Saturday, August 17, 2013

Seeking the Trails - or Who Do I Think I Am?

I began digging around in genealogy some four years ago, using my husband's subscription to I'm the end of my own particular line as it happens - a childless only child - but there are lots of cousins around, most live in England others in Canada, USA, Cyprus. Most cousins, apart from two or three, remain virtually unknown to one another.

After several months of intense research in 2009 I threw in the towel. I had discovered a lot, though not pieces of the puzzle I'd been most keen to find: a way through two brick walls (the term used in genealogy when ....I guess it's self explanatory). A few weeks ago curiosity knocked once again and I decided to re-visit, began trying to clear up some of the muddle I'd left, and to deal with electronic "hints" accumulated over the past 3 or 4 years - hundreds of 'em! is a brilliant piece of cyber-kit, complex, easy to get lost and side-tracked, yet simple enough on the surface for know-nothings like me to use. Impatience, or not being fully au fait with the website's format, led me to make some duplications, wrong turnings and messy muddles.

Disciplining myself to write a little about each line of descent individually could help me focus more intently, maybe help iron out some confusions. I'm thinking of posting an occasional essay here, probably fairly infrequently among the rest of the waffling about politics, art, astrology, movies, relating to my family history quest. I'd focus on the four lines directly related to me, one at a time, take the line back as far as I can, include scans of any relevant photographs and personal stories I have, and some background information on history of the times and places involved. The purpose would be twofold: to clarify things in my own mind and to try to put some flesh on the bare bones of it all. Straight family trees are pretty darn soulless! After completing the (probably four) essays I have it in mind to copy them to a separate blog format. I'd pass on the URL of that new blog to the only three cousins for whom I have addresses, in the hope that they will pass the information along to other relatives, while also offering me any additional detail known to them.

Someday soon I'll make a start on that. For now, here's a rather nice poem found among dusty genealogical websites, it was written by Fern Stokes Eller:


Come walk with us,
Back through the vista of the years,
Which our ancestors knew.
We seek the trails which once they trod,
To find the spots where they once dwelt.
And while we search about our hearts,
Read weathered stones,
And turn musty pages of the past,
Their spirits come alive and walk with us.
We learn of them,
Their lives, their loves, their hates.
And with their knowledge,
Learn to understand ourselves,
For each of them has given to us a past.
We owe them this -
That they shall be remembered for that gift.


mike said...

I don't have the "genealogy bug", but my sister does and it has brought-out the detective in her. My father was an only child and his father abandoned the family when my dad was two years old. It took my sister four years of effort to find my father's father and fill-in that side of the history. Needless to say, she was quite proud of her effort. She has managed to retrieve the genealogy with no gaps all the way back to mid-1600s. While I don't have the interest to perform the necessary genealogy search, I have greatly enjoyed reading her efforts (the easy part!).

I know most of your genes are in Europe, but you did mention there were some scattered in the USA. Are you aware of the Ellis Island registry?

My sister has acquired documents and photos of European ancestors that were available on this website. The first-ever photo of my great-great-grandmother on my mother's side came from the Ellis data.

I believe in some previous post of yours I gave the website for the statistics that supported not actually knowing the real connections going back only a few generations, which pretty much led to a null-and-void traceable ancestry ten generations back. Due to promiscuity and secrets, assumed fathers may not actually be the genetic father. Studies performed indicate that 10% of births are not actually to the marital father in the USA. Percentages vary by nationality and culture.

So, genealogy looks good on paper, but has tremendous falsity!

I've long suspected that we are all just ONE anyway, regardless of ancestry. Children of the Earth.

Twilight said...

mike ~ No, I wasn't aware of that - thanks! The US immigrants are of my own generation though - a cousin, he was/is a doctor, came to New York some decades ago, but his branch of the family and mine were never in correspondence - so I know nothing more. One of my maternal grandfather's sister's emigrated to Canada, I used to correspond with her daughter, took over that duty from my grandparents after they died - but letters stopped coming from Canada several years ago, she must have died, though nobody bothered to tell me. :-(

Yes, agreed: clearly supported ancestry can go back only so far - particularly for those from peasant stock like yours truly anyway. Even official birth, death and marriage certificates and census records only tell us the facts as told to the authorities, and many are likely to be less than 100% accurate. Just yesterday I read a piece of wisdom someone passed on on a message board thread, rather ominously titled "The Nature of 'Bastards'" - it highlights this fact:

"When you hold an official Birth, Death, Marriage etc record in your hand, the only thing you can be really sure of is that you are holding a piece of paper in your hand"

I've just been reading/skipping through a long essay, well- written one too, by someone in the USA purporting to link their family via a line stretching back to Charlemagne - LOL - I had a few chuckles at the earnestness of it, especially as there's a female in there who might erm... possibly, possibly be distantly related to my paternal grandad's line - I'll probably be tempted do a bit of fantasising on that - with reasons - when I get around to my first essay.

