Genealogy DNA Test: Yes or No?

DNA_icon_att2It’s been a few years since I began debating whether to do a DNA test to supplement my genealogy research. Yes, I have all kinds of qualms. And yet it is just so compelling.

Why would I even consider it? Natural curiosity, mostly. Everything suggests my background will be vastly European … mostly northern European. The immigrants that made “American Laura” came from the Netherlands, Norway, England, and Denmark. The stories told to me through the years and the records I’ve uncovered in my research are all remarkably consistent in this regard. I have no personal physical characteristics that puzzle me, and no one ever asks me what my ethnicity is. So what is the point? Am I expecting to find something unaccounted for back there? I have no idea. I just find the whole notion of our human history … especially the migration to America … completely fascinating, and personalizing it just intensifies the curiosity.

On a more practical level, I have a few “brick walls” in my family history research, and a DNA test might provide a way forward (or .. err… backward). Some of the DNA testing companies will connect you with people who share your more distant genetic background. Maybe DNA information could break through those walls, either by direct genetic connection or through the exchange of records or personal stories. In at least one case, I’ve already looked at the basic genetic information in a surname DNA project. I cannot participate in the project because it’s based only on the y-chromosome and my connection is through my late great-grandmother. However, by looking at the data, I am able to identify one of my 19th-century male ancestors from Iowa and connect him to English ancestors further back. This at least gives me some destination points for my research, even if the path there is still not entirely clear. And having destination points is kind of a big deal.

So what’s the problem? It freaks me out a little, to be honest. That’s a whole lot of information. Will it raise more questions than it answers? Will the test be difficult to interpret and understand? Will it even be accurate?  If the results are unexpected, will they disrupt my understanding of myself and my ancestors? Can the test really tell me anything? Or will it duplicate what I already know and just be a waste of time and money?

And then there’s the “does it really matter?” question. What matters are people’s experiences and the stories that get passed down, not their genetic code. I often struggle with whether to call my hobby “family history” or “genealogy.” It’s a little bit of both … but frankly, it’s the family history part that is the most interesting … and ultimately, the most important. By far the most rewarding part of my family history quest has been the stories I’ve found and the history I’ve learned in the process.  DNA won’t change those things … though it could lead me to more of them.

Finally … perhaps my biggest qualm … what about privacy issues? I consider myself a pretty centered person, but I can do the “black helicopter” thing pretty well, too, given an opportunity and some prompting. Will the information fall into the wrong hands and be used to deny me health coverage for some as-yet undiscovered health condition at some point in the future? I don’t really plan to use it for health information, as there’s nothing in particular I’m looking for there, but would that necessarily stop someone else from using it for that purpose? I’m not sure I really care for the idea of my genetic information being sold as part of some en masse product for research. And when I really get my imagination going, I can conjure up some future dystopia in which all those with recorded DNA information are grouped by the New Overseer according to their genetic markers … and that Viking marker somehow comes back to torment me.

I’ve read both the skeptics and the product marketers. I’ve read and listened to a few testimonials. And I’m still on the fence. I’d still be really interested in hearing from people who’ve wrestled with this. What did you consider in deciding to do a DNA test? Why did you decide to do it … or not? Did you learn what you’d hoped to? More than you’d hoped to? And if I do get to a tentative yes, which of the available tests should I prefer — Ancestry?  23andMe? Family Tree? — and why? So many questions …

Posted in RESEARCH PROCESS | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Letters to the Netherlands: May we be childlike and humble …

JanLetterFourNot long ago, I learned a saying: “One Dutchman, a theologian. Two Dutchmen, a church. Three Dutchmen, a schism.” There is truth in this.

