altThe Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2016)

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been pushing its new book for quite a while, and I've mostly been ignoring it. I love the NEGHS, especially its treasure-filled library in Boston. But I mostly—perhaps wrongly—associate them with dusty old tomes, the value of which lies in the bits and pieces of genealogical information that can be gleaned from them. The Stranger in My Genes is NOT that kind of book. The NEHGS very wisely published the first chapter in their American Ancestors magazine, and I was immediately hooked.

The book I was in the middle of reading (okay, barely started) is H. D. Smyth's Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. It was a gift for my father from his parents on his 24th birthday, and currently sits on my bookshelves with his other books on the immediate post-Hiroshima period. It is also nearly 300 pages of dense technical writing, so when The Stranger in My Genes became available at our local library (I had requested that they add it to their collection), it's small wonder I jumped at the diversion.

Part genealogy, part mystery, and part cautionary tale, this soul-searching human-interest story is also beautifully-crafted. What's not to like?  Both Porter and I read it in a day. That's not to say it's short or simple; we just couldn't put it down.

I won't say much about the story itself to avoid spoiling the mystery. Author Bill Griffeth, an amateur genealogist, received a big surprise when comparing his DNA test results with his cousin's: they weren't related. Where that led is the subject of his book, and illustrates well the risks and benefits of genetic testing.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Edit
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I don't even know who George Friedman is, but I've read a number of his essays recently, and I'm hooked. From November 7, The European Diaspora touched a nerve for me that has been aching since elementary school. You see, my ancestors were all early immigrants to this country, and in my school that was not respected. If your ancestors came to America recently enough that your parents or grandparents were immigrants, that was cool. If they came here really long ago, i.e. if you were of American Indian descent, that was the coolest of all. But in between? You were white-bread, plain vanilla, WASP-ish. Definitely uncool. I used to joke that I was considering becoming a Catholic, as that was the only part of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant I had the power to change.

For reasons I still don't know, my parents never shared much about my family heritage and resented the homework assignments that asked about it. The message I heard was simply that we were all Americans, and that was what was important. Did my mother grow up hearing her grandmother talk about being a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and had she found that boastful, or boring?  Were they aware of some anti-immigrant sentiment and did they want to keep it far away from me? I have no idea. But of course I interpreted the silence as meaning there was something negative or shameful about my ancestry. And being ashamed, I was foolish and never talked with them about the atmosphere at school.

It's really not any better now. We live in a time when "dead white [European] males" are safely vilified, and living ones not much better off. "Black Pride" is a positive, uplifting thing; "White Pride" evokes images of the Ku Klux Klan, Adolf Hitler, Skinheads, and Deliverance.

I can't imagine why the color of one's skin should be a matter of pride for anyone, but long ago I grew tired of being ashamed of my heritage. Studying genealogy gave me a better sense of history than school ever did, and assured me that my family tree is as filled with heroes and rogues, the persecuted and the persecutors, those who were well-off and those who were desperately poor, as anyone's—even if it did reveal a still more solid base of white, British Isles/northern-European, early immigrants.

George Friedman is kinder than most to my family heritage. We, too, come from courageous survivors, refugees who were desperate enough to leave everything in search of hope. Where we have travelled, we have done terrible evil and brought immense good. But mostly we have simply been human families. If our stories are a little older than those of some immigrants, and newer than others, they aren't any less important.

When I come to this part of the world [Australia/New Zealand], I am always struck by a concept we never hear about: the European diaspora. The various peoples of Europe have collectively constituted a vast and ongoing diaspora. We speak of the Jewish, Armenian or Chinese diaspora. But somehow we never think of Europe as scattering its deeply divided peoples throughout the world.

There is a difference between imperial conquest and diaspora. Imperial conquest is carried out by governments and the elites. They do it for power, money and strategic advantage. The rest of us, who have moved from one country to another, are part of a diaspora. We hope to find a better life, some food to eat, a house to live in, a policeman who will not beat us. Thus, the great European conquest of the world had two sides. One was the movement of the geopolitical plates of the world. The other was the individual acts of desperation.

The diaspora was not peaceful. Europe’s wars shaped the places Europeans sought refuge. And the diaspora displaced, subordinated and killed those who were there before, much as the Zulus, the Comanche and the Aztecs did when they arrived. The settlement of the diaspora involved brutality, as do many consequential human acts.

