More Shelter in Place Genealogy Ideas

Part 2 

Last week my blog was a whole lot longer than usual but I figured now that you’re housebound, you’ve got time to read.  I have seven additional ideas to work on since you can’t run down to your local archive or call a library to access a record.  Now is a wonderful opportunity to…

1.      Review what you have on that brick wall ancestor.  Take every scrap of evidence and spread it out on your workspace.  Now arrange it in chronological order and study it.  Next arrange it by connections, such as every document that has the spouse’s name, too.  Do you see any missing time frames?  Maybe there was a marriage certificate for 1842, a deed in the same county for 1852 but one of the individuals isn’t mentioned in the 1860 U.S. Federal census but shows up again in 1870. That’s a clue to figure out where the individual was in 1860 – maybe they were ill and placed in a sanitarium, perhaps they were visiting an adult child in another area, the person may have had to find work elsewhere or attend the funeral of a family member.  Not sure where the person might have been?  I recommend reading my last blog article and doing item 3.  After you do that …

2.      Take your time to synthesize the information.  Don’t rush – we aren’t going anywhere for awhile.  Let the information just percolate in your brain.  Write down what you find odd or missing.  Now it’s time to…

3.      Do some exercise.  Hubby and I now start our day with a beginner yoga video we found on youtube.  Stretching and breathing will help your brain process the information so give it a try.  The workout may have made you hungry so now think about…

4.      Family recipes.  My hubby’s birthday is coming up and I may have to dig up the family Depression Cake recipe because I don’t know what ingredients will be available at the grocery.  That recipe makes me think of other recipes that got my family through difficult times.  When my grandparents were quarantined with their young family because of a scarlet fever outbreak, she practiced social distancing by speaking with her neighbors through their open windows.  Reminds me of the people singing together on the balconies in Italy or exercising in Spain.  In my family’s case, grandma got a great spaghetti sauce recipe from the Italian neighbor and what we call corn meal mush, from the southern neighbor on the other side of her home.  That was nearly 100 years ago.  Think about the legacy you’re leaving your descendants…

5.      Write down your experiences. I realize how spoiled and privileged we are.  I miss going to restaurants the most.  I only recall both sets of my grandparents going to a restaurant once.  My maternal grandparents, my mother and I went with a neighbor to the Beach Café in Miller, Indiana when I was about 6 years old to get perch on a Friday night during Lent.  Mr. Bauer had just become a widow and missed going to the café with his wife so my family joined him.  I didn’t know then that he had been a character witness 20 years earlier for my grandparents so they could become citizens.  My paternal grandparents, my parents and I went to a diner in Hobart, Indiana when I was about 3 years old.  I have no idea why we only went once or why we went there but I recall there were other people with us so I suspect visiting relatives must have come to town.  They ordered a large pizza and to me, it looked disgusting so I refused to eat it.  I ended up getting the chicken drumstick child’s dinner.  My dad bought me a plastic rocket that came apart in three pieces – it was the Cold War and we were going to beat those Russians.  That was 60 years ago.  Those are my memories of dining out – now write yours and if you get stuck…

6.      Ask an older relative about their recollections.  Now is the time to connect so give them a call, email, Skype or even write a snail mail letter.  I wish I had thought to ask my grandparents about the 1919 Influenza pandemic.  I know my grandfather and great grandfather both got it in January; my grandmother blamed their resistance being shot to working the night shift at U.S. Steel and riding their bikes home in the cold rain.  My grandfather got over it quickly; my great grandfather died.  He had been known to have asthma and epilepsy and the flu turned into pneumonia.  I have the funeral photo with no social distancing practiced.  I know how the family coped – my grandmother took in borders to help pay the bills now that half the money was gone.  What I don’t know is how they prepared for the epidemic.  Perhaps they never did.  The family raised chickens and rabbits and canned their garden vegetables.  I really wish I had asked more questions.  If you aren’t able to connect with an older generation because you are the older generation then…

7.      Reach out to those your DNA says are family.  Sure, you tried that before but they didn’t respond.  Well, try, try again because they’re probably home now, too, and just might have time to respond to you.

Remember, Shakespeare and Newton did their best work during a pandemic.  Keep up your spirits by thinking about how your ancestors handled adversity.  Let them serve as a model for you.

