morning light

10.22.18 ~ morning light ~ Chapel Hill, North Carolina

As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.

In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.

Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.

little fellow identified

Albert E. Weekes (1907-1991)

My cousin sent me a little puzzle I enjoyed solving. He is also going through boxes from the grandparents! Along with the front and back of this postcard he sent a question, “My middle name is Weekes and I saw this post card from Weekes to Swift… may be of interest to you and also I don’t know who the kid is on the photograph, might you?” It took me a couple of hours, going over my data stored away at Ancestry, to find someone who fit.

So finally I could write back:

My best guess for the identity of the little fellow in the picture would be Albert E. Weekes (1907-1991). He is our 2nd cousin, 3 times removed. The postcard was sent in July 1911, when he was 3 years 9 months old, and the message says the picture was taken when he was 2 years 9 months old, which Albert was in July of 1910. He was 10 years younger than his next older sibling, his sister Bertha.

The post card is from his parents, Mr. & Mrs. G. A. Weekes, George Albert Weekes (1849-1917) & Mary J. (Hilliard) Weekes (1867-1952).

The post card was sent to George’s first cousin, Mrs. Edward E. Swift, Susan Flora (Freeman) Swift (1864-1963). She is our 3rd-great-aunt, Aunt Flora, of Woods Hole.

Our ancestors in common are my 4th-great-grandparents, Isaac Weekes (1780-1841) & Elisabeth (Allen) Weekes, profiled here. The cousins, Mr. Weekes and Mrs. Swift, were their grandchildren. They have many descendants and I haven’t found all of them yet, I’m sure!

there is simply this moment, as it is

4.8.18 ~ Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, Pinehurst, North Carolina

Spirituality is life itself. Being life. Being this moment. Not as a practice or an attainment or something an imaginary person does in order to get somewhere else, but just because it’s What Is. It’s the natural state, the ever-present, ever-changing thusness of Here / Now. The part that falls away (if we’re lucky) is the search, the endless search to “get it,” to become “okay” at last… the belief in (and identity as) the psychological self and its problems and the endless attempts to cure them.

As I see it, there is no end to awakening, no end to spiritual exploration and discovery, no end to devotion and celebration and wonder… but what can end (and only now) is the search to fix “me,” to unstick “me,” to enlighten “me,” to finally get control (by understanding how the universe works, by getting The Answer, by finally vanquishing all “my” neurotic quirks and tendencies and solving “my” problems). When all of that ends, there is simply this moment, as it is. Boundless and free.

~ Joan Tollifson
(Facebook, July 18, 2017)

self-determination

“Lovers” by Pablo Picasso

How can twins with identical genetics and environment become so different and tolerate these differences so well? J. David Smith suggests that conjoined twins demonstrate an important aspect of human differentiation: intentionality. He notes that the role of self-determination has been lost in the “nature-nurture” debate about whether heredity or environment rules our lives. These two perspectives may appear to be complete opposites, but they share a common deterministic outlook. Even a compromise position still ignores how self-direction shapes our destinies. When we ignore the role of free will and active participation in our own lives, we damage and discourage ourselves.
~ David Schnarch
(Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships)

It was perhaps fifteen years ago when I read an excellent book, Passionate Marriage, quoted above, back when I was very interested in the balance between autonomy and intimacy in marriage and other relationships. And the gist of the above paragraph was etched into my mind as I embraced the idea of self-determination playing as much of a role in the course of our lives as heredity or environment.

Ever since I started this blog I have wanted to find the quote to add to my collection here. But memory is a funny thing. About the same period of time I had read another excellent book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. I was certain I had read that paragraph in this book! Self-determination can definitely apply to will in the fight against depression, a very cruel disease. Who knows how many times I thumbed through The Noonday Demon, looking in vain for the desired paragraph? Eventually I abandoned the search.

A couple of weeks ago I happened to be rearranging my daughter’s bookshelves when I came across my old copy of Passionate Marriage. I started leafing through it, looking to see what ideas I had underlined all those years ago, before passing the book on to her. Voila! There it was. I was dumbfounded.

Tim and I often joke about our ever-changing memories. I’ve taken to saying that the more certain I am of something I remember, the more likely it is that I am totally mistaken! This was certainly a case in point. 🙂

in the dim twilight

summer wolf by Chrille Kroll

But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called – called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.
~ Jack London
(The Call of the Wild)

a strange gift from our deep past

“The Ten Largest” by Hilma af Klint

In recent years, researchers have determined that most cases of autism are not rooted in rare de novo mutations but in very old genes that are shared widely in the general population while being concentrated more in certain families than others. Whatever autism is, it is not a unique product of modern civilization. It is a strange gift from our deep past, passed down through millions of years of evolution.
~ Steve Silberman
(NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism & The Future of Neurodiversity)

unusual obituary

I’ve been on a journey of discovery this winter, making use of Ancestry’s powerful search engine to add more and more branches to our family trees. Part of the excitement comes from finding new distant cousins through DNA matching. And a cousin, who I haven’t seen in many years, recently submitted her DNA sample to Ancestry. When I popped up as her genetic first cousin she contacted me and said, “I guess it works!”