It is odd ... that many think the settlement of the [European] diaspora is unjust because, in the process, others were displaced. But it is simply human, and like all human things, it is both just and unjust.

The European diaspora included migrants from all of Europe’s countries. There are vast areas where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken, and other regions where people converse in French or Dutch. But I will assert that the English-speaking regions have had the largest effect on the world. This may not be a popular view, but it is true that the colonies created by the English became the places where refuge can be found now and in past centuries. Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, received the English language, marvelous in its subtlety and dynamism. And these countries have formed a web of relations with each other that has been a driver of the global system. They are not always comfortable with each other, but they have fought together and created together. They have also welcomed the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shores with an ease and openness not quite matched by others.

Would I still be thrilled if genealogical research confirmed the one, long-ago possibility of a Native American ancestor? If a DNA test reveals something sub-Saharan African or Ashkenazi Jew? Absolutely. But I'm done with being embarrassed by my heritage, even if it turns out to be 100% northern European. My parents were right: we are all Americans, and that's what counts. I'd go further: we are all human beings, made in the image of God, fallen and broken, but capable of being redeemed—and that's what counts. But particulars count, too:  my family, my community, my culture, my heritage—and yours, and yours, and his, and theirs.  No heritage has a monopoly on shame, or pride.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 6:46 am | Edit
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As a member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, I receive—among other benefits like admission to their fantastic library in Boston—their American Ancestors magazine.  The Fall 2016 issue has an article by Bryan Sykes (author of The Seven Daughters of Eve and other books of genetic genealogy) entitled, "Deep Ancestry and the Golden Thread."  The fascinating essay is actually about matrilineal genealogy, but it was the introduction that made me shake my head.

We all take the link for granted these days, but we few scientists working on the Y-chromosome in the mid-1990s...had dismissed any correlation between surnames and Y-chromosomes as highly unlikely.  As geneticists, we were familiar with the high rate of non-paternity, which would have disrupted the surname/Y-chromosome association over time. [Upon investigation, however] the strength of the correlation was high enough to make it a useful tool for genealogists and showed, incidentally, that the historical rate of non-paternity in England was far lower, at around 1.3% per generation, than it is assumed to be today.

That was a surprise?  Really?  The mindset of the "sexual revolution" is now so entrenched and ingrained that intelligent, educated scientists are shocked to learn that most children in the past did know who their daddy was, and shared his name?

I must be missing something.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Edit
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My grandparents lived in Daytona Beach all their adult lives.  Both arrived in 1915; my grandfather was originally from Western Pennsylvania, and my grandmother from West Virginia. My great-grandparents, John Stansbury Barbe and Minerva (Kemp) Barbe (Minnie) were very active in Daytona Beach:  She was a hotel owner and busy with all sorts of community affairs, from business to politics to schools, and he was at one point mayor of the Town of Daytona Beach (before it became a city).

My grandmother ran the hotel for a while, but by the time I knew her had retired from the business and was living in my favorite place in all of Daytona Beach:  431 North Grandview Avenue.  Sadly, both the house—now a business—and the neighborhood have changed, but at least the building's still there.

What more could a child want?  It was a big house with lots of places to explore, a cellar that was sometimes visited by poisonous snakes, a picnic table and my grandmother's amazing flowers in the back yard, and an outdoor shower that we sometimes shared with lizards.  (Living in Florida myself now, lizards are commonplace.  But they were an exotic treat for a child who lived in upstate New York and only visited every other year.)

Why the outdoor shower?  Not because there were no indoor facilities, but because the house was a mere two blocks from the ocean and the incredible beach; the shower was an easy way to wash off the sand and salt from our frequent swims before entering the house.  It was also an easy walk from my grandparents' home to the Bandshell and Broadwalk (not "boardwalk").  As a child I was completely oblivious to the seamier side of life in Daytona Beach, though I understand now why we were never allowed to go to the Broadwalk without an adult.

Then there were the people.  My Florida relatives were different from most of the folks I knew back home, which thanks to the presence of General Electric, had a higher-than-normal population of engineers and other intellectuals.  My grandfather had worked for the Post Office and retained an intense interest in collecting stamps—if only I had managed to figure out how to enjoy his enthusiasm without feeling obliged to share it!  My uncle was a fisherman, and I loved it when he'd let us fish with him off the Pier.  My cousins were much older than I, and therefore very cool, especially the one that could be counted on to do dangerous things like set off firecrackers in the backyard (not sure how my grandparents felt about that...), and the one who was at first a lifeguard (very high coolness factor to a young girl) and eventually worked for NASA in exotic places like Grand Turk Island and could tell us stories about the astronauts (even higher coolness factor to a young nerd).