Our great-great grandfather, Jan Willem, migrated to America from the Netherlands with his wife and children in 1889. He was from Rijssen, in the province of Overijssel in the eastern Netherlands. He came from a conservative Reformed community of faith in the Netherlands and settled in a similar community in Iowa, which was common among Dutch immigrants of the era. Many were part of communities that were more orthodox than the official Dutch Reformed Church of the time in the Netherlands. It is clear Jan knew his Bible, a deep familiarity passed on to his grandson, our grandfather. Jan remained interested in church matters, both in the Netherlands and in his new home in America, though he seems to have struggled at times with where he belonged in his new home and discussed this in his letters to the Netherlands. I can’t help but note how little things have changed in some ways …

Writing from Iowa to a friend in the Netherlands, A. Koedijk, about the Rijssen congregation, he says (as translated): “I have noted all that you wrote about church matters. I do not believe that the unity of our congregation is a result of a conviction as to the truth, but rather because of circumstances and grievances — that is not good. Rather let the congregation sing Ps 62: 4 & 5. May the Lord grant grace to do that — that is my hearty wish — and may He graciously forgive the sins we have committed together… The situation in America in regard to ecclesiastical affairs is sad — one proclaims “here is the Christ” and another “there is the Christ” — those days have arrived. May the Lord open the eyes of His children in order that they may not become confused by the frivolous spirits calling the believers … Things are regarded much less seriously than formerly.”

Jan expressed apprehension that if he joined a congregation in America they might ask him to “catechize and teach Sunday school,” and at the time he wrote to his friend, he apparently did not feel he could meet the standard of his Rijssen “catechizers,” saying, “they tell me they will risk it with me, but I have not been able to do that work to equal Voordman and Sefieget — you know that very well, brother Koedijk — nor equal to you … May we be very childlike and humble, clothed with modesty, brought to His feet to pray for mercy — and may we be privileged to enjoy that blessed peace.”

[Note: A commentary with the letter says that “Sefieget” sometimes presented facts incorrectly to test his students’ knowledge. It also points out that the question of congregational unity to which Jan referred involved whether the small Rijssen church would join with several independent congregations from Delft, Enkhuizen, the Hague, Woorden, Kampen, and other places. I do not know the answer.]

These letters are part of a larger collection of Dutch immigrant letters in the archives of the Christian Reformed Church at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am occasionally posting very brief excerpts in no particular order.

See other posts in this series: Letters to the Netherlands

Posted in CLOUD OF WITNESSES ... COMMUNION OF SAINTS, IOWA (Sioux County), Kreykes, Letters to the Netherlands, NETHERLANDS | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The death of Peder Malum: I wish I’d known him …

PederMalum3In recent years, I’ve come into possession of a lot of information about our Norwegian ancestors who settled in Iowa. Sometimes it’s the result of diligent, focused searching, and sometimes it’s somewhat random … what some would call “luck” but I prefer to call “gifts.” My great-great grandfather Malum’s obituary was somewhere in between, but more the latter than the former.

I sometimes search newspapers for those little stories published in the first half of the 20th century … about family visits, reunions, vacations, business trips, and celebrations, looking for glimpses into our ancestors’ daily lives. It was in such a casual search that, to my surprise, I came across Peder Malum’s obituary from a 1900 edition of the Webster City (Ia) Tribune. I already knew a lot about him, but historic obituaries are treasures, whenever I find them. They can verify genealogy information but also draw a more complete picture of our ancestors.  Like most of its era, Peder’s obituary was more a story than an announcement … strikingly direct in describing his death, yet reassuring, focusing on his strengths rather than his inevitable flaws, and eager to evoke the eternal …

I have visited the quiet Lutheran country cemetery in Iowa where he and my great-great grandmother are buried … but honestly, I wish I’d known him …

OBITUARY

“The death of Peter Malum last Wednesday near Kamrar, Iowa, was indeed a sudden and unexpected blow to family, friends and neighbors. He was an old man, beloved by all who knew him; hale and hearty, apparently, but like a wise man, prepared for the future while well, by getting a heart knowledge of the Great Savior of men.

