The Importance of Being Lazy

…but not too lazy.

A few days ago I had a long day. I was on the road a good bit of the day, driving in bad weather, and I also spent time lifting items to load them into my car and then unload them at my destination. These particular types of activities made my RA symptoms flair up.

The next day, I got up at about my usual time, but I just didn’t have any motivation. I felt very lazy. Ordinarily, I would have to push through and go about my day regardless, but I didn’t have work on that day, and I didn’t have any appointments, so I just went back to bed. I stayed in bed for about four more hours and ended up only getting up when it was time to take the dogs out and make some lunch.

This ended up being absolutely the right decision for me on that day. I was able to accomplish a pretty good bit in the second half of the day, and I avoided a bigger or more prolonged flair of my symptoms by listening to my body and giving it the extra rest it needed.

The only problem with this is my own perception of how others would view me for staying in bed half the day. We don’t reward people for rest. We tend to judge people harshly for exhibiting signs of laziness. We make fun of them and look down on them.

Yet rest is one of the most important things we can do for our bodies when we need to heal. Most of us walk around with a major case of chronic sleep deprivation all of the time. We keep our bodies in a constant negative cycle of too much pushing through.

I, for one, am simply unable to push through seven days a week. I look at people who seem to be always on the go even on Saturdays and Sundays, and I just don’t know how they do it. If I don’t crash for at least half the day at least one day a week, I don’t function that week. I do have a chronic illness, and that is a factor in my need for regular rest, but I believe a lot of people probably need more rest than they are getting.

Of course, with RA I have to be careful not to overdo the laziness. I do need a certain amount of movement each day to keep my range of motion up. With RA, “you snooze, you lose” really can hold true. If you just go to bed and stay there, you can end up having an even harder time getting up the next day. Everything goes stiff and sore.

Regardless, since I do normally go to a job five days a week, my bigger problem is finding enough time to rest. That’s why I’m committing to the lazy lie in as part of my overall health maintenance plan.

The other day I got up around 7:30 and took the dogs out. I fed the animals and made myself a cup of green tea. I got back in bed with ice packs for the parts that hurt, my tea, and a book. I didn’t go back to sleep, but neither did I try to do anything work related. I just relaxed and let my body rest. Even though this was a day off for me, this felt like an indulgence and maybe even an overindulgence, but it was necessary and very very good.

I’m a person who loves a good challenge. I like to track how many days in a row I can walk 10,000 steps or practice DuoLingo or take photos or drink green smoothies or whatever challenge is making the rounds. I think my next challenge should be to track how many Saturdays in a row I can stay in bed being lazy until noon. Something tells me a good track record on that goal would pay off on my overall health more than just about anything else I’ve tried.

Stress and RA

I’ve always known that stress played a large role in my rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve been frustrated in my efforts to find doctors who would listen to what I had to say about this or address stress as a factor in any way. Rheumatologists have a protocol that they follow, and that’s what they do. It would take a remarkable doctor to incorporate lifestyle management into the protocol, and I’ve yet to find that doctor. I’m left with figuring this out for myself.

When my spring semester ended, I made a list of things I could do to help myself.

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Recumbent Bike
  • Mineral Baths
  • Whole Food Diet
  • Meditation
  • Normalizing Sleep Patterns
  • Time in Nature
  • Laughter with Friends
  • Regular Zone Out Times
  • Keeping a Journal
  • Brain Training Exercises for Pain Relief
  • Ice Packs and Heating Pads

I haven’t done everything on this list consistently in past six weeks, but I have been working on it, and I’ve seen results. I’ve also been off work, and I can’t discount the importance of time away from the rat race. Still, if time off were enough, I would get well during every school break. That isn’t the case. I’ve had to be proactive about my own health in order to reap the benefits of my break. I go back to work next week, so I will have to doubly commit to keeping myself on track.

