Hope Serena Daley
Born Friday, May 31, 2024, 6:50 p.m.
Weight: 9 pounds, 11 ounces
Length: 22 inches

Hope was born at home, 17 minutes after the family's midwife arrived. Her timing was amazing; she made her appearance at the exact time her oldest brothers had planned to leave for their orchestra concert. Needless to say, they hung around a little longer. But they made it in good time, and it was an excellent concert—we watched the livestream. Too bad the audience was slightly reduced, but Hope can be forgiven for stealing the show at home.

Grace, the proud big sister.

Twenty-three hours later: Hope and Joy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 2, 2024 at 7:55 am | Edit
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I've lost much of my faith in the New York Times, the motto of which seems to have evolved from "All the news that's fit to print" (first generations) to "All the news that fits, we print" (my generation) to "All the news we think you're fit to hear" (now). Still, I think they might have gotten something right in this recent article: Morning Person? You Might Have Neanderthal Genes to Thank. If you find that behind a pay wall, here's the relevant part:

Neanderthals were morning people, a new study suggests. And some humans today who like getting up early might credit genes they inherited from their Neanderthal ancestors. The new study compared DNA in living humans with genetic material retrieved from Neanderthal fossils. It turns out that Neanderthals carried some of the same clock-related genetic variants as do people who report being early risers.

I'm not surprised. Supposedly, I have more Neanderthal genes than 91% of all those who have been tested by the popular 23andMe system. And I'm definitely a morning person. I generally wake up naturally between 4:00 and 5:30 a.m. bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed. "Sleeping in" means sleeping till 7; that's rare, and generally doesn't happen unless I'm sick ir out of town.  I'm not sure why the latter changes my sleep patterns; I'm sure it's part the change in daylight hours, and in part that my routines have been interrupted. In any case, I do my best work in the morning, and unless I'm hot-and-heavy into some interesting work, I'm pretty much useless after 9 p.m.

The odd thing is that I didn't discover my morning-personhood until later in life. Clearly environment has a strong effect. My parents were much more night owls than I am, routinely staying up past 11 p.m., which influenced my own bedtime. And a life ruled by prime-time TV hours (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) and morning alarm clocks (school or jobs) is automatically a life of disrupted circadian rhythms.

It was our children who introduced me to the joys of the early morning hours. I didn't realize it so much at the time, as they also introduced me to the phenomenon of chronic sleep deprivation. I was getting up early, but also staying up late. As every parent knows, when you have children, that slice of time we like to call "our own" diminishes drastically. Our kids may have been in bed by eight o'clock, but I habitually stayed up until 11 simply because it was the only time I could do any kind of concentrated work. Not that you could call it quality time for the way my brain works, but I tried.

Thank you, dear Neanderthal ancestors, for giving me the genes to enjoy God's beautiful mornings. It's great to finally be in a position where I can take advantage of them. I could insert here a rant against Daylight Saving Time here, but you already know how I feel about that!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 15, 2024 at 10:24 am | Edit
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Here's a PBS story with information on how Neanderthal (and Denisovan) genes live on in modern humans. I'm taking it personally; after all, 23andMe tells me that I have more Neanderthal genes than 91% of their customers: Out of the 7,462 variants we tested, we found 279 variants in your DNA that trace back to the Neanderthals. Granted, my Neanderthal ancestry adds up to less than 2% of my DNA, but it's still more than most people have.

So if you think some of my ideas are old-fashioned, even Stone Age, at least I come by them honestly.

The bad news:

In 2020, research by Zeberg and Paabo found that a major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neanderthals. “We compared it to the Neanderthal genome and it was a perfect match,” Zeberg said. “I kind of fell off my chair.”

The good news:

The next year, they found a set of DNA variants along a single chromosome inherited from Neanderthals had the opposite effect: protecting people from severe COVID.

The science behind the news (links in the quotes) is more than I want to think about, and I have no idea how the protective vs. risk factor genes work out in my case. After all, I may have more Neanderthal genes than most, but that's still only a small fraction, and I don't even know if the variants involved are among those tested by 23andMe. So I'll just go back to making my Covid decisions based on other factors.

