I’m not just an “American mutt” after all.

I’ll start off this post with a general update because I have some great news: I got a job!  🙂  It’s still within the not-for-profit sector, but this time I’ll be working in advocacy which is fantastic!  My last real job was also in the NFP sector, but I was only ever allowed to do light and fluffy stuff.  This is quite a departure from that.  I have A LOT to learn and some big challenges ahead of me, but I am feeling quite confident and excited about the future.  It feels good to be in a positive headspace again.

Okay.  Now that that’s all sorted, it’s time to get to the content I actually wanted to discuss.  I mentioned in a previous post that I have started researching my genealogy.  I would like to get more specific about the things I’ve learned.

Growing up, I always thought of myself as your typical “American mutt” – a veritable smorgasbord of genetics.  I figured that I probably had a lot of French in there due to my surname, and my great-grandmother on my dad’s side of the family claimed that her mother had been full-blooded Chippewa.  You wouldn’t know the latter from looking at my skin tone.  My skin doesn’t know the meaning of the word tan.  I just think about the sun and get a burn.  I figured this was probably due to my taking more after my mother’s family than my dad’s, who I knew had some Swedish in it.  That information alone was enough to confirm that I just had a whole lot of random in my genetics.

As it turns out, my cultural heritage is a lot more interesting than I had anticipated.  Late last year, I decided to take a chance and do one of those ancestry DNA tests.  The first thing I discovered: I am one of the whitest people ever.  😉  Seriously though – my genetics indicate virtually 100% European blood primarily from Western Europe (France, Germany, etc.), Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway and Denmark) and Great Britain.  There are also small percentages of Irish, Mediterranean and Iberian, and trace percentages of South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.), Finnish, Native American and Middle Eastern which were all further confirmed when I entered my DNA test into GEDmatch and ran it through further admixture tests.

Ancestry

This experience kicked off a large genealogy research project that is still ongoing.  The surprising results thus far:

There is no Native American blood to speak of.  If my great-grandmother’s claims of being 50% Chippewa were correct, then I would have more than a trace amount in my DNA – more like 5-10%.  My subsequent genealogy research ended up disproving this claim.  Her mother wasn’t Native American at all – she was German!  This is apparently a common misconception with American families of European descent.  I don’t know if claiming this connection is a way for modern-day Americans to distance themselves from the abuse our European ancestors heaped on Native Americans so long ago or if it’s simply a way for people to feel more connected with their country, but most Americans you encounter will claim to have some percentage of Native American DNA when a good majority of them (myself included, it seems) don’t.  Research indicates that it is more likely that my trace percentage of Native American DNA originated in the early hunter-gatherer populations of Russia who ultimately settled in the Americas after crossing the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.

Where the hell did I get Mediterranean, Iberian, South Asian and Middle Eastern DNA?!  All of that must go back a really long time because I haven’t been able to identify any of that lineage so far.

I’m actually not that French after all.  I have been able to confirm only one branch of my entire family tree that is truly of French origin, which is my surname’s paternal line.  It’s not until my third-great-grandfather of that surname when both parties in each couple are fully French.  There might be a bit more French through my great-grandfather’s line (my dad’s maternal grandfather) but because he was adopted we can’t know for sure.  According to GEDmatch, I’m really only about 17% French.  That blew my mind!

There are a number of Confederate soldiers and loads of slave owners on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family.  As a white person that is VERY strongly outspoken for equality, this is a tough pill to swallow.  My grandmother hails from Texas, so I definitely suspected this outcome to a certain extent.  But I have to say: Reading records of wills where the person in question bequeaths slaves – actual living, breathing PEOPLE – unto their children with words like “irrevocably” and “forever” attached to them puts a sour taste in my mouth.  And it appears that it may not stop with simply owning slaves.  Going several generations back through my father’s side of the family, it looks like one of my ancestors may have been involved in the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Americas.  It’s a very strange feeling to be proud that your ancestors were some of the USA’s first colonists but also really ashamed that they were involved so heavily in a deplorable trade.

I have an ancestor who was caught up in the witchcraft obsession of 17th century New England.  My ancestor, Isabella Towle lived in New Hampshire at the time and was accused of witchcraft by a woman named Rachel Fuller.  Rachel herself had just been accused of witchcraft.  Since those accused of witchcraft at the time were told that their punishment would be lenient if they exposed other witches, Rachel said, “Okay!  Then check out Goody Towle over there.  She’s definitely a witch!”  Gee…thanks, Rach!  Rachel accused others as well, but only her and Isabella ended up being charged.  They ended up spending close to a year in the local jail before being acquitted of all charges.  This would have been a considerable hardship for Isabella, who was in her forties and had several young children at the time.  All of this nonsense occurred several years before the Salem witch trials.  I have no doubt in my mind that had Isabella been accused during or after the Salem incidents, she would have hanged.  Mind blown.

