A Rose by Any Other Name

My question to the group was fairly straight forward, “Has there been a proven Y-DNA link between my ancestor and a certain ill-tempered curmudgeon on the Mayflower?” I’ve been told by several people that one exists, but when I start asking for the proof what I get in return is anecdotal. One of the big family tree lessons I’ve learned from digging around on Ancestry.com is that among the good information there is a such an amazing ton of bad information, so take all information with a big grain of salt. Unfortunately, in large part thanks to the internet, the bad information easily and quite quickly hops from family tree to family tree with ease.  All you need to do is press a button.  One of my favorite examples involves my 3rd great grandmother having my great-great grandfather at the age of one according to several trees.  Think what you will about my family, I’m 99.9% (leaving that .1% to account for physiological wackiness) certain that my 3rd great grandmother wasn’t having children quite that young.

In this particular email to this group who all share my last name, I threw in a little “P.S.” asking, “Out of curiosity, how do you pronounce our last name?”  I might as well have made that the subject of the email and posted it in big, bold, capital letters, because while i got a few “no one is quite sure about your Y-DNA question and the Mayflower Association will not accept DNA evidence as proof of descent” everyone else immediately jumped on the pronunciation thing.

So, basically this past Friday night I unwittingly started a small family war.

You see, the first part of my name is “Dough”. I pronounce it the way it looks, like dough or doe. A few people chimed in with “no, it’s like ‘dow’”, or “no, it’s more like ‘dah’”. Then came the proclamations: “We here in Ohio say it…!!” or “Well, in the northeast we say…!”  This was followed by a quick shot across the bow, “oh, so when you make bread, do you make it with dow?”  They added a little wicked emoticon smiley face to soften the impact, but that comment was met with a picture of and recipe for pandowdy to strengthen the dow/food claim.  Touché, mon frère. touché! Points to the chef!

There was a brief intermission of kvetching about people adding “er’s” to our name and some general fussing about the difficulty in trying to get people to pronounce correctly.  A friend of mine suffers from a similar issue with her first name.  The issue being you pronounce your name and the person you’re speaking with repeats it back with an entirely different pronunciation despite having just heard the correct version.  In my friend’s case, her name is Anna, but when she introduces herself as Anna more often than not the person she’s speaking with changes it to Anna. You easily see her dilemma and frustration.  (Yes, sometimes I’m difficult on purpose.)

My whole Y-DNA question was drowned out by “o” and “ow” sounds..

That’s when my favorite part of this discussion appeared (although “do you make your bread with dow” is easily my second favorite).  It began with “there’s a street in London with that same name, maybe we should find out how they say it” to which a gentleman from the UK stepped up and boldly claimed, “the correct pronunciation is ‘dow’”.  Now the use of the word “correct” would be enough to send both of my eyebrows skyward, but what edged his response up to the very top as a true favorite was a truly delightful paragraph about the history of language   My favorite line being one where the author carefully explained to the American dullards what was meant by the tern “18th century” with an “or as you would say” for the rest of us who couldn’t keep up with that fancy “18th century” talk. Whoa! Easy there feller.  You’re saying 1850 isn’t in the 18th century?  But they both have the number 18 in them!!! MIND BLOWN!  He also added that the 1700’s really only covers 1700-1709, a statement with which I would tend to disagree, but hey I’m American like that – fat, loud, simple and wielding a gun just like everyone else I know, bless my heart. This fellow then followed with another fun bit that basically stated, “the reason you pronounce it incorrectly is likely because you’re making a faulty assumption about the origins of your name.”

A short note followed from another fellow in the UK asking, “what do the English know? In Scotland and Ireland they say ‘dough’” followed by even more winky smiley emoticons. 🙂 😉 😛

Half a day went by without any further response while the Americans were undoubtedly using the time to take careful notes about the whole “century” thing. “Ok, so if 1700-1799 is the 18th century, then that would mean… Holy cow! It’s all coming together now.”  And just when I thought we’d spend the rest of the weekend contemplating these latest revelations, Braden from Ohio stepped in to give his own take on the history of language, as well as a general history of the name. Then all hell broke loose as Braden went all haplogroup and Y-DNA on the guy. Oh snap! History/Science nerd smack-down DNA style!  The gist of what he said, since it was a rather long and detailed email,  had to do with discussing the moment in history when spelling became more standardized.  He used the aforementioned haplogroup to shed doubt as to whether we Americans, who share that name, have actual ties to those similarly named in England since apparently it’s an uncommon haplogroup for the area.  To finish off, he cited anecdotal evidence based on his own UK travels of places he found where folks, when presented with the spelling, pronounced our “dough” as “doe” to prove that even in the UK there’s not necessarily one “correct” accepted pronunciation.  I nearly sent Braden a “Bravo! Well said!” email, but decided to hold off.

As of this morning, the “dough” battle rages on ignited by my simple question.

My take on the whole thing, history and haplogroups aside, is that the “right” way to say your own name is the way you pronounce it.

Ancestry

It started out as a little thing.  I had heard of National Geographic’s Genographic Project through an acquaintance. The project focused (and continues to focus, there’s now a 2.0 version) on deep ancestry from an anthropological perspective and how people began to  populate the earth.  It traces DNA migration patterns using genetic mutations to follow our ancient ancestors’ path.  For my part, they only needed me to gently swab my cheek and in exchange I would learn about my mother’s family’s migration path from Africa across Asia and Europe.  Mitochondrial Eve + me? I was in!

When the kit arrived the suggestion to “gently swab” went out the door and became “enthusiastically remove your inner cheek.”  Hey, I wasn’t about to risk the chance that National Geographic wouldn’t have enough material to work with, and so I spit half of my inner face into a nice accommodating tube, only pausing a moment to admire the grossness of it all.  Then I sealed the tube, stuffed it into a padded mailer and sent my oral bio-hazard whizzing through our mail system  A few weeks later an email arrived saying something cheerful like, “Hello, K23719! (they don’t have your name on file and well, this isn’t my number, but you get the idea) Please push the magic link below for cool pictures and info about the migration of your mtDNA.”  I pushed knowing I’d finally see beyond the “… and then they left Roanoke and headed to Atlanta where they eventually cursed Sherman,” and I wasn’t disappointed. I learned my mother’s line belonged to Haplogroup U4.

