Tag Archives: Genetics

Mojo Monday ~ Ancestry

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Linda Hogan Quote

A number of years ago I got into doing some genealogy.  Maybe it is the history lover in me.  Maybe it is my curious nature.  My last foray into delving into the history records was before I had twins. Plenty of things fell to the wayside after I became a mom.  Recently though as my husband delved back into his genealogical research I too decided to sign up for a month of access on Ancestry.com. It is a fascinating journey to find the connections and the mazes of my family tree.

A week into it, sometimes obsessively tracking and connecting the dots of one generation to another, I found myself asking “Why am I spending my time doing this?  Does it really matter if I find out the names and birth dates of the people who I share my DNA?  Does that have any bearing on the present and my life today?”

What I find myself contemplating is how all of these people who I am related to were once alive and walking on Earth.  They were born, grew up, got married, had children and eventually died.  I am perplexed at times how quickly memories and historical information in a family can fade away.  So many stories and the history of a family can be lost in a generation.  I consider how after I die and my daughters grow old and die that I too could fade away.  I consider that this too is just how things are, and yet at the same time I think about keeping the stories alive and doing my part to preserve some of the family history for future generations.

I wish I had realized

There are moments such as when I discovered the death certificate of my paternal great grandmother Eva Lavendar that she and her life story becomes more real to me.  My paternal side of the family I new the least about.  More of her life story began to unfold as I discover census documents, a marriage certificate, and her death certificate.

Yet let me start at the beginning to give great grandma Eva Lavender a moment in the spotlight. This is a woman who could fade away if descendants, like myself don’t keep her memory alive.  Eva Lavendar was born on July 28, 1880 in Menard Co., Illinois.  She married Thomas Franklin Higginbottham on January 1, 1901 in Weiser, Idaho.  They moved to Missouri and their first child, Howard Higginbottham was born on October 19, 1901.  Their first child Howard sadly died the following July.  Their next child Jesse Ray was born on July 20, 1903. The third child Annie may have died at birth as the records only estimate she was born in 1903, though I am guessing it had to be more like 1904.  Their fourth child, my paternal grandmother Lula, was born on June 9, 1905. Following the birth of my paternal grandmother Lula, my great grandmother Eva would go on to have seven more children.

I read on the death certificate filed in August 1914 that Eva died from childbirth, a postpartum hemorrhage on July 18, 1914.  She was only 34 years old.  The child she gave birth to died too.  I discover this as I look at the birth and death date of her 11th child.  As I contemplate her life I do the math and figure out she married at age 21 and had her first child that same year.  In the course of only 13 years she gave birth to 11 children.

Death Certificate Eva Lavender (Higginbotham)

There are many women in my family who had this many children or more.  My maternal great great grandmother Sarah Roberts (Maiden name Briggs), was born March 17, 1868 in England.  She emigrated to the United States with her parents and siblings and married her husband in Beaver, Utah on April 16, 1884.  Her husband William Roberts had also been born in England and had emigrated to the USA.  Together they had 16 children.  Her first child was born when she was only 17 years old and her last child was born when she was 44 years old.  My great grandma Ida was her 10th child.

Roberts (Briggs) family tree

Roberts (Briggs) family tree page 2

In my research I came across a short written biography about my great great grandmother Sara Briggs parents and family. Her father James was a Methodist Minister in England.  He ended up converting to Mormonism and married his wife Betsy Fielding who converted with him.  They left England on the ship “Idaho” on June 30, 1875 with four of their children Betsy Alice, John, Alma and Sarah.  They arrived in New York City on July 14, 1875.  They then arrived in Utah by rail on July 22, 1875.  They were received in Salt Lake City by Bishop Jacob Wheeler.  Two of their older sons had come to Utah two years before.  In my searching I come across some journal accounts of those two sons.  In with the biography I also discover someone wrote a poem about the Briggs family.

The James Briggs Family

There was Robert, Alma, John and Joe
Finest of men you would ever know.
Bob, a shoe maker, the best they say,
Made many a shoe without any pay.
Joe lived in Frisco, for a long time,
Was superintendent of Horn Silver mine.
Alma and John owned a big her of sheep,
And would tramp o’er the hills, till they got sore feet.
The girls were Sarah, Alice and Nancy,
Lovely and charming as girls could be.
Sarah, blue eyes with blond curly hair,
When she caught the eye t’would make folks stare.
Nancy, brunette and brown hazel eyes.
And a shy little way that took folks by surprise.
Alice was small, dainty, gentle and sweet,
As pretty a lassie as e’re walked down the street.
The Father and Mother were Betsy and James.
They reared this family a credit to their names.
James lived the gospel and knew it by heart,
And in every way tried to do his part.
‘A very good family’, folks would say,
Now may years have gone, since they passed away.