I know that stress is my primary trigger for my symptoms because stress and arthritis flairs have been the story of my life. I was in my mid-twenties when I was diagnosed. At the time I was studying for my comprehensive exams for my PhD. I was extremely stressed out because I had planned to take the exams in October but was told without a lot of warning that I would have to take them in February to keep my funding for the following school year. It was a change in policy from the department that did not grandfather in people like me who were caught in the middle. That’s life, right? Sometimes you find yourself drowning in stress. In my case, this particular bout of high anxiety triggered the onset of a chronic autoimmune disease.

Over and over, stress has play a huge role in my disease process. I went into a long remission at one point, but my symptoms reappeared after the death of a close friend that I had been caring for in the final stages of cancer. Those symptoms continued to accelerate despite steadily increasing my medications during the period of my father’s illness and death. By the time my father died, I knew I was at my own rock bottom physically and emotionally. I had to do something to keep going.

I started with diet primarily, but I also recognized that stress management had to be part of the plan. Because I was still working and at one of the most hectic points in the school year, there wasn’t much I could do in those first few weeks, but I did do something. I started by spending just 5-10 minutes a day sitting in a lawn chair in my backyard, sipping on herbal tea. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was a time of deliberate winding down and decompressing. It helped. It didn’t cure me, but it helped to keep me from breaking.

Once the semester was over, I was able to focus more on reducing the impact of accumulated stress. I started using the Calm meditation app. I also started using an app called Curable that is specifically for people with chronic pain. I started keeping a journal, and I made epsom salt baths a priority.

All of this has helped, but it is a work in progress. I will need to continually work on my lifestyle management plan in order to keep up with the stress levels that will inevitably come with a demanding job and unanticipated life events.

Exercise is still something I’m working toward. I’m much improved, but I’m still struggling with pain in my right leg and my left shoulder. I have difficulty establishing an exercise routine because I keep making a little progress with these conditions only to find myself right back where I started all over again.

That brings me to another aspect of lifestyle management that I need to address–ergonomics. With my leg, for example, I know that driving is a problem. With my shoulder, my sleep positions and my posture at my desk are problems. If I can find ergonomic solutions, I believe I will start to make more progress there–but that might be a topic for another post.

My point is that I know stress is a major problem, and I know I have to take charge of managing my stress. I don’t have the option to quit my job. I can’t control when life is going to throw tragedies my way. I can’t help the fact that pain, fatigue, and other issues related to RA are self-perpetuating stressors in and of themselves. I have to just do what I can.

I’m hoping to start walking regularly this week, but if that doesn’t work out, if my leg refuses to cooperate, or it rains all week, or somethings comes up that demands all of my attention, I will start where I am and do what I can.

I’ve been reading a book called The Stress Solution by Rangan Chatterjee. I’ve also been listening to Dr. Chatterjee’s podcast Feel Better, Live More. He recommends a 10 minute morning exercise routine. That brings me back to the same philosophy that inspired my 10 minutes of lawn chair time. Do what you can with the time you have. Do what you can with the ability you have.

If I’m unable to do 30 minute walks, maybe I can do 5-10 minutes of some type of exercise. Possibly I can even do 10 minutes three times a day.

I will get there somehow. That will have to be my mantra for a time.

The topic of how stress affects my health is way too big to explore in one post. This is something I need to revisit again and again on my blog. It is something I need to revisit on a daily basis in my life. Meanwhile, I’m about to put on my walking shoes and go to the grocery store to shop for whole fruits and veggies. I need to spend the afternoon working on school prep and laundry. This evening I will give exercise my some. I will start somewhere and get there somehow. If I want to do more than just exist as a person with chronic illness, I don’t have a choice.

My Illness/Wellness Journey

Disclaimer #1: Everyone’s journey is their own. What works for me may not work for someone else.

Disclaimer #2: I credit natural approaches to helping me feel better, but I am under the care of a rheumatologist and taking the medications prescribed by my doctor. I recommend taking charge of your own health as much as possible, but I don’t recommend doing so without medical advice.

