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MARTHA SEZ: Test shows waffles in my family DNA

May 4, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

Finding your forebears is all the rage. Have you sent off your DNA sample to Ancestry.com? If you're like me, you may find more than you bargained for.

History is more interesting than we thought. After all, it's all about people, and every detail of the way people used to live is fascinating.

Last summer a friend and I wandered through the Pompeii exhibition at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal, imagining a day in the life of that doomed Roman city.

Pompeii was a prosperous Italian port and resort built at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. When Rome was at the height of its power, Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii in ash and cinders. Those who did not flee were killed. Volcanic ash formed molds, casting their bodies; their personal belongings, as well as the streets and buildings of the city, were preserved in ash and forgotten for about 1,700 years.

We don't think of the items we use from day to day in the same way. A toothbrush, a toaster, even a new cell phone, all seem mundane. Our society may not end as abruptly and dramatically as Pompeii's, but it will end. Not only the physical objects in our world, but the ways we think and act that seem so normal to us may well be strange or repugnant or even incomprehensible to people in other times and places.

I was making waffles this morning, the way my grandmother used to do. Making waffles makes me think of her, since it is something I don't do very often. It takes me back to the kitchen of the old brick house I grew up in, the wooden dropleaf table, the blue sugar bowl, my grandparents who lived with us and who made breakfast for my brothers and sister and me.

I make waffles the same way, yes, except 1. my grandmother used a waffle iron that she heated on the stove, while I use an electric waffle maker 2. my grandmother didn't use sour cream and I do 3. my grandmother used less baking powder than I do because she whipped the egg whites up stiff and folded them into the batter to make the waffles rise 4. And on the other hand she sometimes used boxed Bisquick and I don't, although it is perfectly good.

My grandmother was unfailingly kind and gentle. The harshest words I ever heard from her were "Why do you do me this way? I'm going to put on my coat and hat and go to town," a threat she did not make good. She had the best memory of anyone I ever knew, until the years stole it away from her, and in her youth she had been a school teacher in Brownsville, Texas, a stenographer for a congressman in Washington, D.C., a personal friend of the author John Dos Passos, whom she called Dos, and an artist in New York City.

How, then to explain the stories she told me from her early days in Waco, Texas, as if she were relating the most ordinary things in the world?

Her father was a railroad lawyer. As a boy in Tuskegee, Alabama, he was a soldier in the Civil War. His family had owned slaves, and she grew up with a number of their descendents, some of whom-I remember the name Aunt Dicey in particular-she was clearly fond of. For someone so lovely and so insightful, she had an uncanny ability to turn a blind eye to the social injustice that suffused her early life.

Ancestry.com matched me with an anonymous cousin, with whom, according to Ancestry, I share a great, great, great grandparent. My DNA shows I am Caucasian, mostly British and Irish. This anonymous cousin's genetic profile shows Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and some British and Irish. His or her family lived in the same county as my Southern relatives. Ancestry.com found another cousin whose DNA matches both of ours, and this person I know is a close relative of my grandmother. Strangely, she spoke, quite blithely, on this subject. "Smartest child Uncle Jesse ever had" was born to an enslaved woman. So now I know.

On the other side of the family, Ancestry.com matched me with another third cousin who informed me that a common ancestor of ours, Ellis Clizbe, was an abolitionist in Amsterdam, New York; his house was a stop on the underground railroad, sheltering fugitives from slavery.

Have a good week.

 
 

 

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