Vote, Vote, VOTE!!!

I may be in Norway for this election, but I voted absentee before I left. That’s my ballot in the yellow envelope in my hand. Voting is a right far, far too critical for anything else to take precedence. Neither rain, nor snow, nor Oslo:)

It profoundly saddened me to walk beneath the flags at half-staff to honor the Jewish people slaughtered in Pittsburgh in order to cast my ballot, but it reminded me in dramatic fashion why voting is so incredibly important.

People Died for Your Right to Vote

February 3, 1870 – that’s the day that the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed black people, people of mixed race, or people that had once been slaves the right to vote. Yes, every sort of intimidation tactic imaginable was used to prevent this body of Americans from voting.

This 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon shows everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table portrayed as equals…well, except the women at the table still weren’t able to vote, nor would they be for another half century.

Why? People in charge were afraid of the outcome of how women or “people of color” might vote. They feared that the sheer number of “other” people’s votes would outnumber their own if those disenfranchised individuals were allowed to vote for representatives and policies that benefitted them. In other words, if everyone that was not a male of pure European descent were able to vote – the control that men of purely European descent exercised over women and everyone of mixed ethnicity would either be diminished or disappear entirely. You can read more about voting rights in America here.

When you discover that your ancestors with so much as “one drop” of non-European blood passed for white as soon as possible, and hid other lineages – this history might give you a clue as to why. Other terribly discriminatory laws and practices related to employment, property ownership and many other rights persisted until as late as 1965 and even though the laws became obsolete then, the practices did not. Even today, the political practice of gerrymandering routinely structures voting districts in a fashion to benefit some and disadvantage others.

Native American people and voting rights – that history is even worse. In order for the original disenfranchised inhabitants of this land to obtain the right to vote, they were required to give up their tribal lands beginning in 1887. However, their right to vote was consistently challenged. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created to enforce the 14th and 15th constitutional amendments should have ended all controversy, but since then at least 74 lawsuits have been filed with the intention of disenfranchising Native American Voters.

August 26, 1920 – that’s the day in the US that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.

If you think any of this came easy, it didn’t.

There were marches, protests, jailed protesters while picketing the White House, violence, beatings, lynchings and widespread intimidation. In fact, here’s a gallery of Suffragette prisoners.

If you get the feeling that voting rights are always at least marginally in some form of jeopardy, I’d have to agree. It seems there is always a group of people who would be all too happy to remove the right to vote from another group.

Disenfranchisement is still way too close in my family.

Neither of my grandmothers were allowed to vote until they were adults. Ollie Bolton would have been 44 in 1920 and Edith Lore, 32. I hope they both proudly voted.

My father wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, and neither would his Estes side of the family if the truth were known about their mixed race lineage. They were painfully aware of this situation. Neither would my mother’s grandfather’s line. He was mixed too.

That leaves just my paternal grandmother’s male line and my maternal grandfather’s Dutch and male German lines with the ability to vote. Of course, my Dutch great-grandfather was the immigrant who, ironically, arrived like so many others due to religious discrimination back home.

In other words, more than half of my tree was disenfranchised because they were women, and of the remainder, another half would have been prevented from voting because of their heritage. At one time, only white male property owners over the age of 21 could vote, on top of the other restrictions. More than 75% of my ancestors were disenfranchised one way or another, and that’s not counting the ones who were living in other countries or deported from Canada in 1755 because they were Catholic.

Historically, it seems that voting wasn’t really a right after all, but a privilege restricted to the while, land-owning elite. By and large, they intended to keep it that way too.

I have the ability to vote, thanks to a very long history of sacrifices, and it’s my responsibility to do so.

The Long Road

So here we are, 98 years after women obtained the right to vote, facing a difficult election.

The 2016 US election was the most contentious in living memory, at least in my life, with a very divisive outcome. The sitting president ascended to power not with the majority of popular votes, but with the votes of the electoral college. Translated, this means that based on political districts, in the US, one vote really does not equal one vote today because some districts have more electoral votes than others. You can read more about the electoral college and how it works here.

Regardless of whether we like the system we have in place today, regardless of who wins or loses, it’s what we have to work with. It’s incredibly important that everyone who has the right votes. Apathy is simply putting your future into the hands of the party that happens to get elected, without even so much as a peep out of you. My rule – if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain.

If everyone who didn’t vote in the last election HAD voted, then perhaps either there would have been a clear winner by popular vote (as well as electoral college,) or a different outcome might have occurred altogether.

