Genealogy, a Personal Form of Rewritten History

I'm not much into "ink" but this is a work of art.

My brother-in-law asked me recently whether I thought the services that do DNA testing actually did anything or just made stuff up. (He’s a conspiracy theorist so this did not seem out of character for him).  I replied that I was sure that it was really performed.

A few days ago a Facebook “thing” claimed that it could use your facial features to predict your DNA percentages.  So, I submitted my cover photo, but accidentally submitted a picture of my shoe.  I got a complete breakdown in which I was mostly sub-Saharan African.  When I submitted my actual photo I got a much more reasonable mix.  We have no record though of any Russian or Native American heritage.

If I had not submitted my shoe picture first I might have lent more credence to the “shocking” revelation. 

I began to really wonder about those “swab your cheek and send a DNA specimen” sites.  Who checks behind them to see what they are actually doing. 

Some questions asked in a scholarly article were; whether the testing is appropriate for the claim, whether the results are accurate, the implications for the results, the legal ramifications, and whether direct to consumer testing is something that should either be highly regulated or stopped.

The conclusion: “The DTC genetic industry currently offers a diverse range of services, which vary widely in quality. Some of these services can be beneficial, but the usefulness of many of these services to consumers is questionable. Many tests for susceptibility to complex diseases are not yet standardized, and this has led to both scholarly and regulatory scrutiny. What has received less attention is that many tests for non-health related purposes cannot perform in the way that their purveyors' websites claim.”


My grandfather claimed to be 93 when he died.   Born in Kansas, he was buried in Washington County, Oklahoma near the little town of Ochelata.  Many of the headstones in the cemetery bear the name Roe, so it appears that at some point my great-grandfather (born in Michigan) must have relocated from Kansas to Oklahoma. 

My middle name is my father’s; my nephew’s and was thought to be my grandfather’s.  It turned out that there is no evidence that he had a middle name.  We thought it was Allen.  Other distant cousins thought it was Jerome. 

We think that Allen was my grandmother’s creation.  She was odd and readily rewrote history.  After she and my grandfather separated and she relocated she went by the title of the Widow Allen.  We can’t find any relatives on her side named Allen.  We do know that her parents were immigrants, she was born in Wisconsin, her mother was Irish, and her father spoke German.  We also know that her family was part of the land rush into Oklahoma in 1889.  We think she was 12 or 13 at the time, and though she claimed to have been the little girl who fired the pistol that started the land run, that might have been imagined.  I would like to think it was true.

My grandfather spoke of running a general store with his brother in the Indian Territory.  That may have been true, but he would have been about twenty when the land rush occurred, considering that his tombstone says that he was 89 and not 93 at the time of his death.

Neither of my paternal grandparents had birth certificates.  They were born at home at a time when the census takers merely recorded households as “John Smith, a wife and 4 children.”  Given the fact that my grandmother’s father was given to moving farther west every few years, and that they lived in a sod house at one point, it is likely that they were not included in any early census records.

My great-grandfather Roe’s household was included in several census records.  My grandfather’s mother died young of some illness and my great-grandfather remarried, so the census records had his second wife’s name on the record by the time the records became more detailed.

What we are left with is family lore, few real records, records that may be unreliable, and a good imagination.

My grandfather and father were estranged so I have little lore about him.  My father, when asked about his father’s side of his family would reply, “They were a bunch of horse thieves.”  I’s more likey to have been true of my grandmother’s side. 

My mother was an avid genealogist, and had extensive records about her family which she cross-checked with relatives, courthouse records, cemeteries, family bibles, and correspondence.  Her records go back to the 1700s, but there isn’t much lore before the early 1800s. 


When you begin turning over rocks you may find centipedes.


My mother’s father’s father made a living as a horse trader, and may have actually been a horse thief.  If so, he was never caught.  Centipedes.

A white supremacist had his DNA tested and found that he was 10% African.  More centipedes.

A young black woman from the Gulf Coast found that she was mostly white, more Choctaw than African, and had no North African heritage which she imagined accounted for her light complexion.  She was dumbstruck, and more importantly, left without a story that she felt she could be proud of.  Scorpions.

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Comment by alsoknownas on September 2, 2017 at 7:50am

“They were a bunch of horse thieves.”

I've heard that phrase before from people who don't want to discuss their ancestors.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 8:37am

yeah, it was definitely thet, but it was mostly his father's side he din't want to talk about.  What i knew about my grandpa leaked out in slips over the years.  My Dad and Aunt worked all summer selling vegetables from the garden dor to door in town to get enough money to buy school books for Fall.  Grandpa came home from working on the railroad, found the cookie jar, and spent their savings.  Dad never forgot anything or ever gave up a grudge.

