Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year.....Ring Those Bells!

Have you ever thought about the significance of something as simple as a bell?

Not only were church bells of old used to announce the time of day to anyone within hearing distance, bells in general have been used since the earliest of times as a type of alarm, warning those nearby of things that were about to happen, things that were both "good" and some things that were "not so good." While bells have long been included in religious celebrations, the tolling of a bell may also serve as an announcement that a child has been born, a couple has been married, or to inform a community that a death has occurred.

During medieval times, the simple ringing of a bell was believed to have kept evil spirits away, and it was a common practice to ring a bell at the bedside of the deceased prior to burial. In modern times, bells of all types, sizes, and sounds are commonly used in our homes, schools, and other public places. Even our doorbells and the bell that ding-dings when we fail to buckle our seat belts have evolved from the early uses of bells as warning or announcement devices.

Today, bells continue to be a part of the simplest of our holiday traditions, both religious and secular. But neither Christmas nor a New Year celebration would be the same without bells.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sharing and Preserving Family History At Christmas

Christmas gatherings are perfect times to discuss and to preserve one's family history. After the more traditional activities of attending church, opening gifts, and eating a holiday dinner are over, sharing stories about family history is a perfect way to get older relatives to talk about what it was like when they were growing up. Talking about old or special Christmas ornaments on the tree, and remembering unusual or funny events that occurred during past Christmases may be ways to start a dialogue. My own family engaged in some "family story sharing" over the Christmas holidays, and a new cousin I met just last week and I shared our stories yesterday over the phone. Taking photos of family members gathered for the holiday is another fantastic way to preserve the memory of those who are close to us. We are extremely blessed to have a daughter who is a very talented photographer, so our family gathering was well-documented with photos of all of us, including the cat! And this year, for the first time ever, I gave someone a DNA test kit for Christmas. In my case, the gift went to a very close friend who is attempting to unravel her maternal family's history. Since genetic DNA testing has become an extremely valuable tool for adding more branches to the family tree, I imagine others like me gave test kits for gifts this Christmas, as well. Overall, ours was a very good Christmas, one filled with memories that will live on. I hope you made some special memories this Christmas, too. And along the way, I hope we all preserved a little family history.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Traditions

This post was initially written for the Carnival of Genealogy, 61st Edition, and first published here on December 1, 2008.  

Our Christmas-related activities, "after children" were many and varied over the years. They changed somewhat every few years because of the children's ages and where we lived at the time. But the ones I call "traditions" were started when our family was young, and they never changed. Some were influenced by our own upbringings, but the ones that meant the most actually started when the first child was born.

One of the things we always did was to put up a "real" tree, usually a Frazier fir. As we moved, the height of ceilings in our houses changed. And when we finally landed in Texas in 1985 and built a house that had a family room with a very high ceiling, we began purchasing a taller tree, usually something that was about 10-12 feet in height. It became a family event to select the "special" tree from one of the many Christmas tree lots that lined the major streets leading to our surburban neighborhood. But it was a "parent" event to get the large tree home on the top of our vehicle and inside the house when we arrived.

Placing the lights on the tree in the early years was always an "adult" task, too. And as soon as the lights were in place, the children began clamoring about who would be "next" to climb the ladder to hang their special ornaments on the tree. When the tree was all decorated and the lights turned on, we started a fire in the fireplace (whether it was cold outside or not!) and sipped on hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows on top, sitting quietly for a few moments to admire in awe the advent of a new Christmas season.

Another tradition involved driving around the week before Christmas to see the Christmas lights in our development and others nearby. In Texas, homeowners' associations take displays of Christmas lights very seriously, and some residents try to outdo their neighbors by having their rooflines, trees, and yard displays decorated by lighting professionals. One of these developments continues its lighting tradition, started about 25 years ago now, with red lights outlining the driveways and walkways that are bright enough to make you think you are nearing the East/West runway of DFW airport! Strategically placed throughout the neighborhood are painted and lighted storyboards that tell in pictures and words the story of "The Night Before Texas, that is..." It was great family fun then and now, and the children, even after they became teenagers, never seemed to tire of reading the story of Santa Claus in his "buckboard" and cowboy boots, making his rounds to deliver gifts to all the children in Texas. Visiting this neighborhood during Christmas season is still a family tradition.

