Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Discovering Family History With DNA TestingSince childhood when my maternal grandma put a diary in my hand and encouraged me to write my story, I wondered, “Who am I?” Spending my adult life abroad, where one has to forge a new identity, only magnified that question and made me more curious to find out where I come from. Using DNA testing and search tools like Ancestry.com digging up the family history and skeletons from the past has never been easier.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

my family’s geographical origins

To begin, I bought my parents a DNA kit and had them to spit in a test tube. We found out that my mom, on the Olson side, is 95% Norwegian, with a touch of Swedish and English. The McKinzie line on my dad’s side is primarily of Scottish descent, but his maternal lineage also can be traced to England, Ireland and Wales.

I discovered I am the great, great grand daughter of a Civil War veteran and a ship captain lost at sea off the Norwegian coast. My forefathers were teachers, statesmen, merchants, pioneer preachers and Scottish Lords. Long ago as clan chiefs, they owned castles as wealthy landowners; centuries later after immigrating to America, they lost land when crops failed and were forced to rent land as poor tenet farmers.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Eilean Donan Castle – Scotland Highlands

I can claim lineage as one of the First Colonial Families to settle on America soil on the Potomac in Maryland. My family once ruled Scotland’s famous castles – Eilean Donan, Leod, Kincoy, Kinkell and RedCastle – when the Mackenzie Clan reigned as far back as the 13th century. Once the most powerful clan in Northern Scotland, they own land from Ross on the east coast to the Island of Lewis in the west.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Grandpa Mac – 1922

Maps show the McKinzie migration ever westward. In the United States, as primarily farmers, they moved from New England to Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa and finally Oklahoma where my paternal great grandfather became a sharecropper outside of Blackwell. My grandfather broke tradition following his dream to play college football in Illinois, and then became a successful coach at Eureka College and Northern Illinois University.

Though I traced my father’s paternal side back 25 generations, my mother’s side is more complicated. In Scandinavian countries, they traditionally add son or dottar to the father’s name. For example, Ole’s son becomes Olson as a surname. I remain stuck in the 17 century a bit muddled up with Olson, Rosholt, Jacobson lines.

Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

My grandma – Martha Olson

To make things even more complicated, when immigrants became naturalized, they often changed their names. My maternal grandfather arrived in America in 1926 as Gustav Andreas Johansen, but changed his name to Gustav Andrew Olson when he became a US citizen. My maternal grandmother, adopted as a child, adds yet another dimension to my search.

My family history is filled with stories. My father’s maternal great great grandfather, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, hosted Lincoln during his campaign at the family home in Augusta Illinois. According to legend, Lincoln once sat on the same piano stool that I loved to spin on as a child at my grandma’s house.Discovering Family History With DNA Testing

Another of my forefathers fought with French Allies to defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. My great, great grandpa Aaron McKinzie witnessed General Lee’s surrender ending the Civil War when he fought for the Union’s Iowa’s 39th Infantry Regiment.

When I trace my lineage, one thread stands out. My ancestors were resilient. They endured tribal assaults, Spanish flu epidemics, world wars, Nazi Occupation, independence from oppressors and countless clan battles over territory in Scotland. From my hardy Norwegian relatives living above the Arctic Circle to the Mackenzie Clan reigning in the Scottish Highlands, my people had a fighting spirit and will to survive.

Perseverance became part of my bloodline. On bad days, when life feels like a struggle, I look to the stories of my ancestors for strength. Knowing who I am and where I come from gives me courage to keep fighting too. I only wish my grandma was still alive, so I could tell her our story, but her spirit lives on in me.

Thanks for Lifting My Spirit Staying Connected

Staying connectedAfter I fell off a mountain, I was overwhelmed by well wishes for a speedy recovery coming from around the globe. Once again, I was reminded that the true meaning in life comes from our connection with others.

You think I have a positive, kick-butt attitude, but this latest injury sent me into a tailspin. I cried for 48 hours from the pain, frustration and anger at myself for my stupidity in attempting to sail downhill on two skinny sticks aka skis. Yet that drive to seize the day and refuse to give into limitations put me up on that mountain in the first place.

I know all about the repercussions from accidents. This is not my first rodeo; a clavicle is not my first shattered bone. In college, I played basketball with a broken finger and in young adulthood learned to walk again after car accident busted my back and sternum.

After my latest mishap, I wallowed in my little-woe-is-me-self-pity mode for a few days feeling isolated and disconnected from others as I struggled to force my body to stay still. Out of respect for my loyal followers, I thought I would let readers know I was out of commission for a while never expecting such an outpouring of sympathy as a result.

Family members phoned regularly and uplifting words from childhood buddies, high school classmates, college friends, colleagues, teammates, and athletes I’ve coached poured in on Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook and email.

Staying connectedIncapacitated again, my husband became my right hand man so to speak. Like a kindergartner I asked for help tying my shoes, zipping my coat, cutting my meat. Humbled by my limitations, I realized our interdependence can never be underestimated. How powerful those simple acts of kindness can be especially when we are down and out.

