaning my office. Spring cleaning has taken on an entirely new aspect. Houses have never been cleaner because many people are bored out of their minds. I’m creating boxes and bags of donations for places like Salvation Army as soon as they are open again. The need will be great.

For my presentation, I dressed up – well pandemic dress-up – meaning not PJs or a tshirt. I selected a nice top, donned my favorite funky socks for confidence and wore jeans instead of sweatpants. Nothing has to match now.

I want you to notice that my desk is clean, as in entirely clear. That will never happen again in my lifetime, I’m sure. Might be one of the 7 signs of the Apocolypse.

Jim cameo

However, I forgot to shut my office door behind me, and Jim made a cameo appearance, twice. Thankfully, he WAS fully attired, being a veteran of working at home. Ahhh, the challenges of home office and a rapidly changing environment. Most people have carved out a “studio” someplace to work, even if it’s the kitchen table. Seeing other people doing the same things we are makes us all feel better and more connected to our friends and colleagues.

One of my friends kindly brought her husband a snack while he was on a video conference, forgetting that she was sporting a very comfy t-shirt and pink “granny panties.” Utterly mortified and terribly embarrassed, she claims she’s never going to a Christmas party again. We told her that the other video-meeting attendees were probably envious, on two counts. I’m guessing they’ll be gifting her with day-of-the-week panties for Christmas, because right now, none of us can keep track of which day is which because they all run together. Except that day. She’ll never forget that day.

A New Way of Life

Schools and universities are closed and education is taking place online too – not just for some, but pretty much for everyone. Parents have suddenly become teachers on top of trying to work at home. That’s interesting, to say the least. Forgive me for saying that I’m so grateful my children are the lovely adults that they’ve become.

online learning

We’re learning a whole new way of living – not because we want to – but because we have to.

Case in point, funerals. Funeral homes and morgues can only store so many bodies, so something has to happen – especially not knowing how soon “normal” funerals will be able to resume.

A few days ago, because of the restrictions on gatherings and crowds, we attended a “zoom funeral.” Zoom is video conferencing software that allows groups of people to see each other on their computer or phone. Since you left us, cell phones have become mini-computers that we carry around at all times. We have separation anxiety if they aren’t on our bodies or near us. There are even cell-phone watches now. Queue Max Smart and Agent 99.

A virtual funeral, attended remotely, is not quite the same as being there, but it’s certainly better than nothing at all. It’s just, so, well, different.

Very few people in the immediate family were in the church due to social distancing requirements – less than 10 – sitting in individual pews far apart. The Priest spoke from the pulpit, standing above the casket, delivering the eulogy. The sermon was “zoomed,” live to whoever wanted to “attend.” Churches and genealogy societies are meeting this way too.

Families are using Zoom to gather remotely for meals. We zoomed as we ate your version of creamed eggs on toast on Easter Sunday – our family tradition. You remember that, I’m sure.

Fear

While zoom and other enabling technologies are a good thing and allow some connection to each other and normalcy, people are very frightened. Our health is in danger, the food supply is in danger and the economy is in danger. Jobs have been lost and families wait hours in line in their cars for food banks to open. At the same time, items at groceries are often sold out, yet farmers who can’t get their products to market are dumping milk and plowing under their crops. The connection is broken.

One piece of good news is that gasoline has now dropped below $1 a gallon, a price not seen in decades or if ever, adjusted for inflation, but we really can’t go anyplace so it matters little. Of course, the flip side is that the oil industry is not doing well.

We have all tried our best to remain optimistic, repeating that we are all in this together, we’ll make it, and it will be over soon.

Stay Home, Stay, Coronavirus, Corona, Covid-19

Truthfully, none of those things may be entirely true, yet we try to remain upbeat, supporting each other and encouraging others to do the same. Many people will make it to the other side, survivors, although not undamaged, but with lives and a world to rebuild.

Pause

Here’s the thing Mom. We thought this was a pause. That’s how it’s been perceived, a pause in our collective lives to save lives. Altruistic. Feels good, helping others by helping ourselves. Unemployment exists for people who lost jobs. They’ll be called back to work in a month or so – right?

A pause in our economy to “flatten the curve” of infection so that hospitals and medical personnel have a fighting chance of treating the tsunami of gravely ill people who are becoming ill so quickly that the hospitals have run out of beds, medical equipment and supplies. It’s so bad that no visitors are allowed. Not only is there no space, it’s not safe. Entire hospitals are full of Covid patients, many of whom die alone, without their families. Heartbreaking is an understatement. This is a war.

Quilters and sewers have been making face masks for weeks because there is an extreme shortage. I’ve made hundreds, for nurses and doctors, transit workers, first responders, police and fire, delivery people, neighbors, the elderly, nursing homes, essential workers, friends and family. I’ve lost track, and mine are not even a drop in the bucket. I never want to see another mask again as long as I live, but they may be a critical part of our lives for a long time to come.

For the first time ever, you can wear a mask into a gas station without the attendant thinking they are being robbed. We live in strange times.

If you were here, you’d be making masks, sitting right beside me, companions, just like we used to work on projects. You’d be old enough by now that you’d likely be living with me, so that would be comforting, all by itself. I surely do miss you Mom. I wish I could talk to you, in person. I ache to hear your voice again. I wish I had a recording.