And smiling when someone suggests my views are out-of-date.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 at 7:23 am | Edit
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Ancestry was totally wrong about my feelings toward cilantro—they say I'm prone to disliking the herb, but I love it—but they nailed this one.

On the other hand, they are 180% out of phase in calling me a night person. Ideally, I'd sleep from 9:30 to 5:00.

So? About as reliable as a horoscope or a gypsy fortune teller?

Maybe, though overall I've found them more reliable than not; it's the areas of disagreement that stand out.

It's a statistical thing, with all the insights and dead-ends statistical analysis can give you. There's a huge database of DNA out there, albeit currently biased towards those of European ancestry (because the sample is self-selected). If we have given permission (another form of self-selection), companies like Ancestry and 23andMe make their anonymized data available for scientific research. They are careful to make the point that what they provide is not itself scientific research, but gives scientists data from which to form hypotheses and choose a direction and an approach for their research. For example, the data indicate that people with blood type A are more likely to have problems with COVID-19 than people with blood type O. (I may have the details wrong here, but you'll get the idea.) In itself, that proves nothing, but has inspired research into why it might be, in hopes of learning more about the disease and its treatment.

Statistically, most people in Ancestry's database with a bunch of the same genetic markers I have are night people, like to take naps, and hate cilantro. All statistical analysis reveals outliers. For my love of cilantro and the morning hours, I am one; for naps, I am not. Ancestry and 23andMe are careful to point out that our DNA is not a fixed destiny; how our genes are expressed can be affected by how we live.

More fascinating yet, Sharon Moalem's book Inheritance: How Our Genes Change Our Lives—and Our Lives Change Our Genes (thanks, Sarah!) reveals that how we live can even impact how we express our genetic inheritance to our children.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 17, 2023 at 6:51 pm | Edit
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There I was, pondering what I might say in today's blog post, when my sister-in-law sent me the following article, from People magazine: "Connecticut 'Witches' Could Be Exonerated 375 Years After Going on Trial." Connecticut Representative Jane Garibay apparently has nothing more important or interesting to do than tilt at windmills.

Local historians and descendants of the Connecticut witches and their accusers hope lawmakers will finally deliver them all a posthumous exoneration. "They're talking about how this has followed their families from generation to generation and that they would love for someone just to say, 'Hey, this was wrong,'" Rep. Jane Garibay told AP. "And to me, that's an easy thing to do if it gives people peace."

Really? The world truly has gone nuts. I'm happy about our family's connection with these women (and the rare man). They hardly need exoneration, especially not from someone who couldn't tell a witch from a warlock.

Instead of accomplishing the work I had intended to do this afternoon, I did a little digging. Here are the people I've found so far among our ancestors who were accused of witchcraft:

My side:

  • Mary Perkins, wife of Thomas Bradbury, accused and convicted in Salisbury, Massachusetts but escaped hanging, for reasons unknown. She is my 9th great-grandmother through my father's Bradbury line. 
  • Winifred King, wife of Joseph Benham, accused three times in New Haven, Connecticut. The first two times, the charge was dropped; the third time she fled to New York. She is my 8th great-grandmother through my father's Langdon line.

My husband's side:

  • Mary ----, wife of Thomas Barnes, convicted in Hartford, Connecticut and hanged. She is his 8th great-grandmother through his mother's Scovil line.

Both sides, though not a direct ancestor:

  • Mary Bliss, wife of Joseph Parsons, charged but acquitted. She is my 9th great-grandaunt through my mother's Smith line, and also my husband's 9th great-grandaunt through his mother's Davis line.

You'll note that I have not found anyone accused of witchcraft in my husband's father's line, though it is brimming with early New England ancestors. But that's okay, because it is through him that my husband is related to his 9th great-grandfather, Edward Wightman, the last person to be burned at the stake in England for heresy. Edward is also my own 10th great-grandfather, through my father's Langdon line.

Unlike New England's witches, Edward, it seems, was guilty as charged, and more than a little bizarre by the end. But to be a genealogist is to realize that we come from heroes and villains, the oppressed and the oppressor, the innocent and the guilty—and to embrace them all as our own.

To be real you need to celebrate your own history, humble and tormented as it might be, and the history of your own parents and grandparents, howsoever that history be marked by scars and mistakes. It is the only history you will ever have; reject it and you reject yourself.

