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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

Genealogy, Memories, and News

      A Facebook page query inspired your author’s reminiscences and the core of this month’s column. The question was, “What do you remember about your grandparents’ home?” And, in the blink of an eye the memories flowed … sights, smells, sweet and bitter all together in a rush of nostalgia. So, the column intended to be devoted to the latest use of DNA and genealogy in today’s modern world became both the latest and greatest (at least for now) and an outpouring of stories that definitely should not be lost. It is hoped my children and grandchildren and, perhaps, even their children will one day read this column and have the opportunity to know the ancestors they never had the chance to meet in person.


      It seems the first memories to rush in upon reading the query noted above, were my earliest memories of the Joslin farm in Pineville, Missouri. A visit when I was very young because the struggle to climb those BIG STEPS was burning in my mind – and, yet, those rock steps were really shallow steps … here is how I captured my thoughts:

My Joslin grandparents (MomMay's parents) lived in Pineville, Missouri. My most poignant memory is walking up the rock steps covered in moss, so young and little those steps were a struggle to make. They were covered in moss ... the kind of moss that blooms, teeny, tiny multi-colored flowers smaller than a matchhead. I believed the steps were the fairy's garden! In those years, Missouri was yet a humid place, the ancient forests still uncut for the most part and all trees bore their cloth of moss.

The smell ... a perfume of loamy earth, nut trees (pecan, walnut both black and English emitted their own uniquely wonderful odors), sweet floral scents wafting from all the iris, daylily, rose, lilac, and other natural and bedded blooming plants and trees, rich meadow grasses emitting their sharp clean fragrance. The moist air ... so different from the dry West Texas air.

Grandma Joslin cooked on a cast iron stove. She actually had two in the kitchen, one smaller than the "old" stove. Potbelly stove in the living room.

Sleeping in the Cloak Room. A room devoted to storage, mostly, shelves lining one wall with treasures abounding there! Grandma Joslin was an inveterate letter writer, corresponding daily with family, old neighbors who had moved away, pen pals from around the world. She kept their letters sorted, each tied with a pretty ribbon in stacks. The bed was SOOOooooo comfortable! Big, soft mattress heaped with colorful handmade quilts and soft, soft, soft blankets. What a charming little person guest room.

The Joslins were farmers, an old barn behind the house, hay lending its own sweet smell to the air. There was a root vegetable shed where potatoes, onions, turnips, and the like were hung from rafters. At the back of this shed, as I remember (Mary Elizabeth Adair help me here) was the opening to the cave where an underground stream ran through. Here it was always cold, the water icy and sweet. A metal, long-handled tin cup was tied to an overhanging (tree root?) that extended from the rock wall. It was used to dip that cold, fresh, sweet, icy spring water to drink or fill a jug for the house. Churns of butter, milk jugs, and big jugs of tea were kept here. (My sister assures me this memory is a confused one – that the rock spring cold house was at the Kendrick farmstead, our great-grandmother on my DaddyJack’s side.) I have no memory of visiting that farm, yet the memory of the sweet taste of that icy water, the milk jugs, butter churns, all that are clear in the storehouse of my mind.

My earliest memory of my “Aunt Flutie” was of climbing the steps to her high four-poster bed to comb out her beautiful blue-black braid. She never cut her hair, and it cascaded down from the high bedstead to the floor when she pulled out the hairpins and let it down. Every morning I got to comb out her hair, starting on the lowest step and progressing upward, step by step, until at her bedside whereupon she would wrap her arms about me and snuggle me to her. She always smelled of lavender and roses – so sweet! (Great-Grandmother Kendrick insisted she was far too young to be my grandmother, so insisted I call her Aunt Flutie. I adored her!!!) Her hair retained its gorgeous color because she never set foot outside the house without a head covering. A large straw beribboned hat or a sun bonnet – even a sun-brella, but never did that luscious head of hair get exposed to the harsh sun. Her skin, likewise, was a marvel. Skin like the smooth petal of a magnolia blossom, natural blush on the cheeks, eyes of a lavender blue, deep color yet sparkling with humor and love. Her eyelashes were a wonder. Like those of Elizabeth Taylor’s, Flutie Creek (Alexander, Kendrick) was blessed with a triple set of lashes, thick, dark and long. Such a lovely lady.

