Saturday, September 13, 2014

Truths Revealed



Upon my return from the chaotic "Amtrak Polar Vortex Debacle of 2014," I was immediately faced with the task of removing several feet of snow from my driveway that had been left untouched since my departure from the tundra two weeks previously. After digging my way into my house, I had three days to prepare for another two-week long trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. This included unpacking, cleaning, and repacking, but additionally this was a work trip that involved getting a host of client correspondence, files, notes, and documents into some sort of working order to take with me. Organization is not my strong point. Procrastination is. It usually results in mayhem.

On the last of these three days of insanity, and the day before I had to arise in the dark to catch an early morning flight to Utah, my otherwise healthy cat decided to drop dead whilst vehemently begging for his breakfast as had been his custom for the previous eleven years.

After crying on my ride to the airport, crying to myself in airports and on a series of planes to Utah, and crying on my ride from the airport, I still managed to keep my mind focused on work, and I returned home to another eight-foot wall of snow in my driveway on the night of 25 January 2014.

The point of this narrative so far?

DNA was the LAST thing on my mind.

But February 2014 was already on my calendar as a light month. I was going to be able to get some computer work done, sit at my desk, do some much needed organization around the house, and prepare for a busier spring.

Although I had to still battle the onslaught of snow with just a hand shovel, I secretly enjoyed the physical workout it provided, especially in the quiet still of the night. I will tell everyone who will listen how much I hate snow, and how I dread another Indiana winter, but there is something about the crisp, silent stillness of a winter night that has its appeal. January came to a close with hopes of February being a productive month at home.

But I certainly had not completely forgotten about my adventures in DNA. Beyond the nagging doubts of my mother's origins, I was still fascinated with the power of DNA to help with my research, and while in California in December, I paid to have all of my data, and that of my mother and father, transferred to FamilyTreeDNA so that I could take full advantage of their database of several hundred thousand testers. I also splurged and ordered my Y-DNA test and my mt-DNA test, so that I could fully experience the spectrum of DNA testing and what it could offer me. I also downloaded all of my data to a site called GEDmatch.com, which is a free site where DNA testers can use data from all three companies - 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA - to compare their autosomal DNA test results with each other, and take advantage of their many tools to utilize the data to its fullest potential.

So to say I was just ignoring the whole DNA game in January would definitely be a falsehood. I was in it deep. But I was more involved with the "big picture" aspect of it, and I was still exploring what it could do for me as a research medium now that I was a full-time professional genealogist.

But on 2 February 2014 my focus shifted. My impatience and curiosity always outpaces the powers that be. Although the "Dear Dianne, Your first set of 23andMe results are now available" email was delivered to my virtual mailbox on 5 February 2014, I was able to tell they were ready three days before.

Preliminary results means that relationships have not been calculated, colorful little ethnic composition maps have not been generated, nor have potential matches been shown to you. It just means the data is available to play with.

So I played.

And the first thing I did was a comparison of DNA between Carol Crumet and her sister Dianne Moore. There is a tool for that on 23andMe, and I simply placed my mother's name in one designated box, and Dianne's in one of three boxes reserved for the people with whom I might want to compare to her. And then my cursor hovered over the tab "Compare."

My heart was racing. However clich├ęd that sounds, it was. The doubts I had harbored for over thirty years would be answered with a single click. I was equal parts terrified, and equal parts feeling foolish over my guts being in knots over it. But I was also partially exhilarated that DNA held the truth. It would not - could not - lie to me.

Click.

Immediately a picture graph representing 22 chromosomes and an X-chromosome popped up. Green-colored segments of various lengths were strewn all over them indicating the areas on each individual chromosome that my mother and her sister shared in common. There was a lot of green. That seemed to be a good sign. But what I needed was a number. And although this method of playing with the preliminary data gave me the tools that I needed to compare them to each other, I had to do the math myself.

The graph told me that my mother and her sister shared 1935 centimorgans (cM) of DNA in common. A centimorgan is a unit of measuring genetic linkages. And 23andMe considers roughly a total of 7438 cM of data on the twenty-two chromosomes and two X-chromosomes of women.

Break out the calculator. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch. Punch.

They shared 26.0% of their DNA in common.

Twenty.  Six.  Percent.

I think my racing heart stopped. I felt a little dizzy, almost as if I'd been drinking way too early in the day. I was certain about what I was seeing, but I still brought up all the same DNA websites I had read countless times before. And I reread on all of them the simple facts I already knew in my head. Full siblings share an average of 50% of their DNA in common. Half-sibling share an average of 25%.

Fuck.

Although that's not a family-friendly term to put into my blog, it was the first thing that came to my mind. Truly. I stared blankly at the screen and at the not-enough-green striped chromosomal map in front of me with my calculator mockingly sitting next to it. I sat. I stared.

Fuck.

And it's not like I hadn't thought about this possibility. But at that moment, I knew I never really believed that it would be true. You have to know me to realize I agonize over EVERYTHING. And if you cannot prove it to me with concrete scientific fact, I am not going to ever believe it entirely. Show me proof, and I am fine. I really expected to see the proof to the story that everyone had told - and believed - since 1946. I could smile, sigh, and everyone could say, "See? I told you so! I don't know why you fret so much!"

Twenty-six percent is why I fret.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. OH MY GOD! Fuck.

That's the response that came to my mind after my initial numbness. That rushing thought, and the feeling of my skull becoming hot to the touch like an overheated hard drive because of the cascade of colliding thoughts and plans and repercussions and emotions and consequences and wonderment and confusion pummeling my brain. I was flushed and warm and frantic and shocked. I was overwhelmed.

I had to tell my mother.

Frank Louis Strukel was not her father.

11 comments:

  1. This is killing me! Yikes! Need the next one ASAP.

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  2. Loved your reaction--I had to laugh, but that would have been my same thought, too! I can't wait to hear the rest.

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  3. Wow! You got me hooked. Can't wait until the next installment.

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  4. Michael, despite your impatient fan base, I already know the Hoosier Daddy is a descendant of Charles Dickens. Where else could your talent for leaving your readers on the edge of their seats with each installment posssibly have come from?!

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  5. . . . and who buried the cat??

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  6. Oh man, I thought I'd die laughing when I saw the F word! I'm still laughing. Even if you have made up single story so far, this ought to be a screenplay.

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  7. You may not believe me but in one of the photos you posted I thought your mother had wide set eyes like Sandy and not like Diane. Your mom and Sandy looked more alike to me.

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