23andMe, family

Another long lost relative pops out of the woodwork!

Hi everyone. I hope those who observed had a pleasant Memorial Day. We had gorgeous weather again. I meant to write a blog post, but got bogged down with moving more of my music and ended up really annoyed and frustrated. Then, I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to write about. I decided to take the day off of blogging, which was a good idea. Today, I’ll probably write two posts. I have a book review to write after I write today’s fresh content.

About a week ago, I pissed off a relative by marriage by ranting about an unfortunate interaction we had. She ended up blocking me on social media. I would like to say that I wasn’t still upset about that incident, but that would be a lie. However, as the days have passed, so has the “sting” of that situation. Especially given what happened yesterday. It was very exciting!

Several years ago, I sent in my DNA to 23andMe. A couple of years after that, I sent in a sample to Ancestry.com. I’ve gotten several benefits from sending in my samples. First of all, I’ve learned more about my origins aside from the United States. I always knew I was very English, but the DNA tests have shown just how concentrated my origins are… and instead of being English, it turns out I’m actually much more of a Scot. And it really makes sense, too, given my looks and personality. I always feel very much at home when we visit Scotland.

And secondly, submitting my DNA has put me in touch with other people in my family… people I have never met before. They all have fascinating stories! That’s especially exciting for me, as someone who likes to write.

Two people who contacted me turned out to be the offspring of an affair my great uncle had. I never knew him, because he died six years before I was born. But it turns out my grandmother’s brother, who was from Natural Bridge, Virginia, had a relationship with a woman who had gone to my alma mater (Longwood University– then called the State Teachers College) before he married his wife. She got pregnant, and they had a baby girl, who was put up for adoption. The baby was raised in Roanoke, Virginia, and never knew she was adopted until she was a young woman who was working in Washington, DC. She later got pregnant out of wedlock by a man from Ecuador, who was also working in DC. When she told her mother, she said “You’re just like your real mom!”

Instead of putting the baby girl up for adoption, the young woman raised the child, and then married and had another daughter with her husband. Years later, that baby girl submitted her DNA, hoping that maybe she might run into some of her natural father’s relatives, since she’d never known him. She always thought she was half Ecuadorian. Imagine her surprised when she found out that, actually, she was half Ashkenazi Jewish! Her bio dad’s family must have moved to South America in a bid to escape Hitler, or something. Anyway, she and her half sister contacted me for information about my great uncle, who was their grandfather. I was sorry I couldn’t put them in touch with my grandmother, who lived to be almost 101 years old and could have given them so much information. Or even, my aunts and uncles could have talked to them… but a lot of them have died.

Another relative I “met” through DNA testing was my mom’s first cousin, Pat, on her father’s side. Pat was born at about the same time my mom was, in the late 1930s. We became Facebook friends, and I was delighted by her, because she was refreshingly liberal, unlike so many on my dad’s side of the family. I never had the chance know most of my mom’s kin, since my grandparents on that side of the family died when I was very young. I did know my mom’s much older brother, who died at age 90 in 2015, and I met my one cousin on that side a few times. The last time I saw my one maternal cousin, Sue, was at my wedding in 2002. As far as I know, she still lives in Lexington, Virginia, which is near where a lot of my dad’s family lives.

I really look like my mom’s side of the family. It was especially apparent to me, especially when I first saw photos of Pat, where some of my looks came from. Pat looked a lot like my mom! They have very similar smiles. My mom used to say I looked a lot like her mother, and that was the only way she knew I was her kid (the age before DNA tests, of course). She was kidding, and said that when I was misbehaving or being obnoxious, which was a lot of the time. But now that I’ve seen pictures from her dad’s family, I can see that I got some of his side’s looks, too.

Pat was a very prolific Facebook poster, but I recently noticed that I hadn’t seen any posts from her. I got yet another message on Ancestry.com yesterday, this time from a man in Georgia named Warren, who is the grandson of my mom’s Aunt Bessie. I went to Pat’s Facebook page to see if I could connect them. That’s when I found out that Pat died a few days ago. It seems like it was very sudden, although she was in her 80s. Pat was the daughter of Bessie’s brother, and my mom’s uncle, Herbert. Mom didn’t know either of them that well, as her father, Carl, had moved from the family hometown of Marion, Virginia.

One of several photos Warren sent me. These are my grandfather’s immediate relatives. I got goosebumps when I read Warren’s comment about “our great grandparents”, who are pictured here. I’ve never met this man from Georgia, but we share something very profound.

One person that both Pat and Warren knew, and I too remember, was my mom’s Uncle Walter. Walter always dressed well and drove nice cars. He lived in northern Virginia and had a beautiful home. Herbert had also moved to northern Virginia, but died in the late 1960s. Walter used to visit us occasionally, until age and fragile health made visiting more difficult. He died in the late 1990s.

I spent a good portion of yesterday trading information with Warren. I sent him the PMs I shared with Pat, which had some family lore in them, and I forwarded a couple of photos I have available in Germany. I have more photos, but they are in storage in Texas. Maybe someday, I’ll be reunited with them, and all the other stuff we left back home.