Because of their former hotel business, my grandparents had made friends from all over who still came to visit them.  They even had a maid who came occasionally to help with the housework—no one else of my acquaintance had a maid—and what's more, the maid was black, which made her even more exotic than the lizards to one who was growing up in a town where "cultural differences" meant that some of your friends' parents might have come from Italy or Poland.  I wish I had been more curious as a child to hear the stories of all these different people.

My grandmother was a wonderful cook, especially when she was cooking fish that had been caught just hours earlier, and most especially if they were fish that I had caught.  We hardly ever ate at restaurants—in those days few ordinary people ate out, even if their grandmothers weren't good cooks.  But when we did, for special occasions, more often than not it was at a place called Kay's, at 734 Main Street.  It was a "family restaurant" with what you might call ordinary American fare, though my taste buds recall their fish as anything but ordinary.  And definitely on the extraordinary side was a drink they called a Tiny Tim.  When I knew it, the restaurant had Dickens-era decor, and one of their specialty mixed drinks they called a "Dickens."  The Tiny Tim was a non-alcoholic version of the Dickens.

We all liked the Tiny Tim so much that we had it whenever we could, and eventually I begged the bartender to give me the recipe:

  • 2 packages Bartender's Lemon Mix
  • 4 packages Bartender's Lime Mix
  • 1 package Bartender's Coconut Mix
  • 3 gallons water
  • 3 quarts pineapple juice
  • 1 quart orange juice
  • 1/3 quart lime juice
  • 2 small cans grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 quart cherry juice
  • grenadine for color

Unfortunately, that didn't help much, though I'm sure it was only because I didn't try hard enough to find the ingredients that were not readily available at the grocery store.  It occurs to me that all my efforts were BI (Before the Internet).  Maybe I should try again.  Anyway, I'm putting the recipe online for anyone who wants to check it out.  I'm not hurting Kay's by giving away trade secrets:  sadly, the restaurant went out of business, thanks in part to the neighborhood's change from family-oriented to one that catered to bikers and other tourists.

All these memories were triggered by a lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  There, Porter ordered their Frozen Iced Mango drink:  "Mango, Tropical Juices and a Hint of Coconut Blended with Ice and Swirled with Raspberry Puree."  It came with a strawberry, a slice of lime, and a slice of lemon as well, which may explain why despite the different ingredient list, it tasted more like a Tiny Tim than anything I've had in years.  Whatever it was, next time we visit the Cheesecake Factory (which seems to be about once a year), that's what I'm ordering to go with my Avocado Egg Rolls, which is the reason for going to TCF in the first place.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8:22 am | Edit
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The best part of our visit to St. Louis, Missouri this year was without a doubt time spent with living relatives.  Yet we also had a great time visiting several dead ones.

A member of our extended family was born in St. Louis, and has roots there going back to the mid-1800's, when her great-grandparents arrived from Ireland.  Hereinafter she will be referred to as GrandmaX—not to be confused with the usual Grandma on this blog, that is, me—because it is considered bad form to use the names of living people in online genealogical work.  The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis has a great online burial search tool, so I knew that several of GrandmaX's family members were buried there.  It would be fun to see what we could find.

But first, we stopped at the Old Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, formerly the Cathedral of Saint Louis.  This was the first Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi (but just barely west; it’s right on the river) and was the only Catholic church in St. Louis until 1845.  When all other nearby buildings were demolished for the building of the Gateway Arch, the Old Cathedral was left standing because of its historical significance.  (You can click on any photo for a closer look.)

altOld Cathedral     altAs seen from the top of the Gateway Arch

The Cathedral may or may not have been the family’s parish church, but it must in any case have been important to them, as they were at that point a Catholic family.  When the family left the Catholic Church I do not know.  It might have been because of the divorce of William and Margaret (Donohue) Goodman, GrandmaX's maternal grandparents, though both of them, and also Margaret’s second husband, Joseph A. Murray, and some others of their family, are buried in the Catholic cemetery.  At the present time, Catholics who are divorced and remarried without having obtained an annulment are not considered to be "members in good standing," and thus cannot participate in some aspects of church life, but they are allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.  I don't know if that was also true in the 19th century. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 5, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Edit
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Sylvester Scovil left home when his son was a baby and never returned or communicated with his family.