Today I want to talk about my success, but the story of my success is also the story of my failure. I wouldn’t need to share a success story today if I hadn’t been down to a place I needed to fight my way back from…again…and again…and again.

I have rheumatoid arthritis, and for the past few years, it has had me. I’ve been struggling with pain, fatigue, stiffness, depression, and pretty staggering overwhelm. I’ve gained weight. I’ve felt isolated from friends because I haven’t had the wherewithal to go places after work. I’ve existed, and I’ve managed, and I’ve survived from day to day, but I haven’t thrived.

Today is different. I feel pretty good today all things considered. I’ve worked for this feeling, though. For the past few months I’ve been working on diet, sleep, meditation, exercise, and anything else I thought might help. I’ve succeeded. My symptoms are down by as much as 50%, and some days I would say as much as 80%. I’ve been losing weight. I feel positive and hopeful and ready to tackle my giants.

I would like to share how I got here in case my story helps someone else, but at the same time I feel unworthy. I’ve done this before. I’ve fought my way back before, and I’ve gone down again. It’s a cycle. I would like to say this will be the last time I will have to fight back from such a low place, but I know it isn’t. I have a chronic illness. It can go into remission, but it’s still there. The next time I face a series of unrelenting stressors in my life, it will probably rouse itself to kick me while I am down. That’s what chronic illnesses do. I just hope I remember when it happens that there are ways to come back again even if I grow weary of the fight.

I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts a good bit lately. One podcast I like is called Feel Better, Live More. In it, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee talks about his 4 pillar plan for health. He defines the 4 pillars of health as sleep, diet, movement, and relaxation (or mindfulness). I’ve been working on all four, and I think it is the multi-faceted approach that is helping me feel so much better.

I’ve seen the most dramatic results from diet. I started out in March saying that I was going to eat a lot of soups, salads, and smoothies. That was the only way I could think of at the time to supercharge my diet and blast myself with some nutrition. At the time, my father was in the last few weeks of his life after having been in a steady decline for the better part of a year. I was trying to spend as much time as I could with my parents while holding down a demanding job and juggling my extreme fatigue and pain from RA. I felt like I was about to have a total breakdown, but I didn’t have the luxury of a breakdown. My family needed me. My students needed me. My dogs needed me. I had to do something to keep going, so I went with a radical change in my diet.

That one change pulled me through what would be some of the most difficult weeks of my life, but I didn’t feel like I had truly made a breakthrough until early June–almost two months after my father’s death–when I decided to go on a 10 day green smoothie challenge. At the time, I was off work. I was meditating every day, putting ice on my leg and shoulder three times a day, taking epsom salt baths every day, and spending time just sitting outdoors with my dogs. I basically created a 10 day at home wellness retreat, and that’s what swung the pendulum.

The green smoothies felt like a miracle cure. Maybe blending the whole raw fruits and veggies really does help you absorb more nutrients as they claim. Maybe sipping them slowing throughout the day helped me to absorb more nutrients. Maybe drinking them at the same time that I was able to rest and recover helped me to benefit more from them. I do not know. I just know that I have not felt as good in years as I felt while drinking those smoothies. I had normal energy levels again. With the exception of sciatica in my leg and tendinitis in my shoulder, I had almost no pain. The normal symptoms of RA disappeared. Only the secondary issues that developed as a result of the RA remained–and those improved by a pretty big margin during this time.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to drink a whole pitcher of green smoothie every day for an indefinite period of time. I am drinking one small green smoothie each day now and eating salads and whole fruits and veggies. I’m also on an elimination diet, but that might be a story for another time. It has not done nearly as much as the smoothies.

Since I cut back on the smoothies, I’ve retained some but not all of the benefits I felt during the 10 days of my challenge. I feel pretty good, but I’m not marveling over how much energy I have. My joints are doing okay, but my hands are a little stiff.

