Going Down Home Timeline

July 2015 Second trip Down Home

October 2014 First trip Down Home

July 2013 to October 2014 Online research and interviews

July 2013 23andme results received

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ending 2014 with thoughts about my 2 percent

In the past year, I’ve uploaded my 23andme autosomal raw data to all Gedmatch admixture calculators, DNA Tribes and Family Tree DNA (where I have mtDNA results on file).  I sought out guidance on the accuracy of the tools that I’d used, and suggestions for better products. 

I wanted scientific precision, but have settled for impressionistic results that vary from tool to tool but basically reach a similar conclusion:  my ancestry is 98% European and 2% Something Else.

At 23andme, that Something Else is Unidentified.

At FTDNA’s “My Origins,” that 2% of my ancestry came from North African and Asia Minor.

At any of the Gedmatch admixture calculators, that 2% or more is +/- some combination of Amerindian and Sub-Saharan African, usually with a higher portion of non-European identified as African rather than Native.

I am, it seems, a geno-reflection of findings recently published in The American Journal of Human Genetics : “The Genetic Ancestry ofAfrican Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States.

Using genetic information obtained from 23andme customers, Katarzyna Bryc, et. al concluded “the frequency of European American individuals who carry African ancestry varies strongly by state and region of the US (Figure 3A). We estimate that a substantial fraction, at least 1.4%, of self-reported European Americans in the US carry at least 2% African ancestry. Using a less conservative threshold, approximately 3.5% of European Americans have 1% or more African ancestry (Figure S8). Individuals with African ancestry are found at much higher frequencies in states in the South than in other parts of the US: about 5% of self-reported European Americans living in South Carolina and Louisiana have at least 2% African ancestry.”

Their findings also seem to illuminate my lower percentages of Native to African ancestry:  “Fitting a model of European and Native American admixture followed later by African admixture, we find the best fit with initial Native American and European admixture about 12 generations ago and subsequent African gene flow about 4 generations ago.”

My Native ancestry, which probably entered my “gene flow” in Eastern North Carolina twice as long ago as my African ancestry, has anecdotal roots.  Numerous distant relatives have repeated the story that my great, great grandmother, Mary Ann Armstrong Parisher, had Native ancestry, yet no one seems to know its origins. No one has ever offered up any anecdotal suggestions of African ancestry, even though it is likely that it would have been introduced more recently. Lacking anything but my own genotyping to work with, I suspect that Mary Ann Armstrong might be the source of both my African and Native ancestry.

I accept that I may very well never know the stories that explain my 2 percent --- although I would really, really like to know them.  For now, I’ll have to make do with the knowledge that like many predominantly European Americans with roots in the South that go back more than 400 years, I am a product of intimate knowledge that has been forgotten or hidden for generations, only to surface through genetic testing -- my most intimate level of body knowledge.

That going down home -- delving deep into an invisible storied past -- seems so scientifically possible, yet not.  I've met other people on the same journey, and suspect that in 2015, the journey itself will be what's important.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Down Home for the holidays

We never went Down Home for the holidays, but there were many years when the farm on Mill Pond Road came to us. When the box from Roper arrived, my mother would briefly forget her critical pretensions and delight in the warmth it brought to her in Pennsylvania.  

The contents that I remember best were from the land itself – shiny magnolia leaves for decorating, peanuts, pecans, jams, watermelon rind pickles – and gifts for me that my Aunt Margaret made by hand. 

When I was 10, she made a dark blue velvet dress with a white lace collar for me, with a matching one for my doll.  When I was a teenager, she made me A-line wool skirts with matching hand-knitted sweaters that rivaled the preppy manufacturers’ skirt/sweater sets.  

Those Down Home boxes, so filled with Margaret’s handiwork, never disappointed. What was disappointing – aside from the fact that I only remember two Thanksgivings and no Christmases spent with any relatives – was the Something that my mother missed. 

She’d mention yule logs or shooting guns and fireworks at Christmas.  (Not New Year’s, Christmas!)  She’d mention chess pie or her mother playing the piano and I’d get the feeling that those Depression-era holidays in Washington County, NC had been better than any I would ever know. 

Her brother would send us a Smithfield ham, but still, something was missing.  It was her mother, more than anything else, who had made the Down Home holidays so memorable, so rhapsodic -- Inez, who died when my mother was in her mid-twenties, before I was born. It wasn't the sandy soil or the Spanish moss or the bird dogs or the floating island custard she was missing.  It wasn’t the 400 miles between us and Roper that created the empty space in her life.  It was not having a mother in her 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. 

I pull out her Lilly Wallace New American Cookbook (1947) and a falling-apart copy of The Joy of Cooking and rifle through the many handwritten recipes tucked between their pages, looking for some remnant of the regionalism she brought North with her.  On withered notepad pages, I find her recipes for corn pudding and spoon bread, white peach pie and sweet potato pie. Always appreciated, but not specifically holiday fare.

I find her scribbled notes for sand tarts, the ones she cut out in the shapes of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades, dusted with cinnamon sugar, glazed with egg wash and a pecan half.  Down Home for the holidays, I think, and jump to Pinterest to find good pictures of sand tarts, only to find them described as an Amish Christmas cookie.  Really?  Not Southern?

Tell me what I’m missing.  Tell me about the down home holiday foods you remember and still make.  Tell us how you make them, serve them, why you still love them.