How is it that people born between 1900 and 1940, and tied to us in a direct genealogical lineage can be so very new? That is the art and science of genealogy, I suppose. Names and dates, paperwork and photos. Sometimes, question marks are the most specific items we have about someone. For many years, that is who my great-grandfather, John D’Anna was to me. Now, in 2013, I am just beginning to discover who he is. Because of the generosity of the family who grew knowing him, I am able to see him moving in silent films from the 1950s. I am able to hear more historical information; the real stuff about a real person from living, breathing relatives. It is a powerful experience to say the least.
Until 1997, I didn’t know anything else about John D’Anna other than that he was my great-aunt’s first husband, and the father of my grandmother’s favorite first cousin. After that, I discovered that John was also my grandmother’s father, which made Georgette my grandmother’s sister. It was good news for both of them. For Gam, this was brand new information. For Georgette, it was a lifelong secret about which she could finally discuss. For me, it raised many new questions.
John’s face has always been illusive to me. Always at an angle, or in Black & White. He always was looking down, or very old. Now, John’s face is becoming more familiar and younger. He reminds me more of my cousin, Kelly in some ways. I realize, too, that more than any other branch of my family, my skin color is identical to my great-grandfather’s tone.
I try so hard to integrate this information in all its abundance and importance, but I now this is a slow process.
It is unimaginable to me to think of myself at 100 years old; yet, I met a man in August 2007 whose life blood runs through my veins, proving that it is indeed possible. Eugenio Herrera, born April 11, 1907, is my great-uncle, the brother of my birth-maternal grandfather, Ralph Conrad Herrera.
Gene and Ralph were born to Lawrence (Lorenzo) Herrera and Beatrice Lopez Herrera in New Almaden, Santa Clara, California. This was a mining town where all the residents were attached to the New Almaden mine. My family on both sides were quicksilver miners in New Almaden, some of whom died there. They moved to San Jose sometime after 1923. My grandfather and his family finally arrive at the permanent family home on South Third Street in San Jose.
Gene first married Rafaela Brandi and had a son, Robert. After Rafaela died, Gene married Concetta (Connie) Pagliaro and they had a daughter, Nancy. They were been married for well over 70 years.
Gene was a professional musician, playing the saxophone. His whole family was full of musicians. They even had their own band that played at a ballroom on South Second Street in San Jose. Gene played with all the greats in San Francisco, including Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, and many, many others. I am proud to be a professional musician like my Uncle Gene, if in the different genre of musical theater.
He only stopped driving in the early-2000s in his mid-90s. He stopped because his hearing was going and he had chosen not to wear a hearing aid.
In August 2007, my husband, David, my cousin, Catherine and her young son, Pablo, and I, along with Pablo’s friend went to see Uncle Gene and Aunt Connie for an impromptu visit. It was amazing to listen to this amazingly alert, well-spoken man talk about a century of life.
He told us of the day when his grandmother died. When she collapsed, she landed on his tiny seven-year-old body. He related the stories of how his father wanted Gene to be stronger, so he insisted that he do manual labor. Gene was a sickly child during his youth and stayed close to the home. His family never really respected the fact that Gene grew up to be a professional musician, because they used to say he’s living so long because he never had a “real” job.
When he was playing in the 1920’s and 1930’s, times were tough, but he kept at it, eventually becoming the oldest-living, actively-playing member of the San Francisco Musician’s Union.
Uncle Gene and Aunt Connie showed us pictures of Uncle Gene at his gigs, including one of which showed Uncle Gene with the professional boxer, Max Baer. It was kismet, since I knew of a story in which my father, Floyd, used to sell ice cream to Max Baer in Sacramento during the 1950’s.
Our visit was a wonderful experience for me. On February 19, 2008, Gene’s sister, Marie Aiello, died at the age of 97. Uncle Gene was the last of his generation to remain, and at 100 years old, it was not likely that he would be around much longer, so I visited him as often as I could.