Yes, we're all Children of Earth, which is nice. There's an old Scottish saying along the same lines, I recall it often:

"We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns"


mike (again) said...

“There is a strange emptiness to life without myths.

I am African American — by which I mean, a descendant of slaves, rather than a descendant of immigrants who came here willingly and with lives more or less intact. My ancestors were the unwilling, unintact ones: children torn from parents, parents torn from elders, people torn from roots, stories torn from language. Past a certain point, my family’s history just… stops. As if there was nothing there.

I could do what others have done, and attempt to reconstruct this lost past. I could research genealogy and genetics, search for the traces of myself in moldering old sale documents and scanned images on microfiche. I could also do what members of other cultures lacking myths have done: steal. A little BS about Atlantis here, some appropriation of other cultures’ intellectual property there, and bam! Instant historically-justified superiority. Worked great for the Nazis, new and old. Even today, white people in my neck of the woods call themselves “Caucasian”, most of them little realizing that the term and its history are as constructed as anything sold in the fantasy section of a bookstore.

These are proven strategies, but I have no interest in them. They’ll tell me where I came from, but not what I really want to know: where I’m going. To figure that out, I make shit up.”
― N.K. Jemisin

Twilight said...

mike ~ Mr/Ms Jemisin had a level-headed attitude. That he/she thought any kind of pedigree brings "instant historically-justified superiority" is arguable though, especially by a bloody-minded socialist like moi!

I'm glad Alex Haley didn't feel the same - we'd have been denied that superb, and educational for many, mini-series Roots .

Rossa said...

I am lucky to have people in our family who have already done the work. The Scottish side is very impressive, reputedly tracing the MacKinnon clan back to the 6th century. Mike may well be right that the parentage may not be accurate, but one thing stands out for me as it applies to everyone alive today.

In every generation a woman gave birth and the child survived all threats to its life from accidents to disease, hunger and war. They in turn had a child that also survived and the process was repeated for centuries up to the present day.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~ Oooh! Lucky you! I imagine if one is of traceable connection to a Scottish clan, then there will be a well-trodden trail to follow, especially if lucky enough to be able to research in the relevant area - on the spot, as it were. I wish now that I'd done more when I was in the UK. "Day late and dollar short" now - as usual!

I like your thought expressed in the last sentence Rossa! I often marvel at the huge families they had back beyond 20th century: 10 was average, and many did survive to spawn another 10 - yet without many wonders of medicine, fridges, bacteria-killing detergents, etc etc etc. Human nature must have had a fierce urge to survive - maybe with Mother Nature knowing that soon there'd be wars coming which would decimate a generation or two.

mike (again) said...

Along the lines of Rossa's comment, mitochondrial DNA is inherited only from the mother. Mitochondria are the energy producing organelles within each cell. Mitochondrial DNA is used to determine ancestry. Believe it or not, all humans can be traced-back to one single mother! Think about that regarding the racial and ethnic divisions that occur with humans...we are all the same.


"Children inherit their mitochondrial DNA only from their mother, unlike nuclear DNA which comes from the mother and father. Girls will always pass on a mtDNA mutation (genetic error or defect) and boys will never pass on a mtDNA mutation. Thus, a child shares the same mtDNA sequence as does his/her siblings and mother, but not his/her father. In addition, the mother's siblings and her mother (the child's maternal aunts, uncles and grandmother) and more distant maternal relatives also share this same mtDNA. In practice, siblings and the mother often are affected with variable manifestations of energy deficiency, while the maternal aunts, uncles and/or grandmother are sometimes affected."

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, I read that amazing fact somewhere: that we all can be traced back to just one female. It's a fact very hard to get the mind around.

DNA composition is something I haven't thought much about, other than realising that traits and defects are passed on down the line. Didn't realise that this is only via the female side though.

I'm thinking now of a relatively minor defect my mother had - bad circulation in her legs leading (after I was born) to severe varicose veins and painful ulcers.
I didn't inherit the varicose vein problem, but do have faults in circulation around my ankles, which once led to a burn on my foot turning into a deep and very nasty 2 year long ulcer.