You May Have Missed This – Another Genealogy Organization Change

While you were partying away the holidays, you might have missed the announcement from Curtis Rogers, founder of GEDMatch, that he has sold his business to Verogen, Inc.

What does this mean to you?  Well, stay tuned as for now, not much but in the ever changing world of genealogy it could be something later. 

I’m not surprised by the sale; GEDMatch was having a difficult time moving the company forward (ie. the website was early millenium when they started) and with policy, such as what constituted adherence to their guidelines ethically regarding privacy and usage by 3rd party sources.  I’ve blogged about last year (The Dark Side of DNA) if you’d like details. 

Personally, I’ve left my DNA open to view.  This may be a naive decision but I think it’s the most ethical for the moment.  I don’t care if I’m contacted by the police searching for a relative.  No one is going to steal the limited DNA available and clone me (I have heard that claim from a few clients). On the contrary, I may connect with others who hold the answers to which I seek.  And maybe not!

Like every decision we make daily, there are pros and cons.  I’m taking a wait and see attitude with this sale and will keep you informed of any new developments.

This is NOT Genealogies Dark Side

The blog I write today was not the one I planned and I want to make clear this is my OPINION.  

I blog about genealogy because it is my passion and I have found that it pairs wonderfully with my first interest, psychology.  I often start the day reading the news and today was no different.  Having just about finished my second cup of coffee, I was flipping through the stories on The Washington Post when I came across an article published yesterday, “The Dark Side of our Genealogy Craze” by Honor Sachs, an assistant history professor at the University of Colorado – Boulder. 

I beg to differ with the author’s main premise.  In paragraph 1, “…But the rise of genealogy may also, paradoxically, exacerbate the virulently anti-immigration fervor propelling President Trump’s policies and increase racial inequality…”  As the thesis statement, the article continues to present the author’s justification of  her views that researching one’s family history is dangerous for the future and the interest in learning this information is short-lived, per her word choice in the title. I strongly disagree.

To prove her point, the author cites the beginning of the growing interest in finding one’s lineage to Alex Haley’s Roots.  The book and television series without a doubt, gave rise to genealogy in the late 20th century.  Yes, the story was about an African American whose ancestors were enslaved and those of European ancestry did use the methods Haley outlined to begin their own research.  I am one of them with two of my European lines entering through Ellis Island.  I am also a Boomer. 

How the author connected Roots, Boomers and Ellis Island to this statement, “The exploration of this heritage provided a language through which the baby boomer generation could safely distance themselves from the mandates of the Civil Rights era without sounding explicitly racist.” is unclear.  

As a historian, I would think the author would know that the Boomers were deeply affected by the Civil Rights era since we were born in the 1950-60’s and were the product of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  Boomers are of all races with many of us attending integrated schools as a result of the Supreme Court decision.  While some of us are racist, most of us are not.  Racism is not tied to a generation; it permeates all ages and races. Many Americans of European descent supported (and still do) Civil Rights.  Some even died because of their involvement. Many Boomers raised children to be global citizens in integrated schools.

I believe the real threat to a rise in racism is not genealogy but through online usage and I’m not talking about a subscription to Ancestry.com.  Check out the study, “Measurement invariance of the perceived online racism scale across age and gender.”[1] 

Racism today is not the result of the Boomers or any other generation of Americans with European ancestry interested in genealogy.  Unfortunately, racism will not die with the Boomers but will continue to grow as youths buy into the propaganda they are reading online.

Here’s another problem I have with the Post’s article; the author states “While European immigrants faced significant historic struggles, their descendants mobilized such hardships to dilute the claims of historically persecuted groups that remained marginalized with their own narratives of past immigrant oppression.”  She then goes on to cite Richard Nixon and his “coded language.”  While I agree that Nixon’s word choice were coded for his base, so are every politician of every party in every nation.  Generalizing that all descendants of Europeans who researched their heritage resulted in marginalizing persecuted groups  and “resonates with our modern-day genealogical revival” is just wrong.  Show me the data!