Madeliene L'Engle quote

I am bound to them

 My explorations will continue.   It feels like a treasure hunt and when I find photos and stories posted it feels especially exciting. Getting a glimpse into reading my ancestors life stories is interesting.  There are other people on Ancestry.com who have created their own family trees and they show up as links and hints because we share relatives.  I have yet to reach out to any of these long lost relatives. I came across an article called My Top 7 Tips for Finding Old Photos of Ancestors on a website called Teach Me Genealogy that offered some great ideas too.

Have you done any exploration into your ancestry?

 Do you still have great grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, who you could talk to about your family history?

Are their family photo albums, bibles, or other records that could provide details about your ancestors?

In addition to genealogy sites that require you pay like Ancestry.com which I am using, I came across a list of sites that offer free resources. I haven’t looked into all of these, but feel free to explore for yourself:

  1. Family Search www.familysearch.org (For research, historical records and
    volunteering to help index)
  2. Find a Grave www.findagrave.com (Millions of online memorials, from transcribed headstones)
  3. World GenWeb Project www.worldgenweb.org (Genealogical data per country)
  4. US GenWeb Project www.usgenweb.com (Genealogical data per state)
  5. National Archives www.nationalarchives.gov (Archived Genealogical data from the US Government)
  6. Genealogy Today www.genealogytoday.com (Genealogical Data)
  7. Google www.google.com (Genealogical data, images, maps, and more)
  8. Access Genealogy www.accessgenealogy.com (Online Genealogical Data)
  9. Family Tree Searcher www.familytreesearcher.com (Online family trees)
  10. GeneaBios www.geneabios.com (Genealogy Biography database)
More highly recommended Free sites:

Genealogy- chasing your own tale2

Mojo Monday ~ Gender Roles

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Each of us were born into a gender, typically one gender, but some of us exhibit physical, genetic, or psychological traits of both genders. How do these gender characteristics affect us? Do they limit our freedom of choice? Or does our gender offer us unique perspectives unavailable to the other primary gender? Facebook users have recently offered some intriguing photos of transgender people, quite appealing in their new gender role, such as Balian Buschbaum who was born a woman (see more here). If the physical body is altered, how does this affect the mind? Or was the mind itself born to the wrong gender and now it has been returned to its proper state?

Gender Role Image

One more set of questions, then a few perspectives and maybe even some answers.  What about gender-specific groups? What strength is gained by restricting the group one gender and communicating in partial isolation of the other gender?

For the purposes of this article we are going to consider that for the most part humans are divided into two main genders. Clearly this is not true for all people, yet even for those who have traits of both genders, almost all chose to self-identify as either male or female.

Let’s begin with some conversations from the Indigo Society, “a forum for Spirituality, New Age, Lightworkers, and General Topics”. The “new age” perspective from these conversations among Indigos (a unique concept that you can explore with a quiz and more here) offers ideas such as, “The individual must decide when to realize that gender is a concept of a disadvantaged perspective on life. Though we are born onto a role that has been predetermined to receive us in shackles, we are challenged to free ourselves.” Certainly some people feel like their gender has them in chains, such as any woman who has sought to be president of the United States. If we look at the forty year period leading up to the Constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote, we certainly see a segment of a gender group seeking to free themselves, and we see this echoed in the 1960’s with burning bras and sexual freedom. Yet even as these groups eschewed the traditional roles and limitations of their gender, they found solace and solidarity by forming women’s groups. Could they have accomplished what they did in gender mixed groups, even with supportive men?

Let’s back up and examine some assumptions, beginning with the differences between male and female. How real are these differences? How much is cultural and how much is physical? How about spiritual? We may need to ask God why She made two genders (and a few in between). The easiest approach might be to allow science to inform us.

The most basic difference is invisible to us, sealed in the nucleus of every cell of our bodies: the 23rd pair of chromosomes that is either XX or XY (or the rare trisomies of XXY or XYY). The differing male Y chromosome is an odd little thing, twisted and truncated like a gnarled old man. It’s considered degenerate (have fun with that one) and it often mutates while in the sperm, making mistakes as it combines with the XX in the female egg that can result in birth defects.  The chromosomes themselves don’t make us female or male though; it is what our bodies do with the genes that matter. Specifically one gene on the Y chromosome makes a person male. That gene is called SRY (I could not make up stuff this good if I tried) and without it being flipped on no one could be male. Other genes are also involved, of course. These genes lead to the production of hormones that are essential in defining our gender, causing us to develop physically as male or female.