Warren sent me several photos of my mom’s dad’s family, along with some information about the people within the images. I had heard a little bit about some of the people who were pictured, although it was kind of strange to realize that I wouldn’t be here without input from some of those folks. It was also interesting to share what little I did know about my grandfather’s family with Warren. Like, for instance, our great grandmother, Viola, was known for being a bit eccentric and spending a lot of time in her garden. She grew herbs. The one photo I have of myself with my grandfather was taken in 1975 or so, just before we moved to England. I was a toddler. We were all in Granddaddy’s beautiful garden… I guess I would have called him Granddaddy. My mom called her father, “Daddy”. I wonder if he learned to garden from his mother, Viola. Or maybe that was my grandmother’s garden. I get the sense that it was my grandfather’s project, though. My mom said he was always a very gentle, nurturing soul.

In Grandaddy Elliott’s garden in Buena Vista, Virginia, sometime in 1975. I am the blonde toddler on my sister’s hip. This was probably the last time I saw my mom’s parents. I don’t remember this day.

I called my mom to tell her about Pat. They’d had a phone call a few years ago and traded stories. Mom was shocked, because she had just been thinking about Pat… as I had. She was thinking she should get in touch with her. Pat lived in Washington State, though, and my mom lives in Virginia. Mom also doesn’t use computers. They would have had to connect on the phone, and I don’t think my mom is quite as good at keeping in touch as she once was. She was sad to find out that Pat has passed. I think they would have been great friends if they’d had the opportunity to connect more.

I never expected to expand my family tree so much when I sent in my DNA samples. I haven’t heard from anyone in my Grandma Elliott’s family, who come from Lynchburg and Amherst, Virginia… but as I explained to Bill, Grandma Elliott’s family was a bit more “feral”. Or so I’ve surmised, based on things I’ve dug up on the Internet. I wish I had known my grandparents on my mom’s side, especially since I seem to take after them, at least in appearance. But I think it’s pretty awesome that I can meet relatives I never knew through DNA tests now… I know not everyone feels that way, though. Especially those who have any “skeletons in the closet”.

Bill and I had planned to go away for the holiday weekend, but I’m glad we didn’t. I was home, and able to easily share what few genealogy clues I have with Warren.

Well, I think I’ll end this post and write my book review. Then, I’ll get back to the pain in the ass task of moving more of my music library. One nice thing that has come of that chore is that my HomePod seems to be playing some stuff I haven’t heard in ages. Both of my computers are on the same network, so it seems like the HomePod would have access to everything, anyway. But, for some reason, moving the files seems to have awakened the deepest cuts in my collection. It’s pretty cool.

Standard
communication, family, lessons learned, narcissists, psychology

My mom confirms something important to me…

The featured photo is a picture of Mom and me in Sousse, Tunisia, over the New Year’s holiday in 1978. I was five years old. We lived in England at the time, so it wasn’t a super long journey.

Last week, I tried to call my mom a couple of times. I had forgotten that she was going to be having knee surgery. She had told me about it in March, I think, and it slipped my mind. My mom lives alone in a senior apartment community in Hampton, Virginia. The community was formed out of what was once a grand hotel. It overlooks the Chesapeake Bay. She has a wonderful view from her two bedroom apartment, where she’s lived since 2009. My dad shared the apartment with her, until he died on July 9, 2014.

My mom is going to be 85 years old this year. She’s still quite independent. Her mind is sharp. She still drives, though not as far as she used to. She doesn’t go out much, though, so I was a little worried when I called her three times and didn’t get an answer. Our neighbor’s mom is my mom’s age, and she’s been having some problems lately. She broke her leg, and a few weeks ago, she picked up the wrong keys to her house and got confused. Not being able to reach my mom caused me to to worry a little. I hoped she wasn’t suffering with the same things our neighbor’s mom (who is also a neighbor) does.

I sent one of my three sisters a private message on Facebook, asking her if she knew if Mom was okay. She reminded me about the surgery, but then contacted another sister– the eldest of the four of us– to confirm. Oldest sister said Mom was doing fine. The sister I contacted also called Mom’s apartment community to check on her, and they confirmed that Mom was okay. So that was that.

This sister and my mom have always had a lot of interpersonal issues. I don’t know what they stem from, but they’ve had difficulties for as long as I can remember. It’s too bad, too, because both my mom and my sister have things in common. They are both extraordinarily artistic. My mom can do almost anything with needles and thread. For years, she owned her own business, in which she sold cross-stitch, knitting, needlepoint, and other supplies. She taught many people how to do these needlecrafts (although I’m not among them). My mom, even in her 80s, has made some extremely beautiful things by her own hand. When I was little, she used to make clothes for me. She also knitted sweaters, hats, socks, and scarves.

My mom and one of her many incredible creations… She is a very gifted artist.

My sister, likewise, is very talented with needles and threads. She sews and does needle crafts, like our mom does. She’s also a legitimately gifted artist in the way most people think of artists. She paints, draws, and creates true works of art through many different mediums. In addition, she’s a skilled writer, having earned a master’s degree in journalism, and she has excellent taste in music. My sister introduced me to some of my favorite artists, including Kate Bush.

Really, though, my sister is probably best known as an artist. I’ve been to a lot of art museums, and I can tell you that I would expect to see something my sister did hanging in an art museum. Below are a few examples of her work:

You’d think my mom and my sister would get along famously. They have some things in common. But they don’t really get along. My sister seemed to mesh better with our dad (most of the time). I, on the other hand, have always gotten along with our mom. My dad and I fought a lot.

