DNA unions

I recently received the results of a DNA test and was amazed — and not so surprised — by the results.
My ancestors were evidently very efficient at birthing young ‘uns. I have at least 596 fourth cousins who have also taken the test.Goodness only knows how many haven’t — yet! Imagine if we all gathered for a family reunion! Would we discover traits in common with each other such as looking at life through blue eyes rimmed with green?
My ethnic roots are primarily planted in Western Europe and Ireland/Great Britain. Germany, France, Switzerland and Ireland and England and Scotland).
The tests show I have a smattering of Scandinavian (is that why I love snow?) and Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal with a possible ancient link to North Africa).
Oh and there’s a wee peppering of Finland/Northwest Russia. Think reindeer!
Ironically, those countries’ inhabitants haven’t always gotten along — fighting wars and struggling to hammer out peace accords in the past.
And here I am — thanks to my ancestors — a walking genetic European Union. No br-exiting allowed.
The quest for discovering the genetic side of me is intriguing. Definitely knowing these facts doesn’t replace the current family connections. The need for quality time with loved ones!
However, today I am more rooted in the world community.
–Mary Louise Van Dyke (C) 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Questions I should have asked

Have you ever wondered about all the questions you wish you would have asked?

As a child, I was known for foraging out details about the past, especially from the grandmother who lived nearby. From her I developed a romanticized picture of life on a Canadian homestead.

So why didn’t I do the same with my other grandmother, Dolly? But she lived over 2,000 miles away, and contact was limited to long distance phone calls, letters, and large-scale family visits where everyone was trying to catch up. Perhaps my reticence was due to the fact that her house was the old-timey real deal with an antique secretary desk in the parlor. I refashioned myself as the heroine of the story during a summer visit when I was 10.auntie-auntie-lillian-grandma-and-grandpa-vd-001

My final visit with Grandma Dolly occurred a decade later. She was in a nursing home and the black-Sunday-hat-wearing grandma was faded along with her memories. She seemed happy to see me but unable to answer any questions I might have asked. Such as why had her mother named her Dolly? Who taught Dolly how to make double-headed dolls (one head at either end) –where a tug of the long skirt would cover one head and reveal the other?

Grandma Dolly passed away in 1994, those details seemingly buried with her. Deep in raising my children and working as a reporter, I couldn’t make it to her funeral.

My passion for history lured me into co-publishing several history books. During the research process I learned how to access valuable bits of history from old newspapers. Those same newspapers often featured gossipy bits of news where Mrs. So-and-So entertained visitors from out-of-town. Entertaining but trivial.

So I thought.

I changed my mind recently after hitting a dead end in family research. Birth and death dates and census details provide a skeletal understanding of an ancestor’s life. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to go back in time and ask Grandma Dolly those questions now. What was her life like as a young woman, mother?

My dad and a distant cousin recommended that I hunt for a 1926 newspaper account about the double wedding of Dolly’s sisters-in-law. While scrolling through the newspapers, I noticed there were those little gossipy bits – and oh wait. There was my grandmother’s name – and other family members.

All of a sudden those short news bits – anchored with the skeletal details – flung open the entryway to seeing Dolly Van Dyke as more than just grandma. My grandfather was her second husband. I learned her first husband died of typhoid, leaving Dolly widowed with a small daughter to raise. How desperate she must have felt then!

I smiled as I found a news clipping about Dolly and my grandfather getting married in a quiet ceremony at their minister’s home. A fresh beginning for her – and happiness ahead.

A newspaper clipping, dated three days later, showed differently. The new bride had been called away to a distant city because of the serious illness of a relative. Evidently the visit wasn’t over quickly. The 1925 New York state census shows Grandma living in two places, one with her husband, and also at her parents’ home while she apparently nursed the relative.

Seriously? There wasn’t anyone else capable of nursing or overseeing the housekeeping details?

News clippings from the 1930’s and 40’s show Dolly and my grandfather raising the firstborn daughter and having four children together. Church life was important to them and Grandma accepted the position as head of the church nursery between giving birth to her two youngest sons who included my dad.

Grandma’s heart certainly shattered when their oldest son ran away at age 13. Fortunately the police would locate and brought him home. She would send her second oldest daughter off to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and struggle to keep her family fed and clothed while using the rationing cards of World War II.

Somewhere along the way she developed her skills for stitching patchwork quilts and double-headed dolls and shared her family pride with the old fashioned photographs and antiques displayed in the parlor.