The author continues that although genealogy can benefit those members of historically persecuted groups, it can also “empower those who seek to divide, deny and disenfranchise.”  DNA with the Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” debacle is mentioned, along with others of primarily European descent attempting to gain access to programs for underrepresented people.  Let me be clear – it is wrong to try to gain entry to a privilege that was not established for you.  In my genealogical experience, people who have taken DNA tests typically do not take them for the purpose of undermining the system.  Most take them because they want to know who their birth parents were for health reasons, where their immigrant ancestor originated, or to compare their results with family members to determine which got what genetic material from each parent.

Native American ancestry is a family story for many Americans of all races.  I wish I had a buck for every time I hear it!  My own family had a version but long before DNA, I was able to prove what the true story was;
distant cousins were kidnapped by a tribe and held for several years.    One escaped and the other was released after a truce.

Knowing that information does not make me want to hold an indigenous group today responsible.  It was wrong to steal children then, just as it’s wrong to separate children from their immigrant parents today.  Learning this occurred in my family’s past makes me even more vehemently opposed to what is happening at our border.  Understanding what my immigrant family members were fleeing in the old country makes me more empathetic with today’s people who are seeking asylum.  Remembering that
my grandparents were targeted by the KKK  and
my father’s WWII Army placementwas made due to his German sounding last name (DNA now shows more French then German but who knew back them because there was no DNA tests!) allows me to listen to the message from historically disenfranchised groups to gain their perspective.

Historian George Santayana got it right, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Correlating genealogy with racism is wrong.  I know my family’s past because I am a genealogist.  My ancestors made mistakes just like every human does every day.  I strive to learn from their mistakes and follow their examples for what they did correctly.  

No one inherited a racism gene.  Racism’s root is fear of not being in power, of losing privilege status and therefore, of becoming indigent.  My definition of poor has nothing to do with money; I define poor as those who lack a moral compass.  I’ve met poor wealthy people and rich poor people, as I bet you have.  Interesting that the fear of having no money sometimes results in those who have it in become overly controlling at the expense of others to keep it and those that don’t have it, trying to differentiate from another group to make themselves feel superior.  Those kinds of people unite in their shared biased worldview and make it bad for all the rest of us.  It leads to a closed mindset and a regression to what we see happening with leaders across the world – derogatory name calling, ostracizing, categorizing, and segregating.  Communication ceases which only separates us further.

Please, let’s stop dividing ourselves by age, race, gender, place of origin, religion, sexual orientation, education level and career choice.  The Human Genome Project showed that we all share humanness, we are all one.  Our search for our ancestors isn’t the problem.  Finding your family’s story and relating it to the world today to make for a better tomorrow is imperative.  

[1]Keum, B., & Miller, M. (2018). Measurement invariance of the perceived online racism scale across age and gender. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 12(3), article 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/CP2018-3-3.

The Dark Side of DNA

Happy Dia Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  This year, for Halloween, one of my family members created two glow in the dark pumpkins and a skull and dressed a skeleton to look like Disney’s Coco’s grandpa, Hector.  Sneaky way to get little ones to learn about genealogy relationships!  It was quite lifelike, or should I write, really dead looking?  Two little girls burst into tears which was not my intention and I felt awful but the mom’s said they loved the movie.  I had to show the girls that it wasn’t real.  One little boy was so enamored he said he had questions for Hector and could he come inside.  I told him Hector wasn’t talking tonight and would want the boy to enjoy his candy collecting.  Ahh, children and genealogy, what an interesting mix.  Their reaction is just like adults – some run when you start asking about family history and others want all the details.  

Two weeks ago I wrote about DNA now being available from hair follicles.  Right after reading that article, I found another story that I suspect relates to it though the articles purpose is to bring up a controversial side of DNA and genealogy.  The Messy Consequences of the Golden State Killer Case by Sarah Zhang published in The Atlantic 1 October 2019 will give you a better understanding of why GedMatch and Family Tree Genealogy recently changed their policies. 

As technology evolves, past policies must be rethought.  I’ve blogged in the past about clients and colleagues mentioning that their returned DNA results were just plain wrong.  We all understand that DNA is a Pandora’s box of family secrets but it never crossed my mind that medical procedures acquired as an adult could skew the results.  When I read A Woman Found Her AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret also written by Sarah Zhang and published in The Atlantic on 13 September 2019, I was shocked by the findings.  I’m not going to give you a spoiler alert – you must read this article if you have DNA results that seem skewed.  Who would have thought this?!  Clearly not the specialists who first heard their patient’s stories.