— John Taylor Gatto

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 at 10:18 pm | Edit
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It started innocently enough, with an e-mail from AncestryDNA informing me of an additional trait revealed by my genetic makeup: my inclination to seek out or to avoid risky behavior. I could have predicted the result: I definitely prefer to avoid risk. Except, of course, that if I were as risk-averse as they say I am, I wouldn't be about to write something that could get me cancelled by Facebook.

The trigger was in one of Ancestry's explanatory paragraphs:

The world around you also affects your appetite for risk. Younger people and folks who were assigned male at birth report taking the most risks, which may be influenced by environmental factors like social rewards. Some influences are closer to home, like whether your parents encouraged risk taking. Also, our popular understandings of risk may skew more toward physical and financial risks than emotional ones. It's not only risky to do things like step onto a tightrope blindfolded. It's also risky to be honest about your feelings, admit ignorance, and express disagreement. In other words, it's risky to be yourself.

Really, Ancestry? Folks who were assigned male at birth? You mean men? If there's one place I'd expect to be free from this massacre of language, not to mention of reality, it would be a company that makes its money telling people about their chromosomes. When the attendants at my birth announced, "It's a girl!" they were not assigning my sex, they were revealing it, and AncestryDNA should know that better than anybody. Is there any point in trusting the other things they say about my genetics if they think that whether I was born with XX or XY chromosomes is something that was chosen by the birth attendants? Maybe the doctor determined my skin color, too? And the nurse decided I would be right-handed? Humbug.

When American women began coloring their hair, the object was to appear natural (no purple!).  Clairol's popular commercial advertising their product contained the catchphrase, "Only her hairdresser knows for sure." My ophthalmologist amended that to, "... and her eye doctor."

While examining my eyes, he had casually announced, "You're actually a blonde."  My hair, at that time, was brown, with a smattering of grey. All natural, I might add.  A towhead as a child, I had gradually morphed into a brunette.  Or so I thought.

"How do you know that?" I questioned.

"You have a blonde fundus.  You can dye your hair and fool most people, but your eyes know the truth."

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 2, 2022 at 6:12 am | Edit
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In church yesterday, as in many places across the land, veterans in our congregation were asked to stand and be honored.

I'm fine with that—veterans should be honored every day.

But here's something to remind us that Memorial Day is for honoring those military heroes who cannot stand up because they are lying in graves all over the world, having given "the last full measure of devotion."

Here, today, I once again especially remember Porter's granduncles, who each served, fought, and died in France during World War I, as part of the U. S. Army's 101st Machine Gun Battalion.

Harry Faulk

Harry Gilbert Faulk, of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, son of Olaf Frederick and Hilma Reuterberg Faulk, wounded in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 25, 1918. Died of his wounds later that day.



Hezekiah Porter

Hezekiah Scovil Porter, from Higganum, Connecticut, son of Wallace and Florence Wells Porter, killed in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 22, 1918.


Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 30, 2022 at 7:47 am | Edit
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Here Shall I Die Ashore: Stephen Hopkins—Bermuda Castaway, Jamestown Survivor, and Mayflower Pilgrim by Caleb Johnson (Xlibris 2007)

I discovered Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History website while researching for Porter's application for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Of the three Mayflower ancestors Porter's family lore put forth as candidates, I chose to pursue Stephan Hopkins soley because that line appeared to be the easiest to document.

MayflowerHistory.com was one of the most interesting sources I found. After some initial skepticism—the value of genealogical information that can be found online ranges from fantastic to abysmal—I recognized Johnson as an authoritative source and entertaining to boot. After proving Porter's descent from Stephen Hopkins to the satisfaction of the Mayflower Society, I gave him Here Shall I Die Ashore for Christmas.

Even before reading the book, I posted a brief summary of Hopkins' life that will give you the gist of his story. But the book is ever so much more than that, a story better told and with more history, context, and detail. I learned a lot I didn't know about the early days of the Jamestown colony in Virginia, and Plymouth in Massachusetts, as well as about Stephen himself.