Back in July 2007, while Bill was in Iraq doing his “patriotic chore”, I attended my paternal grandmother’s funeral. Granny was almost 101 years old when she passed. She was much beloved by everyone in her community. I had to bring my dogs with me, because it wasn’t possible to board them. Consequently, when I stayed at the Natural Bridge Hotel (for the last time, it turned out), I got a room in the “cabins”, which were motel rooms on a hillside. My uncle ran the Natural Bridge Hotel for years, and I’ve stayed there many times. The last time I stayed, it was pretty uncomfortable. I think they’ve renovated since 2007, but I haven’t been back… in part, because it was uncomfortable, and in part, because of something my sister said to me that brings back traumatic memories.

After Granny’s funeral, my sister and I were talking. She was also staying in a “cabin”. For some reason, she chose that time to tell me that she’d always believed I wasn’t my dad’s daughter.

Keep in mind, we had just buried our grandmother, who was my father’s mother. If I wasn’t his daughter, that would have meant that Granny wasn’t my actual grandmother. She was pretty much the only grandparent I’d ever known, since my other grandparents died when I was very young. I do remember my mom’s father, but he had severe dementia when I was conscious of meeting him, and he didn’t really know who any of us were. I also met my paternal grandfather’s mother– my great grandma– but she was also very elderly and died when I was about nine years old. I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. So, as you might realize, Granny was very important to me– more so than she would have been in any case.

When my sister made that declaration to me, I will admit there was a part of me that wondered if what she was saying could have been true. My dad and I fought a lot. I don’t look much like him. Instead, I really favor my mom’s side of the family. But I only wondered about it for a moment…

My sister was telling me about how she formed this idea that maybe I was a “bastard” child. She said our mom was friendly with a neighbor in Hampton, Virginia, where I was born. She said he had blond hair and blue eyes, like mine. My dad had black hair and brown eyes.

I decided to gently challenge my sister. I say “gently”, because I didn’t want to fight with her, especially at Granny’s funeral. I asked her how it was possible that our mom could have had an affair. At the time, our dad was away on Air Force missions a lot. They had three children– my sisters are 13, 11, and 8 years older than I am. How would our mom have the time for adultery?

Also, our mom is painfully honest. I mean, she’s honest to a fault. I just couldn’t see her cheating on our dad. She isn’t the most demonstrative person, although she’s definitely friendlier and more demonstrative now, than she was when our dad was alive. There are a lot of things a person might say about my mom’s rather laid back mothering skills. The truth is, she was kind of neglectful to me– and she’d probably be among the first to admit it. I think she would have been better at mothering had she not been married to an alcoholic during the Vietnam War era, and had she not had four kids. But she has a strong moral compass and a very deep sense of loyalty and duty. She took excellent care of my dad until the bitter end of his life. I know she truly loved him, too, even when he wasn’t very lovable.

Finally, I suggested asking our mom point blank about it. My sister very quickly backpedaled, and said she had a wild imagination. It was clear she didn’t like that idea. Uh huh…

Still, for a long time, I wondered if there was any truth to my sister’s theory, because it was true that my dad and I had a rather contentious relationship. I didn’t know the people who were our neighbors in Hampton. I was a baby, and we left Hampton when I was about six months old, and moved to Dayton, Ohio, where my dad took a job at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. I only have the barest memories of Ohio. It’s probably a blessing. 😉 Dad and I didn’t share very much in terms of physical similarities. Now that I’m older, I think bone structure in my face looks like his, somewhat. Actually, I think I look a little like this particular sister, in terms of facial bone structure. She looks more like our dad, though, while I am very obviously my mom’s daughter.

Years later, I submitted my DNA to both 23&Me and Ancestry.com. I saw that a number of my DNA matches came from my dad’s side of the family. Obviously, I am his daughter.

Which brings me to last night’s chat with my mother. We’d been talking for about an hour and were about to ring off. Mom said the surgery and the drugs she was taking were causing her to need the toilet more frequently than usual. Before we finished our conversation, I asked her if she’d watched the coronation of King Charles III. Mom loves watching British ceremonies. She said she had, and that led to another rabbit hole of discussion.

The topic turned to Prince Harry and Meghan, and she brought up their children, Archie and Lilibet. I said that some people were speculating that perhaps the kids weren’t actually conceived between them (not that I believe that myself– it’s not really my business). I added that since everybody is getting their DNA tested these days, it would be hard to lie about something like that.

My mom said, “Well I want you to know that your dad and I are your parents.”

I thought that was kind of a weird thing to say, and before I knew it, I said “Well, thank you for that. There was some doubt at one point. But then I got my DNA tested.”

Naturally, Mom wanted to know what I meant. So I told her about that toxic conversation I’d had with my sister back in 2007… right after Granny’s funeral. I didn’t mention her name… but Mom quickly guessed who had said that to me. It turns out my sister had directly accused our mom of having had an affair. Mom thought maybe she was talking about the young Black male nurse who had been helping to take care of Dad in his last years. At the time, the nurse was an 18 year old nurse’s aid, and our mom was in her 70s. Dad had accused them of having an affair; he had severe dementia at the time. The idea of Mom having an affair with a teenager was ridiculous and laughable, and she did laugh about it. But no… my sister said Mom would have had an affair with a white person.

