The Whitest Guy You Know

I’d liken my skin tone to the color of recently bleached teeth, if you can call that a color. I have the kind of skin that… incandesces. My bare chest blinds passing motorists and birds. People tell me “If you don’t like it, just tan.” Nope, doesn’t work like that for me.  My sunburns turn an angry red for a few days, then flake off revealing fresh baby skin that is even whiter still. So I didn’t really expect any surprises when I spat into the vial and sent my DNA sample off to be tested.
I’d be lying though if I didn’t admit that there were always little “What If” bubbles flouncing around in my brain.
What if I was of Jewish, Asian, or African descent? Awesome. I’ll be able to get on a plane and visit my new family and there will be tears and good food and a lot of PowerPoint presentations on how exactly I’m related to them.
What if the stories about being Native American are true? So cool. I’ll be able to visit my tribe, and I will ask them to call me Standing Sun or Walks With Sunscreen and they will gently explain to me that Native Americans used words from their own language to name their children, not English words, and then remind me of my perfectly good name.
What if one of my relatives was hiding an adoption or one of the maternity nurses accidentally switched a baby? Then I can’t wait to cast actors in the unavoidable motion picture deal that follows. Emma Stone is a good crier so she will play the troubled nurse. Beau Bridges and Celia Weston will play my parents. Neil Patrick Harris will play me, obviously.
What was my point? Oh, yeah. I got the results back:
Ethnicity Map
The Ethnicity Map results of my DNA test.

99% White. And the other 1% is from an area of the world from which all white people have genetic ties. So my lineage isn’t as diverse as I’d hoped. There are still some surprises in there.

That 2% Iberian Peninsula is intriguing: somewhere in my family’s past was a Spaniard or a Portuguesiard. (Yeah, that’s the Portuguese equivalent of Spaniard.) My lineage being primarily from western Europe (France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands) and not from the British Isles is surprising too. Although, I suppose it was the people of Western Europe that originally populated the islands.
Ancestry also offers this screen:
DNA Home Page’s DNA Home page

The “Ethnicity Estimate” is the link to the Ethnicity Map above.

The upper right shows that I now have 104 matches to people on Ancestry. That feature is frustrating to me because most of them haven’t shared their family trees, so our connection isn’t obvious. I took the test to verify my research. For instance, I have a 2x great-grandmother Fanny Romine, whose maiden name—I’m fairly certain— was Grace, but I have no proof. I was hoping to connect to her descendents to prove my theory. To find a connection, I’ll either have to research Grace descendents on my own or contact all 104 cousins and play some Fanny Grace Go Fish.

The bottom of the screen shows a Thomas Hurd and a Dorcas Morris box. My DNA test has proven that I am descended from them. When I click one of the boxes, I see other Ancestry members that share their DNA.

I have so much work to do with this data and as time goes on and the technology improves, I’ll be able to learn so much more about my relatives’ stories.

The Pathway Home

Muskegon River
[photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

This river breeds a longing fathoms deep.
The morning sun reflects her silver glow.
She stumbles through the gummy pines, asleep:
Roscommon, Osceola, Newaygo.

I didn’t ask to join her on this trek,
but follow as she summons wrens to wing.
The trout adorn her gown, each silver fleck.
She lolls on leaves and calls the stones to sing.

Their chorus builds as we begin to dash
through verdant moments I cannot pay heed.
Mosquitoes sting and branches low do lash,
but stymie not my dinghy’s fleeting speed.

Each passing wave dilutes a thrumming ache.
Muskegon, take me home upon your wake.


An Anniversary

Once upon a time, there was a writer with low self-esteem. (ha! like there’re writers with high self-esteem!) After a talk with a friend, the writer decided to start a blog to keep track of the stories he uncovered researching genealogy.

But the writer was scared of anyone passing judgement on things that he wrote. He was also a bit of a perfectionist (this was before i realized perfection is boring). The writer was determined not to let negative thoughts stop him from doing something he liked.  After a week of futzing, he surrendered his first post to the blogosphere just before bedtime on February 14, 2014. (at this point, i’d like to formally apologize for writing about myself in the third person— i promise to never do it again)

Posting was both exhilarating and petrifying. He couldn’t sleep that night worrying about causing an international incident with an unfortunate typo or offending his relatives with a dangling participle. As the night progressed, he flirted with taking the post down several times, but he didn’t. (um, because i finally took nyquil that night and konked out) In the morning, he got up and checked his blog. A few of his friends and family members encouraged him by leaving comments, so he followed up with more posts.