Here’s a brief snippet from Wikipedia:

Haplogroup U4 has its origin in the Upper Palaeolithic, dating to approximately 25,000 years ago and has been implicated in the expansion of modern humans into Europe occurring before the Last Glacial Maximum U4 is an ancient mitochondrial haplogroup and is relatively rare in modern populations. U4 is found in Europe with highest concentrations in Scandinavia and the Baltic states and is also associated with the remnants of ancient European hunting-gatherers preserved in the indigenous populations of Siberia.U4 is found in Nganasans the indigenous inhabitants of the Taimyr Peninsula, in the Mansi (16.3%) an endangered people, and in the Ket people (28.9%) of the Yenisey River. U4 is also preserved in the Kalash people a unique tribe among the Indo-Aryan peoples of Pakistan (current population size 3,700)[39] where it attains its highest frequency of 34%.

Now, where I don’t quite get all of the science behind this, I do get enough of it that I find the information absolutely fascinating.  And every few weeks when another U4 person uploads their results, Family Tree DNA sends me an email notifying me that there’s another one of my clan members romping about. I mentally fist bump them.

Sometime after I received my National Geographic results, I regained my interest in our family tree and began playing around with it. I cleaned up (deleted the whole thing and started fresh) what I had and managed to add some new, better researched, branches into my Family Tree Maker application.  At the same time, I started poking Find A Grave, where I got lost for a bit then re-emerged with even more great family information. The best find from Find A Grave was my 2nd cousin Carol.  We had a shared “that’s MY great-grandfather” moment followed by “who are you?”  Carol is amazing and while I don’t know her, I love her to death.  She talked me into doing two new things.  One was having my DNA tested through Ancestry.com, the other was taking those results and uploading them into GEDmatch.  She said both would match me up with other relatives (and they have).

Quick aside – in contacting these strangers (aka cousins) I’ve found through these sites, I’ve learned one thing.  As a whole, Mom’s relatives are extremely unhelpful and border on rude, whereas Dad’s relatives “people” are crazy helpful and know way more than I could ever hope to know about our tree and about DNA in general.  I mention this only because it would irk Mom to know this and that irkiness would be amusing.  Hey, it’s hard when you grow up on the right side of the tracks and have to hear the lowly peasant stock are kinder people.  Mom, I’m just sayin’…  There’s a particular pain-filled story with one of Mom’s people, but that’s for another time.  Suffice it to say I managed to not repeatedly beat my head against my desk which amounted to a huge, applause-worthy accomplishment on my part. Did I mention it was a very huge accomplishment? One of my immediate relatives who also talked to this person had a similar experience – in fact, we’re all lucky that several of us didn’t have self-inflicted concussions.

That leads me to the results.  The first thing I’ll show you are my Ancestry results.  I like them because they’re simple and well, kind of pretty. They’re also straight-forward.  I like those qualities: simple, kind of pretty and straight-forward, which is like “simple” but well it’s “straight forward” – you know what I’m saying.  The results are what I expected.  I’m very British, somewhat Irish and a mix of many other things which includes my U4-iness.

Like I said, it’s straight forward and pretty

Next up are several of the different ways I parsed up my DNA through GEDmatch.  Depending on which one you look at, I’m apparently a variety of Europeans, Baltic and what have you (an unidentified and rare group of misfits)) which we all could guess. But, if you poke around even more you’ll see I have Jewish ancestry (apparently from Germany), I’m part Pygmy (Jay, I’m looking forward to those jokes – no, really – for the record, that is not where my short legs came from), Amerindian (which, if I read that right is not necessarily American Indian, but possibly their pre-ice bridge walking cousins – who knows?), Oceanic, and Iranian.  Such a weird mix. I’ve told Jay I want a Pygmy figure wearing a yarmulke to represent my people.

Also comes with an assortment of lovely pie charts. I’m many-colored.

Here’s the thing, though.  The more I am on GEDmatch, the less I understand and while I find these charts fascinating, I don’t know what they really mean.  Where they say “North_Atlantic” did my people spring forth from the ocean? Are we talking Atlantis?  On one, the results say  I’m part pygmy, but in another it shows no pygmy.  Did my inner pygmy scamper off for that test?

And well sure, I can click on the links the PhD student who put these together provided, but their splatter charts make zero sense to me. It looks like someone took a chip brush, dipped it in paint and then fanned it across my screen while saying, “see, you get it now, right?” The 4 pt. font doesn’t help either, for the record..

I read a comparison of the different DNA test information today. It looked at Ancestry, GEDmatch and 23andme and it basically seemed to say “Ancestry is for stupid people while these others are for those who are technical.”  This may be the first time I’ve felt extremely untechnical (stupid) as I look at chromosome strings and try to figure out how one of my mother’s cousins has no shared “X” DNA with me, but comes up as a match.

My relatives. I’m related to these people how? You should see the chromosome strings. 😦

Kudos to my Dad’s “people” who have tried to help with, “ok Beth, here’s an excel spreadsheet.  The strings tell you the family lines and the…” What?  My brain just cannot wrap around it.  I feel I may be doomed to Ancestry and the pretty, yet simple pictures. Hey, I’m 75% British!  Am I Welsh? Scottish? Who knows?

I suppose “pretty” is good too, right?

Family Update: My Summer Vacation

It’s that special time of year when I use my blog to update my family and friends in a way that will bore the snot out of you if you don’t know me personally (and likely if you do, but you’ll feel forced to trudge through out of fear I might present you with a pop quiz at some happy hour).  Plus, let’s face it, at this moment I can’t think of a clever way to make my adventures seem all that interesting and I unfortunately feel the need to write. (That urge is being spurred on because if I move from this spot a certain beagle will race to the kitchen, convinced it’s actually dinner time when it’s not. So, I’m hyper-focused on not noticing that she’s desperately trying to get my attention right now.)