We all know the Native Americans did not get what they were hoping for out of the arrival of the colonists from England. What I hadn't realized is that nobody involved in these expeditions did. And nobody had a clue how bad the colonists' situations were and how much worse they were going to get. Just when a colony began to (just barely) get a grip on providing food for itself, the folks back in England, frustrated by failed promises of return on their investments, kept sending, not badly-needed supplies, but more hungry mouths to feed. (A number of my own ancestors were on those ships that followed the Mayflower.)

You can't build a healthy colony without women, but women didn't do the kind of work that produced trade goods, so investors were reluctant to allow them to take up space on their ships. It's easy to see the financial backers as heartless, but I'm quite sure most of them were merely clueless. Even in these days of instant communication and near-instant travel, how many of us know what our financial investments—and our charitable contributions—are really doing? And who wouldn't be upset with tenants who don't take care of the property and refuse to pay rent?

Following the initial financial difficulties, long-time Leiden church member and Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton was appointed to return to England, to start negotiations with the London shareholders and other financial backers. In November 1626, an agreement was reached. The Plymouth colonist-shareholders would purchase the outstanding shares of the company from all the remaining English investors...and assume the colony's debt. The overall adventure was a substantial loss to the London investors—most only got back about a third of their original investment—but the forty-two remaining London shareholders were happy to get out with whatever they could, as most now expected they would eventually lose everything. (pp. 123-124)

Plymouth fared better than Jamestown, thanks to having a population experienced in self-discipline and hard work. Too many of Jamestown's people were of a class accustomed to being served, and whose skills were a very bad mismatch with what the colony needed to survive.

One very important lesson was learned at Plymouth after the ship Anne arrived in 1623, bringing much-longed-for wives, children, and single women.

Up until the Anne's arrival, the Plymouth colonists had worked and farmed collectively; all the crops were brought into a collective company storehouse and then rationed back out to everyone (the employees) in equal allotments. But Governor Bradford and the others soon realized this was not working out as well as had been intended—the productive individuals were getting allotted the same amount as the lazy do-nothings of the colony, and this was killing morale. Bradford's solution: allot everyone their own lots of land, for their own benefit and subsistence. Every person (man, woman and child) received an acre of land, which were logically combined together into larger family plots. (p. 121)

Credit the women, credit free enterprise, or credit finally being out from under the thumbs of clueless managers, but Plymouth finally began to thrive. And so did the Hopkins family.

Most readers will happily stop halfway through the book, where the story of Stephen Hopkins ends. But 115 pages of appendices include much of interest to genealogists and historians, including scholarly articles on the identity and origin of Stephen Hopkins, his descendants to the first three generations, three original-source documents covering Bermuda, Jamestown, and Plymouth, and Stephen's will and estate inventory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 24, 2022 at 9:09 pm | Edit
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I know I'm a little late for this Thanksgiving wish, since we're now well into Advent and the rest of the country is singing Christmas carols and concentrating on commerce. But on the real Thanksgiving Day we were far too busy indulging in our family's week-long celebration (my grandson's "favorite holiday of the year") to write at that time. (If it looks as if managed to keep up my blogging schedule, that's largely because I had a backlog of posts stored up for the purpose.)

Our missing persons list (always honored on the tablecloth participants sign every year) was longer than usual, but we still numbered over 30 people, and it was SO GOOD to get back to a reasonably normal life again. (If you don't count as abnormal spending most of a day trying to get a COVID-19 test when every source less than a two-hour drive away seemed to be out of stock.)

Holidays rarely retain much of their original purpose, so it's not surprising that Thanksgiving, too, has strayed far from its origins. But no amount of debunking and grinchiness will stop me from recognizing that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving. I know that that occasion was hardly unique in being a harvest festival celebration of thanksgiving to God. I know that many descendants of the original Native Americans at that feast wish that their ancestors had been a little less friendly with the Pilgrims. I know that the original looked far different from what is re-enacted in American elementary schools. I know that Thanksgiving didn't become a national holiday till Abraham Lincoln made it so.

So what? That doesn't change the fact that 400 years ago the Pilgrims, having suffered through a tremendously difficult year, gave a feast to return thanks to God for their survival, and shared that meal with their neighbors. We feast in memory of that festival, even if we don't always acknowledge it. And I want our grandchildren to know that if certain of that company had not been among those First Thanksgiving celebrants, they themselves would not be here today.