For sixteen years, I never mentioned to my mom that conversation my sister and I had. I hadn’t meant to mention it last night. To my mom’s credit, she was pretty cool about it and even apologized to me that my sister had said that. It was pretty hurtful.

And maybe I shouldn’t write about this here… Some people would find it inappropriate and too personal. On the other hand, abusers thrive on secrecy. They say and do mean things, counting on their victims remaining silent. In spite of what some people might think, I’ve been silent about a lot of things. It’s not really my nature to be silent, either. One of the gifts I inherited from my mom were, after all, the gifts of music and communication. Actually, I inherited both of those from my dad, too… Music and writing are a couple of a few things I got from him, even if I don’t resemble him physically.

I’m not angry with my sister. I don’t know why she has these issues with our mother. Some of the things she says seem rather fictitious to me… and in fact, she often reminds me of other people in my life with whom I’ve had to do battle. Perhaps dealing with her is one reason why I am so “saturated” when it comes to narcissistic types, like former landlady and Ex. My sister, by the way, thinks she’s an empath. Personally, I don’t really see it. Bill is an empath. I am not, and neither are any of my sisters.

I’m not sorry Mom and I had that talk. Thanks to DNA tests, I already knew that my sister’s conspiracy theory was utter bullshit. I never really believed her theory, even before I had my DNA tested. However, it was good to hear it from my mom, who even told me about the time I was conceived. Apparently, it happened after my dad had taken a “round the world” trip in the fall of 1971, escorting generals to different embassies. Mom said they used to joke that they were going to name me “Ethiopia”. She said she’d told me about that once, and I thought it was “terrible”. I swear, though, I don’t remember the story. She also said the person my sister thought she’d been messing around with was just a neighbor who, along with his wife, had kids the same age. They were just neighborhood friends. In fact, the wife of the couple recently sent Mom a letter. She’d tracked her down in Hampton.

We ended our conversation on a really lovely note. Mom said she loved me, and reminded me that I’d been a good kid who never got into trouble. I guess buying me a horse worked… (and my sister tried to take credit for that decision, too). I wished Mom a happy Mother’s Day, and said I’d call her before we go on vacation next month. It’s a gift to me that she and I can be friends now. She might be one of the few people in my family with whom I would probably choose to be friends, even if we weren’t related.

Standard
family, musings, relationships

Sometimes going ugly early works out for the best…

I have a few things on my mind this Tuesday morning, the last day of February 2023. These things are kind of loosely related to each other, but maybe I can make them fit in today’s blog post. I beg your indulgence, because I probably won’t have a second original post in me today. On the other hand, it’s only 7:30am, so who knows?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about how a picture of a defunct brand of beer led me to an unexpected place. That post hasn’t generated a lot of reads. At this writing, no one has commented on it. I suspect maybe one or two of the few people who read it might have quit before they got to the end. I can’t blame them for quitting. I quit things, too. Like, sometimes I’ll start watching a YouTube video and quit because something about it is annoying. Maybe the announcer isn’t human and speaks like a robot. Or the content might not be what was seemingly promised in the title.

Time is money for a lot of people. Sometimes, if a person takes too long to get to the point, the point will be missed. The receiver will stop engaging and walk away.

When a person quits too soon, they might miss out on something they might not have expected. My guess is that those who finished the post from a couple of days ago might have been surprised by the ending. The ending is not like the beginning, which was, admittedly, kind of ugly. I reread last night, wondering if I should cut some of the ugly part out. Maybe people would get the wrong idea about me. But then I decided that the ugly should stay, because it was part of the story.

Nowadays, people are so quick to dismiss others without a second thought. I think the response to the quick dismissal has been that people are more reluctant to be authentic. They’d rather quickly say what the other person wants to hear than be rejected or dismissed.

I could weigh in on the recent controversy involving cartoonist Scott Adams, who writes and illustrates a comic strip called Dilbert. I have never read that comic strip myself, so I can’t call myself one of Adams’ disappointed fans, dismayed because the cartoonist is in the news due to his recent racist tirade. I didn’t even see the rant that is getting him canceled right now. It sounds like it was pretty bad, though, and now Dilbert is being dropped by many newspapers. Maybe it’s inappropriate for Scott Adams to have platform anymore, since the job of cartoonist is one that is kind of dying. He’s been very privileged to be able to turn his talents into such a successful career.

Still, to me, it’s sad that an artist’s work is being dismissed because he said or wrote something people didn’t like. Sad that he uttered hateful, racist remarks that were hurtful to others, and sad that the backlash has been so brutally instant, seemingly without a second’s hesitation. I don’t agree with what little I’ve read about Scott Adams’ views, but I do realize that he must have done a lot right to be where he is today. Obviously, he was also very lucky. I don’t like to think that a person’s total worth is less than an unfortunate or unpleasant action. I’m sure Scott Adams, as a whole, is much better than his very offensive comments.