He didn't want to tlk about family in general.

Comment by koshersalaami on September 2, 2017 at 8:39am

I recently read about a case of identical triplets whose DNA testing wasn't completely identical. Sometimes these just aren't 100% accurate. 

My genealogy is easier, at least going back three generations. I knew five of my great grandparents.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 9:05am

"I knew five of my great grandparents"  That has to be unusual.  I knew none of mine, and a grandmother died in my early childhood.  More importantly, all lived away except my crazy grandmother; the one who was probably a paranoid schizophrenic and made stuff up.

Identical triplets require identical quadruplets where one died in utero.  Common in armadillos, identical quadruplets are almost unheard of in humans.  Mostly triplets are all different or there is a single and two identical twins.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 9:24am

About my crazy grandmother...  She probably fit into a subset of schizophrenics that are highly intelligent.  (Most schizophrenics are of low to normal intelligence pre-onset.)  Schizophrenics of high intelligence compensate much better and can live relatively normal lives, which she did.  I have no idea what her IQ was, but - without any education - she could work higher math problems, spoke some native American language that she picked up as a child, knew something about everything, and managed to run a farm by herself and raise seven kids.

She also accused my mother of stealing her chicken wire.  That blow-up caused her to move to my aunts where she lived only about six months before she drove everyone nuts, left and moved to a hotel in Denver where she died in her late 80s. 

I wqas crazy about her despite everything.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 9:33am

Terry, I've read that of all of the DTC services, 23and me, Ancestry, and National Geographic seem most reliable and accurate.  others seem more interested in functioning as a social hub for people of similar lineage.  The real unknown in my family is my German speaking great grandfather.  Descriptions don't sound very German (very dark with black hair and heavy black beard.).  Dad forgot himself at one point and said that he was Austrian, not German.  Then he went back to the horse thief story.  His last name is an Austrian name.

Can I ask which service you used?

Comment by Rosigami on September 2, 2017 at 9:38am

I love this line:
What we are left with is family lore, few real records, records that may be unreliable, and a good imagination.

My paternal grandmother always claimed that the Queen of England stole the family's fortune. She would tell this tale about how our ancestor, a ship captain, had married the Queen of Madagascar and had a amassed a great fortune. Then, the English invaded and took over, leaving the family with nothing! Nothing! it was hilarious listening to her, and she played it up. 

Many years later I did a little research for a paper I was writing, and found out some information that probably makes the storyline more like this:
a) It was very likely that our ancestor was not exactly a ship's captain, and more likely a sailor who was forced to leave Italy/Sicily under dubious circumstances, and it may actually have been a pirate enterprise.
b) Madagascar was at one time populated by many tribal communities, each with its own royalty.
c) Any loot this ancestor actually had may have well been used to purchase his place in Madagascar society, and it was probably a good place to hide out.
d) When England came in, all those ill-gotten gains were fair game, I guess.
e) Supposedly the ancestor went elsewhere after that.

But I like Granny's story just fine. 

As for DNA testing, I've had that, and it served to confirm a couple things I already knew and a couple things I suspected. The Greek heritage was confirmed, the small bit of Irish was accounted for, and while I am culturally Italian/Sicilian via my Dad, the evidence points to NO Italian at all, but instead an Iberian heritage via North Africa. (Our family name appears with some frequency in Portugal, Spain, and Puerto Rico as well as Sicily.) 

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 10:04am

Rosi, I love that story... in all its variations.

What I know about the grandfather who was a horse trader is that he was born in central Tennessee, was discharged from the Union Army at Coffeeville, Kansas, had two wives and thirteen kids of whom my grandfather was number 10.

Family lore has it that he was a horse whisperer and a mean drunk.  From age fifteen when he left home one story had it that he was hired by a group of men herding stolen Confederate Army horses was captured and offered his life if he would join the Union Army.  The second, more probable story, is that he hired on with a group going to Missouri with a group of horses for the Union Army, and was conscripted by one of the Missouri Cavalry units (from which we have discharge papers.)

Family lore says that he was a survivor with no affiliation to North or South.  He was honorably discharged.

I love the Queen of Madagascar stuff.  When I think of Madagascar I think:

Comment by Anna Herrington on September 2, 2017 at 10:39am

Holy Cow, what a tattoo!!!

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 2, 2017 at 10:46am

That tatoo is mainly background.  Think of the time and the pain...


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