There were no decorated evergreens in Bethlehem. George Washington didn't refuse to lie to his father about a cherry tree incident. The first Easter had nothing to do with rabbits or eggs or candy. How many people really think about the birth of America on Independence Day, or about workers on Labor Day? Holidays take on a life and spirit of their own, and the alternative to enjoying them for what they are tends to be unhelpful grumbling. I will celebrate all that is good in our modern celebrations, and I will celebrate all that is good about what inspired them.

Happy 400th birthday, Thanksgiving!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 3, 2021 at 6:14 pm | Edit
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Grace Victoria Daley
Born Sunday, October 24, 2021, 12:25 p.m.
Weight: 9 pounds, 9 ounces
Length: 20.5 inches

Mom, baby, and the whole family are doing well and are rejoicing with exceeding great joy over this delightful gift from God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 9:23 am | Edit
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Based on what I've written before, you can probably guess that I'm fed up with people (and especially organizations) who think they have the right to ask me questions about my race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, political affiliation, and other personal information on the flimsiest of excuses. I haven't thought of any clever non-answers to most of the questions other than "Decline to Answer," an option that is not always given.

But I'm ready for race/ethnicity/ethnic background.

I've decided I'm Native American.

If you go back far enough, everyone has come to a given place from somewhere else. In my case, I have traced most of my ancestors back to when they first came to North America, and nearly all of their children were born here before the United States of America even existed—often more than a century before. Almost all of my family has been living on this continent for nearly 400 years, and the few "recent immigrants" for more than 200. In genealogical research, there's always room for surprises, but my roots here are very deep and very wide.

That's "native" enough for me.

It won't get me any tribal benefits, but at least it will make answering those pesky questions more interesting.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 at 7:43 am | Edit
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Well, would you look at that: the feast day of my 28th great-grandmother (and Porter's 26th) is November 16. Monday.

She's Saint Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045 - 16 November 1093).

In my genealogical work I hadn't gotten much further than to place her in my family tree as the wife of Scotland's King Malcolm III (Canmore). Yesterday, however, I was inspired by a friend's question to dig deeper.

Here is a bit about Saint Margaret, from her Wikipedia article. (All quotations are from the article.)

Margaret, also known as Margaret of Wessex, was the granddaughter of English King Edmund Ironside (c. 990 - 1016). She was born in exile in Hungary, her father, Edward the Exile, having been sent away by King Canute after the Danes conquered England. Later she returned to England and grew up in the English court until she fled to Northumbria after the Norman Conquest.

According to tradition, the widowed Agatha [Margaret's mother] decided to leave Northumbria, England with her children and return to the continent. However, a storm drove their ship north to the Kingdom of Scotland in 1068, where they sought the protection of King Malcolm III.

That's Malcolm, son of King Duncan—see Macbeth, though it takes many liberties with history, not unlike today's movies.

Two years later, Malcolm and Margaret married, and she became Queen of Scots.

Margaret [is credited] with having a civilizing influence on her husband Malcolm by reading him narratives from the Bible. She instigated religious reform, striving to conform the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland to those of Rome. ... She also worked to conform the practices of the Scottish Church to those of the continental Church, which she experienced in her childhood. Due to these achievements, she was considered an exemplar of the "just ruler", and moreover influenced her husband and children, especially her youngest son, the future King David I of Scotland, to be just and holy rulers.

[Quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica] "The chroniclers all agree in depicting Queen Margaret as a strong, pure, noble character, who had very great influence over her husband, and through him over Scottish history, especially in its ecclesiastical aspects. Her religion, which was genuine and intense, was of the newest Roman style; and to her are attributed a number of reforms [of the Church in Scotland]."

She attended to charitable works, serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate and washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She rose at midnight every night to attend the liturgy. She successfully invited the Benedictine Order to establish a monastery in Dunfermline, Fife in 1072, and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims journeying from south of the Firth of Forth to St. Andrew's in Fife. She used a cave on the banks of the Tower Burn in Dunfermline as a place of devotion and prayer. St. Margaret's Cave, now covered beneath a municipal car park, is open to the public. Among other deeds, Margaret also instigated the restoration of Iona Abbey in Scotland. She is also known to have interceded for the release of fellow English exiles who had been forced into serfdom by the Norman conquest of England.