Since I don’t read Dilbert and know very little about Scott Adams or his political views, I think I’ll just say that I find cancel culture disturbing and kind of dystopian. Regular people can and will vote with their wallets. I think allowing them to make up their own minds is better than encouraging everyone to pick up figurative pitchforks and torches and actively seeking to kill someone’s livelihood. At the same time, I can see why some people are now completely turned off of Scott Adams. I don’t blame them.

That post that I wrote the other day, started off kind of “ugly”, because I wrote about how I got unceremoniously kicked out of my very first dorm room during my first week at college. My former roommate of just a few days, “Margaret”, went “ugly” early. At the time, it was devastating on several levels. I was brand new at Longwood, living in a room that was just as much mine as it was hers. And yet, I knew that if I tried to stand my ground, Margaret and her fraternity loving friend would make my life a living hell. So there I was, 18 years old and brand new to college, just days after arriving at Longwood, having to move to what was considered the “worst” dorm on campus.

You know what? A lot of the people I met after that move are still my friends today. That ugly, unpleasant, humiliating situation all worked out well in the end. In the long run, I was better off for moving across campus. If I had stayed in that room because it was “half mine”, it would not have been a good thing. Margaret was the type of person who would have done all she could to drive me out. Maybe I would have even ended up unhappy enough to transfer to another school , or quit altogether.

I could even say that about attending Longwood in the first place. It wasn’t my first choice college. And yet, it turned out to be a great school for me. I did very well there. I discovered talents and passions I had never explored before I went to college. I made some incredible friends. I only have a few regrets about going to my last choice school, and they are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.

Here’s a more recent example of this theme of “going ugly early”… Three years ago, Bill and I tried to adopt a dog from a German dog rescue. Our attempt to give a dog a new home ended in tragedy, when a disastrous string of events led to the dog escaping his transporter and getting killed on the Autobahn. That was a senseless and devastating event, and it made Bill and me feel like shit. But then, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog came into our lives and stole our hearts.

The fact that we have Noyzi doesn’t negate how awful it was that the other dog got killed thanks to the sheer negligence of the pet transporter. That was still a terrible thing. But if it hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have our Noyzi, who reminds us every day how thrilled he is to have a home in Germany with us. Noyzi was destined to be in our family. I really think he was, especially since his rescuer, Meg, is a student of Carl Jung’s, just as Bill is. What are the odds?

And now for the last part of this post… This part might not seem like it fits very well, but I feel compelled to write about it, anyway.

I often read Lori Gottlieb’s advice column in The Atlantic. I knew who Lori Gottlieb was many years before I read her advice column. About twenty years ago, she wrote a book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa. It was titled Stick Figure. I read and reviewed that book for Epinions.com. Since then, Lori has become a therapist, and she writes articles for the magazine.

Last night, I read the following letter in Lori’s column, which caused some people to immediately react with disgust…

Dear Therapist,

When I married my husband, he had two adult children, and I had none. We both wanted to have a child together, but my husband had a vasectomy after his second child was born—too long ago to get the procedure reversed.

We didn’t want to use a sperm bank, so we asked my husband’s son to be the donor. We felt that was the best decision: Our child would have my husband’s genes, and we knew my stepson’s health, personality, and intelligence. He agreed to help.

Our daughter is 30 now. How do we tell her that her “father” is her grandfather, her “brother” is her father, her “sister” is her aunt, and her “nephew” is her half-brother?

My husband and I are anxious, confused, and worried about telling her. This is also hard on my husband, because he wants our daughter to know that he will always and forever be her father.

Thank you for any advice you have to offer.

Anonymous

Most of the people commenting were completely turned off by this scenario. I suspect most didn’t make it beyond the “ugly” headline, “Dear Therapist: My Daughter’s ‘Brother’ Is Actually Her Father”. Of course, most didn’t read further because they don’t subscribe. Plenty of people who didn’t read the letter had plenty to say about it, though. Quite a few folks were judging the letter writer for making this decision, and now being in a situation in which she was asking Lori Gottlieb for advice. After a few minutes’ thought about this situation, I came to a few conclusions.

In my opinion, it really makes no sense to be disgusted by this scenario. This woman’s daughter was born in the early 1990s. In those days, we didn’t conceive of things like Ancestry.com or 23&Me being a “thing”. Childless couples who hoped to conceive via sperm donor weren’t encouraged to know much about the donor. This couple wanted to have a child together. Using a sperm donor was probably the most expedient way for them to get what they desired.

The letter writer’s husband happened to have an adult aged son who was willing to serve as the sperm donor. Unusual? Yes. I wonder about his mother and what she might have thought about this scenario. As the stepson was an adult when he made his donation, it wouldn’t have been her business. Or, perhaps she’s dead. We don’t know. It sounds like stepmom never played a maternal role to her husband’s son, though. She sounds more like his father’s wife than his “stepmom”.

This isn’t a case of a stepmom having sex with a teenager. This situation involved sperm donation between two consenting adults who happen to know each other better than other donors and recipients might have. Would it have been better for the woman to conceive a baby with a stranger? Maybe in some people’s minds, that’s better. In my opinion, it’s not really ideal, though, because the other bio parent is much more of a mystery.

Moreover, since the letter writer’s stepson was obviously an adult when he donated sperm, stepmom could have married him, instead of his father, and had the baby the “natural” way. Far fewer people would have batted an eye at that scenario.

