family

Polluted gene pools…

I’ve been watching with some dismay comments from people near and dear to me. I grew up among very politically conservative Christians in Virginia. My dad was a dyed in the wool Republican his whole life. As he got older, his views became more and more rigid. He’d listen to Rush Limbaugh religiously. He was also a fan of D. James Kennedy, a very conservative Presbyterian minister who had a very right wing religious program that aired every Sunday. I remember how D. James Kennedy railed against liberal politics, particularly anything having to do with abortion.

My dad was a believer.

And yet, as conservative as my dad was, and as racist as he sometimes was, he was probably among the least racist in our family. I think his years in the Air Force made him more open to people who weren’t just like him. Still, I remember a couple of very embarrassing incidents in restaurants in which my dad was egregiously racist toward the wait staff… the only excuse I can think of for him was that he was suffering from the beginnings of dementia.

I remember, on occasion, racist words used in my presence as I mingled with family members. I remember an aunt who told me about how she’d been accused of racism by a former student when she taught high school. At the time, I was surprised. Then, months later, I heard the same aunt casually drop the n bomb in front of me. I heard racist jokes from uncles and cousins, and we all laughed because they were “normal” in my family.

Then, in the mid 1990s, I joined the Peace Corps and left Virginia for Armenia, a country that was once part of the Soviet Union. I met different people from the United States and from other countries. I became exposed to people we used to collectively call “commies”, most of us not knowing the first thing about communism or socialism or the people who lived within those regimes.

Granted, the media and entertainment industries didn’t help. In the United States back in the 80s, Eastern Bloc and Soviet countries were routinely referred to as evil and oppressive. In fact, I specifically remember an episode of Fame, one of my favorite shows back in the day, about a pretty blonde Czech student who had come to New York to study for a month. The principal, Mr. Morloch, says “You’re in a free country now, little lady…” as if she should be thrilled to be in America, even though she’s followed by minders who make sure she doesn’t try to defect. Naturally, she falls in love with Chris Donlon, an American guy who tries to save her from communism.

My time in Armenia forever changed me. My world view was broadened significantly and it seemed like I couldn’t unring the bell. Now, when I am exposed to certain people in my family, I wonder how it is that we’re related. One of my cousins has been spewing some pretty offensive stuff lately. What’s shocking to me is that he’s still a young man. His father is my first cousin… and his grandfather was my uncle, a wonderful, kind, affectionate man. Yet somehow, I’m still sharing the same genes as a guy who seems to be trying desperately to minimize the horror of George Floyd’s public execution by cop last week and the ensuing protests…

Here are a few recent posts by him. He seems very much entrenched in the conservative mindset and despite his protests, is kind of subtly oozing racist proclivities:

He’s definitely not the only one in my family to display this attitude; he just happens to be the most recent one to do so publicly. In his defense, I know where it comes from. My family is from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is full of people who were steeped in old style values. Although most people in my family have either been in the military or went to college or both, I wouldn’t say most of them are travelers. They place a lot of stock on “family values” and protestantism. Most people in my family are Presbyterians, at least on my dad’s side. I don’t know nearly as much about my mom’s side, although I think they’re more liberal– that wouldn’t be hard, though. They’re good people, but they are very much stuck in this way of thinking, and they are not flexible.

I often wonder what they would be like if they spent time out of the southern United States among people who aren’t like them. Would they experience the same “awakening” I did? I’m not saying I’m the world’s most “woke” person, because I’m definitely not, but I can’t support Donald Trump as president. He’s inhumane, racist, and power hungry. I can’t blame George Floyd for being killed last week, even if he didn’t have a clean rap sheet. George Floyd allegedly tried to pass off a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. He didn’t deserve to be tortured and killed for that offense. I think the fact that he supposedly went to Minneapolis to “make a new start” is irrelevant. In fact, if anything, I think his decision to try to start anew is admirable.

There was a time when I had a similarly narrow view. I grew up in a small, conservative, predominantly white, southern town. Many of the people I knew when I was growing up are a lot like my relatives. They are good, decent, hardworking, salt of the earth type people. But they also steadfastly support Donald Trump and his ilk as world leaders. And when someone like George Floyd gets publicly executed by a cop, they try to excuse it.

I used to be much like that myself. What changed me was leaving that environment and being among other people with different perspectives. I’m glad I did this with my life, but now I can’t relate to my family anymore, because I am no longer with them politically or religiously. Some of my friends make me feel uncomfortable. I remember them as wonderful folks, but cringe as they proudly defend Trump and people like Derick Chauvin.

On the other hand, just last week, I defended Amy Cooper, and a lot of people would disagree with me about that. However, I don’t see that situation as the same as this one. I do think people should be able to call the police if they need help, even if other people don’t feel the call is justified. BUT– I feel even more strongly that the police should try their best to do their jobs without killing people. There is NO REASON George Floyd should be dead today. It doesn’t matter if he has a checkered past, and to be honest, I didn’t bother reading the link to see why Floyd needed a “new start” in Minneapolis. I don’t think it matters. What matters is the day he died. He was not a threat to anyone on that day, in that situation. He shouldn’t have been killed by a cop.