Regardless, for me to be able to say I’m feeling better and feeling positive is pretty huge. Maybe green smoothies would help someone else with my same illness, or maybe everyone’s path is different. My main message to others (and to my once and future self) is to keep trying. Don’t give up. Find something you can do for your own health and take charge of it. Start small if you have to. Just keep trying something, and if that doesn’t work, try something else.

If you are interested in the smoothies, check out the website Simple Green Smoothies. They have some great recipes and great advice.

This is only a small part of my story, so I plan to come back to the blog a few more times to tell about where I’ve been, where I am, where I hope to go, and how I am getting there. Maybe my audience is only myself, but if it is, that’s okay. I need to hear what I have to say.

Year’s End Failures

We spend too much time judging ourselves. I love all of the ways I have to measure what I do, but the measurements themselves make me feel inadequate.

My Fitbit has been sitting in a drawer for the past couple of months because I’ve been struggling with illness, and I can’t stand to look at the numbers day after day when I know I’m not winning.

In January of this year, I set my reading goal on Goodreads at 52 books. A couple of weeks ago, I changed the goal to 20 books when it became clear that I would not complete the reading challenge. Thanks to Goodreads, I know that in a typical year, I read about 80 books. I’ve hit between 80 and 85 more years than not. I’ve wanted to reach 100 because that sounds like more of an accomplishment, but I never do. I believe I will start hitting the 100 mark after I retire, but as long as I’m grading big stacks of essays, there will be weeks when I don’t read a book at all.

This year was not a typical year. I’ve spent the past two years in a cycle of chronic pain and illness, attempting to find the right combination of medications, dealing with the side effects of medications, dealing with the emotional ups and downs of chronic pain and illness. Last year was one of my toughest years ever in terms of just making it through the school year, and on the last day that I went to the office at the end of the school year, my dad fell and hit his head, and the summer months were taken up with coping and helping and struggling and surviving.

My head has been fragmented, my thinking chaotic. The more I push myself physically just to keep going, the more stress hormones I have in my system, and the more stress hormones I have in my system, the more my head spins with dozens of ideas at once. Try finishing a 500 page novel when you have 80 essays to grade and your mind refuses to land on one thought at a time. It wasn’t my year for novels.

That’s why I drifted toward fairy tales. They are therapy for me in more than one way. They are short enough that even a fragmented mind can focus on them. They are about so many things that all of those swirling thoughts can start to converge in one place. They are a place for not thinking about pain, struggle, loss, chaos, despair–at least not in terms of the self and the self alone.

I’ve probably read the first five chapters of a 100 books this year, but I will finish maybe 20 books and some of them very short. I read a lot of fairy tales and short stories, though. I’ve coped. I’ve survived. I’ve kept going. I’ve kept myself in a state of mind where I’m excited for the next semester rather than dreading the next round of struggle.

I have a chronic illness. I was born this way. Some years are pretty good, and some years are pretty hard. I went through several good years in a row, but then my friend got sick, and I went through the stress of helping him through his last few months and the grief of losing him, and my own illness flared up again under the weight of it all. There was no time to recover before more life stressors piled up on top of everything else.

I’ve survived. I’ve prevailed in many ways and merely coped in others. I’ve kept going. Coping in itself is an accomplishment.

But I look at my blank Fitbit app, and I look at my low numbers on Goodreads, and I compare myself to others and to myself in past years, and I think I have failed.

It’s true. I have failed, but not every failure is all it’s made out to be.

It’s unlikely that 2019 will be my year to finally reach 100 books on my Goodreads list or to consistently reach my Fitbit goals. That will just have to be okay. Instead, I will read a lot of fairy tales and short stories. I will read the first five chapters of some very good novels. I will finish some and abandon others. Life will throw me curves and struggles and grief, but somehow I will get through it all, and it will be okay that all I do is get through.

Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones

Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was my 3rd great grandmother. She was the mother of my grandmother’s (Gerald) grandfather (Davis).

Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was part Creek and part English. She was the most recent of my ancestors to have lived among the Alabama Creek Indians. Her story is remarkable in that she appears to have survived the massacre at Fort Mims when she was a small child.

The book A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Red Stick War of 1813-1814 by Gregory A. Waselkov says she was four years old at the attack on Fort Mims on August 30, 1813.

Fort Mims is located near Mobile, Alabama, and you can visit a historical park there today that tells the story of the battle that was part of a Creek civil war between those who wanted to live more traditionally and more apart from white society, and those who wanted to cooperate with the American government and intermingle with white people.

There were approximately 550 people inside Fort Mims. Only 36 survived. Jeffersonia was taken captive along with her mother and brothers.

I will have to do more research to find out what happened to her after that, but I do know she grew up to become the mother of my great-great grandfather, William Wiley Davis.

I also know that if she was four years old in 1813, she was born in 1809, the last year of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, so she was likely named after him. Her grandmother’s father, brother, and cousins had all worked as interpreters for Indian Affairs agents sent into Creek territory, and one of those Indian agents was a man named Benjamin Hawkins. Hawkins worked for decades to try to broker peace between the Creeks and the English settlers. It’s thought that Jeffersonia Hawkins Jones was given her middle name as a tribute to him.

Jeffersonia’s great-grandfather was Joseph Cornell, an Englishman who came to Creek territory as a trapper and trader, ended up marrying a Creek woman from Tuckabatchee, and working as an interpreter for various agents from Indian Affairs.

I am only just beginning the process of researching Jeffersonia’s family tree, but it looks like to me at a glance that her closest full-blooded Creek ancestor is her great-grandmother, the wife of Joseph Cornell, whose name is unknown. I believe that Jeffersonia’s father and grandfather and great-grandfather were all white settlers in the area. That would have made her 1/8 Creek, but at Fort Mims, she and her family were considered to be métis or mixed race. They were considered to be mixed race, not just by the white people, but by the Creeks as well. Jeffersonia was taken captive rather than killed because she was mixed race. The Red Sticks (the Creek who wanted to keep Creek territory free of English settlers) killed children as well as adults in the massacre at Fort Mims, but they spared Jeffersonia and her brothers because they were part Creek.

As I said, I am only just beginning to learn about this branch of my family history, and I have a lot more reading I need to do, but the picture I’m getting here is that Jeffersonia came from a family that might have been more English than Creek genetically by the time of her generation, but it had been more Creek than English culturally for her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother certainly lived as a Creek and would have raised her daughter as a Creek even if they both had English fathers.

Jeffersonia would have been 21 years old in 1830 when the Indian Removal Act was passed. She would have seen her grandmother’s people uprooted and disbanded in her lifetime. She would have seen great change as more and more Creek lands were handed over to white settlers.

She married a man named Edmund Davis who had moved to Alabama from Georgia. They lived out their lives in Monroe County, Alabama. Her son William Wiley Davis moved to Perry County, Mississippi, where his descendants still live to this day. He lived in Perry County as a white man, though, not as a mixed race Creek. His mother Jeffersonia represents a turning point generation. She was the last connection to her Creek family on her family tree.

If anyone has any additional information about Jeffersonia and her family, please share. I will update when I learn more.

DNA and the Geralds of County Clare

This map shows the origins of my brother’s Y-DNA, according to Family Tree DNA. I have no idea what the one red dot in Germany is about. I’m assuming it has to do with migrations of one sort or another. I’m more interested in the cluster of red dots in Ireland because everything else about our DNA search for family origins has pointed to Ireland.

Y-DNA is the specific type of DNA that is passed down from father to son for many generations relatively unchanged. Only men can take the Y-DNA test, and it tells the history of their paternal line.