After thinking about this some more, I remembered a high school friend, whose mother was actually her grandmother. Her older sister was her bio mom, because she got “knocked up” in high school. Mom/grandma raised my friend instead. I pointed this out, and a woman conceded that that scenario is kind of common, but this one involving a sperm donor is somehow “different” because it was done deliberately, rather than being the result of an “accident”. I can tell you, having been an “accident”, albeit to an adult married couple, it kind of sucks.

And yet, nowadays, it’s not that uncommon for family members to do extraordinary favors for their relatives. I’ve read more than a couple of articles about mothers carrying babies for their daughters, who aren’t able to maintain pregnancies. I’ve seen sisters or cousins acting as surrogate mothers for their relatives. People often frame the women who do those kinds of favors as heroic. How is a stepson donating sperm to his father and his wife that much different? At least it doesn’t involve morning sickness.

Then I started thinking about how I would feel if I were the daughter in this case. I imagined that, for 30 years, I didn’t know the truth about my origins. I’m completely healthy and otherwise normal, except all my life, my biological father has been posing as my half brother. Now, perfect strangers on the Internet are grossed out about how I was conceived. If you think about it, that’s a lot “ickier” than the unusual circumstances of how I was conceived. Again… stepmom could have used a stranger’s sperm, and I wouldn’t know much of anything at all about my bio father. At least, in this situation, the young woman will be able to ask questions and have a chance at getting some honest answers.

Finally, I arrived at my conclusion. This situation sounds, on its surface, kind of “weird”. But, at the end of the day, what matters is that this couple desperately wanted to have a child together. They’re still married. Their daughter is still much beloved and was very much wanted. That, in my view, should be the focus. We should all be so lucky to have parents who wanted us that badly. The main idea is that this couple wanted to raise their daughter, and they chose the stepson as the donor, because they knew that he was healthy. It was a way for the father to contribute to his daughter’s genetic heritage, since he could no longer get his wife pregnant.

Instead of focusing on the “ick” factor of this situation, consider these points:

  1. Everyone involved in the donation was a consenting adult.
  2. It wasn’t a situation in which the stepmom and her stepson had a physical relationship. He simply donated sperm.
  3. Mom could have just as easily had a relationship with the stepson and gotten pregnant. No one would have cared.
  4. Mom could have used a stranger’s sperm and been faced with a lot more mystery regarding her daughter’s genetic heritage and potential medical or educational issues.
  5. They made this decision before the advent of home DNA tests and probably figured they could keep the secret forever.
  6. Thanks to reproductive technology advancements, family members are doing things that would have been unthinkable in previous generations. We’re seeing moms carrying their daughters’ children, for instance. Sperm donation, to me, is less earth shattering than being your sister’s or your daughter’s gestational carrier.
  7. THIS WAS A WANTED CHILD. Her parents love her. She’s grown up healthy, well-provided for, and very much beloved by her family. That should be more important than the source of her father’s genes. I hope the couple broke the news to her gently, and she was left realizing that her family loves her.

To sum things up… things that begin negatively or distastefully can eventually lead to things of beauty. Sometimes, when we “go ugly early”, we can end up in unexpected and amazing places. I could even say the same thing about Bill and me, and our marriage. We met under unexpected and unusual circumstances, but it all worked out beautifully. Sometimes when something starts out “ugly”, it might just be a situation in which the ugliness just needs to be chipped away from the surface and polished until it becomes something better… and beautiful, like the stone in my featured photo.

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dogs

My dogs have “Embarked”…

As some regular readers know, my husband Bill and I adopted a dog last fall. Noyzi came into our lives after a dog we had tried to adopt from Sardinia escaped his pet transport taxi and got hit by a car. We had tried to adopt the dog from Sardinia, months after we lost our precious Zane, a beagle mix we adopted from Atlanta Beagle Rescue in December 2009. Zane was a very special dog to me and I missed him terribly, but it’s not so easy for Americans to adopt dogs in Germany. A lot of the reason stems from animal shelters near U.S. military installations, having been burned by servicemembers who adopt animals and bring them back when it’s time to leave. Or they just dump the animals they brought over to Germany.

Naturally, Bill and I aren’t like that. Our dogs are family members, and we would never consider leaving them at a shelter. But thanks to the irresponsible actions of some of our countrymen, we figured we’d be wasting our time going to a local shelter. Additionally, thanks to COVID-19, getting a dog from a German dog rescue was also not going to be feasible. Last spring, we were not permitted to travel out of the area where we live. After the botched delivery attempt from the pet transport, we decided we’d rather be responsible for picking up our new friend ourselves. At least then, we could be sure the dog was properly secured before we took him out of the car! I am still haunted by the memory of that sweet hound from Sardinia, terrified as the taxi driver took him from her vehicle and set him on the ground, unsecured. Once that happened, there was nothing at all that we could do, and I knew in my heart that he was doomed.

Noyzi (also known as Noizy) was named for an Albanian rapper by a young man in Kosovo who found him wandering the streets, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He was a very young puppy when he was found; perhaps not old enough to be away from his mom. The young man gave him to an American woman named Meg, who rescues street dogs in Kosovo. A couple of years later, a mutual friend put me in touch with Meg, and we arranged to bring Noyzi to Germany. Noyzi was one of a few lucky pooches who found new homes last fall, just in the nick of time. If we had waited another month, it would have been hard to get him up here to Germany, thanks to COVID-19. I sure have loved having him around, though. It’s rewarding to see him evolve and his personality is very endearing and sweet.