I am so grateful to have met him and been in the presence of my genetic and musical history. There were so many similarities between him and my Grandfather, Ralph, or Papa, as I called him. It was comforting and made me feel connected again in a way I hadn’t for a very long time.
Uncle Gene died September 25, 2010 at the age of 103. I miss him terribly!
“Fear not the road ahead. Standing still in life is the only real danger.” ~ James C. Glica-Hernandez January 1, 2013
May your year be abundant with love, joy, and success!
By James C. Glica-Hernandez
December 8, 2012
On the occasion of my granddaughter’s wedding
The heartbeat in my ear begins
Nearly imperceptibly in its inception.
My breathing more puffing and halting.
The miniature lake that develops
In the inner corner of my eye surprises me.
My years pass suddenly, shocking me.
I gaze upon a resplendent young woman,
A graduate from high school. A bride.
My heart recalls her grandmother described this way.
I recognize in her face her mother and father.
Perhaps her grandfather’s skin color appears.
My inability to tell time or date throws me.
Who are this woman’s ancestors?
Twelve congregated elders claim her as theirs.
My mind rumbles, “How is it possible that I am one of these?”
Our granddaughter is married today and
I joined her to her husband as their minister.
My spirit reels with joy and temporal confusion.
Time lies when I look in the mirror.
I am too young to be a grandfather of a married woman.
My realization is that I am the one lying today.
I was the first man to hold my delicate Littlebits.
I danced with her at her wedding today.
My truth is that she is old enough and I am old enough.
I was thinking today that my perception of being gay in America is as old as tie-dye shirts, Angels’ Flight pants, puka-shell necklaces, and Stonewall. As I speak with my grandson about what it means to be gay, I realize how deeply I still harbor the same worries about how difficult it is to be gay in America. In some ways… come to think of it, in many ways… it isn’t so much any more.
Gays are no longer arrested for dancing. We are no longer prosecuted for having sex. We are actually getting married in nine states and the District of Colombia, and our issues are before the Supreme Court of the United States of America. We actually have the highest incomes and the lowest debt of any Americans. And then, there’s this article:
Each one of these items, in 2012, seem to be of varying importance. A sports figure supports marriage equality. A record number of scripted television shows have gay characters. An Eagle Scout gets pinned… sort of. Take a step back into 1972, and these things would be considered Earth-shattering! Can you imagine Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern being a lesbian couple? Is it possible that Oakland Raiders owner, Al Davis, would have come out like Pittsburgh Pirates owner, Kevin McClatchy, did? Can we imagine Richard Nixon standing up publicly for marriage equality? I don’t think so.
Why should this perspective be important to young people who support equality in all its forms? Because without this perspective, we don’t recognize or value how far we’ve truly come. We also would miss the sensitivity with which we must approach those of a “certain age,” as we grow into our new vision of the future. Even this author, in his early 50s and gay, also struggles with finding his way into the 21st Century. This struggle is expressed in conversations with my grandson when my residual fears for the future rear their ugly heads.
So, I step forward to say that we are working through our issues about equality in America as I am in my personal views. It’s slow and groups of people remain left behind, such as transgender people and others, but we’re working on it. Now, I just have to realize that we’ve traveled this far down the road. Perhaps, I should grow a bit more impatient, motivate myself more strongly toward action, and start asking, “Are we there yet?’
Here are my raw results from the Ancestry.com DNA test I took recently:
Eastern European 35%
Native North American 24%
Native South American 10%
Southern European 7%
To my family, some of this may come as a huge surprise. I know it did to me. Various stories are rampant in our family about our heritage. These results add both clarity and questions to our process.
The verbal histories and documents for my birth father’s family are very clear. From my third great-grandparents, each responsible for 3.13% of my genes, generations of my paternal grandfather’s family are from Michoacan, Mexico. Many more generations of my paternal grandmother’s family are from Aguascalientes, Mexico. These individuals date back nine generations from me, some into the mid-1700s, which would account for one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) from each of my ancestors at the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent level. We know the towns and villages. We know the names. We know the dates.