Usual Disclaimer

I can’t type.  I also can’t edit.  David can’t be expected to comb through the myriad of grammatical, typographical and some other -cal mistakes that I’m doubtlessly making every time I write.  Basically, you get what you get in all its flawed glory.  Just be thankful that I catch a ton of things before I hit post, so it could be worse for you – much, much, much worse.

The Show

The Awesome Cast of BatShyt Crazy’s: Live Rude Puppets Show

Over the summer I got to be the Assistant Director for a sketch show.  Hrmm… let me restate that – over the summer I got to hold the title of “Assistant Director” for a sketch show. As part of that title I did some standing, a ton of sitting, some thoughtful nodding and agreeable grunting. This is all very important when you’re putting on a production, or so I’ve told myself. I was the gal that when an actor said “line” I was “on book” and would say things like, “uhh hold on… ummm…”  My other duties seemed to include coaxing the director off the ledge. I kind of expected a big thank you card from the cast, since no one was injured in the production by said director.  I didn’t receive that.  I can’t guarantee what will happen at the next show when the next set of ledges present themselves. Guys, invest in football gear.  Just sayin’.

In truth, I met some wonderful, talented and genuinely fun actors. I loved that they were able to heighten the crazy from show to show (this was a show featuring hard-living, sassy-talking puppets) and they sincerely made me burst out laughing with each performance. This is saying something considering I’d heard the script numerous times over an eight week period.  At our own sketch show a couple of years ago, I couldn’t say the same thing.  In fact, had I heard one of the over-rehearsed sketches one more time, I was going to start screaming like a lunatic and running my head into the paneled walls.

I then stole some of those actors for…

A Commercial Shoot

Behind-the-scenes for my commercial featuring Taylor & Gene as detectives Wolfe & Ramsey

A couple of weeks ago we shot four low budget commercials for our friend Steve who has a new computer shop. Three of us wrote four sketches and each took a turn at directing ours.  In a short 10 hour day, we knocked out all four including one involving a fairly shy, but adorable three year old.  The bummer bit is that we learned at the shoot not all of them would be used, so hopefully you’ll get to see mine one day.  At the very least, I’m hopeful the cast for mine will be able to use their bits in their own personal reels – so when they’re famous they can say, “wow, I can’t believe I shamed myself like that”.  My kudos to Gene, Taylor, Jonathan and Mike who were great to work with as always.  Also, thanks to Topping, Mike and Jonathan for sticking around at the end and helping me with a project for my Video Sketch Class I’m currently in – a Blackout Sketch. My understanding of what that is – a very fast joke that leads with a misdirect.  It’s the best I could think of while trying to produce a commercial shoot.

As for that Video Sketch Class

What can I say? The people are extremely funny. The teacher has a nice take on things. I’m learning, but I hate every single solitary minute I’m in it and I absolutely dread going. I’ve been sitting on my own personal ledge for awhile while Jay and some friends try to talk me down.  I know it’s my crazy, but I can’t break out of it.  There may be a separate blog piece on it and my crazy later.  Three more classes (like years) – we’ll see if I survive that.  No guarantees.

An Awkward Segue to New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery, No. 2 – New Orleans

Somewhere in all of this I went to New Orleans with April and had a grand time even if I’m not as plucky, fun or as fast moving as I’ve been on previous trips in years past.  April said I’m supposed to tell you she didn’t try to kill me.  All I’m saying is two of my toes are still black and its been 6 weeks since I’ve been there. Nosiree, didn’t try to kill me at all. That was all “me” mmm hmmm.

I did see and experience new things.  I rode a paddle boat down the Mississippi in a rain storm, which was lovely, explored the cemeteries, visited a former home of William Faulkner (a co-worker asked me later who that was, please don’t make me hyperlink it – I believe in you), ate some amazing food, and of course, then tried to order nachos in New Orleans, because well… I’m not a very seafood-y person and nachos really sounded fantastic in that moment. I later griped about them to my husband in a text, and got a very sympathetic, “and that’s what you get for ordering Tex-Mex in New Orleans”.  I also discovered Buc-ee’s a convenience store chain I had never heard of which I think I will make a blog post of its own.

That’s about it.  I have no other adventures planned at the moment.  No shoots.  No writing (other than that Buc-ee’s thing). No shows. No trips until Thanksgiving. It’s back to my normal waddle-y, self-deprecating routine.

How was your summer?

Cousin Removal Explained – Now with Pictures!

One of the most confusing terms when talking about family relationships and Family Trees is the term “removed”. People will consciously avoid it opting for a second or third cousin reference, because it’s seemingly too confusing. Well, a long time ago, because I’m quite an accomplished nerd, I decided I needed to conquer it if I were going to work on my family tree.  A little staring at the explanation and the light bulb came on, and now I’m going to attempt to explain it to you.

I should tell you at the outset, that I’m terrible about teaching things. If Word weren’t fighting me at the moment or I had Visio at home, I’d probably do a better job, but you got me and text, and well… like I said I’m terrible at teaching things. Good luck! ENJOY!

Here we go!

Let’s say there’s YOU and YOU have two cousins ALLIE and ARNOLD. ALLIE and ARNOLD are your Mother’s sister’s children; they are your first cousins. Now ALLIE grows up and has one son, BERNARD. BERNARD is your cousin. As your first cousin’s son; he’s your first cousin (ALLIE) once removed. At some point you go off and meet the spouse of your dreams and your first child (apple of your eye with only your good qualities) is BARBARA. BARBARA, as your child, is ALLIE and ARNOLD’s first cousin (you) once removed – BARBARA. However, BARBARA and BERNARD are second cousins.

Think of it in terms of Family Tree tiers. YOU, ALLIE and ARNOLD are on the same tier. ALLIE’s son, BERNARD and your daughter BARBARA are on the next tier. The same tiers represent first, second, and third cousins, and so on. If someone is not on the same tier as YOU (in other words, they are not ALLIE or ARNOLD) they’re considered “removed.”