I have never had a dog like Noyzi before. All of my dogs in recent times have been beagle mixes of some sort, although they’ve all been mixed with different breeds. Our first beagle rescue, for example, probably had husky mixed in with his beagle heritage. He had ice blue eyes and shedded constantly! Our other rescues were beagles to varying degrees; Flea was probably the closest to a purebred beagle, while MacGregor was definitely part basset hound, and I always suspected Zane had a touch of Labrador in him.

Since DNA tests are all the rage right now, I decided we’d see what breeds make up Noyzi and Arran. A couple of friends recommended Embark DNA tests. After a few weeks of resistance, I finally took the plunge. I bought two tests from Amazon. When they got to me, I used the high speed Q-tip like swabs in the kits to collect saliva from the dogs’ cheeks, attached the swabs to the vials of solution that came with the kits, put the completed kits in the included postage paid envelopes, and sent them off. Last night, after about a two week wait, we got the results, which included genetic health tests and breed analyses.

When we first got Arran, I figured he was a beagle/coonhound mix. But then Bill had a colleague who said he looked like a German Shorthaired Pointer. After reading up on GSPs, I thought maybe she might be right about that. As for Noyzi, I had no idea… At first, I wondered if he was part hound, due to his coloring. But then, after living with him for awhile, I figured he had some herding dog in him. He likes to collect toys and put them in his bed, or more recently, up in the spare bedroom we use as an entertainment room… but since we don’t have proper seating in there, it’s more of a doggy hangout room. Zane used to like to sleep in there during his last months.

I kind of knew that when we sent in the DNA samples, Noyzi’s would probably come back as “village dog”. Sure enough, I was right about that. However, I think it’s cool that his DNA is another sample for Embark, adding to the bank of unusual dog breeds they have in their database. I was pretty tickled with Arran’s results, especially since they sent us a cute video and guessing game for his results (Noyzi didn’t get a video for his). It turns out my instincts about Arran were right. He’s mostly beagle, with American English Coonhound and Llewellin Setter and “Supermutt” DNA. I had never heard of a Llewellin Setter, but it seems it’s kind of like an English Setter. When I was a kid, we had a dog who was a mix of Cocker Spaniel and English Setter. Now that I think about it, Arran shares a few traits with her… and he’s definitely got bird dog proclivities. But he doesn’t have any GSP, after all. I guess I should trust my instincts.

I resisted getting the tests done because I wasn’t sure how well they’d work out. I’m sure there aren’t a lot of dogs like Noyzi in the United States. I was right about that, hence the Eastern European Village Dog label. I thought we could get them done over here in Germany, but the results would have been in German. We did have our vet do DNA testing, but it turns out the kind she ran is more for breeders to show genetic information to buyers and prove bloodlines. It doesn’t tell you anything about the breed. It’s also NOT cheap! Apparently, Noyzi doesn’t have any significant genetic issues anyway. Arran is at a higher risk of getting disc disease, thanks to his beagle ancestry. The Embark vet sent us an email ahead of the results to let us know about Arran’s increased risk of getting IVDD. But as he’s about 12 years old and still very much a scrapper, I’m not too worried about it. I think he’s going to be our longevity dog.

Anyway… I highly recommend the Embark DNA tests. It was a lot of fun learning about our dogs, and I suspect that as the systems refine, we’ll learn even more about them. I wish I could have done these tests on our other dogs, too. I will make it a point of having them done whenever we add new canine family members. I think they’re helpful in determining the best ways to take care of our dogs. As the weather gets nicer, Noyzi gets more playful and sweet. I made another video yesterday featuring my crappy guitar playing… but at least Noyzi is a cute co-star.

I’ve been wanting to try this song for ages, but needed to be able to play it. Now I kind of can play it… I’ll keep practicing, while Noyzi continues to be adorable as he interacts with Tommi, the neighbor’s Lab.
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23andMe

Guess I’m not Spanish or Italian anymore…

23andMe just updated their algorithm again. According to them, I no longer have Spanish or Italian DNA. I’m a little bummed about it. Now, instead of Spanish and Italian DNA, I have gone back to having Scandinavian DNA.

Back in September 2017, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. These were my original results.

South Asian? That was surprising. Turns out it was also apparently wrong.

About fourteen months ago, 23andMe updated again. This time, they said I had Scandinavian DNA to go with my majority British heritage.

I always wondered if maybe there was a little Swede in my creed.

But then they updated again… and until a couple of days ago, they had removed the Scandinavian connection and added .7% Spanish, Portuguese, and .5% Italian ancestry. I also went up a trace in British and Irish ancestry, as well as Native American. I could believe the Native American connection, given that my people have been in Virginia for a couple of centuries. I figured at least one or two of them must have gotten with a local. And I could also see the Spanish connection because of the Spanish Armada. There is such a thing as “Black Irish” people– those are Irish folks who have dark hair and dark eyes because they made babies with people from Spain. Also consider that Spain actually isn’t that far from Britain or Ireland as the crow flies… and that they got their dark features from people in Africa. Southern Spain is not so far from Morocco, you know.

