25 March 2008


Back in the early 1980s I experimented with matrilineal genealogy charting. It was not prompted by any overt feminist ploy, but from wanting to play around with the traditionally male-dominated family pedigree charts. It wasn’t easy. We genealogists know it’s harder to find out about female ancestors. Of course each woman has a mother-based descent shared with her siblings. But when you play around with matrilineal lines of yourself or your cousins, mutual family ancestry veers off into fascinating tangents just as valid as your birth surname lineage. This view of ancestry has received a little more attention since Mitochondrial-DNA studies came into focus the last few years.

When I first began with this idea I wanted to show the female Scottish connections which I had traced for several generations. The idea instantly clashed with my maternal ancestry which goes entirely Latvian. And so does that of my daughter, because of me. And so does that of her daughter, because of her. Thinking out loud here for fun (allowing for my defective gene in mathematical skills) I am 50% Latvian, my daughter is 25% and my granddaughter 12½%. Of course the percentages get diluted as time goes on, but the connection is always there. My few maternal female cousins have Latvian mothers and grandmothers and so on, unrelated to my lines. It seems I have no maternal Scottish connections.

Not to be defeated at the outset for this vision of the Scottish female forebears, I used my paternal cousin’s granddaughter as the bottom line. Paternal cousin and her offspring have the Scottish maternal lines I lack. (My heritage too, I claim!) This later led to making a chart that ascends from my own granddaughter. I had to cull everything I knew, and am still learning, about my Latvian grand-mères.

The photograph is entirely gratuitous! ... one of the old wooden houses in the city of Riga, October 2006 by BDM. No grandmother peeking out of the window there. Must take more photographs. Must remember to cite photographs and maps found on the Internet!

Investigating maternal lines is a slightly different way to look at genealogy and family history. Each spouse along the way of direct-line surname tracing, often ignored in traditional context, contributes not only to the unbroken inheritance of MtDNA in women but also to how many genes or characteristics the latest baby may display. Percentages and DNA aside, we should never underestimate the value of matrilineal heritage in family history.

13 March 2008

Get Sick; Get Attitude

Staying in bed with a cold or the flu is the responsible thing to do. It’s win-win for you as an individual and for the common good. This is not self-indulgence, it’s a moral obligation to practice public health safety. Therefore, who could deny your right to a few human comforts in your sickbed as you courageously shield your friends and loved ones from contagious germs?

Taking to one’s bed is not to be done without sufficient thought. Plenty of pillows for propping various aching parts are essential. A large pot of constantly heated chicken soup within readily easy access is recommended, unless you prefer cold vodka. Be sure to have a supply of tissues and other paper necessities. This could be the only occasion for the crocheted tissue box cover your great-aunt gave you for your birthday eight years ago, the one you didn’t dare throw out. A small radio or TV might ease your plight. If you are a genealogist, have about ten of the latest detective novels at hand. Cough syrup or Fisherman’s Friend may help minimize your suffering and maximize your dozy attention span. When the bedside table gets overloaded, one of those folding bed trays is a big help. You might have to go shopping first.

Because you are sick and incapable of performing normal domestic chores, it’s only common sense to stock a few items that instill mental well-being as well as encourage a feeble appetite. Positive thoughts. Some people like chocolates or macadamia nuts; others might like a special pizza or pastry. Portable phones or cell phones and laptops are only recommended for dialling take-out delivery, because above all, you must not whine to those who support your selfless isolation. It’s OK to fall asleep a lot.

So for all those coughing, sneezing people on the subway and my last airline flights: thanks a lot for the souvenir. Go home and go to bed. You’ll like it if you do it right.