There is a whole lot of German in my lineage.  It comes from multiple branches of my family tree which, ironically, mostly originate in the same area of Germany (Hesse).  The most surprising and interesting German connection to me is the “Russian German” side of my family.  I heard a mention or two of this ancestry growing up but never any detail.  It wasn’t until I commenced my genealogy research project and started reading my late grandfather’s memoirs that I discovered just how significant it was.  In the mid-1700s, Catherine the Great published a manifesto that welcomed Germans to settle in various parts of the Russian empire.  The German empire was vastly over-crowded and faced a number of hardships at the time.  Catherine wanted to develop the eastern areas of her empire, so she lured German settlers to the area with promises of land and religious freedom.  My ancestors were some of the first to settle in and establish the town of Norka (now called Hekpacovo) located in the Volga River region of Russia.  Things went well for them for a couple of generations until Catherine’s grandson rose to power and started taking away their freedoms.  My great-great-grandparents ended up fleeing Norka in the dead of night with their young children in tow and eventually made their way to the United States in 1900.  My maternal grandfather’s mother was born on that journey.  They ended up settling in Portland, Oregon which is where most of my family still lives.  If you’re interested in learning more about this unique culture and their lives once they settled in Portland, there is a great website for Volga Germans in Portland that is definitely worth reading.

There’s also a whole lot of Scandinavian in my family tree.  As mentioned above, I knew that my mother’s side of the family had Swedish in it but I didn’t really know the extent of it.  That much has been proven: My maternal grandfather’s father was of Swedish descent.  In the late 1800s, much of Sweden was facing famine and times were tough all around.  My great-grandparents on that side both made the brave decision to immigrate to the USA to seek a better life.  It probably wasn’t a hard decision for my great-grandfather, who was born out of wedlock to a hotel maid and whose father was a notorious abuser, but my great-grandmother left a very large family to follow a man she wasn’t yet married to halfway across the world.  I don’t have any record of her having kept in touch with her family after immigrating to the USA, so I am actively trying to find descendants of her siblings to see if they have anymore information about that lineage.  From what I’ve been able to piece together myself, both of those lines originate in the southern Swedish county of Skåne from parishes in and surrounding Lund.  I’ve been able to trace back as far as about 1700 thus far, but it’s been really difficult.  Hopefully I can track down a distant cousin or two on that side who will be able to verify or disprove my findings.  Anyway, I’ve mentioned my mother’s Swedish heritage but I also discovered that there is a significant Norwegian heritage on my father’s side!  My great-great-grandmother on his paternal side was from a parish just south of Lillehammer.  Thanks to some invaluable assistance from a distant cousin I recently met, I have managed to trace that lineage back to the early 1700s as well.  Unfortunately that’s as far back as I’ll be able to go unless I manage to find distant relatives in Norway.

Admixture aside, this project has helped me discover so many amazing stories about my ancestors.  In a way, I feel like I understand more about my outlook on life and the way I was brought up because I feel like I know some of the people that have made my life possible.  That is such a precious gift.

As mentioned above, my genealogy project is very much a work in progress.  I’m sure that I will get more specific with names, dates, locations and stories as time progresses.  In the meantime, I am going to spend the rest of my day off doing more research.

Where do we draw the line on social awareness and activism?

I wrote this post about a month ago and decided to sit on it for a while and let it ruminate in my mind.  Between applying for jobs and going on loads of interviews over the past couple of months, I then forgot about it.  😉  I was going to delete it and start a new post, but after reading it again I wanted to post it anyway.  It’s something that has long been on my mind.  I’ll do another post on the topic I came on here to do later.

Enjoy!

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Merriam-Webster defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasises direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue”.

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s, and anyone that was alive and aware of their surroundings at that time knows that social activism really helped shape those decades.  Western society went from coveting excessive wealth, possessions and prestige to becoming more self-aware and, moreover, aware of others’ suffering – sometimes as a direct result of the excess that generation loved so well.  A lot of different issues fed into this including the AIDS epidemic, genocide in far-flung corners of the globe and generations of people becoming fed up with going to war for no good reason demanding resolution, and the adoption of 24/7 news put the issues right in our living rooms.

We had to act, so we did.  Real change has continually occurred as a direct result of social awareness and activism.  I would like to think that people have developed a more natural way of interacting with their world and the people in it as a result.  Sure, it’s an ongoing process, but society has already come a hell of a long way at achieving equality for women, people of colour, religious acceptance, LGBTIQ, etc.  The list goes on.

