DNA, Gerald Family Legends, and History’s Mysteries

Off and on for the past ten years or so, I’ve been interested in tracing my family genealogy. I can trace my Gerald family back to a man named James Gerald who lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. We think he was born in Ireland around 1709, and he died in South Carolina in 1760. He had a son named Gabriel, and Gabriel had a bunch of children, and they are the ancestors of every Gerald in the US who is in any way connected to my family.

A lot of people can trace themselves back to James Gerald, but no one so far has been able to find any definitive records dating back to Ireland to establish who his parents were.

A few years ago, I decided that we should try the DNA route to deciphering this. My brother took a Y-DNA test through Family Tree DNA, and we learned a lot about our family’s genetic past. We are definitely Irish. We match up with a distinctly Irish haplogroup, and our paternal line appears to be Celtic in origin.

That said, what we have not done is to match up with any Geralds in Ireland or of Irish origin outside of the line from Gabriel Gerald that we already know about.

Family legend says that James Gerald was really James Fitzgerald, and he changed his name to Gerald when he moved to America. We haven’t made any DNA matches to Fitzgeralds either, at least not any that are close enough genetic matches to use as a basis for genealogical research.

At first, I just thought this would be a matter of waiting for the right people to take the DNA test. Genealogical DNA testing for tracing ancestry was still a fairly new thing, and I assumed it would take off over time, and eventually the right Gerald or Fitzgerald would take the test, and we would find out at least which branch of Fitzgeralds we were connected to.

Several years have now passed, and we still haven’t connected to a family of Fitzgeralds. Something else has happened, though. A distinct pattern of genetic links to people named O’Loughlin or O’Laughlin or McLaughlin, all with Irish origins, has emerged.

18th Century James Gerald is 7 generations back from the 20th Century James Gerald who took the Y-DNA test. Family Tree DNA says that we have an 87% chance of sharing a common ancestor with a number of people with the surname O’Loughlin within the past 8 generations and a 97% chance within the past 12 generations. By contrast, only one person named Fitzgerald has shown up on our genetic matches list, and we have a 70% chance of sharing  a common ancestor with him within the past 8 generations and a 90% within the past 12 generations.

We could say “But wait there is that one Fitzgerald. That probably is our connection to a family line.” We could, and we might be right. However, when there is only one very distant match, that match is usually considered to be an outlier, especially if a pattern is emerging in another direction. One person might be the result of a “non-paternal event” or a kid being born outside of marriage or with a genetic father who was not his legal father. A group of people all with varying connections is a stronger indicator of what might have happened. Our outlier right now is a Fitzgerald. Our group of people with a stronger and clearer pattern of genetic connections to us are all O’Loughlins.

On Family Tree DNA, there is a large Fitzgerald family project with more than 200 members, representing a wide variety of Fitzgerald family lines, and we are not definitively matching any of them, whereas we do have that strong pattern of genetic connections through Y-DNA, which is the direct paternal line, to a family named O’Loughlin. We can count back 7 generations of Geralds, and the O’Loughlin connection exists somewhere within the range of 8-12 generations back. It picks up at exactly the point in our genetic history where we lose our ability to trace the family back through traditional genealogical research.

I haven’t been keeping up this blog much lately, but I’m sharing this here today because my genealogy posts are the main ones that still get visitors even years later, and I know there are other people out there researching the same family line. I want to share the information, but I also want to share the brainstorming about what all of this might mean.

We don’t know that much about James Gerald. We don’t know why he came to America or what his family life was like before he did so. We do know who he married and where he lived and what became of his son.

One theory says that he arrived in America as an indentured servant and that he ran off without fulfilling his years of service and changed his name in order to avoid capture.

I have no idea whether that is true or not. I do know that he ended up married to a woman named Mildred Taliaferro and that her English/Italian family was fairly well off, so if he arrived here as an indentured servant, he did well for himself after.

The way the family has always told the story, he changed his name from Fitzgerald to Gerald, and that is the part that I am questioning now. I think he may have changed his name, but I’m starting to believe that his name was never Fitzgerald, or if it was that it came to him from his mother’s family and not from his father’s family. If Fitzgerald had been his paternal surname, I believe we would have hit upon a significant genetic connection to a branch of Fitzgeralds by now.

There are two main possibilities here.

1. There could be a genetic disruption in the paternal line somewhere between 18th Century James Gerald and 20th Century James Gerald.