I have an uncle who, for years, used to send me racist spam in my email. He was always one of my favorite people. I love him very much, even today. But we haven’t spoken since early 2017, because he kept sending me racist/politically conservative Trump loving spam and I finally asked him to stop. I was relatively respectful at first, but then he called me a “liberal nutcase”. I proceeded to tell him off, including using the word “fuck”. He became enraged and sent me an angry response that was much like the spew I would hear from my dad when he was angry and drunk. It really brought back some horrible memories… and now, I don’t think I want to see my uncle again. I probably won’t see him, because he’s in his 80s and I have no plans to visit Virginia anytime soon. That makes me sad, because I still have some great memories of growing up with him as my uncle. But I can’t abide naked racism on display, especially since he’s not the kind of person with whom one can have a civilized discussion. He has a tendency to argue a point to the death and doesn’t consider the other side.

Fortunately for my family, I don’t think my empty seat at the Thanksgiving table is particularly missed anymore. Last year, when one of my beloved uncles had a stroke and later died, I found out about it on Facebook from a friend of my cousins. No one thought to tell me about it. Their excuse was that they told my sister to tell me. I used to feel very close to these people, but none of them thought enough of me to send me an email or a private message on Facebook. Maybe they see me as a defective member of the gene pool for turning out liberal…

I’m not the only one, by the way. I have another cousin who is a black sheep because he’s not only liberal, but gay. We often commiserate. Last time he went home to see his father– same guy who sent me racist videos and emails– he got into an argument with him about racism and homophobia and was turned out of the house in the middle of the night. This was in November in rural Virginia, so it wasn’t like he could go to a hotel with ease. So much for a loving and supportive family, right? Only if you think and act the way they do…

It occurs to me that this may be why I relate so well to ex Mormons. People who leave the LDS church, particularly when they are members of families with a long history and heritage in the church, are generally very brave individuals who can’t unring the bell. They can’t align with the church anymore, so they strike out on their own. They get ostracized and ridiculed and shunned… and they often turn out to be very interesting and empathetic people who can relate to others.

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23andMe

Another long lost relative…

Yesterday, I noticed I had a new relative on 23andMe, this one even closer to my DNA than the one I wrote about yesterday. Her name is Pat and she’s my first cousin once removed on my mother’s side. She and my mom were born during the same year, which makes her an octogenarian. Her father was my mom’s Uncle Herbert. I never knew most of my mom’s relatives because they had a smaller family and weren’t as social as my dad’s people were. I do remember meeting my mom’s Uncle Walter, who was married to an Irish woman and lived in northern Virginia. I remember Walter was always well dressed and drove nice cars. Pat also knew Walter well, although she only met my mom once or twice.

I can hardly fathom not knowing my cousins. I grew up going to family reunions every year. I know my twenty-one cousins on my dad’s side pretty well, and I know a lot of their children. I only have one cousin on my mom’s side, though I am finding out I have more distant relatives like Pat, who now lives in Washington State. Like my mom, she married an Air Force officer and he moved her all over the place. When he retired in 1979, the year after my dad did, he worked for Boeing in Washington State. She’s apparently been out there for many years.

I called my mom last night to tell her about these discoveries I’ve made through 23andMe and she was very interested. I passed my mom’s phone number to Pat, since mom doesn’t use computers. I hope they’ll get to talk to each other.

Meanwhile, although I had resisted Ancestry.com for years, I finally ordered a DNA test from them, just because I want to see how close the results will be to 23andMe’s. Then I started making a family tree. I was amazed by how far it went back. I found relatives of my maternal grandfather’s as far back as the 1500s. I found German relatives I didn’t know about, some of whom were from Hesse. Sure enough, my people on both sides have been in Virginia for many years, but before that, they came from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. I found one from Delaware and one from Connecticut. I guess they arrived in Boston and made their way south right around the time people started coming to America from England. I found one branch from Ireland, including County Donegal, which is where the Crossens came from (Crossen is my married name).

I decided not to sign up for Ancestry.com’s subscription service because it’s pretty expensive and I don’t need another subscription. I also read a lot of negative reviews of the service and people having trouble quitting it. I may change my mind eventually. It’s amazing what you can find. I found an old yearbook photo of Bill’s on Ancestry.com, along with our marriage license. He was very cute as a high school JROTC cadet. I probably would have had a crush on him back then, too… of course, when he was in high school, I was in elementary school.

It’s mind boggling to realize that if any one of the 300 people I’ve found so far who are my direct ancestors had made different choices in life, I wouldn’t be here today. It’s even more mind boggling to know that my particular branch of the family tree will end with me. This new hobby ought to keep me busy for awhile. Every time I think I’ve found everything there is, I fall down another rabbit hole. At the very least, it gives me a chance to connect with other people, which is a very rewarding thing… especially since I have been feeling pretty divorced from my family lately.