ALLIE’s son BERNARD has a girl, CATHY. She is ALLIE’s granddaughter, so she is your first cousin (ALLIE), twice removed (BERNARD – once removed, CATHY – twice removed). If BARBARA has a daughter CAROLYN, then CAROLYN is also ALLIE and ARNOLD’s first cousin twice removed. CAROLYN is also BERNARD’s second cousin, once removed and she is CATHY’S third cousin.

So, now that you’ve got that completely straightened out (aka “survived”) – meet my third cousin, five times removed – Hazel Bess Laugenour. (I cheated and had Family Tree Maker figure that bit out, but now that you’re a relationship pro you could easily map it.) She’s my latest genealogical find! She’s a hoot! She’s also a swimmer, a vaudevillian, an inventor (something with a hydroelectric current), graduate of Berkeley in the early 1900’s, and chock full of spunk and sass. You should read the news articles on her!

Neptune’s Perfect Girl

… and because I now understand “removed”, you can tell that Hazel and I are incredibly close (thus the similarities in disposition and achievements – Like I’m incredible at flailing around in the water – a careful (carefree?) balance of water ballet and drowning. I’m quite the little water naiad. Then there was that time I invented ummm… well, we have to have some differences otherwise how would you distinguish the two of us? You couldn’t!)

Armed with this newly found knowledge, imagine what you’ll discover! Now go forth and remove those cousins!

 

Calling all Greens/Singletons/Robbins/Swinsons/Baileys/Howards/Touchstones/Webbs

First, let me introduce myself, I’m Beth. I’m the granddaughter of Jim Swinson and Elizabeth Cearley. You can read the reasoning behind my posting my family information on a blog in the previous post or by clicking here.

I’m looking for more information on our family – from stories to photos to very simple things like full names. (Sometimes the information you find through censuses, family trees, etc doesn’t paint a complete picture, which is why I need your help.) I have been fortunate that several descendants of the Singletons have been extremely generous with their information, but we all seem to be missing information from both the Greens and their ancestors, and the Robbins and their descendants. If you have any information on the following people, I’d love to hear from you:

Daniel Madison Singleton (1/18/1848 – 1/21/1930) – Rabun, Georgia; Dahlonega, Georgia; Chechero, Georgia, Delta, Texas, Cooper, Texas

m. Amanda Green (6/8/1848 – 1872) – Amanda died in Benton County, Arizona; Lumpkin County, Georgia

David Franklin Singleton, Sr. (2/29/1868 – 11/22/1953) – Rabun County, Georgia; Paris, Texas

m. Lera Hamilton (7/1/1877 – 12/12/1958)

Mary E. Singleton (abt. 1902)

David Franklin Singleton, Jr. (abt. 1907)

Amanda Talitha Singleton (4/26/1872 – 5/10/1946) – Benton County, Arkansas; Donie, Texas; Limestone, Texas; Dallas, Texas

m. Reverend William P. Robbins (3/7/1873 – 8/13/1938) (I’ve seen his middle initial listed as “Pete”, “Pate”, and “Peter”.)

Daniel Frank Robbins (2/1/1893 – 11/19/1965) – Donie, Texas

Winnie Jane Robbins (8/9/1899 – 3/9/1935) – Waco, Texas; Donie, Texas

m. Jasper Miller

Katie Ruth Robbins (listed as “Catherine” in Reba Nell Touchtone’s obituary) (4/6/1896 – 3/11/1945) – Dallas, Texas

m. William Stewart Swinson or William Stuart Swinson (7/3/1864 – 3/22/1963) = Dallas, Texas

James Greene Swinson (1/19/1917 – 1/14/1984) – Dallas, Texas

(note: date of death comes from the death certificate of Jim H. Swinson)

m. Hillia Elizabeth Cearley

Anita Christina

Philis Cozette

Quentin Woodrow Swinson (2/3/1919 – 10/11/1991)

Esther Elizabeth Swinson (2/2/1924 – 8/29/1993 or 8/24/1993) – Carson, California; Long Beach, California

m. Henry Webb

Cathy Webb – Laguna Niguel, California

Yvonne Webb – Torrence, California

Henry Webb, Jr.

Reba Nell Swinson (4/5/1926 – 8/26/2009) Dimmitt, Texas

m. Calvin J. Howard, II (10/5/1920 – 2/6/2006)

Calvin J. Howard, III (8/1/1942 – 1/12/1997) – nickname: Wiggy

m. Barbara L. Hammaker Dallas, Texas

Cassandra Lynn Howard – Beauxbridge, Louisiana

Christi L. Howard – Austin, Texas

m. Jay Lee Touchstone – Dimmitt, Texas

Anna Mae Robbins (Annie Mae Robbins) (2/4/1905 – 3/10/1994 – Dallas, Texas

m. Kenneth T. Bailey, Sr. (4/27/1897 – 1/19/1973)

Mary Frances Bailey (abt. 1927)

Kenneth T. Bailey, Jr. (9/20/1929 – )

William Stewart Swinson – (family with first wife)

m. Ida Quinn

  • Henry Ward Swinson (9/16/1905 – 2/1973)
    • Ward Swinson – Ft. Collins, Colorado
  • William Edward Swinson, Sr. (5/29/1898 – )
    • Edwina Swinson Hahn – Columbus, Georgia
    • William Edward Swinson, Jr. – Atlanta, Georgia
  • Richard Hillyer Swinson (7/24/1900 – 9/9/1933)
  • Ruth Swinson (8/1903 – 4/1907)
  • Mary Swinson Smith (6/20/1901- )

William S. Swinson’s Siblings include:

  • Henry Ward Swinson – (9/1859 – 1905)
  • James Daniel Swinson – (5/1/1862 – 7/1/1945)
  • John Wilkes Swinson, Sr. – (6/18/1867 – 6/7/1941)
  • Jesse Lee Swinson (8/9/1869 – 3/30/1933)
  • Lily Davis (Swinson) Blackburn) (3/20/1872 – 8/20/1943)
  • Eva Jackson Swinson (10/26/1876 – 4/21/1958)

For indexing purposes, I’m also going to re-list some of the family with their married names:

  • Amanda Singleton
  • Annie Mae Bailey
  • Reba Nell Howard
  • Reba Nell Touchstone
  • Esther Elizabeth Webb
  • Winnie Jane Miller
  • Yvonne Choate
  • Catherine Lyons

Any information you’re willing to share would go a long way to filling out our family story. Even the smallest details helps move these people beyond mere names and names. For example, I recently learned that Winnie Jane, Robbins, my great-great aunt, was an auditor at a hotel in Waco and performed in her local glee club in the 1930’s.  She wasn’t a teacher or a secretary, which is what I would expect to find.  She was an auditor.  This simple bit of information gives me a slighterly better clue as to who she might have been. If you know anything, even if it’s as simple as a full name, and you are willing to share, please leave a comment below or you can email me at bethd at texas dot net.