He left his home Wednesday morning, telling his daughter, Mrs. Hendrickson, with whom he lived, that as he felt unusually well, he would walk over to Kamrar. He had gone nearly the entire distance of two miles when he stopped at a friend’s home and chatted for a few moments, in his light, lively manner and took luncheon, when suddenly, as he was about to leave, he fell dead. His death was caused by heart disease, and though sudden, was easy.

“Peter Malum was born in Norway, March 22, 1824; came to this country in 1872, and settled in Linn County, Iowa. In 1882 he removed to Hamilton County, where he has since lived.

“At the time of his death he was a member of the M. E. Church, of Kamrar, and was always considered a good, faithful Christian man. The funeral took place Friday at 2 p.m., and was conducted by his pastor, Rev. E.S. Benjamin. He was buried in the Lutheran cemetery, four miles south of Kamrar. His daughters, two of whom reside near Kamrar, and one near Thornton, Iowa, and his son of Des Moines, were present at the funeral. Besides his immediate relations, Mr. Malum left a large circle of friends who will sincerely mourn his death.

“His daughters and son have lost a good Christian father, but their loss is only temporary. Their ultimate gain is eternal. The sympathy of the whole neighborhood goes out to these in our midst who weep. May God bless them, and may they receive divine sympathy from on high, so freely offered to them and to all who mourn.”

Webster City Tribune, April 13, 1900

Malum_Grave

Grave of Peder Malum, Zion Lutheran Cemetery

Posted in CLOUD OF WITNESSES ... COMMUNION OF SAINTS, IOWA (ALL), Malum, NORWAY | Tagged | 2 Comments

Learning their language

IMAG0822Having recently decided to study Dutch, one of the languages of my ancestors, I have to wonder what took me so long. I’m enjoying it thoroughly. I’ve always loved languages. I studied German and a little French in school … dabbled in Spanish with Berlitz tapes in the ’90s … Dutch, however, always felt more elusive … more obscure … even though, of all these languages, it was the only one spoken by my ancestors. I now know that my grandparents knew more Dutch than I realized; they used it only when needed. They were native English speakers, born in the United States.

Technology — and the wider availability of language learning tools — is one reason Dutch now seems more within my grasp. Before embarking on a journey with Rosetta Stone Dutch lessons, I looked at many good options, including Pimsleur and some free on-line courses, one of which — memrise — I’m using as a vocabulary supplement. I chose Rosetta Stone because I wanted to learn what the language looked like, as well as sounded like, given that I am a more natural writer than speaker. It also includes a microphone to practice speaking and provides access to a certain number of live, on-line sessions with a coach. It’s patterned after the way one learns language naturally … with no explicit grammar lessons (which I confess, as an adult, I do miss, but that’s part of the challenge!). I’m sure other language learning tools are also very good, just different.

People usually want to know why one is learning a new language … especially one deemed as impractical as Dutch, which is spoken, apparently, by only about 23 million people in the world. I am doing it because, as I said, I love languages … and I hope to go to the Netherlands some time … and it would be cool to read my great-great grandfather’s letters as he wrote them … and frankly, simply because it was my ancestors’ language, and as a family history buff, I’m odd like that. A few of my reasons are practical, most of them hugely impractical. And yet … it’s been a rewarding challenge so far … just getting started.

Next up … Norwegian … even more obscure, with fewer tools available. To keep from confusing my nascent Dutch, I’m starting with a simple list of common Norwegian vocabulary words on memrise … to prepare for when my Dutch is more secure and I can take on the full challenge of learning the language of my Nordic ancestors as well.

Posted in NETHERLANDS, RESEARCH PROCESS | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Treasure Chest Thursday … and Happy Thanksgiving!

cedarchest2In counting my blessings this Thanksgiving, I know that among the blessings of family are my late grandparents. I have certain distinct memories of my maternal grandmother, and many of them involve needlework. She sewed, crocheted, and knitted regularly … as a matter of course. She did it often and well. In addition to many doilies and tablecloths, she created afghans for her grandchildren. A couple of those items are pictured here. I’m grateful now to have not just a special place to put a few of these items, but yet another memory of my grandmother … thanks to the thoughtfulness of some dear family who have shared with me a cedar chest, pictured here, that belonged to my grandmother for as long as anyone from my mother’s generation can remember. My kindhearted aunt and uncle drove it down to Texas from the Midwest and helped me find a place for it. I’m exceptionally thankful to them and to my cousins for knowing that something like this would be special to me.