I kind of enjoyed thinking I might have a dash of spicy Spanish or zesty Italian in my DNA. But, then 23andMe ran their data again and, wouldn’t you know it? I’m not only no longer Spanish or Italian at all; I’m also a tiny bit more Native American.

So maybe I’m a little Scandic after all… for now, anyway.

All of these tests are done at a 50% confidence interval, so chances are excellent that these results are mostly bullshit anyway. What they do know is that my origins are almost 100% European. All you need to do is look at me to know that. I’m actually glad to see the higher concentration of German ancestry, since I know for a fact that I had German relatives from the Rhein and Karlsruhe relatively recently, as in the 1800s. You can change the confidence interval on 23andMe to see your actual raw data if you want to– up to 90%. I have always sucked at statistics, even though I took six classes in the course of my seven years in university studies. What I know is that at a 50% confidence interval, researchers are only 50% sure of their results. The overall results become less specific at 90%, though they are definitely more accurate.

Bill’s results changed, too. He’s no longer got Nigerian roots. Instead, he has links to Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. I never thought I’d be in an “interracial relationship”, but I guess I am… Looking at Bill, you’d never know he has any African genes, but apparently, he does. He has Dutch ancestry and the Dutch were quite involved in the African slave trade, which means some of them were having sexual relations with African locals.

I can’t help but remember studying slave narratives in my African American and Women’s literature classes at Longwood University and learning about the “tragic mulatto“. That was a fictional character that appeared in literature back in the 19th and 20th centuries… a character that was sad or even suicidal because he or she was “mixed” race and did not fit into either black or white worlds. In the slave era, many white men got black women pregnant. The children that resulted from these sexual trysts were considered “black”, as one drop of African blood supposedly meant a person was black. Naturally, some of them “passed” as white people and enjoyed more privileged lives. It kind of makes me cringe to think about that today, but it was the law in parts of the United States back in the 1800s. The “one drop” rule was never federally codified and is now, thankfully, a defunct law.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t even been 100 years since my home state of Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made interracial marriages illegal and required all birth and marriage certificates issued in the state to declare a person either “white” or “colored”. Even today, there’s still controversy about racial relationships in Virginia. Just recently, Rockbridge County, which is where most of my family is originally from and where Bill and I got married, was in the news because the marriage licenses issued there required applicants to state “what they were” racially speaking. Virginia was recently sued due to requiring marriage license applicants to list their races. It’s not the first time Virginia has been in the news regarding its attitudes about interracial relationships. Until 1967, it was illegal in Virginia for a white person and a black person to marry. It took the Supreme Court to make the decision to lift bans on interracial marriages.

I’ve spent over half of my life in Virginia, never fully understanding just how racist a past it has. And this is even though I had the benefit of education and a normally functioning brain. What’s funny about these DNA tests that anyone can take is that people are realizing that we aren’t as “pure” as we think we are. People with racist attitudes are finding out that many of them have genetic links to the people they most disdain. We are more alike than we are different. And yet, even in 2019, we have plenty of white supremacists around, proudly showing off their racism to the masses.

I suppose I shouldn’t care so much about where I came from. I find genealogy and DNA testing fascinating, especially since there are so many stories connected to it. I recently wrote about how I found a DNA relative through 23andMe. Her mother was the biological daughter of my great uncle Edward, whom I never knew. He was my paternal grandmother’s brother, and he died six years before I was born. My relative, who writes that I am the only one on 23andMe from my great uncle’s family who has connected with her, explained that her bio grandmother had a “fling” with my great uncle and got pregnant. She was originally from Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college and where Virginia’s great teaching college, Longwood University, is located. It’s likely Edward’s girlfriend was a Longwood graduate like me, since she was a teacher by profession.

Bio grandma gave up my DNA relative’s mother for adoption in Roanoke, Virginia, not at all far from Natural Bridge, Virginia– which is where my father’s family is from and many relatives still live. My new relative’s mom had a fling with a man who worked at the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, DC back in 1944. In 1945, my relative was born. She grew up thinking she was half Hispanic, but she learned thanks to 23andMe, she is actually half Ashkenazi Jewish. Her father, who had “passed” for Uruguayan, was actually most probably someone whose family fled Europe to escape the Nazis.

I love a good story, and this lady is now sharing her story with me. And it’s all because of 23andMe, she’s learning about her mother’s father… a man whom I never knew, but I knew his sister, my grandmother, quite well. I am providing a link to that part of her history, all thanks to DNA testing. Still, I have to admit that having done the test, I have a lot of questions I never considered before… and it’s very interesting to see how the guesses as to what and who I am are changing as more people get DNA testing done. My new relative even found pictures of our great grandparents– Rebecca and Edward Barger– my granny’s mom and dad and her grandfather’s mom and dad. It amazes me that until very recently, making this connection with my relative would have been very unlikely. I wish I could connect her to some of my older relatives, whom I know could answer more of her questions than I can.

Anyway… writing about this keeps me from watching bad TV and eating junk food, which according to 23andMe, I’m probably statistically more likely to do, thanks to my DNA. I’m just kidding. I don’t think they’ve yet made that determination. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if, someday, they did.

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