If everyone who voted for a third-party candidate had voted for one of the two candidates who was going to win, again, either there might have been a clear popular winner, or a different winner. Either outcome, I think, would have been less divisive.

Voting rights were too difficult to obtain not to cherish and utilize them.

Everyone who descends from a Revolutionary War soldier is descended from someone who fought in order that they, and their descendants, would have voting rights, fair representation and a say in their own outcome.

Descended from slaves or Native Americans or soldiers who fought for the North during the (not so) Civil War? They voted with their blood for your right to cast a ballot today.

Family members who fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm or the military actions since? Those men and women are commanded by the President, a person voted into power through the votes of you and me.

Voting is the political Facebook. Talking isn’t enough. Nothing matters except for your vote.

People shed blood and died for your right to vote. Your ancestors may have given their lives or served their country in order to preserve that right. Our service members today are doing that very thing.

Honor them.

Vote like your life depends on it, because it may. The lives of our service men and women certainly do. The lives of your descendants will.

It’s your right and your responsibility.

November 6th, for the honor of your ancestors and hope for our collective future…

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

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

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

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

This is the first of a series of two articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Stories and DNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter DNA Testing

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected Results

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

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

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

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

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

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

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

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

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

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

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

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

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

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

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

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

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

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

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

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

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

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

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

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

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

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

From that paper:

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

And:

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our example again.

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

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

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

Questions and Answers

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

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

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

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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John McCain: Maverick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need heroes to look up to.

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

I didn’t always agree with John.

I didn’t always disagree with John.

I always respected John.

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

For you.

For me.

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

We are all diminished by John’s passing.

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

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

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

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

May each and every one of us carry your torch.

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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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Notes to 40 Year Old Me


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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Love undeniably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. You are your greatest barrier.

12. You are your greatest asset.

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

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

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

16. Always entertain the possibility of new opportunities.

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

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

 Relative to genealogy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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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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Dateline: Father’s Day – The Unexpected Gift

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

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

“I knew everybody, right???”

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

“A moment 50 years in the making…”

“It was a gaping hole…”

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

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

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

“He couldn’t hardly talk…”

“We watched pain turn into joy.”

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

Two families about to become one.

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

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

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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

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Genealogy Research

The Gratitude List

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

Why?    

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

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

Every. Single. Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What and who is on yours?

Tell them and make their day!

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Merry Christmas – And To All A Good Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reunion

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

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

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

The Reveal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Morning

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

We didn’t quite know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Preacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I understood the hushed room.

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

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

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

The Railroad

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

Doug: “My Daddy too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reverend Jim: “William.”

Doug, very slowly: “Mine too.”

Silence.

The men and the entire room now.

Both men stared at each other across the table.

End of the Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mind raced.

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

Did I need to call an ambulance?

Should I ask him?

Was his father white?

Was he sure that was his father?

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

How could this be?

Doug must have been wondering the same thing.

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

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

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

Silence!

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

You could have heard a blink.

Both men must have been processing this information.

Both men must have realized that their father deceived them.

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

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

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

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

Was this a horrible moment or a wonderful moment?

Some of each perhaps?

What would they do?

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

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

What would it be?

Acceptance or Rejection?

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

Doug stood up too, trying to stabilize Reverend Jim.

His face revealed confusion and pain.

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

I held my breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joy.

Pure unfettered joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know both families were in shock.

Here’s what else I know.

Love Won

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

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

They had been blessed.

Hatred didn’t win that day.

Neither did bigotry.

Nor racism.

Or prejudice.

Pure and simple.

Love won.

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Thanksgiving Suggestions From a Dysfunctional Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safe journey and see you overhome!

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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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Worldview of LeVar Burton

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

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

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

Best. Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…lifechanging.”

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

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

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

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

“God and time are synonymous.”

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

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

Your One Minute Person

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

I’ll go first.

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

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

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Shoes

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

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

He probably would not have been on this earth today.

Nuremberg

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

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

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

We all know what happened next.

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

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

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

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

Eleven. Million. People.

Think about that for a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking about Nicholas, the Dalai Lama said,

“We must carry his spirit generation to generation.”

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

Budapest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More the Same Than Different

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

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

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

Think you’re not?

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

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

The Future

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

Because.

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

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

Hatred is hatred.

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

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

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

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

Not. One.

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

Are we condemned to repeat that past?

Not on my watch.

Never again.

Not if I can do anything about it.

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

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

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

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

In one participant’s words:

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

We’re all cousins.

Remember The Shoes…

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

This time, it could be you.

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Disclosure

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

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research