Margaret was as pious privately as she was publicly. She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. This apparently had considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm, who was illiterate: he so admired her piety that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. One of these, a pocket gospel book with portraits of the Evangelists, is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England.

Margaret was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV.

In the bizarre tradition of fighting over saints' body parts and other relics, my saintly grandmother did not fare well.

Not yet 50 years old, Margaret died on 16 November 1093, three days after the deaths of her husband and eldest son. The cause of death was reportedly grief. She was buried before the high altar in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, Scotland. In 1250, the year of her canonization, her body and that of her husband were exhumed and placed in a new shrine in the Abbey. In 1560, Mary Queen of Scots had Margaret's head removed to Edinburgh Castle as a relic to assist her in childbirth. In 1597, Margaret's head ended up with the Jesuits at the Scots College, Douai, France, but was lost during the French Revolution. King Philip of Spain had the other remains of Margaret and Malcolm III transferred to the Escorial palace in Madrid, Spain, but their present location has not been discovered.

Saint Margaret of Scotland is said to be the patron of Scotland, Dunfermline, Fife, Shetland, The Queen's Ferry, and Anglo-Scottish relations. I think the last could use a little more attention these days.

Maybe it's a good thing that AncestryDNA's latest revision puts my ancestry at 44% Scottish.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 14, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Edit
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Yes, I am thankful for the rain. I love the thunderstorms with their deluges, normal for this time of year. And I'm grateful for the long, soaking rains of the kind we usually only get when there's a tropical storm off the coast but which have been nearly continuous all summer. The Floridan aquifer really needs the boost.

Nonetheless, I've decided I don't want to live in the Pacific Northwest.

My father's grandfather moved his family from Baraboo, Wisconsin to Sumner, Washington in the early 1890's. Sumner is just outside of Seattle, where it rains on average 152 days a year. So you'd think rain was in our blood. However, my father himself grew up in Pullman, Washington, where his father taught mechanical engineering at what was then Washington State College. Pullman is in the desert side of the state.

We have had so many days of rain this summer that I'm expecting to break out in mushrooms any day now. At the very least a severe case of mildew. After I've been outside for a while, I want someone to pick me up and wring me out like a piece of laundry. With six active tropical storms on our horizon, I don't expect things to dry out anytime soon.

I'm indeed grateful for the rain—and for the roof over our heads and the air conditioner that together provide a refuge that is both cool and dry.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 14, 2020 at 9:15 am | Edit
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altThe Lost Family: How DNA Testing is Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland (Abrams Press, 2020)

I been working seriously on genealogical research for almost two decades—the library-and-paper kind, supplemented by the steadily-increasing availability of records online. Then at the end of 2017 we dipped our toes into genetic genealogy, submitting saliva samples first to AncestryDNA, then to 23andMe. There have been a few small surprises, but nothing monumental.

However, my genealogical connections—primarily Ancestry.com and the New England Historic Genealogical Society—frequently send me other people's "DNA reveal" stories: the kind where Holocaust survivors from the same family find each other 60 years later, or adoptees find their birth parents, or people discover that the man they've always called "Dad" has no genetic relationship with them. Mystery, tragedy, triumph—it's all there.

Thus my eagerness to read this book as soon as I heard about it. Our library had already seen the wisdom of having The Lost Family on its shelves; when I looked for it, it was already on order. As soon as it came in, I grabbed it. What with other things to do, it took me three days to devour it.

The Lost Family is actually three books:

  1. The stories. This is why I wanted to read the book in the first place. Unfortunately, there aren't that many, for all it's nearly a 300-page book. And I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the biggest story of all, the framework for the whole book, was one I already knew. That was okay; I learned many details that I hadn't known. But I wish more of the book had been dedicated to the real-life stories.
  2. A good deal of teaching on the science behind genetic testing and DNA analysis. Most of this was old news to me, but it's complicated and a review is not a bad thing. If you're new to the field, it's definitely a good thing.
  3. A lot of most-unwelcome preaching, filled with identity politics; and how interest in genealogy is racist if you're white though apparently not if you are black; and a confusing section in which the author uses "they" to refer to both a single, transgender person who requested that personal pronoun and to multiple-person groups; and how "race" is a racist concept and "ethnicity" doesn't really exist (and is probably a racist idea, anyway); and how history is fluid and there's no such thing as truth but only your truth and my truth and their truth.