I would love to hear from you!  I would love to share with you! (Plus, there are a whole lot of Singletons who are very eager to learn more about you and bring you into their (our) family.)

Shaking the Branches

Sooo… I haven’t received the response I hoped for in my family tree search or really any response and it occurred to me, I have a blog. Then another thought occurred to me, search engines index blogs (and well, the whole internet). I know this because I am one of the top spots for people who hate Houston. Again, Houston haters, I don’t actually hate Houston. SPOILER ALERT: the post was really to address a friend who had told another friend, “Beth hates Houston”. Sure you had to read between the lines, but there you have it. Anyway, back to the indexing and my thought pattern. My final thought, a lot of genealogists use the internet to research their families. Since there is a fee associated with Ancestry.com, which to me is 100% worth it, some researchers don’t have the resources or simply haven’t chosen to invest in that particular tool.

I have been lucky on my quest for information, as least on my Dad’s side of the family. I have met two amazing cousins who I never would have known if I hadn’t been doing genealogy research. One on my Dad’s father’s side, whose every email brings a gigantic smile to my face. She is truly the best treasure to have come out of shaking the branches of my family tree. The other cousin is on my Dad’s mother’s side where she is just waiting for me to start working on that branch so she can share all she knows. Through both of them, I’ve received stories I’ve never heard and seen pictures I’ve never seen. It’s amazing! The experience has made me quite giddy.

My mother’s side is a different story until I get back to my great-great-great grandfather and talk to the descendants of my great-great grandmother’s half siblings’ descendants – truly lovely people who are exactly where I am when it comes to the giant gap in their trees between this common ancestor of ours and me. We don’t have stories or photos or in some cases full names.

This brings me back to internet searches. I’m going to go ahead and list the people I’m searching for in the hopes someone will take a chance that I am not an internet stalker or identity thief or whatever nefarious thing they might think when I ask “can you tell me my great-grandmother’s full name?”

I actually want this to stand out, so I am going to put all of this in the post that follows.

The Withered Leaf: An Ancestry Story

I met my mother’s father once. I was very small, he was very quiet and together we sat on a piano bench as he played a tune. I was told he was rather brilliant and could play multiple instruments. When we parted, I went back to my home where my parents watched over me and he went back to his home, where attendants and orderlies and case workers watched over him. He was institutionalized most of his adult life.

No one talked about him. No one really knew him.

I went looking for him.

On my journey I discovered his mother, her name was Ruth or maybe it was Katie Ruth or Catherine, but my guess is she was more commonly known as Ruth. I had always believed she died in North Carolina an elderly woman. In fact, I believed my grandfather and his siblings had moved to Dallas while their parents remained back in their home, several states away. I had it all wrong. Through a small amount of research, it turns out she was born in Texas, as were all her children, and she actually died a building or two away from a building I once worked in. I never had any idea she was in Austin. It was strange to think about. She spent her remaining 5 years here in an institution and died at the age of 49. Recently, I was on that campus for a meeting and my stomach flipped as I looked up at the windows wondering if she had ever looked down on the spot I stood on. In the 1930’s, was she ever allowed to walk where I walked?

I had been told no one in the family liked to talk about her. Not even her other children, so I know no stories other than what I can glean from a census or two.

I found her father’s, my great-great-grandfather’s, death certificate – also institutionalized. He died of exhaustion after a manic bout. Our history unfolds.

I grasped at the names of Ruth’s siblings and landed on Winnie. Oh dear Winnie! The newspaper articles my co-worker found chronicled her singing in the town’s glee club. She was an auditor at a hotel. Not a teacher or a secretary, which I would expect to find. Winnie. Doubtlessly smart and clearly talented. Finally, someone in this family was ok. Unfortunately, she died at 38, her death certificate said, a head injury sustained “in public”. A young divorcee dying “in public” had to be news worthy. I went searching for an article about it. This was 1935 when the paper seemed to think “Mrs. Miller was visited by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Patterson” made for an interesting piece. Sadly, I couldn’t find one. This was probably a cold case! Before I could even begin to spin-up an amazing tale of murder, betrayal and likely choral glee jealousy, my co-worker came across her obituary. It said she had died in a sanitarium. My face fell when I heard the news. My only rational thought on the matter is that perhaps the head trauma lead to her being briefly in a hospital before she passed away, because it was the 1930’s, maybe it was just called a sanitarium.

(Around this time Jay asked me to see if he was related to Seco Smith. You know, good ol’ Seco. A pioneer’s pioneer. A real Texan whose adventures were chronicled repeatedly in the Frontier Times. I looked, and of course he’s a great-great-more greats nephew of this larger-than-life feller. I gave him the stink-eye. Ancestries are clearly not fair.)

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this awful legacy. These people we don’t talk about.

In this ancestry search, the kind they don’t show on the commercials, I’ve chatted with some of my third cousins on this side. They’re very polite and very curious. “We don’t know about your side, please share what you can.” To which I’ve honestly replied, “neither do I, but when I do I’ll be glad to pass on the information” knowing there’s some I never will.

So, last night, inspired by one of these third-ish cousins, I reached out to my second cousin – my grandfather’s sister’s granddaughter. I awkwardly explained who I was and told her I was researching our family. I asked if she’d be willing to share information. (I would just like to know what our great-grandmother’s full name was or even have a picture of my grandfather’s siblings.)