But.  (You knew there was a, “But…” coming!)  Where do we draw the line?  At what stage does it become a hindrance or just plain ridiculous?

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, let me say that I am not advocating ignoring the real issues here.  I’m a native of Eugene, Oregon and tie-dye, protesting and fighting the good fight is in my blood.  And really – any second grader can tell you that if your mistakes aren’t brought to your attention, you can never learn from them.  Social awareness and activism IS a good thing overall.

I saw a story on Facebook the other day about a woman who was sitting at a cafe when a man approached her.   He leaned down to her and asked her if she was single because she was gorgeous.

Okay.  Again – before you get up in arms, I will say that he probably shouldn’t have leaned down to her because that can be intimidating, particularly if you’re reading and are generally unaware of your surroundings.  I wasn’t there to hear his tone of voice or see his facial expressions when he asked her this question, so I also can’t attest to his demeanour.  But I think we can all agree that it’s a somewhat creepy thing to do no matter who you are.  Even so, one would think that she would either politely brush him off or if she was really offended by his asking that question, politely advise him that she doesn’t appreciate what he is insinuating.  That is, at least, how I would have handled the situation and, I might add, have handled such situations in the past.

What does she do?  She yells something along the lines of, “Piss off, dude – I don’t want to talk to you!  Go away!”  The story goes onto say how he gets pissed and makes a complete ass of himself, proving once again how we need feminism.

And you know what?  I agree.  We DO need feminism and the fact that he got so angry after her rejection, called her names and threatened her proves that he was a total skeeve that needs to be brought down a peg or two.  I’m not disputing that for one second.

However, did she REALLY have to react so strongly in this instance?  My parents taught me to treat others like I want to be treated.  As far as I remember, there was no caveat to that lesson pertaining to nuisances (which, let’s be honest, this dude clearly was).  Newton’s third law of, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” isn’t contained to physics – it works just as well on a social level.  This is just one woman’s pondering of the situation, but I felt like her reaction was far beyond his original action.

One more time: I’m not placing blame on anyone.  I think the dude was probably a loser, but all I am saying is that I think she could have handled the situation more diplomatically and, quite possibly, achieved a better result.  But she didn’t – she went down the “femi-nazi” route and, in my honest opinion, over-reacted, and as a result of her over-reaction, she received an equal and opposite reaction.  (Good ol’ Newton.)

And before you start dismissing me as anti-feminist, don’t.  Just don’t.  Let me be clear: I believe that feminism is a very good thing and it is extremely necessary in today’s society.  But my question to the great wide world is this:

How far should it be taken?

Equal rights and respect for women?  Absolutely 100%!  No question or doubt about it.  But when I hear a self-proclaimed feminist demanding respect in one breathe and saying things like, “I hate men – they should all be killed!” in the other it makes my skin crawl.  That’s not equality, folks.  If we go back to Merriam-Webster, we see equal defined as “of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another”.

The moral of this rather long story is in two parts:

First, treat others as you would wish to be treated by them.  Let your good deeds toward others speak louder than your words.  If someone else acts like an ass, don’t stoop to their level.  You don’t yell at your coworkers to get stuff done in the workplace because they won’t respond favourably, so why do it elsewhere?

Second, if you have to be forceful, be forceful with purpose.  Did that woman think that by yelling at him he would go, “Well shit – I was wrong.  Thanks for making me realise how pervy I sound!” and go merrily on his way?  Or did she just want to prove she was a good feminist by being the loudest in that moment and posting about her glory online for all to see?  We’ll never really know, but I just look at that whole situation and wonder what the point was.  All I know is that I would rather see more women out there being forceful in a positive, constructive sense like Malala Yousafzai.

The fatal flaw with discovering your ancestry

Genealogy absolutely fascinates me.  I first started getting into discovering my own ancestry years ago, but quickly lost interest.  It wasn’t until last year when I decided to get the DNA test offered through Ancestry.com that this passing interest became a full-blown hobby.  Now that I have some research experience under my belt, I wanted to kick off what will undoubtedly be several posts about genealogy by sharing one particular challenge for novice genealogists that concerns me.

Several years ago, I started building my family tree on Ancestry.com.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time and being a rather impatient person in some ways led to my first mistake: I tried to find a “quick” way to achieve my goal and built a huge family tree simply by using the function that allows you to review and save entries from other people’s family trees.  I thought, “Hey – it’s on this many other people’s family trees, so it must be right!”  This eventually led to a ridiculously sized family tree with ancestors dating back well into the BC’s.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Ancestry.com is a fabulous, user-friendly service that contains a wealth of information.  I also do see the value in being able to look at other people’s family trees.  In fact, this function recently allowed me to track down a distant cousin of mine – a connection that has yielded some really wonderful results.  But, people should only be using this function to find POTENTIAL leads.  This function should, by no means, be used to actually build your family tree.