Our family history, based on my brother’s Y-DNA, appears to focus around County Clare and/or County Limerick, Ireland. That’s where the three red dots joined together on the map are located.

The earliest known ancestor in my brother’s paternal line that we can trace back to is a man named James Gerald who lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. He is said to have been born in Ireland around 1709. We don’t know anything about his parents, what year he came to America, or why he came. We only know that he married a woman named Mildred Taliaferro and had a son named Gabriel Gerald.

Family lore says that James Gerald was born a Fitzgerald, though, and changed his name when he came to America.

That’s where things get interesting in the DNA analysis on my brother (seven generations removed from the original James Gerald). We aren’t coming up with any significant matches to Fitzgeralds in Ireland. We are, however, matching a number of people named O’Loughlin, McLaughlin, or variations thereof. We also match a few other random surnames, but most of those are so distant they could come from a time before surnames.

I don’t know what this means exactly in terms of our family history, but it does open up the possibility that our James Gerald was never a Fitzgerald and that he may have changed his name from something else altogether.

Interestingly enough, when I did a search for the origins of the name O’Loughlin, I ran across a map that shows O’Loughlins living in Ireland in the 1800s (from

You can see from this map that there is a huge concentration of O’Loughlins in one particular area, and that area happens to be an almost exact match for my brother’s Y-DNA SNP matches map. The concentration of O’Loughlins shown here is mainly in County Clare, Ireland.

There are also a lot of Fitzgeralds in this area. We haven’t completely ruled out Fitzgerald as a possibility. We’ve just increased the probability that our James Gerald came from a family of O’Loughlins rather than a family of Fitzgeralds. This is an ongoing process, though, and we may discover more information down the road that changes the scenario again.

If that happens, I will probably write another blog post about it.

If you are a Gerald interested in following our process to this point, you can take a look at some of my older posts on the subject:

DNA, Gerald Family Legends, and History’s Mysteries

From R1b1a2a1a1b4 to DF21

You might also be interested in posts about relatives I came across in my research:

Infamous Cousins

Float Like a Butterfly

Also, if you are a Gerald interested in using DNA to trace ancestry, please consider using Family Tree DNA to do a Y-DNA test on a male with the Gerald surname. The more Geralds we can get to take the test, and the more distant the connections are, the more we can be certain of the results.

And if you happen to be a Gerald with a whole lot of money, maybe you could go to County Clare, Ireland, and convince a bunch of men with the surnames Fitzgerald and O’Loughlin to take DNA tests from Family Tree DNA so that we can find out exactly which family we match.

Alas, it might take a while for me to come up with that kind of money. Meanwhile, I’ll keep documenting what I find out about the family history here so that I will remember it myself and be able to share it with others.

Searching for Native American Ancestry

In many ancient cultures, the ancestors were the gods themselves. In most, the ancestors held a sacred space in a person’s spiritual life, and were essential to fashioning personal identity. As a remnant of those ancient cultures, we still share today a fairly strong desire to know something of our ancestors. Americans are largely cut off from deep connections to ancestry, but we aren’t cut off from the longing to know the stories of the people who came before us. Maybe that’s why so many people are now interested in using DNA to trace Native American ancestry. We all have family stories, but we don’t really know which parts are true, or how much they might mean to us and who we are now.

We’ve seen controversies over this very matter in the news recently in which one politician resorted to a DNA test in order to rebut the mockery of another politician. When she did this, she stepped into a whole new controversy. Native American tribes didn’t want her to claim to be Native American based on a DNA test. This is understandable. Obviously, if you aren’t culturally Native American, you aren’t Native American no matter what your DNA says.

Lots of American like me, though, know that we aren’t culturally Irish, yet every year we go nuts over St. Patrick’s Day and celebrate the Irish in us even though we know we have no claim to Irish citizenship.

We understand that we are not our DNA, especially our distant DNA, yet we still long for stories of ancestors. That’s human nature. It’s built into who we are.