I don’t believe this is the case because 20th Century James Gerald does have a genetic match to a distant Gerald connection who is a descendant of Gabriel Gerald through a different line. If we can establish paternal certainty all the way back to Gabriel Gerald’s children, and at least two of those children had the same father, then that only leaves one generation of uncertainty. If there’s a disruption in the line, that would mean that James Gerald was not Gabriel Gerald’s biological father, and there’s no real reason for us to suspect this.

2. James Gerald’s paternal surname was neither Gerald nor Fitzgerald.

I believe more and more that this is the case. I believe that James Gerald came from a family of O’Loughlins.

He could have been James Fitzgerald O’Loughlin with the Fitzgerald coming from his mother rather than his father, in which case the Fitzgerald connection wouldn’t show up in Y-DNA tests, but it would still make sense for him to pick James Gerald as his new American name. Another possibility is that he could have been born illegitimately and never used his father’s surname. There could be any number of explanations.

I might be dead wrong. New matches might show up down the road that change this whole scenario once again. I do find it interesting to consider for now, though, and I’m throwing it out there in case anyone else has any ideas.

Happy genetic sleuthing, Gerald cousins.

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Writing on Issues in a Divided World

I want to write something for my students about this, or at least prepare something to say to my students about this, so I’ve decided I need to first write about it for myself to start sorting out my thoughts and ideas.

How do we write about issues in a world that is so terribly divided on every single point?

On Saturday, I heard that Justice Scalia was dead, and about five minutes later I heard that key Republicans had already announced that they would attempt to block any attempt President Obama might make to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. There was no waiting period before politics took over. There was no social contract that said we defer debate for a certain amount of time out of respect for the deceased and for his family. We went straight from the news of the loss to posturing about how we are going to use this to thwart each other politically.

This is not what I call normal. It is not what I call functional. Yet this is now our reality. This is what politics in 2016 looks like.

Back in my own day as a student writer, I was taught Rogerian argument in which the goal is not to shut down the other person but to open up dialogue so as to work toward consensus or compromise or workable solutions or at least a multi-sided understanding of the issues at stake. In this method, you don’t have to agree with the opposing side, but you do have to show that you respect and understand the other side.

Respect and attempts to understand seem to have left the building of American politics. What passes for political debate these days is so polarized that it seems risky to me to even attempt to discuss anything that really matters in the classroom. But if we don’t discuss things that matter, why are we even there?

The risk stems from the constant demonizing of the other. Label yourself as liberal, and half the country thinks you are evil. Label yourself as conservative, and the other half thinks you are evil.

It seems to me that a thinking person should make judgments issue by issue after careful analysis of the facts, not based on liberal vs. conservative catch phrases or a desperate attempt to avoid being associated with “the other side.”

So how do we get past this? How do we discuss issues in a meaningful way?

One thing that comes to mind is Jonathan Haidt’s work on liberal vs. conservative thinking.

I read his book The Righteous Mind, and I found it very thought-provoking. If we are going to have meaningful discussion, we have to first get beyond the idea that people who disagree with us are bad or stupid or uncaring or dishonorable. They are none of those things. They simply think differently. Some people think differently because they bring a different set of life experiences to the table, and others think differently because their brains are just wired to prioritize information in a different order.

We were all so divided over the Syrian refugee crisis, for example. In this case, we had two main motivating factors that determined where we stood on the issue of whether or not to allow Syrian refugees into the United States in the wake of the attack in Paris: (1) concern for harm being done to others; (2) concern for threats to ourselves and to those we love.

Both ways of seeing the problem are real. Both ways of seeing the problem are legitimate and based on real facts. Both are based on values.

Yet we were incapable of coming to consensus because some people’s brains are wired to prioritize around a core motivation of compassion, and some people’s brains are wired to prioritize around a core motivation of protection.

The end result of this in our current political climate is that a bunch of otherwise rational, kind, informed, and well-meaning people completely demonized one another over a very honest disagreement.

This realization doesn’t solve all of our problems, but it gives us a place to start having better discussions. If we want to talk about or write about issues, then, we have to start with a few guiding principles:

  • Don’t assume people on the other side are bad people.
  • Don’t assume people on the other side are lacking in intelligence.
  • Don’t assume people on the other side have an inferior understanding of the facts.
  • Don’t assume people on the other side are lacking in morality.
  • Don’t assume people on the other side want to see harm come to you.
  • Don’t assume that differences in opinions are dangerous to you.

It is okay for people to be different. It is okay for people to look at the same information and come to different conclusions.