Why do I say this?  Let’s consider what we are able to do on Ancestry.com: We can build a family tree – that is obvious.  How do we generally start this?  By manually entering the name and details of ourselves or a relative.  When you add a person to your tree, Ancestry.com doesn’t check to make sure that entry is correct or accurate.  You could, quite literally, make up a completely false person and enter it as your ancestor’s father.

This is the fatal flaw and where the danger lies for other novice genealogists.  If your family tree’s settings are listed as public (which most are initially set to), other people who may be researching your ancestor will come across your fake entry for their father.  If they don’t know what they’re doing, they can then use this function to add this entry to their own family tree.  Over time, more and more people will do this and spread this false record as gospel.

This is exactly the situation I ran into my first time building a family tree.  I finally got to a point where I was waaaaaaaaaaay back in time and the birth dates listed for parents were hundreds of years different from those of their alleged children before I cottoned onto the fact that this wasn’t going to be acccurate.  Frustrated that I couldn’t pinpoint where things went wrong, I left it for several years.  When I picked it up again last year, I went back and deleted the most recent ancestor in each branch that I couldn’t confirm with other sources and started again.  (Unfortunately, this is flawed as well because it only deletes that link – not the ancestors listed before it as you would think.  So those false entries still exist out there until you go in and manually delete every single one.  Ugh!)

The moral of this story: When commencing any genealogical project, don’t take a lead at face value.  If you want to use the function that searches other people’s family trees, go for it!  As I mentioned before, it can be a useful tool.  Just don’t use it to actually add anyone to your own family tree.  Have a look at that person in other people’s family trees and see what sources THEY have used before adding that person to their own family tree.  If you don’t see any sources listed or can only see that they’ve used other people’s trees as the source, move on and start manually doing your own research.  Here’s an example of what you DON’T want to see – an entry where the only source to account for its credibility is other Ancestry.com members’ family trees.

BadRecord

What are credible sources?  I’m still learning myself, but here’s what I do know: For your closest ancestors, there should be some sort of official records available such as census forms and birth, marriage and death records.  As you go farther back (particularly in Europe), many church records are quite accurate.  Going back further still, you will undoubtedly run into the Millennium File and GenealogieOnline which track the lineage of European nobility and royalty.  There’s a fair bit of debate as to the accuracy of the Millennium File due to who it was built for (the Church of Latter Day Saints) and why, but according to Dutch genealogist Yvette Hoitink GenealogieOnline may be a better starting resource if you make sure to check the references they provide on the site before taking it at face value.  Also if you’re dealing with European nobility and royalty, chances are there are plenty of historical records that provide information on that person’s lineage and how accurate (or improbable) it may be.  As a rule of thumb, I generally stop tracking any lineage at royalty because there are countless historical records available developed by much more skilled historians than I.

Happy researching!

When you’re not enough

In case you couldn’t tell by the title of this post, I’ll throw out a disclaimer that this is not going to be a cheerful post.  If you’re after sunshine and roses, it might be time to read one of the other blogs you follow and come back to mine later.  While I could give you a rousing rendition of “Everything is Awesome!” I did promise to be frank with my discussions on here regardless of the topic.  So, here I go.

Job hunting is one of the worst parts of life.  I am absolutely convinced of the accuracy of this statement.  Think about it: You are constantly living with a sense of instability because really – you have no idea when you’ll find something.  Even if you do find something, it could go to hell in a hand-basket because you just don’t know what you’re getting into.  You have a limited amount of time to review very few (and sometimes non-existent) resources in order to gain an understanding of the organisations you are applying to, and you have to be “on” whilst writing cover letters and attending interviews.  The entire process is exhausting.

All of that aside, I think the hardest part is when you’re just not enough.  Now, I’m not exactly a rookie in my profession.  I have several years of valuable experience under my belt (despite not yet having that piece of paper that says “degree” on it).  I also have a keen desire to move up in the world.  My goal is to one day become CEO.  I feel with my whole heart that I am ready to step into a more senior role and I have so much potential to be a great manager.

But, I can’t quite get there.  I am missing a certain level of experience in a particular skill that most organisations in my sector want their managers to have.  What’s worse is that it is something I know I could do and that I could do extremely well.  Unfortunately, confident isn’t going to cut it.  This was ultimately the reason I didn’t get a management position I interviewed for months ago, and it’s the reason I didn’t get another management position I applied for recently.