Sylvester Scovil’s life appears to have begun normally enough.  He was born November 20, 1821, into an old and respected New England family.  His father, Sylvester Scovil Sr., was a descendant of John Scovell, who had arrived in the New World, almost certainly from England, sometime before his marriage in 1666.  In 1686 the family was settled in Haddam, Connecticut.  Sylvester’s mother, Phoebe Burr, was from an equally old and established family.

Sylvester was the middle child of seven, three boys and four girls.  All of his siblings remained near home all their lives, the most adventuresome having only strayed as far as nearby Middletown.  The records indicate that Sylvester was on a similarly respectable path:  He was a farmer, a teacher, and a captain in the state militia.  He also held several public offices, including justice of the peace and delegate to the state Democratic convention, while he was still in his twenties.

Two of Sylvester’s first cousins, Daniel and Hezekiah Scovil, founded the D & H Scovil Manufacturing Company, famous for its hoes and other metal work, and a pillar of the Haddam area.

I became interested in Sylvester Scovil while researching the story of Phoebe’s Quilt.  Phoebe L. Scovil, the owner of the quilt, was Sylvester’s sister.  Two other sisters, and their mother, were signers of the quilt, as was Sylvester’s wife, three of her sisters, and her mother.

On June 7, 1854, Sylvester married Frances Louisa Bonfoey, the daughter of Benanuel Bonfoey and Eliza Burr.  He was 32 years old, and she 23.  Seventeen months later, on November 12, 1855, their only child, Sylvester Eugene Scovil, was born.  A few months after that, Sylvester disappeared.

We know nothing of why, nor how, other than the above quotation from Homer Worthington Brainard’s A Survey of the Scovils or Scovills in England and America : Seven Hundred Years of History and Genealogy.  The implication is that his departure was intentional, though Brainard offers no evidence that he did not meet with an unknown accident or foul play.

Becoming a parent changes people.  Most, thankfully, take a leap forward in maturity.  Some, however, cannot handle their new responsibilities.  Was Sylvester one of them?  Did he begin to manifest the mental illness that apparently plagued him later in life?  He might even have been a homosexual who could no longer face pretending to live a normal life.  Or maybe he was just plain mean and selfish.  If there was another woman involved, no evidence of that has yet surfaced.

Sylvester’s family—his wife, his son, his widowed mother and his three living siblings—never knew what happened to him.  He was there, and then he was not.  Was he dead?  Was he alive, a villain who had deserted his family when they needed him most?  Or had he been, perhaps, the victim of an attack that left him with amnesia?  Such things have happened.

His mother lived another 30 years not knowing her son’s fate.  Frances never remarried, remaining in the shelter of her own extended family to raise her son.  She died on January 12, 1897, and on her gravestone she is memorialized as “Frances L. Bonfoey, wife of Sylvester Scovil.”  Fatherless Sylvester Eugene grew up in the shelter of his mother’s family, then married Eva Luella Burr and had four children.  They moved to Bridgeport, but when he died age of 76 he was buried back home in Haddam.



As difficult as it must have been to be left with so many unanswered questions, was this family better off not knowing what I learned about the remainder of Sylvester’s life?

It’s almost 1400 miles between Haddam, Connecticut and Grasshopper Falls, Kansas (now called Valley Falls), where Sylvester Scovil next appears.  He shows up in 1856, as recorded in the Kansas territorial census, and is still there in the 1860 Federal census, listed as a farmer. (I will spare you the details of how I sorted him out from all the other Sylvester Scovilsand Scovills, Scovels, Scovilles, Schovilles, etc.)

The next 15 years are still a mystery, as I found nothing more until 1876, when he showed up almost 1600 miles further on, in Walla Walla, Washington.  He seems to have evaded the 1870 census, which is not surprising considering he would have been crossing through territories that would not achieve statehood for several more years.

What was Sylvester doing in Washington?  Did he lead a normal life before breaking into the headlines?

From the Walla Walla Weekly Statesman of May 27, 1876:

Crazy Man.—Some months since we had occasion to notice the mysterious conduct of a man who imagined he seen [sic] spirits, and entered private houses for the purpose of interviewing these messengers from the unknown regions.  At that time he occasioned considerable alarm, and the propriety of sending him to the insane asylum was seriously discussed.  His insanity, for such it undoubtedly is, quieted down, and for several months he passed along our streets moody, but apparently harmless.  Yesterday morning, however, he seemed to have a new attack of his complaint, and entering O’Brien’s Hotel, he rushed up stairs, and without ceremony entering the rooms, occasioned serious alarm.  Many of the ladies were awakened from their slumbers to confront a wild, crazy man, and the shrieks that followed can better be imagined than described.  The poor unfortunate was at once placed under arrest, and as soon as the necessary hearing can be had before Judge Guichard, he will be sent to the insane asylum.