We have long wondered if we think alike, these genders from Mars and Venus. Are there actually physical brain differences? The short answer – and its becoming longer with exciting new research – is “yes”. The scope of this is too extensive for this article, but here is a list of differences

  • The corpus callosum — the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the right and left sides of the brain — had a thicker measurement in female fetuses than in male fetuses as early as 26 weeks in a fetus. Connecting the two sides of the brain is seen as a strength in inter-brain communication.
  • Females seem to have language functioning in both sides of the brain which may result in the strong language skills typically displayed by females.
  • Boys fall prey to learning disabilities more frequently than girls (well of course, with degenerate SRY genes attached to a chromosome that looks like a broken comma)
  • Boys generally demonstrate superiority over female peers in areas of the brain involved in math and geometry.
  • Females and males maintain unique brain characteristics throughout life. Male brains, for instance, are about 10% larger than female brains. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean smarter.
  • Male brains contain about 6.5 times more gray matter — sometimes called ‘thinking matter” — than women. Female brains have more than 9.5 times as much white matter, the stuff that connects various parts of the brain, than male brains. Don’t jump to conclusions; these are complex structures.
  • The frontal area of the cortex and the temporal area of the cortex are more precisely organized in women, and are bigger in volume. Again, no leaping here, either.
  • Women are faster and more accurate at identifying emotions and may be better than men at controlling them.
  • Men and women do have lots of brain areas that are the same., Members of both sexes excel at skills that are commonly labeled gender specific. “All of these things have overlapping distributions. There are many women with better-than-average spatial skills, and men with good writing skills,” Geary says.

While some might bristle at the suggestion that brains have different abilities based on gender, science and our own perceptions have supported this in a general way, though it doesn’t apply to specific individuals. Yet we have seen equally well that whatever limits we are born with due to our genes and development can be changed. Science offers this nugget, “Some researchers believe that nurturing one’s brain can enhance what nature has provided.” This would appear to be an important element of brain research. We can change our brains because they are flexible adaptive structures. We can choose to enhance our gender-based strengths or to rob from the other gender what we naturally lack. “There’s a lot of evidence that we build up our brain’s representation of space by moving through it,” says Martha Denckla of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Learn more on WebMD here.

Dr. Denckla’s statement about space sounds more like something from the Indigo Society than from a doctor. We can find more of this way of thinking in another PhD, Dr. Felice Dunas who wrote the article, “Male and Female Differences and Strengths-The Yin Yang Perspective.” She suggests that the ancient Chinese philosophies that pre-date Western religions by thousands of years contain gender truths that cross from science into spirituality. She says, “Yin Yang theory works with the premise that all of life stems from a point of perfect balance,” which informs our understanding of male and female, X and Y chromosomes, and testosterone and estrogen. She states, “When a woman is spending most of her life force, her vitality and time, giving to others, she is going to end up sick, weak, unhappy and, eventually, unproductive.  Yin energy moves from the outside in towards the self.  Mothering, which takes up decades of our adult lives, is, in large part, about contribution.  It’s about giving in creative, structured ways. These are more Yang oriented activities.  They are not about receiving.  From my medical perspective, it is imperative that a woman put herself in situations that allow her to receive support from others during her mothering years.  She needs loving kindness, she needs others to do favors and tasks for her, and she needs to receive praise for what she does.  She needs to be taken care of if she is going to be good at taking care of others.” Regarding men, Dr. Dunas claims, “When a man is “self oriented” rather than “other oriented”, when he puts emphasis what is given to him rather than on what he contributes to others, when he is silent and avoiding of his woman’s aggressiveness, “wimping out”, so to speak, he is not utilizing his primary strength.  Yang energy moves from the self outward in direct, goal oriented ways.  When a man behaves in a childlike way, (women often call their husbands the “other” child) when he doesn’t take a stand for his creativity, his vision, his beliefs or his drives, he sacrifices his yang nature, his greatest truth.  Unfortunately, men are given very mixed messages by women who want both a strong hero and a girlfriend-like partner to chat and vent with.”

I would like to wrap this up with a confession that may not be a surprise to the regular readers of this column. I am not Michelle Fairchild. I am her husband, asked to bring my male perspective to her article this week. For the record I cook most of our meals, care equally for our twins (I will pit my diaper count against Michelle’s any day), and prefer chic flicks to action films. I’m more of the girlfriend-like partner than the male hero. Michelle mows our lawn each week and is an ass-kicking volleyball player. We both cry a fair bit and I would never dare state my mind had more gray matter than hers because she is, as her readers know, witty, logical, and wise. I have worked to achieve a yin-yang balance and have seen my Myers-Briggs scores contract toward the middle as I actively sought to balance many traits of both genders as well as non-gender specific traits. We can all choose how to engage our minds and bodies in activities that promote our goals and add richness to our life experience while enjoying the natural gifts of our gender. I leave you with this, ostensibly a love song that is perhaps a love song between genders, seeking the strengths of the other…

Tell me your secrets and ask me your questions

Oh let’s go back to the start

Running in circles, coming in tails

Heads on a science apart

 The Scientist, by Coldplay

Nathan Fairchild taught science, math, and technology for over 20 years in the classroom.
He has also worked in other science environments such as national parks, residential science camps, and nature centers. He has a Masters of Science in Science Education and has been one of the California nominees for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science twice.

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