Today I wanted to share my good news. As my collar-bone realigns and the pain recedes, my doc says I won’t need surgery IF I can sit still and behave for a few more weeks. No easy feat for ol’ daredevil of East 19th street.

I wish I could say after this latest exploit that I learned my lesson. That I have become a self-actualized, blissed-out human being happy just sucking air everyday. Instead I remain restless, anxious to get back in the game, and live life to the fullest even with all the risks.

My take away message from this misadventure – go on keep reaching for the stars – but never take for granted the value of our human connections and the healing power of words.

This Holiday Season Take Time to Play

ChristmasAfter the Black Friday blitz, which surprisingly arrived in Europe, even though Thanksgiving doesn’t exist here, I wonder if anyone else longs for that era when gifts were simpler and often times homemade? Back in the good old days when even adults took time out during the holiday season to play.

Can you remember your favorite childhood Christmas present?

I still cherish Christmas as a six-year-old: my big brother got a stamp collection book, my middle sister a fashion doll, my little sister a Barbie doll case, and I received a pop rifle.

ChristmasThough I may be an anti gun advocate now, back then a toy rifle meant that my family accepted gender equity long before society got around to it. My parents let me be free to play cowboys and kick ball. If I ever wanted I could also play dolls with my younger sisters.

Unlike the electronic games of today, our toys of yesteryear were designed to encourage social interaction, develop creativity and inspire make believe. They taught children how to share, to take turns, to cooperate and to help each other.

How different from the expensive Santa’s wish lists of today with things like Costzon Infrared Remote Controlled Robots, Electric Dog BeatBowWow Interactive Learning Toys, Self Balancing Electric Scooters, Xtremepower Hover boards and LovaBella Baby Dolls that can recite a hundred words and mimic their owners actions.

What does that leave to old-fashioned imagination?

ChristmasIn the 60’s my siblings and I invented games around the Christmas theme. We set up present wrapping stations and cookie baking shops. We enacted mystery stories by pretending to steal “magic” light bulbs from the Christmas tree.

We spent entire days setting up our Lincoln logs, dollhouses or train sets.

We loved it when three generations sat around the kitchen table coloring, drawing or playing cards, especially when Grandpa Mac tried to get our bluff.

Have we lost our ability to play?

Wouldn’t it be more rewarding to engage in a game with a human being instead of an activator?Christmas

As the holiday season arrives with the usual media fueled, materialistic commercialization, find a way to curtail the frenzy, to roll on the floor and wrestle around with your kids.

Take time out to play. Have a pillow fight, a tickle fest, a story swap.

Play an antique game of Twister, Clue, Monopoly, Life or Mouse Trap.

Turn off computers, cell phones, electronic games, tune out social media and focus on family and friends.

 

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas.

Slow down, step back, savor the season. Have fun! I’ll be back in 2 weeks.

British Life Begins and Ends at the Pub

On a recent visit to England I discovered that British life begins and ends at the pub. The centuries old custom of pub going means more than frequenting the local watering hole where you can wet your whistle. The pub, a center of community life, is a place where social barriers break down, class distinctions disappear and everyone is treated equally. Even dogs.

Visiting a traditional pub with a native helps you interpret the pub going protocol. We would still be waiting to be served if it weren’t for Larissa our son’s British girlfriend. When she took us to her hometown favorite The Embankment, a trendy place in Bedford, she explained that you must go to the bar to order and pick up drinks.

This renovated, wood-timbered Victorian era pub built in 1891 across from the River Great Ouse down from the Rowing Club reflected its roots. Though it retains its old world charm, there is nothing stuffy about this place. Divided rooms cater for dinner parties and crowds, but the heart and soul of the establishment remains the front room’s long wooden bar.

A local patron, a jovial mate stood there reading a newspaper knocking back his first beer at 10 am. He greets the steady stream of clients by bending to pet every pooch that entered the premises while his own dog dozes in a stuffed chair by the door.

The family friendly pub welcomes kids and pets. Everyone can lounge around over breakfast, lunch or dinner on cozy banquettes and sofa chairs in front of a log fire. The din of adult’s chatter, children’s laughter, and dogs’ barking, creates a convivial carnival like atmosphere.

“It is the opposite of America,” my Frenchman quipped, “In England dogs are welcome, but no guns allowed.”

With people watching at a premium I reveled in the view. At the round table next to ours, a posh couple coddling a poodle ordered a morning whiskey and Baileys on ice with a side of coffee. I nudged my husband and whispered “They brought dog biscuits in a mini Tupperware.”

“That’s nothing,” Gérald said. “The local chap at the bar has a box of kibble that he hands out to visiting pets.”

For the price of a drink you can linger and savor the show all day.

After our morning coffee, as soon as a table freed up in front of the fire, Larissa ushered us to comfier seats where we ordered lunch. The menu? What else – fish and chips. In keeping with British tradition, we doused our thick-cut fries and fried cod with a dash of cider vinegar.

But by far the biggest celebrity to parade into the pub was Guinness, Larissa’s sister and brother-in-law’s dog. The fluffy, black labradoodle stole the show when he loped in on gangly legs while everyone cooed in delight.