My mother's defect was inherited from her father though - he had varicose vein and leg ulcer problems. I guess he inherited them from his mother- but that's something I don't know for sure. I seem to recall he told me his father "swore by" putting goose grease on his legs to keep the skin supple - which would indicate his father had the defect too. Hmmm. Too complex for me to unravel.

I've noticed from remarks on the Rootschat forum I've been reading lately that having genealogical DNA testing has become quite a thing, especially in the USA.
I don't feel inclined to go in that direction myself, I doubt it could tell me much of great interest, though I can see why people in the USA might be keen to try it.

mike (again) said...

Just to clarify, nuclear DNA is inherited 50-50 from father and mother. Nuclear DNA is the master-blueprint.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited only from the mother. Science is always finding new links of mtDNA to disease pathways. Here's a list of mtDNA diseases and at the end of the article, the authors indicate some cancers and ageing effects are related, too:

Box 1 | Common features of mitochondrial DNA-associated diseases

• Neurological: migraine | strokes | epilepsy | dementia | myopathy | peripheral neuropathy | DIPLOPIA | ATAXIA | speech disturbances | sensorineural deafness

• Gastrointestinal: constipation | irritable bowel | DYSPHAGIA

• Cardiac: heart failure | heart block | cardiomyopathy

• Respiratory: respiratory failure | nocturnal hypoventilation | recurrent aspiration | pneumonia

• Endocrinal: diabetes | thyroid disease | parathyroid disease | ovarian failure

• Ophthalmological: optic atrophy | cataract | ophthalmoplegia | PTOSIS


• Neurological: epilepsy | myopathy | psychomotor retardation | ataxia | spasticity | DYSTONIA | sensorineural deafness

• Gastrointestinal: vomiting | failure to thrive | dysphagia

• Cardiac: biventricular hypertrophic cardiomyopathy | rhythm abnormalities

• Respiratory: central hypoventilation | apnoea

• Haematological: anaemia | PANCYTOPAENIA

• Renal: renal tubular defects

• Liver: hepatic failure

• Endocrinal: diabetes | adrenal failure

• Ophthalmological: optic atrophy


Double vision; derived from the Greek diplous, meaning double, and ops, meaning eye.


The loss of the ability to coordinate muscular movement.


A difficulty in swallowing.


The abnormal lowering or drooping of the upper eyelid that is caused by muscle weakness.


A neurological movement disorder that is characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that might cause twisting or jerking movements of the body.


A deficiency of all blood cells including red cells, white cells and platelets.


Weakness of one or more of the muscles that control eye movement.


A severe disease during infancy that affects bone marrow and pancreas function owing to large-scale rearrangements of the mitochondrial genome.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the extra information. Goshdarnit, that's a list and a half! If we're halfway healthy it'll be almost a miracle!

mike (again) said...

Here's an FYI, Twilight:

Genetic 'Adam & Eve' Chromosome Study Traces All Men To Man Who Lived 135,000 Years Ago (9-27-2013)

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Thanks! That was a good read. Amazing!

So, maybe all those researchers who think they can link their lines back to Charlemagne or other royalty are not as bonkers as I suspected.

I like the first comment (by "Vanderbil Covington" - I'd love to be able to believe that theory.

I'm currently trying to get my head around how a core of parents with a biggish family (6 to 10 maybe) can spread out and out and out over decades, each new member eventually spawning another 6 to 10 on and so on.

So, if one is lucky enough to trace a line back to medieval times (in Britain or Europe) it gets easier to identify further links because there were so many fewer to choose from. It's interesting how, in my own case, where the highest likely status level (I can identify) was as a minor land-owning farmer, in not many generations we were all down to agricultural labourers and servants, until after WW2 :-(

mike (again) said...

Well, count your blessings, least you didn't discover you were related to Obama, John Boehner, Hitler, or countless other not-so-desirables!

Have you seen the new PBS series?

GENEALOGY ROADSHOW will air Mondays, September 23-October 14, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I haven't seen that show - hadn't even heard about it - sounds interesting. Will look for it tonight.

I intend posting #1 of my 4 essays tomorrow on what I've dug up so far, on one line - with a bit of general info added. Definitely no real links to the illustrious or notorious. With a bit of imagination, eventually, I might be able to conjure on up something in #2 - when I get around to drafting it ;-)