Both articles are thought provoking whether you are a donor or are making the decision of sharing your DNA results.

The last DNA related article I’d like to share is a topic I’ve also blogged about in the past.  Accepting the foibles of your family history can be difficult.  Although the author, Ken Bradford, used DNA to build his tree, the old fashion research methods also provide the same results – acquiring the knowledge of the past sins of our forefathers.  Look What the DNA Brought In published in Notre Dame Magazine Autumn 2019 can be helpful if your wrestling with the dark side of your family findings.

All of this is quite spooky, don’t you think?  Happy Day of the Dead

DNA Today from Hair of the Past

Short blog this week as I’m slammed with work.  I just read something I think is super interesting – Hair DNA Advance Hailed as Forensic Game Changer.  A family member knows I’m interested in DNA and genealogy and passed the article along to me.  Personally I think it’s going to be a boon to family genealogy once the new technology gets simplified.  Imagine being able to take in grandpa’s hair brush or that Victorian hair ring you inherited but have no idea who it originally belonged to!  Better yet, think of mummies that still have clumps of hair or even woolly mammoths.  I can’t even imagine all the new information that will result from these DNA samples.

Promethease – Limited Time Offer

Ahhh, the constantly changing world of genealogy changes!  If you’ve been thinking about uploading your DNA results to Promethease you need to get a move on it.  Recently, MyHeritage announced that they were acquiring Promethease and after the end of this year, the site will no longer be free.  Anyone who had an account with Promethease will continue to have it unless you opt out.  If you are living in Europe, you must do so by November 1st – click here for that link.  If you’d like to read the full story, check out MyHeritage’s blog article.

If you aren’t sure what Promethease is – I found the best definition from Google that explains “Promethease is a computer program developed by the SNPedia team which allows users to compare personal genomics results against the SNPedia database, generating a report with information about a person’s attributes, such as propensity to diseases, based on the presence of specific single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).”

I have used it and discussed the results with my physician and have compared my close family’s DNA results.  Although Promethease has been free for awhile, I had to pay a nominal fee, I think it was a few dollars, back in the day when I first did it.  I intend to go back on the site and update my results to see if there is any new developments.  Since I’m a member of MyHeritage I will still have access but my family is not so I want to be able to get them an updated report. 

The Changing Norms of Genealogy – Dealing With DNA

Twice a year, my local genealogy society holds a free Meet a Genealogist Day at a regional library.  The well attended event allows the general public with little knowledge of genealogy to meet with a professional to kick start their research.  Over the years that I’ve participated, the trend has been more and more questions about DNA. 

The genealogy society does provide free classes on a variety of topics during the year but unfortunately, most are held during the day which working people can’t attend.  I think that’s one of the reasons the Meet a Genealogist Day is so widely attended as it’s held on a Saturday. 

I just received an email with the new date and a new format.  The event will be held in two rooms – one for general research (which I call old school methods) and the other for those interested only in DNA research. 

I’m not sure where I’ll be placed as I’m fine with either group but I am looking forward to the “data” that shows the interest level of the two groups.  One part of me says that it’s all the same – that you need to use both historical record research and DNA results.  The other part of me, from my participating in past events, understands why there is a new division.  People are getting DNA results and not understanding what they mean or how to move forward with their findings. 

I’m not criticizing the companies who are providing the results.  Most have done an amazing job with giving lots of helpful information on their sites.  Even so, it is overwhelming to many and unfortunately, sometimes the results are disappointing. 

We all know real life is not T.V., however, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone came to me saying they thought they’d find a family connection with an entire tree done once they had their DNA results back.  Then there’s the smaller number of people who insist that the DNA lab messed up their results and that they aren’t the ethnicity that was stated.  A few have insisted that the results were just plain wrong when the results show they aren’t related to a known relative.  I know of one local genealogist who insists that happened.  Interestingly, the individual did not get retested.  Personally, if this happened to me I would contact the company AND I would test with another company to compare results.  Mistakes happen but I’ve never ever heard that the mistake was made by the lab. 