The only photo I have of this side of the family. Taken around 1900. The gentleman in the middle row, third from the right is my great-great-great grandfather, Daniel. His second wife sits before him and in front of her my great half aunts and uncles. His brothers, my great uncles are the two men that stand next to him.

I can’t possibly convey how that simple request has my stomach in knots knowing that my grandfather’s siblings, including her grandmother, did not like talking about my grandfather. His illness was an embarrassment to the family. And despite being cordial, they never had much to do with my mother or her sister. How do you bridge the shame? Do you say, “Hi, I’m Beth – Jim’s granddaughter, you know “that” Jim. So far I’m asymptomatic for crazy and am allowed to roam “mostly” unattended outside of the house. I even hold down a job! Please be nice to me and tell me what my great-grandmother’s full name is. Do you like hugs? I don’t. I was just curious. Is this weird for you? XXOO Beth”? (Ok, I may not have put it quite like that since I do actually want information.)

You see, I’m the family they don’t talk about trying to ask the “good” side if they’re willing to have a conversation. My pedigree, as it were, from the other sides of the family doesn’t matter. What apparently matters is that I’m descended from a crazy man, who was born to a crazy woman, who was born to a crazy father and because of a chemical imbalance, there are stories of how they damaged their families – stories I played no part in.

Each hour that she doesn’t respond heightens the anxiety. I want to know these people (within reason and that doesn’t involve a BBQ or slumber party), I want to see these people (a picture or two?), but I know I’m marked by this terrible stigma of insanity and it weighs heavily on me.

My Beautiful Kitten

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

Anatole France

I’ve never been good at eulogizing.  The words I write and say fail. How can you possibly sum up a life in a sentence? How can you convey the depth of love you have – the multiple layers of complex feelings and emotions woven around this single point in your life – limited by a vocabulary that is never quite big enough?  I’ve never been a writer.  I can’t paint a beautiful picture with words.  I’m merely an anecdotist.  My apologies, Sage as I look at my list of words and stories trying not to let you down one more time.

This post is for my kitten and for me.

15 years ago I was sitting on the back porch of my parent’s house with a dog crate in front of me.  My not-yet-ex and I sat in front of it waiting to see these two Manx kittens my stepmother had rescued from her tree.  A tiny “rumpy”, Hodi, who didn’t have a name quite yet, sprang out and fluffed up as big as she could to hiss at Thelma, my parent’s German Shepherd. Thelma had the audacity to take a sniff of this tiny precocious ball and Hodi needed her to understand that she’d made a huge mistake.  Fueled by Hodi’s bravado, Sage (a “stumpy”) confidently pattered out behind her.  “Do you want the kittens?” was the question that lingered in the air.  I didn’t.  I had my cat Jones and I was content. However, I didn’t have the final word.  No, that was my not-yet-ex’s call who enthusiastically replied, “we’ll take them!”

She didn’t have a name for a while.  My not-yet-ex had declared we could each name one kitten.  As I saw it, I had.  His name was Jones.  That didn’t get me off the hook. I had to name mine.  He had already named his Horangi (this eventually was shortened “Hodi” – pronounced Hoe-dee, thanks to Kati, which made things easier on her and everyone else).  I turned over the naming to a friend since I wasn’t particularly attached and she offered up “Sage” and so Sage it was.

Sage was tiny – skin stretched over jutting bones, with short sleek hair – a contrast to her larger, fluffier sister.  She was hard to pat at first – all you could feel were the vertebrae along her spine and tiny little kitten ribs, but she desperately wanted to be loved.  Early on I realized everyone gravitated to Hodi – she was big eyed and fluffy whereas no one really touched Sage.  Sage became my project to make sure she was properly socialized – a little project that eventually got out of hand as I turned her into an attention seeking love monster. Once she realized hands were maybe the best thing ever (right next to freshly opened cans of tuna) and all of these people seemed to come with a pair of them, she made it her goal to make sure that happened   If they weren’t touching, she’d start talking to them about how they should probably bend over a bit more and get to the touching.  She would also let it be known that if bending presented any special trouble, she would be ok with perching on their laps.  Very accommodating.  Until recently she would greet everyone at the door waiting for those lovely arms to lower themselves and bestow some patty goodness. She was the one who would stomp on us at night or curl up in Jay’s lap when he’d sit at his computer.

In the early years my cat Jones didn’t take to her.  In fact, truth be told, there were never “later years” that he did.  His one and only love had been for a ferret named Apple Juice and Sage was neither a ferret nor did she sound like a fruity drink.  Within in a couple of weeks the novelty of Sage had worn off for Jones.  He was 5 and well beyond kitten antics.  He decided that as the oldest he should address the problem, since clearly I wasn’t going to handle it, so he walked over her and plopped himself down on her body.  Jones weighed about 23 lbs. (a big guy) and easily had 19-20 lbs. on this tiny kitten. I couldn’t see a single bit of Sage peeking out from under him and Jonesy just stared ahead like nothing was going on.  Jonesy’s only attempt to rid himself of this obnoxious bony upstart and I unceremoniously ruined the moment by making him move.  He was incredulous in the way that only a cat can be properly incredulous.

Top: Jonesy, L to R: Hodi and Sage (in purple)

When my divorce happened, I had  three pets.  Jonesy had passed away and I had a fairly new puppy named Dakota. My ex was in no position to keep these cats he had insisted we get and most apartments were not going to allow three pets.  Since I had a more adoptable lab puppy, I had to give up my dog for his cats.  I wasn’t going to take a chance on these two being euthanized, since they were into their awkward teen phase – well past “cute”.  That decision sometimes made things hard. They were “his” cats and “my” cat and one of “my” dogs were dead due to his idiocy with animals (one reason he’s an ex) while my other dog had to be given away. (Another story for another time.)  I’d remind myself it wasn’t their fault and that they needed me to protect them – to give them the best life they could have.  I used to ask people, “do you want two free kittens” as a way to add levity to my feelings.  It was never a real offer and they were never going anywhere. I began working on appreciating them for their different personalities – their idiosyncrasies – their goofiness, which takes me to:

What I loved about Sage over these 15 years:

  • She never stopped being a kitten.  While her sister is content to pick out the best pet bed, Sage always wanted to bat something around.