And, of course, I cannot let Thanksgiving pass by without taking the time to express gratitude for the blessings that are so easy to take for granted every day … when we don’t take enough time to stop feeling entitled and ponder them. One of my blessings is being able to take a few minutes on this day to share and catch up with my fellow family history bloggers. Looking forward to a peaceful and bountiful day with family and wishing everyone a blessed Thanksgiving … wherever and however you are spending it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Treasure Chest Thursday is a weekly blogging prompt from geneabloggers, encouraging family history bloggers to blog about a family treasure, heirloom or every-day item important to one’s family.

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Time to blog again

It’s hard to believe that this blog has sat idle since March.  If you had asked me at the beginning of the year, going into a busy work season, how long I’d go without posting, I’d have guessed I’d resume blogging by June. It didn’t happen. Blogging during the first six months of every odd-numbered year is pretty much precluded for me just because of the pace and workload during that time at the state legislature where I work. The busy season ran longer than usual this year, and one thing led to another, and well … you get the picture.

I recently made a short family history trip to Iowa, however, hoping for some inspiration as to which genealogy path to follow next. While the trip was not the treasure trove of newly discovered information that some earlier trips were, the trip was not without discovery. After so long without blogging, I hope I can recover my momentum! I have missed my fellow genealogy bloggers. So I am gathering my thoughts … organizing some information … and looking forward to resuming the writing…

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Missing Grandma …

GKBMarch 20 was the birthday of my late Grandma Kreykes, who was born back in 1910. I miss her very much. I have strong memories of  my grandmother and think of her often.

That’s Grandma in  the middle of the photo with two of her older siblings. The more family history research I do, the more I find myself thinking about what their lives must have been like … and the more I admire them.

Grandma, who lived her whole life in Sioux County, Iowa, shared a birthday with my sister. I often find myself thinking about her on the same day I’m wishing my sister a happy birthday.

Life is like that.

Posted in IOWA (ALL), Kreykes, Vanden Bosch | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Photo mysteries

BertPetra2I have only a few photographs of my great grandmother, Petra Malum Hendrickson. Here she is, on the far right, with her daughter, my great Aunt Bert. I wonder where they were going that day in those smart hats. And who thought to take this candid photo? I remember visiting my Aunt Bert, a lovely lady, in later years when she was living in Sioux City, Iowa, but this photo is from well before I was born. It provides no notes as to the location pictured, but this scene is most likely to have been in central Iowa, in the Webster City area, where they lived most of their lives … possibly Illinois … but most likely Iowa. The sign on the building behind them could be a clue. Another woman in a lighter-toned coat and hat appears to be walking behind them. I’ve tried to enlarge the background detail, but unfortunately, the resulting images were not clear enough to provide new information.

I happened upon this photo in an old album I’d not looked at for a long time. The picture was most likely taken around the 1940s (or ’30s). I appreciate the photo even with the mystery location, as I can see hints of my grandfather in both of these women. I’ve found some photos on the Internet of downtown Webster City from that era but have not located a similar-looking building. Perhaps they were traveling and in another city. If anyone recognizes this location, please let me know!

Posted in Hendrickson, IOWA (ALL), IOWA (Central), Malum | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

In the news … gathering at the Tolstrups

CarlHBooneRiver (2)Boone_River_According to newspaper archives, in February 1915 our grandfather, then about 12, and several other ancestors and friends attended a gathering at the farm home of our great aunt Anna Malum Tolstrup and her husband Hans. The occasion honored the Tolstrups’ move from their Central Iowa farm to a new home in nearby Webster City. Our grandfather’s siblings, both parents, and a host of other relatives and friends of that era also attended … all listed by name in the article.