From the following issue, June 3, 1876:

A Monomaniac.—We made notice in the last issue of the Statesman, that a man, whose name has been ascertained to be Sylvester Scoville, had been arrested for mysterious conduct, supposed to be insanity.  Last Saturday this man was brought before the Probate Court for examination as to his isanity [sic].  Doctors Bingham and Burch were called in to conduct the medical examination, and pronounced Scoville a monomaniac on the subject of spiritualism.  He is otherwise quite rational.  The unfortunate man was born in Connecticut, and is about 54 years old.  The Probate Court, upon the written certificate of the physicians, adjudged him insane and dangerous to be at large, and placed him in the custody of Sheriff Thomas, to be by him conveyed to the asylum for the insane at Steilacoom.

Census records show that Sylvester remained in the asylum, now called Western State Hospital, from 1876 until his death on March 10, 1888.  He is buried in an unmarked grave in the Western State Hospital Memorial Cemetery, near Tacoma.

Two more articles from the Walla Walla Weekly Statesman indicate that Sylvester’s mental instability was not the worst of his problems:

May 27, 1876:

Insane Asylum.—Dr. Sparling, of Seattle, has been appointed superintendent of the insane asylum.  We are not acquainted with the new superintendent, but if he is not an improvement upon the late incumbent, Hill Harmon, then he is a worthless cuss.  For years the insane asylum has been a disgrace to the territory, and we can only hope that under the new management it may be something more than a slaughter-pen for the unfortunates who are bereft of reason.

July 14, 1877

Walla Walla Insane.—Dr. Willard, physician in charge, reports the following persons sent from Walla Walla county as now under treatment at the Insane Asylum:  Noah Isham, Elizabeth Pitcher, Matt W. McDermott, James Atcherson, Mary Dougherty, John Crow, Sylvester Scoville.  Strangely enough when Dr. Willard took charge of the hospital he found these patients, but no record of their previous history or any information in regard to the peculiarities of each particular case.  Such carelessness in the management of a public institution amounts to a crime, and shows that Hill Harmon was kicked out of the hospital none too soon.

We can hope that conditions improved under the new management during Sylvester's stay, but at best it would have further broken the hearts of his family back in Connecticut.  It's worth noting, however, that despite whatever sins were committed by or against him, despite the difficulties of pioneer life, despite illness and probable abuse, Sylvester outlived all but one of his six siblings.  Phoebe, the quilt owner, survived him by 24 years.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, August 13, 2015 at 7:17 am | Edit
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Mary Perkins was born in England in 1615, and came to Massachusetts with her family in 1631, on the same ship as Roger Williams (my 10th great-grandfather and the founder of both Providence, Rhode Island, and the Baptist Church in America).  She married Thomas Bradbury, who had come to the New World from London in 1635.

What makes Mary among the more notable of my ancestors is her conviction of witchcraft in Salisbury, Massachusetts, at the age of about 77.  She was one of the very few convicted women who escaped being hanged; just how is not known. has published an article on Mary Bradbury.  I'm not completely confident of its accuracy—it says, for example, that she was convicted at the age of 72, but that is not reasonable given that she could not have been born after her baptism in 1615.  Still, it's an interesting article and pulls together some stories that I had not heard before.

Here is the article:  The Witchcraft Trial of Mary Perkins Bradbury.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Edit
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In the first comment to Saturday's Pi(e) post, Kathy Lewis asked about the math legacy of my mother (the one who introduced Kathy to strawberry-rhubarb pie).  This inspired the genealogist in me to answer the question visually.  (Click image to enlarge.  Family members, please send me corrections as needed.)