Reading the book was much like eating a meal in which I was repeatedlly given a bite of chocolate cake, then a bite of chicken, then a bite of okra. I know, some people actually like okra. They may even like the political sections of the book. I did not.

In addition, there's a lot of angst and questioning: "Who am I, really?" "What is a family?" "Can I love Irish music if I discover that my heritage is not Irish, as I thought, but Russian?" "What makes me the person I am, my genes or my experiences?"

I'm certain I'd feel more empathetic if I were the adoptee seeking birth parents, or the daughter who discovered her father wasn't the man she thought he was. The personal angle does make all things new. But the nature vs. nurture question has been around as long as we have realized they were separate influences. To me, the obvious answer is "both." End of story. I never imagined anyone would take seriously the AncestryDNA commercial in which a man gets the results of his DNA test and "turns in his lederhosen for a kilt." I never did have patience for the idea that you can only enjoy a culture if you were born into it.

Nor did I imagine that anyone would expect a DNA test to reveal exact genetic origins. Although it's getting better all the time, and is considerably more accurate now than in the early days, it's still part science, part art, and part guesswork. That's made pretty clear if you look into it at all, though I admit the commercials—like most commercials—give a simplified and thus somewhat false impression.

Besides, I hate stories about angst. Romances, coming-of-age-stories—not my thing at all.

Am I glad I read the book? Yes. Am I glad I didn't buy it? Definitely yes. Would I recommend reading it? Well, if you're thinking about taking a DNA test, it's a decent introduction to the art-and-science, and a fair warning that your world could be turned upside down. And the stories are interesting. Overall, yes, I would recommend it.

Some people, after all, even like okra.

There were only six sticky notes marking quotations this time. (At least the book was easier to review!) Bolded emphasis is mine.

At times, the sense of mission among members [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints] has gotten out of hand, as when members have submitted the names of Jews, including Holocaust victims, for posthumous baptism. (p. 30)

This is typical of an attitude I find puzzling throughout the book. A Catholic who discovers that her biological father was Jewish wonders if she should become Jewish herself, as if one's faith is something inherited rather than a statement of beliefs. I guess this goes along with the "your truth and my truth but nothing is really true" idea. I suppose it's also a sign of someone who hasn't delved too deeply into his ancestry, which would hardly reveal a unanimity of faith.

If you believe, as the Mormons do, that they can save the souls of their dead ancestors through a present-day ceremony, and some of their ancestors happen to have been Jewish, why exclude them from the eternal family? If the Mormons are right, they will be doing those Jewish ancestors the greatest possible favor. If they are wrong, then they are certainly not doing them any harm.

[Describing researchers at a genealogical library] They may be hobbyists or pros; they may travel as groups of genealogical societies, the better to swap stories and resources. They may come from far away—Canada, France, England, New Zealand, all over the United States—and park at the library every day for a full week. Sometimes, people planning to do just a little research stay far longer than they meant to, as if they fall into some kind of wormhole that alters time. This place can do that to you. (p. 31)

So true. She wasn't describing the NEHGS library in Boston, but she might have been.

We're such believers in genes that a recent Stanford University study found that informing people of their genetic predispositions for certain traits—rather, misinforming them, by telling them whether they had certain gene variants associated with exercise capacity and obesity, regardless of their actual results—influenced their actual physiology. Those told they had low-endurance versions of a gene variant did worse on a treadmill test, with poorer endurance and worse lung function (even if they didn't actually have that gene variant). Those told they had a variant that made them feel easily sated felt fuller on average after being given a meal, and tests revealed their bodies had produced more of a hormone that indicates feelings of fullness. By believing they were genetically destined for something, these subjects appear to have made it true. (p. 57)

I love stories of that kind, too.