So, the underlying issue is having difficulty accepting the DNA results. Like with all of life’s disappointments, that healing takes time.

DNA Dumbness – What Not To Do When You Take a Test!

You may be contemplating taking advantage of the DNA specials that are currently offered – Ancestry.com and MyHeritageDNA.com are both being sold for $59.00 plus shipping.  Maybe you’re like me and have tested with a number of different companies over the past several years and believe you know the directions well enough to not read them.  I am going to share an embarrasingly dumb mistake I made last month when taking a DNA test to spare you having to learn this lesson on your own.

At my annual wellness physical my physician and I discussed genealogy.  Side note:  Physicians and genealogists share a lot in common, especially at parties where acquaintances want to poke your brain and get free advice on their chronic complaint – a health issue for the docs and a brick wall for the genealogist.  

My medical provider was sharing the results of her recent DNA test and I told her how I had compiled an ancestor health history going back several generations as I believe that some genetic conditions reoccur farther than the two generations back that typically the medical community zeroes in on when you complete the initial paperwork of who had what conditions.  

Granted, I have no proof of my theory other than what I’ve discovered in my own family tree and usually, when I mention this to a doctor, I get the same look that is given when you tell them you tried to self diagnose using WebMD.  I understand I’m enchroaching on their professional judgement but I mean no disrespect.  My current physician is very understanding of this tendency I have and although neither my parents or grandparents had medical concerns that DNA testing could show might affect me, I had two aunts that clearly carried a trait.  We both agreed it would be beneficial for me to be tested for medical information.

Deciding I could handle the test’s results, I made a followup appointment to spit into the test tube the next week.  The receptionist reiterated what the doctor said, don’t eat or drink anything within an hour of the test.  Yeah, yeah, I know already, I’m an expert DNA test taker!

Since my appointment was scheduled as the first visit of the morning, I decided I wouldn’t eat or drink anything after dinner the previous evening.  I even brushed my teeth right after dinner so there’d be no chance of a toothpaste interference. 

The next morning I got ready quickly and drove straight to the doctor’s office.  After signing in and being taken back to an exam room, the MA asked if I had eaten or drank anything in the last hour.  “No,” I replied, “Nothing since last night about 6:00.”  She then handed me the test tube and told me foam didn’t count so make sure to spit to the line.  

No worries, I got this.  My only thought was why didn’t they just take a cheek swab as in the days of old – that’s how I took my first Ancestry.com DNA test.  

MA left the room and I began to fill the test tube.  I was really going to town so I didn’t stop to look at the tube for a bit.  When I finally did, I had quite a shock.  My spit was not clear; it was tinged with pink.  

My first thought was I was bleeding but I felt fine.  Then it hit me; I had put lipstick on that morning.  

Lipstick does not process in my brain as food or drink.  It reminds me of my history as my maternal relatives never left the house without applying it.  I asked my grandmother why when I was about 8 and she said you should always put your best face forward.  That is, except when you’re taking a DNA test in the doctor’s office.

I didn’t know what to do; should I go look for the MA and ask if I should continue or should I just finish filling the tube?  I opened the door and saw no one in the hall so I decided to finish and maybe the test would be valid.

A few minutes later the MA returned and I sheepishly showed her the pink vial.  “I’ll check to see if that’s okay,” she said, “Never had that happen before.”  That made two of us.  Returning, she told me that the test wasn’t going to be acceptable and I needed to “Wash off your makeup, wait an hour and we’ll retest.”  

The last time someone told me to “Wash off that makeup” was in 8th grade and my lipstick of choice was Wow Wow White that looked awesome with my then braces.  Sister Rosarita felt differently and I was sent to the girl’s gang bathroom to remove it.  Then, I was angry at the school rule that was enchroaching on my lifestyle.  At the doctor’s office, I was angry at myself for being so stupid.

I was planning on meeting my husband after the appointment so I texted him I’d be late because, well, my lipstick got between my DNA and the tube.  He thought that was hysterical.  Me, not at all.  

A little over an hour later the MA called me from the waiting room and asked if I was sure I had gotten all the lipstick off.  I showed her my pale pink lips and said, “This is what they really look like.”  She laughed and said, “Nice color.”  

The second test went smoothly.  My results have been returned and they’re good, too.  