Math-related fields clearly run in the family, by marriage as well as by blood.  Some other facts of note:

  • Most of the grandchildren (and all of the great-grandchildren, not shown in the chart) have not yet graduated from college.  Their intended fields, where known, are shown in italics.  One is very close to graduation, so I've left him unitalicised.
  • In each generation from my parents through my children, there's been an even split between mathematics and engineering.  However, with the next generation at nine and counting, I doubt that trend will continue.
  • The other fields don't come out of nowhere:  both of my parents had a vast range of interests.
  • With one short-term exception in a time of need, every woman represented here clearly recognized motherhood as her primary and most important vocation, forsaking the money and prestige that come with outside employment to be able to attend full time to childrearing and making a good home.  Every family must make its own choice between one good and another; this is not a judgement on other people's choices.  Nonetheless, homemaking and motherhood as careers are seriously undervalued these days, so it's worth noting when such a cluster of women all choose to focus their considerable intelligence and education on the next generation.  As daughter, wife, mother, aunt, and grandmother, I'm grateful for the choices these families (fathers as much as mothers) have made.
  • Engineering is a long-time family heritage.  My father's father (born 1896) was a mechanical engineer, and the first chairman of that department at Washington State University.  His father (born 1854) was a civil engineer.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 10:41 am | Edit
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Far be it from me to minimize the intelligence and contributions of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  My own feelings about him are mixed, as I think he acted irresponsibly and reprehensibly in the Cambridge Incident.  Not his initial reaction—I wouldn't want to place any bets on my own rational behavior after returning from an exhausting overseas trip and finding myself locked out of my house, then being suspected by the police of housebreaking.  But for escalating the affair even after the facts were known.  At least I think that I, upon calmer reflection (and perhaps some much-needed sleep), would have been grateful to have had a neighbor notice that someone was jimmying my door, and police willing to be certain the housebreaker was who he said he was.

That aside, however, I can't deny his accomplishments, nor fail to appreciate his contributions to the genealogical field, especially in making it more popular and accessible to many who otherwise would never have given it a second thought.  For a while we watched his PBS series, Finding Your Roots, though just as with Who Do You Think You Are? and Genealogy Road Show, it got tiresome after a while:  too much hype, too many celebrities, not enough content.  His work is serious, and his passion genuine.

Recently Gates was interviewed in the American Ancestors magazine published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  His passion shows in his answer to the question, Where do you see genealogy in five or ten years?  What do you think is going to happen?

I'm working with a team of geneticists and historians to create a curriculum for middle school and high school kids, to revolutionize how we teach American history and how we teach science using ancestry tracing.  Every child in school would do a family tree.  We think that's the best way—to have their DNA analyzed and learn how that process works in science class.  In American history class, we think that's the best way to personalize American history and the nature of scholarly research.  For a lot of kids, going to the archives, looking at the census is boring.  But if we say, "You're going to learn about yourself, where you come from," what child wouldn't be interested in that?

Really?  Really?  I'm 100% with him on the idea that genealogy makes history personal and for me far more interesting.  I can feel and appreciate his enthusiasm.  But can you imagine parental reaction to this particular permission slip?  This is several orders of magnitude greater than the privacy violations already imposed on families by the schools.  Genetic genealogy is a very young science with innumerable risks and ethical pitfalls.  Even those of us who value the genetic information available aren't necessarily thrilled with the idea of our genetic information being "out there."

Medical fears  Who else can learn that I have a genetic predisposition to cancer, or bipolar disorder?  If I get tested, will I be morally obligated to reveal the results to my family, my doctors, or on an insurance or employment application?  Do I even want to know myself?  If the school learns such a thing about my child, will that affect their treatment of him?  Could they initiate a child abuse claim if we refuse to take whatever steps they recommend based on this knowledge?

Sociological and psychological fears  A child discovering that his father isn't the man he has called Daddy all his life.  A youthful indiscretion revealed by the discovery of an unexpected half-sibling.  Decades-old adulteries brought to light.  We like to hear of the DNA-testing success stories, of Holocaust survivors reunited with family members they thought long dead.  But there's a darker side to the revelations:  as one man wrote, With genetic testing, I gave my parents the gift of divorce. Even if we're certain there are no skeletons in our own closets, or don't care if they're brought to light, can we be so sure about other family members?  Can we speak for their wishes?  What's revealed about our DNA affects other lives; no man is a genealogical island.

Security fears  I have too much respect for hackers and too many misgivings about the NSA to believe any reassurance that the data is secure.  And indeed, much of the information desired by those who have their DNA analyzed is only useful if it is shared.