Soon he decided his mind worked better without words clogging things up. He wanted to get back into the habit of writing again, so he promised himself he would publish twice a week for a year barring a vacation. (two postings every week but three, plus a post every day in november: I’d say I accomplished my goal)

After a few months, the writer noticed that blogging was taking time away from genealogy (and, you know, life). The writer was losing steam on both fronts and it was only a few months into his goal. He decided to ignore the issue by signing up for a blogging course.

The course introduced him to a gaggle of kindred writers. Interacting with them, he realized the benefits of socializing and getting inspiration from a diverse crowd of funny, smart, writerly people. (thanks meg, claudette,  hugh, karuna, and kat among many others!)

One of the lessons in the course was to participate in a blogging event. The writer saw an event, hosted by a writing community called yeah write, that required bloggers to write and post a 42-word answer to a question. After the posting deadline, everyone read the submissions and voted for their favorites. The writer entered his first piece to yeah write with this post.

The community left positive comments, and the entry did well in the vote. The writer tried other yeah write contests: nonfiction and fiction/poetry. He found motivation in having a deadline and an active audience. He churned out entries every week, some of them were even pretty good, such as his favorite genealogy post and his favorite fiction post. (ok, switching out of third person)

Blogging has opened me up to so many new experiences (which is surprising because it’s literally sitting at a computer alone for hours). I’ve been interviewed. Twice. I’ve participated in several blogging and writing courses. I’ve won a few awards. A month ago, I was asked to be a yeah write editor. The other yeah write editors are another group of honest and funny and smart people; I’m honored to join their ranks. They and the larger community inspire me every week to sit down and just do the work. Their comments and instruction have made me a better and more confident writer. Case in point: here’s the first fiction piece I posted, and here’s the one I submitted last week. (so. much. better.)

So, thanks everybody, for the encouragement and support. Because of it, I have accomplished my goal and feel good about where I’m at. My goal for this year is 52 posts (but, because I hate feeling left out, it will probably be more than that). I will participate in a non-blogging writing contest and I will try my hardest to get Freshly Pressed.


Rosalyn sits at her vanity. She is staring into the mirror with the intensity of someone who relies on her looks for a living. Her slip shimmers in the bright light. As she raises a slender brush to her cheek, she decides she will ask Harvey tonight. She will do it like she does most things—coolly, as though speaking of the weather. A lifetime of rude comments from men has taught her not to let things rile her.

Harvey enters Roz’s trailer as he does every evening before a performance. He feels lucky to have this time with his friend every night. She doesn’t even allow Lucas, her husband, in the trailer pre-show. Harvey is the only one because the flicker of his accent tickles her.

“Will you grab the red one from the back of the bathroom door, doll? I’m almost ready,” she says. She wants an answer to check for emotion in his words—guilt, lust, melancholy— but he only nods his response. She feels disappointed.

The tiny bathroom is stuffy from a recent shower. He opens a window and releases the moths of humidity. He lets the fresh air cool him before he takes Rosalyn’s charmeuse gown over to an ironing board. “I’ve never heard of anyone besides you leaving frocks in the bathroom during their shower. Don’t you know humidity isn’t good for silk?” Harvey looks up in time to see Roz’s lips purse, her standard response to criticism.

“I do it as a courtesy,” Rosalyn’s eyes hold steady on her work in the mirror. “The steam relaxes the wrinkles. . .that means less work for you.”

Harvey takes a folded bed sheet from a trunk. He lays it on the ironing board and slips the bodice of the gown between layers. The iron protests with a sudden churrrr when he begins to press. He watches Rosalyn—the mirror allows him to see both sides of her—then his eyes wander around the crowded room. Large feathers and boas hang from shelves and hooks like bunting, camera flashes of jewelry ask for attention from every flat surface, and three garment racks stuffed with dresses stand in one corner like an audience queueing up. He looks for anything of Lucas’s and then regrets spotting the lonely fedora placed neatly on a dresser. She continues the delicate process of gluing individual hairs to her cheek.