One of my own family traditions growing up in Mississippi was a Christmas Eve gathering of our family which ended with eating fruitcake and drinking egg nog. For the adults in the family, the egg nog may have been laced with rum or with some good old Kentucky bourbon. Don't ask me where they bought the rum or bourbon back then....liquor was illegal in Mississippi until 1966.

But the fruit cake and eggnog tradition was not one that ever took hold in my own family after I had children. They did not like either eggnog or fruitcake. But we simply replaced those holiday items with ones they did enjoy, such as Christmas cookies, lots of Hot Chocolate, and spicy, mulled apple cider, stirred with a cinnamon stick. More often than not, we enjoyed watching a family Christmas movie together, or when the children were younger, we read Christmas stories and listened to Christmas carols, always ending with the always special, "Silent Night." 

Until the children were teenagers, we allowed them to open one gift, and one gift only, to settle some of the anticipation that grew increasingly greater with every day leading up to Christmas morning. Christmas morning always came early in a household where five children had been waiting for weeks for this special day. After they descended on the gifts, we enjoyed a big, homemade breakfast, that usually consisted of French toast, waffles, or pancakes, with Canadian bacon or little smokie sausages, and juice.

Attending Christmas Mass was always a part of our Christmas tradition, but as the children grew older and could stay up longer, instead of attending Mass on Christmas morning, we began going to Midnight Mass, something that became a very special time for all of us. We especially enjoyed the singing of Christmas carols and a performance by the Bell Choir that began thirty minutes before the start of Mass. One of the many memories I have of my children growing up was the first time we attended Midnight Mass, when one of my sons expressed amazement at how few cars were on the streets of our surburban city at 11:30 p.m. I don't think he had ever been up that late in his young life. Little did he know at that moment how many times he and his brothers and their friends would be out at 11:30 p.m. (or later) as teenagers driving on those same streets.

As the children have grown older and some now have families of their own, they have started some of their own special traditions that emulate the ones they remember from childhood. Sometimes, when we are lucky, they include us. But what is important is that family traditions continue to overlap the generations that carry special memories of Christmas when each of us was "growing up."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Does DNA J1 Haplogroup Finding Prove Samuel Porter is Related to Landlot Porter?

It all started when I contacted an individual named Carol Hughes about her post on an message board.  According to the post, Carol and I were researching the same individual, Anastacia Porter Lawson PorterKnown as "Gracy" to family members, Anastacia was the second wife of William Porter, who died in Hinds County, Mississippi in the 1800s. According to most accounts, William Porter was the son of Landlot Porter and Winnie Palmer Porter. More about the Porter family of Hinds County, Mississippi can be read here

Source: Carol Hughes Personal Photo Collection
Gravestone of Landlot Porter
Fortson-Porter Private Cemetery
Hinds County, Mississippi
Shortly before reading Carol's post on the message board, I had read about a small family cemetery near Raymond, Mississippi that allegedly contained the graves of Gracy, her husband, William, his father, Landlot Porter, and other Porter and Fortner family members. I shared this information in an email to Carol, and was struck with amazement when I received her reply telling me that she lived within a few miles of the cemetery's location.  

Although she had no previous knowledge of the cemetery's existence, Carol readily volunteered to locate it and kindly offered to photograph whatever headstones she might find. As most of us know, family obligations, weather, and life in general often take precedence over family research activities, and almost a year went by before Carol was able to make the trip to the cemetery. Although Carol had actually located the cemetery early on, she discovered it was located on private property and she needed permission from the owner. Carol was persistent, and soon her visit to the cemetery, albeit a bittersweet one, was realized. Although the cemetery is located on privately owned property, it has been vandalized and some of the heavier stones and monuments have been toppled.  Gracy Porter's stone was one of those that had been overturned. Landlot Porter's grave marker is still standing, and the photo appearing in this post was included with Carol's permission.

Will I ever know how my great-great-great-grandfather, Samuel Porter, b. circa 1799 in South Carolina, is related to Landlot Porter or to his son, William? I don't know, but I haven't given up searching. I have joined the WorldFamilies Surname Project and I submitted a DNA sample provided by one of the oldest living Porter males in Samuel Porter's lineage to FamilyTree DNA's lab in Houston, Texas. Test results showed the DNA sample submitted by this elderly Porter male matched Y-DNA samples belonging to descendants of John Porter (b. 1690 in Virginia) and to a descendant of Shadrack Porter, one of Landlot's sons by his first wife, Winnie Palmer. The most interesting information about these DNA matches, however, is that each of those tested that matched at the 12 to 37 chromosome range also belong to the J1 Haplogroup (M267), including the Porter male relative I mentioned. 