Once we agree that disagreement is okay, we can understand the most universal truth of polarized arguments, which is that you aren’t ever going to win over people who don’t think the same way you think by telling them what you think.

Thus, we can add one more don’t.

  • Don’t assume you can beat a person on the other side of an issue into submission with the steady hammer blows of your facts. If everyone saw the facts the same way you see them, there wouldn’t be an argument.

Slide1I suppose then my own conclusions are that we don’t need lessons in argument so much as we need lessons in listening, lessons in respect, lessons in not jumping to conclusions about other people, lessons in considering other perspectives as valid.

Good luck on that, right?

Maybe we can’t all make friends and make nice. Maybe even basic respect for one another is just a pipe dream. If that’s the case, though, I’m reminded of something I learned from Ender’s Game–The only way to defeat the enemy is to know the enemy. The only way to know the enemy is to love the enemy.

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Yeah, that’s creepy. I think I might be giving up now.

Can’t we all just get along?


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Cranes 87-89


Cranes 90-92


Cranes 93-95

I’ve spent a few days away from Internet access, and I’m just now making up my crane pictures. I could have figured something out about posting the pictures without missing a day if never missing a day had been all that important. I’ve decided to let myself skip and make up days in this particular year-long challenge, though. Life is too short to stress over Internet access, and spending time with family and friends is more important than driving to the public library just to prove a point to myself. And in this way I have both failed and succeeded in my quest. Such is the way of life and things and hopes and dreams.

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Some days you are the windshield 

Today, however, I was the bug. I do have a crane and a picture for today, but because I am posting this from my phone, and I’m too lazy to figure out how to embed the picture off Flickr this way, I will just have to update with images later. 

I remember a few years ago when I was lamenting my inability to reach my own goals, a friend told me that whenever you set a goal, the Universe starts asking if you are really sure. The challenges we set for ourselves wouldn’t be called challenges if they were easy, I suppose, but somehow those little adages don’t mean much when you are feeling squashed at the end of a long day. 

Thank goodness every day is a whole new day. I’m going to try to get in line early for the windshield jobs tomorrow.

Peace and love, friends.

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Cranes 84-85 of 1000 for 2016.

I folded these cranes at an Asian restaurant while waiting for my food to arrive. I had the choice to go to dinner or complete my origami/photo project for the day, so I decided to do both, of course. I am a person who enjoys a challenge, and one of life’s biggest frustrations has been that it is so dang difficult to complete more than one challenge at a time and to also do a job and have a life. If I succeed in an exercise challenge, my creative challenges usually suffer. If I succeed in a creative challenge, my exercise habits tend to take a nosedive. There’s only so much time in a day.

Right now I’m trying to do it all. Today, I went to work from 7:30-3:00. Went to the gym from 3:00-4:00. Came home, walked the dog, fed the cats, and went out again to have dinner with a friend. I took my photograph for the day at the restaurant. I have not done any of the photo challenges from the groups I’ve signed up for. I just took a photograph to count for my photo-a-day. Ultimately, that’s all I’ve promised to absolutely get done on a daily basis. I’m also still 500 steps short of my goal of 12,000 steps for the day, but I have totally knocked out the minimum requirement of 10,000 steps. Maybe I will attempt to walk around my apartment for a little while to get in those last 500, or maybe I will admit fatigue and go to bed. It’s good to have choices.

I know from past experience that I cannot do it all. I also know that I will always want to do it all. Today, I’ve basically managed to cover a variety of objectives, but that’s because I didn’t have to spend another five hours working on work after I came home. I will reach a point when I will have no other choice but to keep working on work after work. We will see what happens to all of my personal challenges then.

For now, some would say I’d be better off pacing myself, but I say you’re not really achieving until you are overachieving. Hence, my goal of 12,000 steps a day instead of 10,000. Hence, my feeling of failure in having taken only one photograph today for my photo-a-day project.

But you know what? I had a good day today. I enjoyed the whole day all day, and I got stuff done too.

Sure, I will crash and burn from pushing myself in too many directions before this is over, but burned is nowhere I’ve never been before. It will be okay.

And until then, it’s good to have choices, and it’s good to have those days when you enjoy life and meet every goal at the most minimal possible level.

Have fun, kids. Catch you later. I’m off to walk and sleep now.

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In which comfort becomes the priority


Crane 83.

This is a student made Huck Finn raft. It has been left behind from someone’s presentation in a literature class. The bird sitting on it was made from a Pride and Prejudice calendar. I’m not sure what Elizabeth Bennet is doing hanging out with Huck, but there you go.