It was only after I’d started my family history research that I really began to visit and become familiar with the part of Iowa in which these families lived. The photo at the lower right, taken in 2011, is of the Boone River, which runs through the region. The photo above it is of my grandfather as a boy by that same river, probably in the same general era that the gathering at the Tolstrup home took place. It is one of few photos I have of these families from those years.

The article from February 26, 1915 tells us that “a most delightful surprise was carried out a few evenings ago when about sixty-five of the neighbors and friends gathered at the pleasant farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Tolstrup, southeast of town.” That February day in 1915 could well have been a wintry one for a party in central Iowa..

The article continues: “The evening was spent in social conversation and also various games were played, and at the close of the evening, a delicious repast was served, the guests having brought well filled baskets. Mr. and Mrs. Tolstrup were presented with a sum of money in token of the high esteem in which they are held. Mrs. Tolstrup was previously presented with a beautiful gravy ladel by the Grand View ladies mission society of which she was a member. The guests departed all wishing Mr. and Mrs. Tolstrup much happiness in their new home.”

This is not the first reference I’ve seen to Grand View. I’ve been unable to locate a town, village, or neighborhood called Grand View in the region in which my ancestors lived, which did include such communities as Kamrar, Stanhope, Jewell, and the larger Webster City. The Des Moines area has a Grand View, but that is some distance south of where these families lived, so it’s hard to know if there is a connection.

But what would family history research be without mystery? Where was Grand View? What did the mission society do? What was in those baskets the guests brought? Was it snowing that day? Why were the Tolstrups moving? Where was the new house in Webster City? Who would live at the farm when they left? Is the farm house still there? Who organized the gathering? How far did the guests travel to attend? And by what means?

The 1915 article, like many similar ones, also causes me to note how families who likely worked very hard in farming and in business made time to make life gentle and pleasant. It is perhaps not that different from how we live life today, but I always enjoy the notice taken of such events in newspapers of that era.

Posted in Hendrickson, In the news..., IOWA (ALL), IOWA (Central), Malum | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Bloggers are readers, too …

team_awardI am honored and pleased to have been nominated for the Wonderful Team Member Readership award by Jana at Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog, one of my regular and inspiring reads. Here are the rules: (1) Thank the nominator and link back to their site; (2) Display the award logo on your blog; (3) Nominate readers of your blog you appreciate and let them know; (4) Finish this sentence: “A great reader  … approaches the words of others with respect and careful attention and responds in the same manner.”

I’d like to honor Jana at Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog — Yes, she passed it on to me, but she really, really deserves it. She doesn’t have to follow the rules  again, but I couldn’t leave her out. Sheryl at A Hundred Years Ago — as busy as she is researching the early 20th century and keeping up with the blogging world, she still finds time to stop by and read. “Mom” at Maybe Someone Should Write That Down — her comments on my Wednesday’s Child post touched my heart. She comments thoughtfully on other blogs and kept me on my toes about the Liebster award. Audrey at Minnesota Prairie Roots — her comments are always thoughtful and show careful attention to each post.

I appreciate and collectively honor everyone who’s taken time to comment on Branch and Leaf — including Anne, Gretchen, Mary, DeborahJess, YvetteJM, Tom, PeterSteven, Maggie, SeenorwayLocksands, Devon, SusanLloyd’s, HeatherMolakes, MegandalineCathy, Jacqi, Theresa, Donna, Dawn, William, Tim, Yvette, Christine, Sarah, and Susan — all of whom I both delight in naming and hesitate to name because I don’t want to leave anyone out. Many of you took time to read the words of a stranger with no guarantee of a return on your investment. I’m grateful for the thoughtful words of each and every reader. I also thank the mysterious readers from all over the world who seem to happen upon my blog and take time to look around, even if they don’t comment. You are, I must say, intriguing. ;-)

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