In my birth mother’s family, though, we have always learned that we are not Mexican. We are Native American. Period. End of story, if my grandfather’s stories are accurate. The challenge is that the groups with which we should identify ourselves are not so clear since each of my maternal grandfather’s siblings told a slightly different story. Apache, Yaqui, Blackfoot, Ohlone, and so on. Having not been reared in this family, being adopted at birth, I had to learn all of these stories after most of my ancestors were gone, and be able to decipher them the best way I knew how. Eventually, though, I came to a dead end with no document-supported, objective answers that affirmed any of the stories without question with regard to our Native American history.
Several years after discovering even what questions to ask, I heard from a cousin of mine, Catherine, who has been a vital part of our journey to discover our family history, that a researcher in Santa Barbara was asking for DNA samples for people believed to be, in anthropology-speak, Costanoan indigenous people, or those whose ancestry came from the West Coast of California. We didn’t know whether we were from this macro group or not, but we had found our people in the San Jose, California region for more than 150 years. We do not have information about where some of them were born. With this information, I offered our direct-line genealogy and a DNA sample. That was several years ago and still I have not heard anything. All I know is that my DNA currently resides in Germany with researchers who are trying to make sense of my gene pool.
Let me continue this discussion by giving some perspective to percentages in every person’s family lines. The following table shows what percentage and fraction of my genetic material each person in that generation must claim:
Parents 50% 1/2
Grandparents 25% 1/4
Great-grandparents 12.5% 1/8
Great-great-grandparents 6.25% 1/16
If more than one of my progenitors shared an ethnic history, and in our case, some even shared family history, then the overall percentages of ethnicity would be skewered, which they are.
Late last year, I heard that Ancestry.com, an organization to which I’ve belonged since 2004, began sending out notices that a DNA test would be offered. This wasn’t one of the “Y” chromosome tests for one’s paternity information, or a mitochondrial DNA test for matrilineal information. No, this was an autosomal DNA test where they evaluate a person’s entire genome at more than 700,000 sites, or markers, in the individual’s full 23 chromosomes. This was the whole picture taken from all of my genetic material. I couldn’t pass it up. I added my name to the waiting list. Several weeks ago, my name came up.
I paid my fees, and within a few days, my test arrived. I spit in the vial and sent it out that next day. That was about three week ago. Yesterday, my test results came back in. Several things happened when I received that notice: I had some information confirmed, received some new information, and realized that my DNA may be in Germany a long, long time.
The confirmation I received is that my genetic history is about 1/3 indigenous to the Western Hemisphere; 24% from Central and North America, and 10% from South America. The data did not specify from which side of my family these numbers came. Although I was not aware that any part of my family originated in South America, it does not surprise me that some part came from there because my father’s family lived so far south in Mexico.
The most startling bit of information I received was that more than 1/3 of my genetic material originated from Eastern Europe, which includes countries from as far south as Greece to as far north as Estonia. One fact that made me smile is that my ethnicity is likely similar in part to my adoptive father’s, whose Polish heritage I have always claimed as my own, if only culturally.
As a strange aside, this information inspired me to to remember my late friend, Miriam, who often said to me, “I just know you are part Gypsy!” Contrary to what some who know me well may believe, she was not referring to the alluring musical theater character of the same name. She was referring to the Romani people. She had no reason to believe that I was part Gypsy; however, more regularly than I’ve seen with most others I know, she often made amazing leaps of intuitive gymnastics. Could there be a grain of truth in what she believed about me? She said this on numerous occasions, most often just before she died. The circumstantial evidence is there. The Romani people speak a language that many anthropologists and linguists believe originated on the Indian subcontinent. When people look at me, including individuals from that region,they most often ask me if I am East Indian. Not Mexican. Not Italian. Not North African. Not Middle Eastern. Indian. Could others see in my face what our family has had no knowledge? Could my genetic history confirm their observations by the fact that 35% of my ethnic pool originates in Eastern Europe, the same place the Romani people have lived since no earlier than the 11th Century? Of course, this is simply a fantastical hypothesis; or is it?