Now what does that mean? Specifically, the J1 Haplogroup finding means that individuals with this result have ethnic ancestry in many of countries that make up the Arabian Peninsula, as well as some of the countries in Northern Africa. In addition, the majority of academic information about the J1 Haplogroup indicates this finding is indicative of Jewish ancestry, pointing to the "Cohen gene model."  DNA findings can get rather complicated even without involving Haplogroup designations, so I invite you to read more about J1 Haplogroup results here

The J1 Haplogroup finding in my father's ancestry (and mine) does not surprise me. Physical attributes common in my paternal grandmother's Porter family, particularly those of her brothers and her father, were characteristic of Middle Eastern men. Fascinating information.....and it's difficult to believe that it all resulted from just two cheek swabs! 

Will this finding change the direction of my research? Most definitely. Since the Porter family came to Mississippi from several areas in South Carolina, I need to find out more about the family and its collateral lines before they migrated to the Mississippi Territory. Of historical significance is that South Carolina, specifically the cities of Camden and Charleston, had the largest Jewish population in the U. S. in the early 1800s.  You can read more about this segment of our country's history in the Enclyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, an online history department located on the Goldring-Woldenburg Institute of Southern Jewish Life website.

So one of my directions for researching Porter family history for the coming year is researching South Carolina history....and who knows what I might find!

Monday, December 2, 2013

DNAme - How My Son is Related to John Adams, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, and Cheddar Man

Early last summer, I received an email from Dan Manley, who works for a UK-based DNA testing firm, asking me if I would like to receive a free test kit and write about the results of the DNA test on my blog. I agreed to do so, but I explained to Manley that I would like to have a family member tested instead, since I had already been tested by two other companies. With this understanding in place, I chose to have one of my adult sons participate. Surprisingly, my son eagerly submitted the necessary cheek swabs when I received the free test kit. 

DNAme, it seems, is a fairly new company. The following is an excerpt from the company's website:

"Just like footprints on wet sand, the journey of our ancestors to populate the world left trails within us.  These trails are carried in all of our cells and laid within our genes. We offer you a way to analyse your DNA and to find out the journey of your ancestors from Africa, 150,000 years ago, up to the present time...."

Although the company itself is based in the UK, my son's DNA sample was processed in the U.S. in a lab in Virginia. The test kit looked very much like those used by other genetic DNA testing companies. The swabs, shaped like mini-toothbrushes, were sealed inside plastic tubes with what appeared to be "twist-off" tops. These "tops" turned out to be rather difficult to "twist" off, however, and I actually damaged one tube container so much that I used heavy duty tape to re-seal the tube. My son and I were each concerned that this particular sample would be contaminated. So I emailed Manley before we mailed the tubes to the lab and explained what had happened, and he seemed surprised by the apparent difficulty and possible defect. But he assured me the difficulty I encountered opening and resealing the tubes was not an everyday occurrence, and he felt certain the sample should arrive intact at the lab. So we dropped the return kit in the U. S. mail and hoped for the best.

We waited several weeks with no confirmation of receipt by email from the lab or from the company, so I sent an email off to Manley. He quickly responded that the test had indeed reached the lab. It seemed as if it took much longer to receive test results from DNAme than what I anticipated, since the longest period of time I had waited for a previous test with another company (U.S. based) was about four weeks. 

Several weeks after the follow-up email with Manley, I received notification in the mail that DNAme test results were in and were available on the company's website, A small cardboard "ID" type card, containing an access code for viewing the results, was included with the letter. Retrieval of the results was quick and simple, and the website allowed us to download a copy of the report in .pdf format to save for future reference. My son's test results were clear and concise. The document stated his Y-Chromosome markers were analyzed, and his paternal haplotype was identified as R1b. The R1b Haplogroup carries the mutation M343. According to an explanation contained on the first page of the report of findings is this information:

"Haplogroup R is thought to have appeared some 30,000 years ago in Central Asia and is widely spread all over the world. You carry the mutation M343 which is linked to one of the subclades of Haplogroup R called R1b which is thought to have been part of the recolonisation of Europe following the Last Glacial Maximum. The founding member of your tribe is thought to have been born in south west Asia approximately 15,000 - 20,000 years ago. That time was called the Late Glacial Maximum and the climate was very hostile. The whole world was populated by less than 500,000 inhabitants. During this period, Northern Europe was covered with ice and approximely 100 metres below the modern-day one......It has also been suggested that most European male lineages descended from Near Eastern farmers and that maternal lineages descended from hunter-gatherers. This finding suggests that there has been a reproductive advantage for male farmers over hunter-gathers during the Paleolithic to the Neolithic transition period."

My son especially focused in on the next statement:

"You belong to direct descendants of the Cro Magnon people, the modern humans who painted the "Lascaux Cave" in Dordogne in the South of France. These paintings can be regarded both as a testimony of the artistic skills of your ancestors but also as a sketch book of their life during the last glacial age." What is interesting is that he does have some undeveloped artistic we know his skills are contained in his DNA.

At this point in reading the findings of his Y-Chromosome testing, my son was ready for some simply stated results....actually, so was I. So this is the text that followed, although it is still somewhat complex:

"The journey of your ancestors started about 60,000 years ago in Africa close to the Rift Valley region. Following the herds, they migrated toward the north. At that time, the Sahara was not a desert but a hospitable area.  Following a climate shift, they continued moving toward the north-east and left Africa via the Arabian Peninsula. They did not stay there but followed the coastline and finally reached Central Asia. It was some 40,000 years ago that one of your ancestors migrated towards the west of Europe while the rest of the tribe decided to aim towards India and Asia. The climate changed again and glaciers started to cover Europe. Your ancestors met the Neanderthals, but probably due to their communicating and tool building skills had an advantage over them.  With the climate continuing to become harsher, your ancestors looked for refuges in the southern parts of Europe. Following the Late Glacial Maximum and the thawing of the ice, your ancestors populated and dominated the northern parts of Europe. At that time, the English Channel was mostly dry and could be crossed on foot."

Now just what does Haplogroup R1b mean for my son?

The report explains this particular Haplogroup in the following paragraph:

"The R Haplogroup and its subclades, R1a, R1b and R2 are widely spread all over the world. R1b can be found in more than 80% of the population in England, France and Spain. In western Ireland, R1b is found in nearly 100% of the population.  It is also greatly found in the United States and in some parts of Africa like Cameroon. The more we move towards central and eastern Europe the more Haplogroup R1a is represented. R2 is mostly found in India."

In summary, my son's genetic ancestry is:

European (England, France, and Spain)                                    95.40%

American (refers to non-specified Native American ancestry)      3.70%
African                                                                                           0.20%
Asian                                                                                             0.70%   
                                                              Total:                           100.00%                                                                          

DNAme notes on the report the test's accuracy as + or - .5%

One finding reported by DNAme was surprising. It states that his matrilineal DNA Haplogroup is "U." This is an unusual reporting result in most genetic DNA testing of Y-Chromosomes. What I now know is that my son's maternal line, including me, according to the test results, is "part of a very large and old Haplogroup, the U group, which gave rise to a large part of the European population. (The) initial ancestor is thought to have been born in western Asia some 50,000 to 55,000 years ago during the Ice Age, about 15,000 years after modern humans started to spread from Africa. At that time, the first humans had just left their home from where we all originate. (My son's) great-great-grandmother probably came via the Middle East and crossed the Caucasus Mountains to explore new lands....Asia and Europe."

Wow, what a long and rich history we have as a people, always on the move, and it hasn't ended yet......

And yes, my son is related to John Adams, Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, and shares a common ancestor with Cheddar Man, who lived more than 9,000 years ago. According to DNAme, "Cheddar Man" lived more than 9,000 years ago and is regarded as Britain's oldest skeleton. DNA testing, also according to DNAme's report, describes how DNA testing permitted the discovery of two living descendants of the Cheddar Man still living in the town of Somerset, England, close to where his remains were found.  

The story of "Cheddar Man" and where his skeleton was found is quite interesting, especially since my son's paternal ancestry can be traced back to Somerset, England in the 1600's.  

Thanks, Dan Manley, for the free test kit, with the only obligation that I write about the results!