Rosalyn’s status as the most famous bearded lady is not based on a sham: Rosalyn has a glorious beard. But it is blonde and its length is hard to determine from the back of the theater. Every evening she adds darker strands to it, for contrast, she says, but Harvey knows the added fullness pads her paycheck.

He finishes his ironing and walks the gown over to her. After a few primps in the mirror, she stills herself so he can ease it over her head. As he does so, she stands.

“I wish you’d dress before making yourself up. I’m always frightened we’ll ruin your face.” He bends down to pull the gown away from the corner of the bench.

“I’d rather run the risk of lipstick on the inside of my gown than getting glue on the outside.” She winks, a circle of kohl contracting. “Speaking of running risks, Lucas said the funniest thing the other night.”


“Yes. He said he’s in love with you. He’d like to know what I want to do about it.”

Harvey looks down, smooths out a rumple near her foot.

So it’s true, she thinks. And mutual.

Taking the Test

Yesterday, my status on the Ancestry DNA test site switched from “Awaiting Sample Delivery” to “Processing….”  The change was exciting but I still have some residual fear about it.

The DNA test is a genealogical tool that details your ethnicity and connects you to other people on whose genes you share. It can even tell you how closely related you are to others who have taken the test (first cousin vs. sixth, for instance). I’m hoping to confirm some of my research on my great-grandmothers. Ideal case scenario: the test matches me to some living cousins who can verify my great-grandmothers’ maiden names.

I do not consider myself a paranoid person. I’m sensible in most matters that don’t involve Jack Johnson or those gigantic grocery carts shaped like trains that always block off the wine department in the Jewel/Osco, so it’s very against my nature to be suspicious of what laboratories might do with my Continue reading Taking the Test

Sandwiches Cut Diagonally: Memories of My Grandfather

The only grandfather I knew passed away in 1978 when I wasn’t quite 4-years-old. As with most people’s childhood memories, I have doubt as to whether what I remember of him is true or whether I fabricated him from the family stories I’ve heard.

I am confident I attended his funeral. I was too young to understand what was happening, but I remember my mother sobbing next to me; I’d never seen her so upset. I grabbed a tissue from my tiny suit jacket and offered it to her. She smiled sadly as she took it. That smile told me what I needed to know to feel safe again.

Memories of Grandpa that I’m not sure about:

  • Grandpa sitting in his recliner near the living room window reading a newspaper. Lawrence Welk waved his baton on the tv, his trademark bubbles falling diagonally across the screen. Grandma was shouting accusations at him about not cleaning up after himself. She did not see him roll his eyes, turn down his hearing aid, smirk at me, and go back to reading.
  • I was spinning around on a merry-go-round in the park near their little house with the car port in town. My brother was eating an enormous scoop of ice cream that was seconds from falling into the dirt. Years later, my brother confirmed that Grandpa took us to the park after church most Sundays as an excuse to buy us ice cream cones without my mother knowing. Mom didn’t like us to have sweets.
  • Grandpa and Grandma in their kitchen arguing over whether my brothers and I wanted pickles with our peanut butter sandwiches: Grandpa for, Grandma against. He cut our sandwiches on the diagonal and used a brand of peanut butter that had a logo of a boy with a pompadour and freckles. I still cut my sandwiches diagonally in his honor.

These memories probably make Grandpa sound more mischievous than he was. Grandpa was a quiet, humble man most of the time. His parents owned a farm just outside my hometown in Michigan where they grew flowers for florist shops. Before the 12 of them immigrated across the St. Clair River in 1919 my great-grandfather owned another flower farm near Hensall, Ontario. Flowers were the family business until auto factories in the area started hiring in droves.

Mom loved visiting her grandparents’ (my great-grandparents’) farm. She remembers watching the fish in the man-made pond at the side of the house. She loved the sight of the differently colored flowers in the fields.

Every fall, Grandpa dug up his dahlias— his favorite flowers— in the small garden at the back of the house in town and stored them for winter, and every spring he’d bring them back out and replant them. Grandma would see mud tracks leading through the house and out the back door and she’d be livid, yelling that he wouldn’t rest that night until every speck of fertilizer was scrubbed out of her carpet.

James Nelson Harburn left us at the ripe age of 77, but, being his youngest grandchild, I only got 3 years and some odd months with him: not enough time for me to know him well or vice versa. His 114th birthday just passed. Happy birthday, Grandpa! You are remembered and loved.