Europe's market [for DNA testing] is seen as several years behind the US market because of a complex tapestry of policy, pragmatism, and culture. In general, says David Nicholson of UK-based Living DNA, Europeans are more concerned than Americans with matters of privacy and security. (p. 135)

This is a common belief, but I find it to be not so simple. In my limited experience, Europeans are indeed more concerned than Americans about giving their data to businesses, but I think most Americans would be shocked at how much information European governments have on their people, and especially how widespread and well-coordinated that information is. The post office, the train station, the police, the schools, the motor vehicle departments—what one knows, the others know. In the early days of homeschooling, many families were able to "fly under the radar" by never registering their children for school. In Switzerland, the schools know about your children from the day they are born. All that shared knowledge turns out to be convenient at times, but, being an American, I trust knowledge in private hands more than in the hands of the government, because governments have more power. I may hate that Google is so powerful and knows so much about me, but it wasn't Google that with one fell swoop shut down the American economy and separated us from our children and grandchildren.

Roth found that testers who identified as black or African American were far less inclined to incorporate new ancestral knowledge into their identities. In part, that's because they tended to identify strongly and positively with their existing identities; unlike white respondents, they did not describe their race as boring and plain. (p. 167)

Finally, acknowledgement in print of what I experienced in my childhood—at least from fourth grade onward. The worst thing you could be was a WASP: I distinctly remember announcing that since I couldn't help being white and of Anglo-Saxon heritage, I'd have to become Catholic. Even in my tiny, nearly-all-white village in Upstate New York, being white, at least in the dominant school narrative, was associated with being dull, stupid, ignorant, rude, and klutzy. I often wonder why this isn't more universally acknowledged; surely I can't have been the only one to have noticed it.

Alice verified which of the Collins siblings' genetic segments came from their father by matching them against known paternal cousins, and, by putting it all together, she could approximate a good portion of what Jim's chromosomes looked like, effectively raising him from the dead. (p. 272)

Hmmm. Whatever the author's religion is, count me out. I think Christianity offers a far more appealing view of what it means to be raised from the dead. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at 7:58 am | Edit
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In a comment to my post, Sometimes Old Family Stories Are True, Heather asked, "Speaking of old family stories, what do you know about the truth of the My grandfather saved Einstein from drowning one?

You can see how these legends grow over time, for the story as I know it was not that Bill Wightman saved Albert Einstein from drowning, but that the deed was done by a local "village idiot" named Johnny Dingle.

Here's what I was able to find out with some quick research.

In addition to the stories Porter and I remember hearing from Bill and other Old Saybrook natives, I discovered this in "Charles Griswold Bartlett: Mapping Old Lyme's Waterways," (Old Lyme Historical Society: River and Sound, Issue 12, Winter 2013, p. 5).

A hermit named Johnny Dingle lived on Great Island until September 1938.

Whether or not Dingle was also a bit mentally incapacitated is another issue, though Bill and others certainly described him that way. If nothing else, it provides great contrast in the story about Einstein.

This Patch article, "Sailing the Connecticut Coast with Albert Einstein," shows that an encounter between Dingle and Einstein was not only possible, but likely.

[Albert Einstein] learned to sail in Switzerland as a young man and continued to do so for more than 50 years. ... He rented a home called the "White House" in Old Lyme during the summer of 1935 and took his 17-foot sailboat named Tinef with him.

Despite sailing for over half a century, Einstein was not a very accomplished sailor. According to his biographers, he would lose his direction, his mast would often fall down, and he frequently ran aground and had near collisions with other vessels.

Often sailing near the mouth of the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook, Einstein ran aground on a sand bar once. The New York Times took note, running the following headline in the summer of 1935: "Relative Tide And Sand Bars Trap Einstein." Another newspaper put it this way: "Einstein's Miscalculation Leaves Him Stuck On Bar Of Lower Connecticut River."

Interestingly, Einstein seemed to be indifferent to the dangers of sailing, and the perils were particularly acute since he didn't know how to swim! It is rather amazing that he didn't drown.

Did Johnny Dingle really save Einstein from drowning? It's quite possible that story is true. What's near certain is that Dingle did help out the brilliant scientist one way or another, given the hapless sailor's predilection for getting into trouble, and that Dingle, however challenged he might have been in the rest of life, was constantly on and around the water where Albert Einstein was sailing, and knew well all the shoals, sandbars, and other hazards of his demesne.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 6:43 am | Edit
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