  • She loved feathers and mousies and this ball that went round in circles in its track.  She loved the laser pointer and she loved batting my earrings off the nightstand.

  • She loved nuzzling into my hair and pressing her nose against my scalp especially if it was wet.

  • She always appeared on the edge of the tub whenever I was taking a shower or a bath and only fell in once, but proved she could fly once her haunches hit the water.

  • She loved to nuzzle my blush brush, burying her face between its bristles.

  • She loved being touched to the point that she’d allow us to put her in cat hats for her thanks to those hands we seemed to have.  A few of her cat hat photos were even selected to appear on a Cats in Hats website (which seems to have disappeared) and she also won “Fashionista” for one of those photos at our office’s charity fundraiser for the ASPCA.

  • She had this one little pink toe and the game was always to declare  “pink toe” and then stroke her paw, which made her flinch, but again there was touching so she didn’t want to run away.

  • She deeply loved Jay, her pet human, whom she always wanted to be near and would let him cradle her like a baby.

Both she and Hodi were indoor cats, going out occasionally on the balcony when we lived in our apartment.  I met my neighbor, Jessica, because of Sage when she jumped the wall that divided our balconies and a couple of hours later Jessica appeared holding her.  She’d scared Jessica, because Jessica had walked by her bedroom and seen Sage asleep on her bed.  Sage looked just like Jessica’s cat who’d passed away and Jessica had to call her boyfriend over to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

When she stopped being able to clear the fence, she finally got to spend more time outside here.  (We had done a test run early on, but behind one of the fences was a pit bull who had a bark collar on. He was silent and I felt instant death waited for her if she went to that yard. Incidentally, that was her favorite yard. Of course.)  When she got to spend all the time she wanted outside, she’d hang out in the shade under the picnic table or bury her face in a tuft of grass. She was always the last pet to come in if it rained.  I imagine she just enjoyed the feel of the water as it gently fell on her fur.

One of many hats.

As a Manx we tried to encourage her to grow a tail.  She let us know early on she couldn’t be bothered.  She was absolutely fine with her sassy little nubbin.  Then we tried to convince her it was time to find a job and she scoffed as both Hodi and Sam have done.  Cats these days.

Where Hodi had her special issues and Sam has had her bouts with Horner’s Syndrome, torn CCL’s (yes, plural) and physical therapy, I always knew Sage would outlive all of them  She was the healthiest.  Sure, we had to give her subcutaneous fluids a few years ago once we discovered she wouldn’t drink standing water and needed water constantly flowing to stay hydrated.  Yay Drinkwell! And even when she started dropping weight last summer and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, I knew her condition was manageable – just part of her aging process – still in the best shape of the pets..  Sure. the vet noted raised kidney enzymes, but that was largely due to her age.

Then I came home in June and found her laying in a puddle of urine.  She hadn’t moved all day.  I rushed her to the emergency vet where they placed her on an IV.  The test results showed e-coli in her urine.  A round of nausea invoking meds was started to clear that up and it didn’t clear up, so a new round of meds started at a higher dosage where I had to force feed her to help with the nausea and it didn’t clear up, then a newer round of a different/riskier medication that could impact her kidneys started; we had to clear that infection out.  When the vet said the latest meds could be hard on her because of her pre-existing kidney problems I focused on the “could”. I knew Sage was the most resilient of my pets and “could” meant the 1% of the pharmaceutical test study where the animals had a bad reaction. Sage was in the 99%.  I knew that.  Unfortunately, she was the 1%. Monday, after a vet visit on Saturday,  we had to make a choice since she wasn’t improving.  I broke down. I failed her.  Today they ship her body to the crematorium.  A clay cast has been made of her paw print and then some time next week I’ll pick her up from the vet for the last time.

If I could make a thousand paper cranes and get one wish it would be for her to understand that I always loved her. That she was both a good and beautiful kitten.

He Kindly Stopped for Me

I am descended from a long line of martyrs.  Now, you might be thinking the lion snack, pyre kindle, rock dodger sort, but you’d be mistaken.  See, I’ve long suspected my family actually survived through the centuries by being fabulous finger pointers.  “Oh, you’re looking for a witch?  Have you spoken with Goody Johnson?  No reason.  I’m just saying there may be naked devil frolicking.  Hey, since her property is right next to mine and she doesn’t look like a pond floater to me, if you catch my drift, I was thinking you know maybe we could just add that to our lands.  Hey, did I mention the frolicking and the warts? I think there was cavorting!”  In fact, all of my friends know that if they ever need someone to bury the body, they should definitely not include me due to my finger-pointing genetics.  Even If I wanted to keep their secret, my DNA would kick in and the next thing you know I’d be at the local sheriff’s office spilling my guts.  No, we’re more the sort of martyrs with our ever-lengthening faces who believe we were meant to suffer.  It can make the holidays a real hoot.  And while I’m not always like this, I have some glorious moments.

A recent example: I was driving home one night and I suppose the radio wasn’t entertaining enough and the traffic wasn’t particularly challenging, so that allowed for some quality me time. Time to really over think things – to rework reality.  I started picking on myself and it went something like this: “you know, none of your friends parents like you – true story”.  I made a list in my head of all of my friends and their parents – a list that would make what I was saying completely true.  I crawled out on that mental ledge and followed with “you’re kind of unlikeable, there’s probably something wrong with you.”  Now let me say this was up there with the time I called April and declared, “I only have three friends” to which April calmly took a breath and asked about several other people that I hadn’t counted – people I really liked and she was able to negotiate through my very German, “no, that’s an acquaintance”- the “du” vs. “Sie” roadblocks I threw in her way until I came down off of that ledge.  I’m kind of famous for these glorious moments, I’m not so proud to say.  So, as I drove and thought of every parent that disliked me including in-laws, I became smaller and sadder.  This was my narrative I chose to tell myself that evening for no better reason than I was bored.

