By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Some of you long-time subscribers know that I am unofficially the Sparrow family historian.  Or maybe I’m officially the historian because I’m the only one geeky enough to research this stuff.  I don’t know whether my interest is due to my love of history or simply having too much time on my hands.  Whichever it is, I find out something new whenever I search Ancestry.  Last month I discovered that that the daughter our grandfather had with his first wife turned out to be an international woman of mystery.  More on that another time after I’ve found more information.  And, true to form, what I can’t find in fact I’ll make up.  As the Irish say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  I’ve actually been studying a lot about the Irish lately because next month I will be going to Ireland for nine days with four friends on a sightseeing and knitting adventure.  I’ve even learned the national anthem of Ireland in hopes that I can whip that out at a local pub.  As I say, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before I go, not only about the country but about our Irish ancestors.


One of our second cousins has done marvelous ancestry work on my dad’s side of the family so I know that we have at least three relatives who came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1800’s.   Digging a little deeper, I found that my great-great grandmother left Tralee in 1854 on the ship Theodore.  It was somewhat of an ill-fated trip since she ended up being murdered by her cook in 1887.  Some of you may recall my blog about that – it’s a long and sordid story.  But moving along…I’m still attempting to find where the other relatives were from and hopefully I’ll stumble upon something before I leave.  Although we can trace most of our heritage back hundreds  of years, we still have some black holes.  Our mother’s mom, for instance, abandoned our grandfather and our mom when she was three so we know very little about her.  She is the Holy Grail of my ancestry work.  A few weeks ago I got to wondering if maybe she was Irish too – in whole or part – so I decided to do the Ancestry/DNA test.

It’s a pretty simple process – you simply spit into a test tube about five times and ship it off.  Of course, even the simplest test sometimes eludes me so I absentmindedly chewed my calcium pills right before I spit into the tube.  I was horrified to see the pinkish swirls in the tube so I rinsed it out and started over again.  Twice.  I won’t receive the results for a few weeks but I’m afraid they may indicate that I’m part Tums.  I told both of my brothers that I had done the test and that I’d share the results with them so we’d all know our ancestry.  But when I told a friend that, she informed me that brothers and sisters can have different genetic ancestry results.  Well, didn’t I just feel like a complete ignoramus.  The last thing I remember reading about genetics was that brothers and sisters are the closest of all relatives because they share two common parents.  So I set out to research and found a great article on the subject written by a Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Starr, which I will try to summarize.  If you Google him at “Stanford at the Tech” website you may end up spending hours reading his information and easy-to-understand articles.

Dr. Starr concedes that it’s logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad.  But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins.  So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.

What I take away from all this is the impression that our DNA make-up is a bit like a roulette wheel – not all the marbles are going to fall into the same categories.  My test may show a large percentage of Northern European ancestry but with some ringers thrown in just to make things interesting while my brothers…well, who knows what might come up for them.  So what does this mean?  It means that my brothers are going to have to cough up the $69 for their own test.  If nothing else it may prove that we’re really full siblings and mom wasn’t fooling around with the milkman.



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Women serving even before football on TV

Women serving men even before football was on TV

I know.  Thanksgiving is over.  Our collective minds have turned to “The Holidays”, which means most of you are buying presents, trimming trees or dipping into the egg nog.  After looking at the crowds on Black Friday apparently a lot of people were “dipping”.  For many of you the only remnant of Thanksgiving you want to think about is that last slice of pumpkin pie you’re hoping no one remembers is still in the fridge so you can sneak-eat it at 3 a.m.  But I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Thanksgiving lately – specifically the Pilgrims – so I am dragging out the holiday for one more week.  The reason:  I am doing extensive research on our Pilgrim ancestors in my quest to join the Mayflower SocietyWhy would I want to join the Mayflower Society?  Well, first, because I love history and the society’s chief aim is to preserve our early heritage.  But more importantly, recent world events have me thinking about what it means to be an American.  How did we start?  What were our founding beliefs and principles?  And just who were these people who left hearth and home to board a rickety ship and sail off to an unknown land?  My previous research has unearthed that we are related to five of the families that took that courageous step and were passengers on the Mayflower.  The 102 passengers on the ship were almost evenly divided between the “saints” and the “strangers”.  The saints were religious dissenters who left England for Holland and eventually America.  The strangers were merchants, tradesmen or indentured servants.  There were also a few “dodgy” sorts who were fleeing the law.  Amazingly, our ancestors were all saints.  I have to say I was a little disappointed to learn that – I was hoping to have a good scoundrel in our background to make things a bit more interesting.

More than a 3 hour cruise

The Mayflower

The Mayflower Society wants me to prove our lineage, which I suppose is a reasonable request.  There are over 30,000,000 possible descendants world-wide but only 27,000 have joined the group.  I suspect that’s because they require actual documentation, not just some letter from old Aunt Sally that’s been handed down through the years.  One has to submit marriage licenses, birth certificates and/or death notices.  Heretofore (meaning before the internet) obtaining all of those documents was an almost impossible task.  Trust me, it’s still a pain to document and verify everything but as the “family historian” I figure it’s my job.  Plus, it turns out that if a relative has joined the Society then any direct relatives can join without having to prove much more than you’ve fought over a drumstick at Thanksgiving or you’ve both tolerated Drunk Uncle at Christmas.  So I’m hopeful that if I go through the process of “showing them our stinkin’ badges” that some future member of our family will be more willing to take up the mantle of family historian.  Luckily in 2011 I joined Ancestry.com and used their documentation to write our family history dating back to the Pilgrims.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that I have kept my membership in Ancestry since then in anticipation of writing our family’s European history.  But one thing or another has kept me from doing the research – mostly due to my borderline A.D.D and my inability to stare at a computer screen for hours.  As a result, I have paid those nice people at Ancestry $960 in the past several years for … nothing.    Which I think is their business model – rope in people with good intentions and lazy attitudes and the bottom line looks pretty good.

William Brewster - not voted Class Clown

William Brewster – not voted Class Clown

But back to the task at hand (you can see how I get distracted)… in doing the research in 2011 I found that my maternal great-grandmother’s family has formed an elaborate organization.  Genealogy, it seems, has become the second most popular hobby in the world, right after gardening.  That’s right – the study of dead people is more popular than golf or stamp collecting.  As it turns out, many families have their own organizations and websites and it was through my great-grandmother’s family website that I first learned of our Pilgrim connections.  I’m hoping that a lot of the genealogy geeks in that organization have already joined the Mayflower Society so that all I’ll have to prove is my direct lineage from her.  Heck, I’ve got pictures of her with my mother so that should count for something.  Hopefully there isn’t any sort of “blackballing” or personality test required.  Our mom said that her grandmother, although civic-minded and philanthropic, was something of a pistol.  And not in a good way – she was domineering, opinionated and humorless.  It may run in the family.  One of our Pilgrim ancestors was William Brewster, who was the spiritual leader on the Mayflower, and was said to have many of those same traits.  On the other hand, Sarah Palin is also descended from Brewster, so maybe he did have a sense of humor after all.

In any event, I have submitted my application to the Mayflower Society and they tell me it will take 3-6 weeks to see if I’m “qualified” to join.  There’s a small part of me that hopes they send a response informing me that our ancestors were actually horse thieves and had no part in the Mayflower.  Then I can take up gardening and finally cancel that subscription to Ancestry.com.