Dining on fish and chips in a real pub made us feel ever so British. In addition to greeting new arrivals, the man at the front of the bar put a fresh log on the fire as soon as the flame grew low. As if we were royalty sitting in his front parlor, he shared a kind word with each of us on our way out.

We felt like honorary guests in a British private home… until it was time to pay the bill.

Explaining Thanksgiving to Europeans

Americans know the story of how Native Americans saved Pilgrims from starvation back in 1620 by teaching them to tap maple trees, plant corn and fertilize soil, but I have been trying to explain Thanksgiving to Europeans for decades. They remain bewildered by our Thanksgiving, a journée de remerciements. They think it is the only day of the year where Americans prepare a hot meal and eat slow food.

Decades ago when I moved to Europe, I was a pilgrim at the mercy of my French teammates who taught me their language and customs.

A year later, I became indebted to German friends who shared their homes and meals. Accepted by marriage into my French family, adopted into Swiss culture where I now live, I have always been a guest in someone else’s country.

Yet I remain loyal to my roots. Though every feast I have prepared has been a fiasco, Thanksgivings with my Franco American family has always been sacred.

“Are any European celebrations similar to Thanksgiving,” I once asked my husband. He looked at me incredulous.

“Of course not,” he said. “Native Americans are the only people on the planet gracious enough to thank their conquerors.”

No matter what the circumstances or who shows up at the table, T-day is one tradition I cherish.

My first year abroad I invited French teammates to dinner and much to my chagrin they ate the meal in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine.

When I introduced the custom to my French family, my mother-in-law served raw oysters first and insisted a turkey was too big; chicken would suffice.

If left to their own devices, Europeans could butcher our day of thanks.

What American celebrates Thanksgiving by eating an seven-course meal standing up? Who replaces Tom Turkey with Chicken Little to eliminate leftovers? Leftovers are Thanksgiving.

Born in the Land of Lincoln, I consider it my patriotic duty to give thanks on the fourth Thursday of the month, the day Abe appointed as a national holiday in 1863 when he gave gratitude for an instrumental Union Army victory at Gettsyburg.

Expats everywhere create their own special ties to their heritage.

When my Norwegian grandfather immigrated to America, he insisted on keeping the Norwegian tradition of eating lutefisk and lingonberry on Christmas Eve.

“My dad brought strangers home to dinner,” my mom said. “He’d say ‘so many people helped me when I arrived in the United States, I want to return the favor.’”

Every Thanksgiving, I gather family, friends and “foreigners” in a feast honoring my Norwegian ancestors, my American homeland and my host country. To avoid offending guests, I whisper thanks to the Great Spirit who watches over all of us regardless of our religious, national, or ethic affinity.

Apparently, like our Native American friends, she sees the good in man, even in the conquistador.

Adapting to Empty Nest Again

Adapting to Empty Nest AgainI started writing my blog 9 years ago, after our son left to attend university in the USA, and we had to adjust to an empty nest. With both children living 4,000 miles away, I felt bereft, but soon adjusted keeping connected with family through Internet. Nearly a decade later, our son disillusioned with his job, and the lack of leadership in the US government, moved back to Europe to look for work in Switzerland.

The only problem he couldn’t find a job here. Now after landing employment in London, he flew off again to live with his British girlfriend.

Adapting to Empty Nest AgainInitially having him home was an adjustment, but we soon looked forward to seeing him at mealtime. Like having live in house help, he pitched in to help cook, clean, shop, and do yard work. Every few weeks Larissa would fly over from London, so we got to know her better too.

They had hoped to settle in Switzerland, but jobs were scarce, so when hired by Michael Page, a professional recruitment agency in England, we were happy for him.

Yet I was stunned by the sadness I felt when he moved out again even though I know kids are gifts on loan. We raise our children to be independent and self-sufficient. Successful parenting means working ourselves out of a job.

Still our home will always expand to accommodate grown children and grandchildren one day. They will always have a safe haven to recharge their battery for the challenges ahead.

Now our daughter lives in the Minneapolis area, our son resides outside of London, and we are located near Geneva. For someone growing up in small town USA, this situation is unimaginable. But for international families living cross culturally raising bilingual kids the reality is not so different than our own. Siblings are scattered across continents and the global generation thinks nothing of living between worlds.Adapting to Empty Nest Again

Even knowing wonderful adventures await my son, I still feel pangs of grief. I miss hearing his witty humor, sharing his ideas and having his empathetic ear. Most of all I miss coaching basketball with him where I witnessed firsthand his knowledge of the game and his gift for motivating teenagers.

Now I will gladly visit him in England. I look forward to discovering a new country, learning about another culture, and maybe even picking up a posh British accent.

Just as my parents opened their doors for us every summer so that our children could grow up learning English and understanding their American heritage, our home will remain at the ready to encompass family needs at every stage of the life cycle.

As every parent knows the nest is never truly empty. Our rooms’ resound with memories, our halls’ echo with laughter, and our ceilings’ reverberate with stories.

Our children move far away, but remain as close as ever, only a heartbeat apart.