And then the small part of me that hates to be beaten up rallied. “Julie’s mom doesn’t feel that way. Ern’s parents don’t feel that way. In fact, if you think about it, more of them like you than don’t and the ones who don’t, you’ve always had a “right back atcha’” attitude anyway, so let’s admit we’re being silly.”  I perked back up and recounted the ways that Julie’s mom had shown me over the years that she did still think about me and she did believe I was an ok person.  I used that knowledge to feel ok again.  To feel likeable.  To feel like I wasn’t some friend toad who when introduced to parents was seen as some loathsome and repulsive parasite latched to their beloved kid. (Did I mention I’m very skilled at making myself suffer?)  Those were the people who mattered to me – those incredible, amazing people who I admire and they like me.  I’m ok.

Reminding myself of the real truth, the real story, allowed me to not only feel better about myself, but about the people around me.  And the real story is that Ernie’s parents always ask about me when Ern comes into town.  Julie’s mom follows my blog and was one of the top people to respond to my Facebook posts – something that goes well beyond what my own family does and it’s something that means a lot to me.  And all of that helps me feel connected to my past.

Last week Julie told me that her mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Julie, who is a doctor, explained what that meant for the coming year and then asked if I would write a reminiscence – something her mom could read because she likes my writing.  I had a small meltdown, and then I sat down at 3:30 am the following morning and wrote a small bit that will never do this amazing lady justice or properly express how much she means to me or how incredible I think she is.

Of all the phases in my life – school, graduation, college, marriages, friend’s children being born, this is the one I like absolutely the least.  I want to stomp my feet hard enough or hold my breath long enough so that Death pauses, furrows a brow and says, “you know you’ll just pass out, but I suppose this once because of your moxie and that particular shade of blue on your face, I’ll cry uncle then come back in about 15 years, deal?”  (I basically want Death to be the character from Terry Pratchett’s novels. Relatable with a great fondness for cats.)

Like my aunt and my mom, she’s one of those people I have always assumed would always be there.  That decades from now I would still be hearing stories of her wanderings or hearing her boasting about and celebrating her incredible children and grandchildren. That I would be admiring her beautiful nature photos or the latest art piece she had created.  That wherever the wind stirred the tall grass and gently encouraged the wind chimes into performing a fairy’s chorus that I could smile in the knowledge she was somewhere out there – Monte and Polly at her side.

And quite selfishly, on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death,  I admit that among the reasons I’m sad is that there will be one less person in this world that thinks I’m ok.

Mom Kisses

I had this terrific idea for a Mother’s Day blog post.  In it, I was going to tell you a story about my Mom and how I followed her around everywhere she went.  You see, I started stalking her as soon as I could walk and didn’t stop until she passed away in 2006.  At times it would drive her a tad insane and she’d get these crazy ideas that maybe doors would stop me.  “Do you have to follow me?” “I’m glad you asked.  Yes, I do. This is what happens when you decide to only have one kid.” While those doors may have prevented me from going into the actual room, I knew she’d eventually have to come out and I was patient.  Plus, I knew that those doors that kept me from her weren’t sound proof; where my legs couldn’t take me, my voice could.  When the doors were open, I would listen to Mom and watch her closely as she fixed her hair or applied her make-up and then I’d try to copy her whenever she wasn’t around.  Anyone who has met me knows I wasn’t quite so successful with imitating her in those departments, and that I had to come to terms with the more “wash and go” approach I’ve mastered now.  “Eh, things are brushed, I’m ready to greet the world.”  I have to be threatened with an event before I’ll even take a stab at styling my hair and trying to find the foundation.

One of Mom’s daily make-up rituals was blotting her lipstick.  She would make these perfect little squares of tissue with a single lip imprint.  You’d find them sitting neatly on the counter before they were discarded into the trash.  I came to think of them as Mom kisses.  A perfect set of red lips in the dead center of tissue.

When My Blog Idea Tanked

When Mom passed away I inherited her purse.  To this day I’ve been hesitant about digging through it.  I limited myself to the information I needed to pull out related to her death.  As a kid, I quickly learned that the purse was off limits. I was never allowed to go through her purse without her permission, and even with permission I had to limit my rummaging to what I needed – Kleenex, gum or keys.  On my first pass through her purse, I guiltily retrieved her driver’s license and insurance information, but I did notice a single square of tissue; a perfect little Mom kiss.  I remember I held my breath and my eyelids fluttered to hold back  tears.  There it was, the last Mom kiss probably on the way to the hospital; she wouldn’t leave the house without getting “fixed-up” – even if it was the emergency room.

As I thought about her this week, I thought “I will brave her purse, remove her kiss, take a photo and then write the story on this blog as a tribute.”  In my mind, it was a very touching tribute.  This morning rolled around and I fought down the feelings of guilt as I opened her purse.  I’m really not supposed to be doing this. I looked in and didn’t see the kiss. It must have made it to the bottom of the purse some how.  I cautiously removed each item, pulling out her brush, her wallet and her address book.  That’s when I saw the hints of tissue.  The Mom kiss.  I was the Indiana Jones of purse excavation. I tried to quickly decide whether to use an actual camera or one of the apps on my iPhone to take the photo.  I kicked myself a bit, because I really have been thinking of ways to create intense bright light by using things available in the house.  I worried about how it would photograph and then decided it would all turn out fine; the story would be about sentimentality and picture wasn’t the important piece.  I pulled out the tissue.  It was wadded up with lipstick smears.  There was another – also, a big wad with lipstick smears and then there was yet one more.  Gross.  No need to discuss that one. I marched everything over to the trash.  It turns out my perfect preserved Mom kiss was only a trick of my imagination – an oasis in the sadness surrounding her unexpected death.  Or, more likely, a  way for Mom to say from beyond, “now will you stop digging around in my purse?”  I think I’ll go put that back in the closet now.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I deeply miss your real Mom kisses.  I miss following you around.  And I promise, I’ll stay out of your purse.