These details, combined with the few letters I have of hers, show me who Dolly was, a real person who faced tough life challenges and despaired over and hoped the best for her children’s futures, and – who passed her love of the past to me.

It is a legacy that I relish.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Living in a shrine

I live in a shrine.

Not a place of religious significance, mind you. However, the purpose of my bedroom (contained in my mother’s condo) is not primarily for my comfort or storing of my belongings.

Rather my chamber is the repository of Mom’s quest for family past. Artistically printed family trees, copies of censuses and birth certificates, and details scribbled onto the backs of envelopes.

generic family tree

These collections, stacked in wooden family plots, claim the place of honor. (Note – the sarcophagi are usually referred to as dresser drawers.) Hard-to-unearth documents are stored away from light and exposure. Rules of the shrine are housed in concrete. There must be no crumpling, no gouging, no accidental tearing, or bearing of too much weight for these precious glimpses of the past.

Which means my clothing is stored in a cardboard box, closet and the two small desk drawers I dared to claim.

For Mom, it wasn’t enough to simply trace the lines that belonged to her dad and mom back a few generations and call the efforts good. The whitened bones of my extensive family’s past feature William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda, many relatives who farmed and raised their children in rural England and the United States, the few daring souls who set off on a hazardous journey to the new world.

Mom diligently researched on, even when her dad asked why wasn’t it enough to focus on the family of today. The quest took her to genealogical centers and historical libraries and long sessions on her personal computer.

It awes me to think of all my mother has done to achieve this collection. I see the shadows in printed copies of email conversations with other researchers of the past. Letters from distant cousins she never met in person.

A wonderful collection of finds but one that makes me cringe at times. So many of these documents lay forgotten before my siblings and I tackled helping mom clean and organize the condo last summer.

I volunteered to categorize the papers by family, a task that boggled my mind when trying to connect the different names. Who were the Schlossers, for example, and were they connected to the Rileys?

The task was finally completed and I loaded files into the dresser drawers – carefully, carefully – under mom’s vigilant eye.

My mother’s quest appears complete for now. Labels adorn the outside of the drawers so she can easily find the families. The hours for the local LDS genealogy center are displayed on the refrigerator.

Has she completed her voyage of genealogical discoveries? I wonder?

It will be up to me to someday bring these bones of the past to life in a book.

To interpret (as much as possible) what happened with key relatives such as the (2x) great grandfather who was taken prisoner-of-war during the Civil War.

To ensure my mother’s life’s work is preserved and passed onto siblings, to cousins, to our children.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved

Rich family Inheritance

A few days ago I was challenged to think of inheritances — and what mine will be.

Money? Not a concern. The few dollars left after settling the estate may pay for a lunch out for my siblings and I.

No, my inheritance will be the fragile photos currently stashed in boxes, and jealously guarded by mom. A few are originals, fragile, and one-of-a-kind. Others in black and white, or in color of most recent family members, events.

Dozens of folders, categorized by family names and filled with the results of her paper trail, stored away in a chest-of-drawers and in a dresser.

My mother is a hoarder and this penchant for having it all spilled into her genealogy. Years and hours spent at the local genealogy centers, mailing requests for the information she cannot sleuth for, census forms, family trees in triplicate and quadriplicate.

Overwhelming. Confusing. Intriguing.

So what is my inheritance? The more time I spend with my mom, the more I see what a rich inheritance I will gain from her — in appreciation of family and the past.   She has collected so much information, it bewilders even me, the historian.

So many familial branches, so many people, and things to keep figured out. But I love the challenge –even as she does. The searching for the small details that not only tell the birth and death dates such as the great great great grandfather who lost his wife and their youngest daughter to tuberculosis. The documents don’t tell of his broken heart, but a letter to his brother spells out his desperate decision to snatch what money he could from their family inheritance and bring some of his remaining children and a new wife to America. Where he hoped they would not die of tuberculosis.

The detailed family line that spells out our connection to the throne-seeking launcher of the Battle of Hastings and to a descendant who was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Illegitimate, in other words, and that fact got him kicked out of the royal family line up.

Pictures of a cheeky 14 year old, my great grandmother whisper of our Native American inheritance. Censuses that spell out where families lived and what their occupations such as “farmer” and ‘homemaker/at home” were in a given year.

Another record that shows a Quakeress ancestor jailed for her faith before being allowed to emigrate to the United States.

So many rich, telling details. Mom’s passion for possessing”it all” has created a rich inheritance indeed, Some day I will serve as its curator, and as a writer/historian wrestle the thousands of details into a book for future generations to keep.

(C) 2016 Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.