Cranes 81-82.


This is a big wood carving of an eagle that sits in our English Department office. You can see I didn’t venture out very far to take pictures today. It was a wet and nasty day.

It is now 5:00. I’m at home with my dog in my lap. I have eaten a bowl of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. I have done my homework for tomorrow. I have posted my pictures for my daily photo challenge. I have a goal of being in my pajamas and underneath a blanket by no later than 5:30. I imagine the dog will still be cuddled up with me.

Lucy Peanut and I had a rough day today. She was attacked by a dog toy. She had torn it apart, and it fought back. She got it stuck in her mouth with string she had pulled loose getting caught in her teeth and twisting her tongue up. She squealed like the Big Bad Wolf was after her. I had to cut the toy away from her mouth with scissors to even be able to get at the string caught in mouth. That was a scary moment for her and for me, but we managed to free her finally, and she is not injured. She is just hurt that her toy would do her that way. She and I have needed some cuddles.

I’ve had a lot of goals lately, and one of them is exercise. I got my exercise in the same way I got my photos in today–by knocking it out as quickly and efficiently as possible. I went to the school gym and got on a treadmill before I came home. You might think that a person with goals would feel bad about making plans to crash and cuddle by 5:30, but this is not so. Today, comfort is the priority. Comfort food. Comfy clothes. Cuddles. We must have our priorities.

I’m a firm believer that one of most important aspects of accomplishment is managing stress. You are more likely to lose weight on a diet if you are not stressed out and if you are getting enough rest. You are more likely to get your work done if you are not feeling stressed. You are more likely to remember not to be a jerk to the people around you if you are taking enough comfort time.

Lucy Peanut is fine now, and she doesn’t seem to be too terribly traumatized by this morning’s horror, but she is being clingy, and she is crying whenever I set her down. She and I are about to put on our comfy clothes and have a calm night in.

Peace and love, friends. If a wad of loose string ever attacks your mouth, please remember to remain calm and stay as still as possible. Fighting just makes it worse.

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I don’t think so, said the little dog to the sullen cat

Don't box me in

My dog challenge prompt and my regular photo challenge prompt were essentially the same today: “in a box” and “box.” I tried to make Lucy Peanut sit in a hat box while I took her picture, but she refused to do it. She said bad words to me.

Stella Calico could not bring herself to care.

Stella Calico does not care what you think.

Even the cranes did not get excited.


Lucy Peanut gave me the stink eye.

Stink Eye

There was no dog in a hat box tonight.

The end.

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Portrait of Innocence


Crane 75 of 1000 for 2016.

Lucy Peanut says, “What paper crane? I haven’t seen any paper crane. Good luck finding your missing crane.”

Cranes 76-77.


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All hail the power of peer pressure

Feeling Faded

Lucy Peanut is tuckered out, and I can’t say I blame her. She burrowed into a blanket on the couch to take a nap this evening, and I tried to get her up to play so that I could take a more active picture of her, but she just kept going right back to her cozy spot. It’s been that kind of day. Lucy Peanut and I don’t care much for the cold. Even Jack Cat elected to spend most of the day indoors. Winter is rough on the children of summer.

I wanted to be like Lucy Peanut today and burrow in for the day. I wanted to read and nap and basically just spend the day recharging for the coming week. I forced myself to venture out as far as the school gym this morning, however, because I was feeling the peer pressure. I accepted a weekend challenge on Fitbit, and since this was the first of these challenges I’ve ever participated in, I didn’t want to be that one person who only logged 200 steps for the whole weekend because I whiled away my days off on the couch. I ended up only staying on the couch half the day today, and I paid my dues on the treadmill first.

This is why I consider the Fitbit a necessity. I’m a whole lot lazier when I don’t feel judged.

Tomorrow will be a bigger challenge as the school gym will be closed, and it will likely still be too cold outside to make for enjoyable outdoor exercise. I have a challenge to live up to, though, so I have at least some chance of figuring this out.

I will let you know how it goes. Until then, here are my cranes for the day.

72-74 of 1000.


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Sitting on top of the world


Cranes 69-71 of 1000 for 2016.

These cranes were made with a Bible verse calendar. The following verses were used:

1 Corinthians 14:33

“For God is not a God if disorder but of peace–as in all congregations of the Lord’s people.”

2 Corinthians 4:18

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Deuteronomy 1:11

“May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!”

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