So, the old confidence has taken yet another beating.  I don’t want to give up trying because you never know what will happen if you simply try.  At the same time, it can be rather soul-crushing to constantly put yourself out there and continually fall short.  Sometimes (like today) I have to rely solely on my faith that things will turn out okay in the end – that my skills and expertise ARE valuable, and that someone WILL see my potential and eventually snap me up.

Don’t worry.  I’m not giving up.  I’m ultimately the kind of person who, if you tell me I don’t have the ability to do something, I’ll say, “Watch me!” and make it happen.  I’ll give myself these few emo moments, but then I’ll wipe away the tears of frustration that currently adorn my eyelashes and…well…make it happen.

Cheers to all of the poor suckers out there that are in the same boat as I.  It’s a rocky SOB, but I know we’ll find the shore eventually.

How much is TOO much?

I’m originally from the USA.  While I have lived here for over a third of my life, I find that some things are a continued learning process.  Case in point: Your career.

Growing up, I was taught that you should always keep your personal life completely and utterly separate from your working life.  You go into work, do your job and you get out.  Period.  You may make “friends” in the office, but you heavily restrict what you reveal to them – never going into any sort of detail about your family, friends or beliefs.  I remember that my mother would never even attend work social functions, always making some excuse or another as to why she couldn’t go.

This is what I was taught to do, but I have since discovered that this is definitely not the norm in Australia.  Not only is your attendance at work functions expected, you simply cannot succeed without making friends with your colleagues.  And I don’t mean work friends – I mean going out to dinner and drinks, honest-to-God friends.  Obviously you still want to steer clear of office politics (which is kind of crazy because if you get personal, you’re automatically in it to a certain extent), but people actually become wary of you if you don’t participate at a social level in the workplace.

The same goes for when you’re seeking a job.  Employers no longer want to simply find someone with the right skills – it’s all about cultural fit.  “Why do you want to work for this company?”  “What unique perspective can you bring to my team?”

For the most part, I find this refreshing.  It’s so much more fun at work if you have someone you can relate to and banter with.  It’s also a lot easier to brainstorm and come up with amazing ideas in a cohesive team that has your back.  But at the same time, I often find myself feeling like I should revert back to how I was taught to conduct one’s work life.

This goes tenfold while looking for a new job, as I’m doing right now.  For example, I am very interested in applying for a position at a specific not-for-profit organisation.  One of the things that interests me about this role is that I have a first-hand understanding of a key social issue they work in and, therefore, empathy with the people they work with.  I believe this perspective would be a valuable asset to my application and while I want to highlight it, I can hear that pesky little American voice in my head yelling, “Too much information!  Don’t reveal that much of yourself!”  And I am genuinely scared to reveal this piece of information, even in a cryptic fashion because it will ultimately lead to questions whose answers you cannot evade.

So where do you draw the line?  How much IS too much information in this day, age and culture?  I’ll be damned if I know.  Until I either know the answer to my own question or, in the very least, know how much I am comfortable revealing in this instance, I’m going to take a break.  It’s about time for a cuppa anyway.

Who am I, anyway?

Writing the first post in a blog is, quite literally, the worst.  Even if you have a set blog theme or you’re writing for a specific business, the very first one is most likely going to suck.  I mean, what exactly do you write about?  Do you channel your AOL days and restrict it to an “A/S/L” style introduction, or do you go straight into developing content without context?  And even if you do choose to set the scene with a proper introduction, you tend to think to yourself as you’re writing, “Am I giving enough information so that they’ll understand my future posts?”  This vicious internal monologue inevitably leads to one of two conclusions: Either you write the longest blog post in the history of the world, or you give up blogging altogether.  (#thestruggleisreal)

So fuck it!  I am going to make an introductory post, and I will endeavour not to turn it into half a novel.  My name is Dev, I am a 30-something woman living in Melbourne, Australia.  I’m married without kids, American, morbidly obese, a marketing professional and a lover of beautiful places and things who appreciates history.

This scant information will, in no significant way, set you up for what you will read in subsequent posts.  How do I know this?  Because I have absolutely no idea what this blog is going to be.  It could (and probably will be) about my struggle to lose over half my body weight so I can have kids.  I’m sure genealogy will factor into this somewhere because of my recent work on my own family tree.  My random thoughts and feelings about being a mature age university student will undoubtedly make their way into this thing.

All I know is that, at this time in my life, I feel the need to write.  I’ve learned so much about myself and my family lately, and this has made me recognise importance of leaving a legacy.  Maybe this is mine.  I would love to think of this blog in so great of terms.  Regardless, I’m just going to see where this goes.