The doctor’s office staff were so kind about my mistake and said they’d make sure that they mention “NO LIP PRODUCTS” to future women who will DNA test.  I’m letting my dear readers know that, too.  

Even on Vacation Genealogy Abounds

I’m back from my dream vacation in Peru.  Ever since I was in the 3rd grade, I’ve yearned to travel there thanks to a National Geographic for Kids article.  Finally got the opportunity and even though it was a bucket list item and not for genealogical purposes, I’m sure you’re not surprised that genealogy related happenings occurred.

Our guide, Washington, related on our first meeting that he was 50% Incan and 50% Spanish, known as a mestizo.  He introduced us to one of sixty remaining shaman who lives in the Andes and speaks Quechuan.  Thankfully, Washington was an awesome translator as the shaman doesn’t speak Spanish or English.  Washington learned Quechuan as his mother’s side has passed it down for centuries.  The shaman had his DNA done and reported he was between 96-98% Incan, depending on the test.  Nice reminder that the test pool determines the percentage, even in the most remote areas of the planet!

One of our stops was to visit a cemetery in Cuzco, pictured above.  Families may “rent” a burial site and if the rent is not renewed or the space purchased, the body is cremated and interred in another portion of the cemetery.  Families visit the cemetery often and remember the dead by displaying memorabilia from their life in a niche in front of the coffin that had been plastered into the assigned space.  Items for purchase – such as flowers, vases, alcohol in tiny bottles, and career related articles – a small truck for a former truck driver, for example – may be purchased by vendors lined up outside the grounds. 

Remembering ancestors is so important to this culture that high school honor students are selected to intern in the cemetery to serve as helpers to families who have come to visit their loved ones.  As young people, they climb the ladders to change the flowers, tidy the memorial and clean the glass that keeps out the dirt.  Washington translated for us a conversation with one of the students who was hoping to earn a spot in a technical college to study tourism.  He demonstrated how he takes care of a niche. 

As a genealogist, I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries so I guess it was not surprising that I recognized Washington’s surname shortly after arriving.  I asked him if he was related and he said he didn’t know.  I then asked if his surname was considered common.  He said it was not.  I recommended he ask his mother about the relationship as he had mentioned, as the family matriarch, she knew the family’s history.  Made me laugh when he said he often wondered about the relationship; just like clients in my area who never think to ask until it’s too late.

The Inca’s probably had a written language, however, most records were destroyed by the Spanish.  If you’re looking to discover your lineage, the oldest records will not be found in Peru.  Just like the oldest records from Florida and Cuba, where I traveled last summer, the earliest documents were returned to Spain. 

Why You Should Share Your DNA Results

I have uploaded by DNA results to several sites and you could benefit from doing that, too.  The reason is simple – think about why you tested with the company you chose.  I tested with 23andMe because I wanted to find out the amount of Neandertal ancestry I  carry and that feature wasn’t available through the other major sites (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com).  

Some folks may have selected a company based on pricing.  Others may have received a kit as a gift.  In the U.S., Ancestry.com commercials are everywhere but that’s not necessarily true in other parts of the world.  You stand the greatest chance of maximizing your DNA results by uploading them to sites that accept results.

Last week, I received an email from MyHeritage.com that I have several new DNA matches.  Typically, they are 3rd to 5th cousins that I’ve connected with in the past.  This time, was different.  Luckily, I recognized the surname as one of my maternal line’s great grandmothers of which I have scant information as she had died young in childbirth.  

Immediately, I clicked on the “cousins” tree which only contained 10 entries, most of which was private but I could see the geographic region and I knew that this proved promising.  I wrote the cousin an email and was happily surprised when he responded a few hours later.  We wrote back and forth all week.  The irony is that he lives just a little over 100 miles from the homestead but has no knowledge of the family.  Why?  His grandfather had relocated the family during World War II and never spoke to his children about the family’s history.  The grandfather died a few years before the cousin I was corresponding with was born so he could never ask him directly.  There is now only one elderly relative, in his 80’s remaining.  He plans on taking my family stories to the elder.  I’m anxiously awaiting his knowledge.  

No telling what you might discover from connecting with a family member across the pond!  DNA matching makes it easy and inexpensive.