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You’ll never guess what I found digging for fabrics for masks. The oldest fabric I own is what’s left from when you and I re-covered that comforter back when I was a teenager. That’s the same comforter that you re-covered with your Mom when you were a teenager. I remember purchasing this fabric together at the fabric store, from the sale bolts. Everything we ever bought was from the sale bolts or the remnant bin:)

I’m going to use this fabric now, Mom, to make a scrap quilt I’ll enjoy. No point in saving it any longer. The future is uncertain. So is the present. I’ve never felt this way before. Use the fabric. Wear your dress cowboy boots and funky socks around the house. Just do it. No regrets.

Reset

This wily virus isn’t finished. Far from it. This interlude wasn’t just a pause.

Portions of the country are “opening up” again, and many are frightened that this is happening too soon – much too soon. We’re all connected together in this – the whole world metaphorically holding hands. Of course, no one is supposed to be literally touching right now. Still, we can’t avoid human contact entirely and the virus depends on that.

World, Globe, Worldwide, Www, Global, Planet, Sphere

Covid-19 is the great equalizer. Rich, poor, every nation, opposing political parties, old, young, all races, already sick or healthy – the virus attacks everyone randomly and indiscriminately. Many have died and are yet to die.

By now, everyone knows someone who has or has had the disease, and almost everyone knows someone who has died. I know several.

Every day, the virus’s tentacles reach closer and closer to home. It’s 4 houses away from one of our closest family members as I type this, and two of our family members think they’ve been infected and recovered already, but went undiagnosed.

If “those other” people get infected, they infect others, who infect others, who eventually infect everyone. This is why we need to stay home and only emerge very cautiously, under controlled circumstances. Until we have a vaccine, which is months away, best case, or perhaps years away, there is no “resume life” button.

We thought that when the restrictions were lifted, our life would return to something approaching normal. Everyone would have had a month or 6 weeks timeout, an enforced stay-cation, but the danger would have abated. Shops and restaurants would open and everyone would resume doing what they were doing before. We’d get much-needed haircuts and meet for coffee.

We’d have a big after-Covid party celebration with margaritas and Mexican food – in a restaurant!

Maybe not so fast.

We thought this was a sprint, but we’re beginning to realize it’s a long-distance marathon, an endurance race.

Over the past couple of weeks, especially this last week as we all anxiously watch the process of early states relaxing the restrictions, we’ve listened to infectious disease specialists and scientists who tell us that indeed, the virus is still coming for us.

Perhaps it will nab us now, especially if some states open too soon and reinfect everyone. We won’t know for 2 or 3 weeks how rapidly the infection rate will increase. With Covid-19, delay is deadly, because we can only measure the results of what we do now by what happens 2-3 weeks in the future.

Perhaps the virus will re-emerge from “hot spots” in states that never did and still haven’t ordered social distancing. Perhaps it will rear its ugly head this fall when the weather cools, schools reopen and people spend more time inside. Probably all of the above.

We aren’t going to be safe for months, if ever. This transformation from temporary pause to chronically fearful isn’t what we expected a month or 6 weeks ago. Now it’s beginning to seem inevitable. I’m still trying to find the right balance of optimism, confidence, paranoia and panic.

It’s not so much that I’m concerned about contracting the virus myself. I actually think I’ve already been exposed at least once, although I’d surely like to know. It’s the havoc the virus is wreaking on everyone and everything, everyplace – family members, friends, neighbors, economy – literally life as we know it is under seige.

We control very little in this equation, because our safety and future is at least partially dependant on people we don’t even know in places we don’t live, and who may or may not comply with safety measures.

This isn’t a pause, it’s a reset, a full control-alt-delete hard reboot with no warning. The screen’s gone dark as we sit staring blankly at where our former lives used to be. The old normal is gone. When it arrives, we don’t know what the new normal will look like, how our lives will be different in the future, and we’re not at all sure what’s going to be left.

This slowly creeping realization of our new reality is sinking into our bones like a cold, damp, fog, little by little, chilling us to our core.

Pandemic Journal

When I started the Pandemic Journal series, I thought that in a few short weeks, after some memorable adventures and perhaps a few laughable mis-adventures, I would scribe, “The End,” close the book with a smile and retire my pandemic pen after documenting this unique hiccup of history for the future.

We would have been inconvenienced a bit, but the relatively happy ending would occur sooner than later with the world having escaped the worst of the scourge of the virus by staying at home. The virus and associated inconveniences would depart as rapidly as they had descended upon our lives. This epic pause would be just another interesting chapter in a our collective human life journey. The Covid chapter would be done, finished – on to the next, none the worse for wear.

Now, I’m not so sure about any of those things.

Not sure at all.

Hope

And then, last night it came.

Finally.

A ray of hope. A tiny pinpoint of light in this darkness.

The antiviral drug, Remdesivir, in a very limited blind study was shown to shorten the length of hospital stay for Covid patients from 15 to 11 days.

Those are clearly the sickest people, and Remdesivir does nothing to prevent infection. We also don’t know if fewer people actually died. The drug must be administered via IV, over a period of days, but it reduced the recovery time by 31% in this small sample. The good news is that it’s not a new drug, so it doesn’t have to go through the approval process for the drug itself. Remdesivir is expected to be authorized for emergency use on Covid patients in a few days.

Having said that, there’s so much we don’t know, and Remdesivir might not be any part of the answer when we learn more. This discovery might be the chink in the virus’s armour though, the first step in the path to finding life-saving treatments to defeat this horrid enemy. We now know it’s possible to fight this virus, and how.

Remdisivir is clearly not a panacea, but here’s what it is.

It’s a spark of hope, that seedling in our time of despair. Perhaps the bloom of springtime after the bleakest of winters.

Hope springs eternal.

Flowers for you, Mom.