But the search engine at Ancestry is constantly rummaging through the paper trail, too. It searches hundreds of databases, periodicals and books, some of which I never would have dreamed of looking at. A couple of weeks ago a little leaf (a hint) popped up next to the profile of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Ann Isabella (Hughs) Thompson, who was born in Ireland in 1830, came to America, and then married my 3rd-great-grandfather, sea captain Martin Thompson, the Norwegian ancestor (born Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen) who I’m always going on about.

I’ve never found the identity of Ann’s parents and my few attempts to research her origins have never been successful. The only thing I knew about her was a story I had been told about her religion. She lies buried with her husband in Swan Lake Cemetery in Dennis on Cape Cod. I was told she was Catholic and that Martin’s relatives wanted her body removed from the Protestant family’s plot. Martin’s second wife was born in England and sometimes I wonder if she was the “relative” who wanted Ann’s body disinterred.

So then, imagine how startled I was when I followed the “hint” to a publication called Saints’ Herald Obituaries, 1885, p. 426 and read the following:

Ann L. (Thompson) was baptized and confirmed a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 30 September 1874 at Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts, by C. N. Brown.

Birth Date: About 1830
Death Date: May 1885
Death Place: Dennisport, Barnstable, Massachusetts
Spouse: Captain Thompson

RLDSChurchDennisPort
the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Sea St. in Dennis Port, a six minute walk from my grandparents’ house

Religious differences are forever popping up on our family tree. And many of our ancestors have changed religions, sometimes later in life. Ann was 44 when she did so. I am more and more convinced there is something in our DNA, traveling down the through the ages, stirring up conflict in almost every generation.

But until now it has always been the men I’ve found stories about. I’ve often wondered what my female ancestors were thinking and believing. If they disagreed with their husbands did they keep their thoughts locked up inside? Finding out about Ann’s conversion was so remarkable because she is the first female ancestor I have found who apparently believed differently than her husband and had the gumption to follow her own spiritual path.

butterflies

“Girl & Butterflies” by Frances MacDonald
“Girl & Butterflies” by Frances MacDonald

A child, her wayward pencil drew
On margins of her book
Garlands of flowers, dancing elves,
Bird, butterfly and brook.
Lessons undone, and play forgot
Seeking with hand and heart
The teacher whom she learned to love
Before she knew ‘t was Art.
~ Louisa May Alcott
(Louisa May Alcott: A Biography)

penetrating the past

tree.cemetery

Genealogy becomes a mania, an obsessive struggle to penetrate the past and snatch meaning from an infinity of names. At some point the search becomes futile – there is nothing left to find, no meaning to be dredged out of old receipts, newspaper articles, letters, accounts of events that seemed so important fifty or seventy years ago. All that remains is the insane urge to keep looking, insane because the searcher has no idea what he seeks. What will it be? A photograph? A will? A fragment of a letter? The only way to find out is to look at everything, because it is often when the searcher has gone far beyond the border of futility that he finds the object he never knew he was looking for.
~ Henry Wiencek
(The Hairstons: An American Family in Black & White)

Recently Tim & I had our DNA tested for fun, to see how well our genetic material lined up with our known family histories.

The biggest surprise for me was finding out that I have absolutely no Native American ancestry! There was a story handed down that one of my mother’s ancestors married a Wampanoag Indian. So now I know why we were never able to find such an ancestor and will let go of that research goal. Another curiosity is that 13% of my ancestors came from the region of Italy and Greece. I had no idea!

dnaBarbara.pie
Barbara’s DNA ancestry

BARBARA
38% Great Britain (my mother’s New England ancestry)
34% Europe East (my father’s Ukrainian ancestry)
13% Italy/Greece
4% Scandinavia (my Norwegian 3rd-great-grandfather)
4% Europe West
2% Iberian Peninsula
5% Traces of Asia Central, Caucasus, Finland/Northwest Russia, European Jewish & Ireland

Because Tim’s maternal grandfather was the son of Austrian Jewish immigrants we had assumed that would be about 25% of his ancestry. But he’s only 2% European Jewish! And he also has a few Scandinavian ancestors. The only ancestry Tim has that I don’t have is a trace of Asia South. And the ancestry I have that Tim does not have is 34% Europe East and traces of Asia Central and Finland/Northwest Russia.

dnaTim.pie
Tim’s DNA ancestry

TIM
65% Great Britain (Tim’s New England/Nova Scotia ancestry)
20% Ireland (three of Tim’s Irish 3rd-great-grandparents)
4% Europe West
3% Scandinavia
2% Italy/Greece
2% European Jewish
2% Iberian Peninsula
2% Traces of Asia South and Caucasus

We are finding all this utterly fascinating! I’ve also been watching Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS. It can be seen online for anyone who is interested. It’s amazing what researching the paper trail left behind by ancestors, combined with DNA testing, can reveal.