I also remember there was a yard to the side of the house, where sweet grass covered the ground. This yard was bordered by daylilies, yellow and orange with red stamens that punctuated the center of each flower. This was the “play yard” and it was intended that children stay within its borders. However, one day having been left briefly on my own, I heard noises from the field behind the house. Curious, I remember venturing through the border of flowers and into a meadow with higher grasses and wildflowers. There, in a pen were a momma pig and her newborn piglets, nursing. I crawled through into the pen and snuggled in with the piglets. Grandma Joslin, finding me missing from the play yard had discovered my danger. She literally crawled through the high grasses, as quietly as possible – fearful of arousing the ire of the sow. She grabbed my ankle and pulled me from the pen – just as momma sow jumped to her feet, gave a horrifying grunt and menaced us as we retreated. I remember the menfolk believed I deserved a sound thrashing – but kinder hearts prevailed and a stern “talking to” was all the grief I received. I well remember being told that “sow would eat you alive, child! She could tear your arms from your body! NEVER, ever do that again.!”

Christmas at Pineville was of the old-fashioned brand. One Christmas, cousins Alice Anne Burks, G. A. Joslin, their dads and mine along with Grandpa Joslin ventured into the woods to cut the tree. (This had to be an early Christmas, for the Burks family debarked to Nigeria, Africa, on their mission when Alice Anne was still quite young and I was about 9 months younger than she.) After much discussion, the prime tree was chosen, chopped down, hauled to the car, mounted on the roof and delivered to the house. Bucket filled with water and a proper brace prepared to hold the evergreen upright, all in the assembled group agreed it was – without a doubt – the BEST tree ever! Popcorn was popped, cranberries rinsed, sweet gum balls and pinecones assembled to prepare garlands to be draped about the tree once the lights were in place and all working. Finally, the ancient ornaments were unwrapped, carefully placed in just the right spot and – VOILA! Magic.

      All in all, it was a magical place. So many sweet memories of my Grandma and Grandpa Joslin.

      One day, perhaps next month, the Joslin story will be expanded for there were many tales handed down by various branches of the family. Tales that paint the picture of our country as pioneers braved the elements to expand their horizons and the borders of our once infant country.


      This week a new show aired on cable television: CeCe Moore, a forensic DNA expert solves cold cases using her wits, her deep understanding of genealogy and the tools now available using DNA tests to seek out elusive murderers.

      Amazingly, on the first show of this new series, Moore was able to use the DNA from a violent rape/murder case unsolved for almost three decades to identify the perpetrator. Cold case detectives assigned to the case followed the targeted suspect until they were able to enlist the aid of his boss to match DNA he left on a Coca Cola can and a paper cup in the office to the DNA on file for the rapist/murderer. When the murder was first committed, science surrounding use of DNA was a fledgling effort. Wisely, the rape kit that included collected semen from the vaginal orifice and from clothing left at the scene of the crime were preserved for future evaluation. Thirty years ago, DNA specimens would be destroyed in testing – often to no avail. Advances in technology now provides a means to “duplicate” trace amounts of DNA through a special process so that a complete DNA profile of the rapist was able to be established.

      The surprise of the show? When the cold case detective who had worked on the case for almost the entirety of those three decades applauded Moore’s work and said, “you did in one day what we were unable to accomplish in almost thirty years.” Moore responded she had actually identified the perpetrator in just about TWO HOURS, but worked to confirm her findings before contacting the detective the following Monday.

      Part of her expertise is almost inexplicable. For instance, the GEDMatch site where she located the closest match to the CODIS DNA profile that had been built does not require the full identity of a person submitting a sample. In this case, the only identifying characteristic was linked to a pseudonym – but the email addy for the submitter proved to be the clue Moore needed to identify that person. After that, she used tried and true genealogic methods, augmented by an understanding of the process of DNA contribution through parental genetics and the recombination that occurs. The number of centiMorgans shared by two individuals, within a given range, is the key to the relationship of those two individuals and their shared ancestral pair. For instance, second cousins typically share between 75 and 360 CentiMorgans (cMs). Second cousins share one set of ancestral parents – their great-grandparents. By use of standard genealogic tools, a shadow tree is established for each child of those great-grandparents. Then all their spouses and children of those marriages are identified. Similarly, each of the persons in this generation will have a profile established, complete with spouse(s) and children of those unions. By comparing age, location, and times inhabiting those locales, a genealogical detective can make assumptions about the PROBABILITY of each identified member of the family being the contributor of the DNA that matches the perpetrator’s.