To be sure, there's a lot of very interesting data that can potentially be mined from DNA testing, and I'm not saying I'll never consent.  It's tempting, to be sure.  But it's not a decision to be entered into lightly, and certainly not one to be imposed on a family by a middle school history teacher.  Even one as enthusiastic and as persuasive as Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 7:42 am | Edit
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I thought it would be easy.  I have no small children at home.  I have no paid employment.  Life at the moment is, generally, calm.  Surely it wouldn't be hard to pretend I had a half-time job, and dedicate 40 hours over two weeks to genealogy work.  However, this task turned out to be surprisingly difficult.  It took 18 days, not 10, to log the 40 hours, and before it was over I found myself heartily sick of genealogy.  It was an instructive exercise, however.  A few observations:

  • I can make a surprising amount of progress if I hole myself up in my office, ignoring phone calls, e-mails, Facebook, and even to some extent my husband.
  • Ignoring other responsibilities in order to meet my genealogy goals (or any other specific goals, I suspect) eventually builds up so much psychological pressure (guilt) that the once-pleasurable work becomes a chore.
  • Phone calls from grandchildren cannot be ignored.
  • My goal was to work in concentrated segments of at least an hour each, but I found that surprisingly hard to manage, and eventually allowed myself sometimes to count the accumulation of smaller time periods.  Otherwise, it was too frustrating to find myself with, say, a half an hour to work and yet know I couldn't count it towards the goal.
  • The original impetus for this exercise was the expiration of my subscription.  Deciding to renew it took a bit of the wind out of my sails and slowed my progress, but I did eventually pull myself together and finish only one day later than my end-of-January goal.
  • I had hoped the push would make a good dent in my accumulated backlog of genealogy work.  Ha!  Infinity minus anything is still infinity.  Still, it really did help, and I made some good finds, though in trying to "beat the expiration clock" I spread my work very thinly, and concentrated more on new data than on entering the old, so the backlog looks more worse than better.
  • Having a full year's subscription ahead of me, however, and a plan to put in a steady hour or two each week, I'm hoping some more methodical plodding will bear good fruit.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 2, 2015 at 7:25 am | Edit
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Category Genealogy: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] 95 by 65: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

This is me, eating crow.

I've always had problems with the AARP.  I don't like their politics, and I resent the frequent junk-mail reminders that I'm getting older and should sign up.  When Porter joined—chiefly to get the AARP discount at Outback Steakhouse—I reluctantly put the card in my wallet, but was ashamed of its presence.  Having campaigned for decades against age discrimination, I still don't like the idea of an old-folks organization, and have thus far refused to read their magazine or even check out their website, though Porter says they have some interesting games.  It's a matter of priniciple.

As it turns out, some principles go only so far, and mine broke down today.  I discovered the AARP discount at

Remember my 95 by 65 goal to put in 40 hours of genealogy work by the end of January?  The chief impetus for that was the upcoming end of my subscription, which I had planned to let expire for a while.  However, at least until March 4 (after which the agreement may or may not be renewed), AARP members receive a 30% discount on the World Explorer membership.  Thirty percent!

Pricing at Ancestry is so complex that I made a spreadsheet just to figure it all out.  (Or maybe that's just me.)  Not only are there different extents of Ancestry membership (World, or U.S. only), and different time periods (monthly, semi-annually, annually) but their World Explorer Plus membership also provides annual subscriptions to Fold3 and  The Ancestry website is not nearly as forthcoming with prices as it could be, making comparisons difficult.

Enter the world of the phone and the human interface.  I'm not a phone person, but this was worth it.  I learned the truth of what was so confusing on the website:  The World Explorer Plus membership cannot be given as a gift, and the AARP discount only applies to World Explorer, not U.S., and most importantly in my case, not with the AARP discount.  The last was a disappointing loss, but it turns out that Fold3 and offer a 50% discount to members, which adds up to only $8 more than if the AARP discount had applied to the World Explorer Plus membership.  (Are you confused now?  That's why I made the spreadsheet.)

Plus, because I upgraded my membership before it actually expired, they added an extra month to my subscription.  That's never happened before, but I was happy to take it.  When this membership is about to expire, I'll be sure to call ahead of time to see if the AARP discount is still active, or if there's something else useful.  I'd never have known if I'd just let my subscription expire, or renewed online.

I still have problems with the AARP.  But I'll take the perk.  In this transaction alone, the $16 membership fee saved me $90.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 12:41 pm | Edit
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I've written about Porter's Uncle Harry here before, but this article from the Cypress Cemetery website just came to my attention, so it seems appropriate to post it for family members this Veterans Day.