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family

Long lost relatives…

A couple of years ago, Bill and I submitted saliva samples to 23andMe. Although some people think there’s a privacy risk in doing genetic testing, I was curious to know more about my origins. So was Bill.

It turns out I am over 78% British and Irish, and about 9.5% German, which doesn’t really surprise me. I was surprised to find traces of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian genetic heritage. I thought I’d have more Native American DNA, but my test only came up with .2%. The rest is all white.

Bill, on the other hand, had a bit more variety in his DNA. There was even a trace of Nigerian ancestry in his, which really surprised us. He looks like a poster boy for Ireland, and of course, has an Irish surname, which he passed to me. It replaced my original English surname.

Goshen Pass.

Although the genetic tests aren’t really necessarily accurate– the results default at a 50% confidence level– they have been fun to explore. One really good thing has already come out of having done the test. One of my first cousins on my dad’s side is also on 23andMe, so now I have absolute proof that my dad was really my father. My sister can never again try to tell me she thinks I was the result of an affair (she actually did this on the day of our grandmother’s funeral). I now have proof that our dad was my father.

Another interesting thing that has come up is that I found a new relative. My paternal grandmother, affectionately known as “Granny” to almost everyone who knew her, had nine brothers and sisters. They all grew up in Natural Bridge, Virginia. I was among the last of Granny’s grandchildren, so I really never knew her siblings. A couple died before I was born and some died when I was very young. I did know one of her sisters, my hilarious Aunt Estelle, who was everything Granny wasn’t. My grandmother was very ladylike and patrician. Her sister was raucous, outrageous, and very funny.

Granny used to tell me that her mother was a bit bawdy. She’d go around reciting dirty poems. Here’s one:

Men, men are sons of bitches/ Have to undress or shit their britches/ Women, women what a blessing/ They can shit without undressing.

Here’s another:

If you want to shit with ease/ place your elbows on your knees/ put your hands under your chin/ let a fart and then begin.

I never knew Grandma Barger, because she died a few months before I was born. However, I heard stories about her. She was eccentric, and used to smoke cigars, go fishing, and split railroad ties. Or so that’s what my Uncle Brownlee used to tell me.

Goshen Pass.

Anyway, I recently got a message from someone on 23andMe. She lives in Maryland. She wanted to know if I was related to Edward Barger, Sr. I had to look it up on my family tree to confirm that yes, in fact Edward Barger, Sr. (who was actually Edward Barger, the second, since his father was also named Edward), was my Granny’s older brother. I never knew my great uncle, Edward Barger, since he died six years before I was born.

Well, it seems that Edward had a relationship with a young teacher named Christine, who worked in Natural Bridge in the 1920s. He got Christine pregnant, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get married. Christine put the baby girl up for adoption in Roanoke, then moved back to her hometown of Farmville, Virginia. Farmville happens to be where I went to college. It’s where Longwood University is… and I’ll bet Christine was also a graduate, since Longwood was once known as the “State Teachers College”. Edited to add: Turns out I was right, although my new relative‚Äôs bio grandma did not go back to teaching when she went back to Farmville. Instead, she worked on a tobacco farm.

A couple adopted Edward’s baby girl and raised her in Roanoke. She grew up and had her own daughter in 1945. And now, her daughter is contacting me. It seems that she got to know a lot of her biological grandmother’s relatives, but didn’t know any of the relatives she shares with me. And boy, is she in for a shockwave… because the Bargers, like the Tolleys, have been in Rockbridge County and Natural Bridge for many, many years. I am probably related to a most of the people who have lived there for any length of time. It’s not a big place, but there are several families who have been there for at least a couple hundred years.

It’s interesting to find this connection now, when I am physically so far away from my family and emotionally and mentally feel kind of “divorced” from them, too. I used to spend a lot of time in Natural Bridge. I’m glad I was able to have long conversations with my grandmother, who was really the only one I knew, since the others died when I was a young child. Granny, by contrast, died just after my 35th birthday. She was about six weeks from turning 101, and she was sharp as a tack until the end.

The family church.

Incidentally, Edward Barger did go on to marry. According to what I’ve been able to dig up, he married a woman named Julia and they had a son named Edward Barger, Jr. (the third?), as well as a couple of daughters. Unfortunately, the younger Edward died when he was about 23 years old.

It’s amazing the information that one can find on the Internet with just a minimum of effort. I’m surprised that more of my family members haven’t done 23andMe, although as I mentioned before, our pedigree is pretty boring. The earliest ancestor I found was a man named Johann Tolley. He came from Hamburg in the 1700s and landed in Virginia, which was at that time part of England. Johann Tolley would not be my new correspondent’s relative, as Johann was on my paternal grandfather’s side. But I bet if I keep digging, I’ll find more interesting genealogy nuggets. It’s really fascinating stuff… and it helps take my mind of things that trouble me.

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