The problem with applying the Irish comparison to Native American DNA, though, is that some people have tried to use DNA in order to claim membership in a tribe and thus collect tribal benefits. Since this might include casino revenues or other monetary benefits in some cases, it’s a real problem. That’s why Native American tribes in the United States in particular have been reluctant to participate in DNA studies. That’s their right, and I believe they are in the right to do so. (See Genetic Research in Native Communities for more information about problems Indigenous people have experienced with DNA studies)

The shortage of extensive ancestry DNA studies on Native American tribes within the United States, though, does it make it more complicated to verify whether your family stories of Native American ancestry are true. I’ve heard a number of people say that they have taken DNA tests, and no Native American ancestry showed up, despite having family lore that includes Native Americans.

I am one of those people. We have more than lore in my family. We have a paper trail. I know that there are Mississippi Choctaws on my family tree. My DNA test did not reflect this, however, and my brother’s did not either. That’s no big surprise. We took tests from companies that did not claim to trace for Native American ancestry.

I think there are some companies now that do test for Native American ancestry–witness our current politician as an example of someone who has made use of one. Also, I think that some tribes are more likely to show up than others, and Native heritage from Latin American countries is also more likely to show up. Mayans have not had the same motivations to avoid DNA studies that tribes specifically rooted within the United States have had.

Lack of participation in DNA studies is only one complication, though. There are actually several reasons you might have family lore of Native ancestry but not have Native DNA show up is an ancestry test.

1. The family might be wrong. Maybe the connection never existed, or maybe it was in your family tree, but not in your direct line of ancestry. Maybe Grandpa’s second wife was Choctaw, but you are actually descended from his first wife. Maybe there was an NPE, which either means “non-paternal event” or “not paternity expected” in DNA terms depending on who you talk to. Anything along those lines could have happened, especially if the connection is far enough back that you do not have anyone’s living memory to rely on.

2. You could have Native American ancestry and not have Native American DNA. If you go back enough generations so that you have hundreds or even thousands of ancestors at that level on your family tree, all of those people are your ancestors, but you did not retain DNA from all of them. (See Unexpected Ethnicity Results)

3.  Your family could be right, but the person who is your Native American ancestor was not 100% genetically Native American, so even if this person appears within the past five generations on your family tree, you don’t really know how much Native American DNA he/she contributed to your overall makeup. It might seem to you like it should be enough to be statistically relevant, but maybe it isn’t even if your family lore is correct. Let’s face it, Native American women have been giving birth to the children of European men and raising them within their own tribes ever since European men first arrived on this continent. Whether as a result of intermarriage, consenting relationships, or rape, these things happened. If your paper trail ends with your Choctaw Great-Great Grandmother, as mine does, you might know for certain that your ancestor was culturally 100% Choctaw, but you don’t know for certain that she was genetically 100% Choctaw.

It’s complicated. People who look for Native Ancestry and don’t find it tend to be dismissed as nothing more than “typical.” It is very common for people to start out looking for Native American ancestry because of family stories, but not get the results they are looking for from DNA tests. It’s also very common for people to take the wrong test for the results they are looking for or to use a company that doesn’t offer the results they are looking for.

Family myths do pop up without any real evidence. In my family, I read a story in my genealogy searches that said I was descended from people who came over on the Mayflower. Later, I discovered in more extensive searches that I was not. I was descended from people with similar names who lived roughly during the same time period but who definitely could not have been the same people.

In the case of Native American DNA, though, your testing may or may not disprove your family stories. It may or may not be possible to prove anything with DNA. The best you can do is to educate yourself about the process and try not to be fleeced by companies charging high prices to promise you more than they can deliver. Also, if possible, work on chasing the paper trail. Old fashioned genealogy research can tell you more than DNA if you want to know who your ancestors were. If that fails and DNA testing fails, it might be time to simply let the mystery be.



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.

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?



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.