One veteran in particular was noted enough so as to be commemorated with a park and a National Honor Roll Memorial Tree, the large oak located in the northern part of the Annex. His name was Harry Gilbert Faulk and of the 28 veterans in Cypress who fought in World War I, he was the only Saybrook resident actually killed in action - in France on July 25, 1918 at 20 years of age. Company C of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, to which Harry was attached, was heavily shelled while sleeping on the edge of some woods north of Chateau Thierry on the morning of the 25th which resulted in significant casualties. Harry, who was mortally wounded, was one of the casualties.

It's a good article, though it implies that the store was owned by Harry's parents, and Porter's sure it belonged to Harry's brother, Fred.  It was always referred to as "Uncle Fred's store." Any family members remember differently?

Harry was the youngest of six children of Frederick Olaf and Hilma Justina Faulk, who were both born in Sweden. The Faulks were well known in Old Saybrook and on Saybrook Point in part because they owned a small store at the corner of Bridge Street and College Street that also included a post office (photo at left). The location is now occupied by one of the condominium buildings of the Saybrook Point Hotel complex. One can imagine that young Harry spent a lot of time at the family store.

Happy Veterans Day to all, and thanks to all who who serve today or have served in the past.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 11:59 am | Edit
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Category Genealogy: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Thanks to my NEHGS newsletter, I can point to where my own observations are confirmed (and explained) in print.  The Summer 2014 edition of the Old Sturbridge Village Visitor reports on some historical myths, one of which is that everyone died young in the olden days. I get so frustrated when people attempt to explain something in the past by invoking, "because they only lived to be 40 years old."  Many of my ancestors lived into their 70's, 80's, and even 90's.  Here's the explanation:

While average life expectancy was shorter in 19th-century New England than it is today, many people then lived into old age, and some even lived beyond 100 years. The Bible says that expected lifespan 3,000 years ago was "70 years; 80 for those who are strong" (Psalm 90:10). But before the mid-20th century, people died regularly in all stages of life, not just in old age. Life expectancy at birth in early 19th-century New England was only in the mid-40s.

But as the old saying goes, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Statistics in the 19th century were skewed by high childhood mortality rates—especially in urban areas—largely due to infectious diseases such as pertussis, measles, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. (Thanks to vaccination, these diseases are rare today.) By the time a person reached age 30 his life expectancy jumped to 67 and the average 50-year-old could expect to live until age 73.

Note that this still puts many of my ancestors above average, but that's no surprise.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 8:23 am | Edit
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Except for the obvious connection between his middle name and his maternal grandfather, Daniel Porter Stücklin was not named for anyone in particular.  But out of a surfeit of genealogical curiosity, I looked up Daniel Porter (with Porter as a surname, not a middle name) in my genealogical database.

It turns out I have five Daniel Porters recorded, though none born later than 1750.  Of these, two are direct ancestors.

Dr. Daniel Porter, who came to Connecticut before 1644 and was one of the founders of Farmington.  He is Daniel Porter Stücklin's 10th great-grandfather on my side.

Daniel Porter, born January 1726, the son of John Porter and Esther Deane, and the great-great grandson of immigrant ancestors John Porter and Anna White.  He also lived in Connecticut, and is Daniel Porter Stücklin's 6th great-grandfather on Porter's side.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Edit
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As a homemaker, I don't find Mondays to be the horror that many people do.   But at the moment I'm feeling a little more sympathy with that point of view.

I will soon find myself in the Phildadelphia area with a day to spare.  A Monday, to be precise.  "Ah ha!"  I thought.  "A perfect day for some genealogy research."  It's not all that infrequently that I find myself somewhere interesting, genealogically speaking, but my time is almost always taken up by Higher Priorities, i.e. family.  But I will be briefly at loose ends this time, and was looking forward to a lovely day spent with books, papers, and my computer.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, holds some important clues for one of my genealogical brick walls.  My first stop I intended to be at the Lancaster County Historical Society's library.  It looks promising, but it is

Closed on Mondays.

Okay, on to Plan B.  The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society also has some of the books I'm interested in.  But alas, it is also

Closed on Mondays.

Well, how about a Plan C?  Harrisburg is the home of the Pennsylvania State Library, which holds potential material for both my eastern and my western Pennsylvania family, and it's not all that far from Philadelphia.  But, you guessed it:  it is

Closed on Mondays.

Garfield would approve.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 9:58 am | Edit
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