The Spit Swab

Spit swabs, or buccal swabs if you want to sound more educated, are extremely useful. Police can use them to find out if you raped someone. They can be taken for paternity tests. We took them from each other in science class to study cells. Some boys in high school made jokes that a couple girls found sperm cells in their specimens. You can find out a lot about your past history with just a little scrub of your cheek.

I’ve been wanting to do the Ancestry DNA for a while now and just haven’t actually buckled down and bought it. In my defense it is a little expensive. But I have looked into my family tree through them.

I think history is absolutely fascinating. I was always intrigued in classes about the past, whether it was civics when we talked about the different governments that ruled the US and what led us to where we are today to ancient Greece and Rome before the falls of the two empires. I love history whether it is my own American history or European where I get learn about kings and queens or Asian with samurai and colonization of the far East. It’s the only time I’ve been able to understand politics.

I learned a lot about myself when I did my family tree. Like many other New Englanders, I can trace my ancestors back to the Mayflower. Some of the oldest records I could find date back to the late 1500s and the first influx seemed to be around the 1640s from England. So hundreds of years later my family has not gone very far. We skipped the whole gold rush and the westward expansion and stayed right in Connecticut and New York mostly.

Some of the more interesting things I found was that my tenth great grandmother was Hannah Willix of Exeter, New Hampshire. Some sources say she was born in Lincolnshire, England, others say she was born in New Hampshire near Dover. Either way, she was murdered in 1648. She was probably robbed and raped before she was beaten and then thrown in the Piscataqua River. She was found with a broken neck, a black tongue, and basically completely bloody and abused. Her murder has never been solved. There’s two interesting bits in here as well: when I learned this, I had two cousins stationed in Portsmouth for the Coast Guard, meaning they were patrolling the same waters that our family line was chucked into. So if it had happened now, they could very well have found her. Second, my mother’s side (Hannah Willix is on my paternal line) is from Canada and Northern Maine, including a line of Abenaki and Penobscot Natives. Apparently Piscataqua is an Abanaki word meaning rapid waters.

I like seeing little commonalities here and there. It makes me feel like those six degrees of separation are at work. It makes me feel like fate has a lot of fun with us.

A little later but through the same line is the Nobles. Reuben Noble was my sixth great grandfather who gave over $40,000 to the Baystate Health in Westfield, Massachusetts to form the Baystate Noble Hospital. And, another two degrees of separation, I have two friends, one an ex-boyfriend and one whom I worked with, who do not know one another who were both born at the hospital. That might not be huge until you know that I never lived in Massachusetts and I met them both in different states.

I didn’t have a lot of trouble with my dad’s side of the family. I talked to my grandfather about his time in New York and he gave me his parents’ and grandparents’ names. I knew we were Austrian (not German, Austrian) and there was some amount of French Jews in the line so I at least had baseline of where to look.

Well as it turns out, we are German. Northern German actually, from Schlesweig-Holstein. And a marriage into a Bavarian family, which resulted in my great-grandmother Clara, who told me herself she was French. Nope, but the Bavarian side is Jewish. I could only trace them to the 1940s, still in Germany, so I’m not sure if they escaped and changed their names or were killed. I can hope it was the former because the names did change kind of suddenly, but they were all women so I can’t be sure it wasn’t a marriage.

It gets difficult tracing your ancestry in Europe, though. The borders have changed so much, especially with Germany and Eastern Europe, both of which we suspected is where we originated. Ancestry.com also uses hand-written records like censuses. So one census will say that my great-great-grandparents and their kids were from Germany, the next would say Prussia, the next would say Russia. And then when I looked it up by the city, the “Russia” is actually Poland. So my great-grandfather is the first child born in New York from German or Russian (Polish?) parents.

Now my mom’s side was even more difficult. I talked to both of her parents about what they knew and could trace my grandma back to Canada pretty quickly. And I knew eventually it would end with the Natives, but even all the way back to before the 1500s there was mixing with European settlers, so we haven’t had full blooded First Canadians in my family in a long time. My great-grandmother was also a direct descendant of Colonel Timothy Walker, who led the 22nd Continental Army in the American Revolution, including serving in the Siege of Boston.

My grandpa though was a standstill. I found him due to his service in World War II (he landed in Normandy and I had the pleasure of seeing the beach he landed on last year, which I will talk about in another post) but it stopped there. Part of it was because he faked his birth certificate to fight and another part was because his parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandmother. I could trace people back with only vague information of their names and maybe a birthplace if I was lucky. As we had suspected, two generations before Grandpa, we could place them born in Czechoslovakia. But with no cities of birth or ports where they left or even when they came over, I have no idea which part of Czechia or Slovakia or maybe even Austria or Hungary I may be from. I do know one census said Austria as their birthplaces instead so that could narrow it down a bit. So maybe I am still Austrian, but on my mom’s side instead of Dad’s.

Hopefully soon I’ll be able to do the DNA test and learn a little bit more. My ultimate goal with this would be to visit the cities my brothers and sisters lived in before me and see the mountains and streams and even trees that they saw hundreds of years ago. It would help me learn where I came from, why I’m here, why I am the way that I am. Because in the end, your history makes you who you are, and that includes the recent history and the not so recent.

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