      As with most genealogical research, the tools are essential to confirmation of relationships. But, as with all tools, the degree of proficiency of the researcher is key to the degree of success in utilizing those tools. A bit science, a bit experience, and a bit of magic.

      DNA is complex. In order to understand how these seeming miracles occur, it is helpful to understand the terms. The definitions given below are compiled from various DNA testing sites, Webster’s Dictionary, Wikipedia – and have been simplified by me as much as possible to give a better understanding of the complexity of this science. Each person’s genomic identity is determined by the combination of some 6,800 centiMorgans, approximately 3,400 contributed by each parent. A centiMorgan is a term established by scientists in an effort to “measure” the genomic whole.

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid.

CHROMOSOME: “a threadlike structure of nucleic acids and protein found in the nucleus of most living cells, carrying genetic information in the form of genes.” It is formed from condensed chromatin. Chromatin is composed of DNA and proteins that are tightly packed together to form chromatin fibers. Condensed chromatin fibers form chromosomes, chromosomes are located within the nucleus of our cells. Female chromosomes are X chromosomes. Male chromosomes are Y chromosomes.

GENE: the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Genes are made up of DNA. Some act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. Every person has two copies of each gene (it is estimated humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes), one inherited from each parent. Most genes are the same in all humans (thus, making us human); however, slight deviations occur as ALLELES, where the SEQUENCING of the DNA differs – thus making one person short, another tall, one brown-eyed, another with blue or green eyes, and so forth. Scientists spent years mapping the genetic makeup of humans in the GENOME PROJECT. For convenience sake, they assigned each strand of DNA making up specific genes a name, sometimes a number, or a combination.

DOUBLE HELIX: the construction of base pairs of DNA attached to a sugar-phosphate backbone. Base pairs are made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), Cytosine (C), and thyrmine (T). These combinations or rungs on the ladder are called SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphomisms). These base pairs of chemicals help form the code that informs cells. Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, with 99% of those bases being identical in all humans. The 1% that deviate are the bases that make each human unique. Bases pair up, A with T and C with G and so forth to form base pairs. Each base pair is attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. The unit (Base pair, sugar molecule, phosphate molecule) are called a nucleotide. These nucleotides are the two long strands that form the spiral of the Double Helix. The Double Helix resembles a ladder that spirals, the sides the nucleotides, joined by the paired bases of various combinations of A, T, C, and G chemicals.

Double Helix

A double helix has become the icon for many, many kinds of discussions about where science has been and where it's going. This really is an amazing structure. You can't stare at the double helix for very long without having a sense of awe about the elegance of this information molecule DNA, with its double helical form basically being the way in which all living forms are connected to each other, because they all use this same structure for conveying that information. Of course, this is Watson and Crick's incredible realization back in 1953, but it will stand in history as probably one of the most significant scientific moments of all time.
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

      DNA scientists have created a way to display these combinations, where each display identifies ONE person in all of humankind. The only time the display can be identical is with IDENTICAL twins or triplets, etc where all 7,000 cMs are the same. The map is set out in such a way that strands of coding for one individual can be compared with the map for a second individual. Matching blocks on those maps are then counted, with each being named a centiMorgan – and the shared DNA is expressed something like the following for my closest match (my daughter) where we share 3,466 centiMorgans across 83 DNA segments.

      DNA segments are found on all 22 autosomal chromosomes. The segment length is determined by the centiMorgan distance between the first SNP and the second SNP (or the “single letter in the genetic code”. The longer the shared segment is, the higher the probability that it was inherited from a common ancestor – meaning the two people are related.

      A fascinating and emerging science, yet, DNA will contribute an ever greater fund of knowledge of our families, our ancestors, and our relationship to one another. It is my hope you are inspired to delve into the mysteries of your own family tree – using Armchair Genealogy. Sit comfortably at home, research on the Internet and build your knowledge of what makes you YOU.

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