The part that is most confusing to me is that I have no idea from whom such a large proportion of my Eastern European genetic heritage could have stemmed. The only segment of my family that originated from anywhere remotely near there is the Sicilian branch of my family. As far as I know, not one person can be traced to Eastern Europe, let alone more than one-third of my ethnic heritage.
The most expected part of my genetic information is the 7% identified as having come from Southern European parentage. With families in Mexico often having Spanish ancestry, and a Sicilian Italian ancestor, this made sense. The one question that arose is that with one grandfather who I believed to be full Italian, this number should have been at least 12.5%.
One small surprise was the 6% defined as genes that originated from the British Isles. That means that one of my great-great grandparents was likely English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh. The only problem is that I believe that I have information on all 16 great-great grandparents. Is this an indication of a secret that no one knew before?
The most difficult challenge that I had with the results of this test is a category called, “Uncertain.” This classification is for genes that have markers that generally indicate they derived from a certain area, but they do not meet the “extremely high standards” that Ancestry.com claims it has. Until they can be verified, these markers shall remain in this quizzical category. Could this be where the specific markers for small bands of Native Americas exist that at this point cannot be authoritatively assured? Could these be African or Asian aboriginal people that have so few people tested that there is no way to verify the data? Which of my ancestors are represented by this number?
The number itself is problematic. When I checked others’ levels of “Uncertain,” I saw numbers as low as 6% to as high as 16%. Why did I not see anyone with my level of “Uncertain,” which was 18%? This is nearly 1/5 of my genes, representing more than one great-grandparent’s genetic history.
As with any research project, often the researcher is left with more questions than answers. Such is the case with my DNA results. In this case, though, this is all so very personal. The good news is that I now know that fully 1/3 of my heritage developed from the Native American people stretching from North America to South America. On the other side of my family coin, I now have to figure out from where we originated because our information is clearly nowhere near complete.
Stay tuned for more information as we delve farther into our genetic past.
Here’s a quiz:
Please define the group about which this paragraph refers.
“I wish they would just keep to themselves. No one wants to see them in public. They’re not welcome here. Good people cannot allow that type of people to live in our neighborhoods, teach in our schools, or be around children.”
Of course, few people will admit out loud or in a comment to this blog that a group immediately came to mind when they read this paragraph, which is a conglomeration of things we’ve all heard said about various groups over the years. We’ve heard this kind of judgmental, exclusive, and unkind language since the beginning of civilization. Because this type of language has existed since the beginning of our human history makes it neither right nor contemporary with how we should treat others.
So, if a group did come to mind, let that be a message to your inner voice that you, along with all the rest of us, still have a little more work to do in becoming an inclusive, loving, and accepting… and perhaps, even celebrating… community of humankind.
Tonight, for the first time, I wandered through the 1940 Census on Ancestry.com to find my dad and mom among the many names and addresses listed in North Tonawanda, NY, and Santa Clara, CA, respectively. There they were, 19 and 17 years old.
I felt a great sadness wash over me as I realized that the day my grandparents answered the interviewers’ questions, no one knew what was ahead. As I read their names, I knew what came next for each one on the list. Before the next census, my father would enter the military, beginning his career as a pharmacist. My mother would only have two more years with her mother before Nana died of cancer. Their lives would change dramatically.
There was a little part of me that wanted to whisper, “Listen to your parents, Mom and Dad. Learn from them as much as you can. Love them as though tomorrow wouldn’t come.” That is, of course, impossible. They had to learn from their lives the same way we all do. There is nothing I can do to help them see what they would miss. Even with my own children and grandchildren, there is so little I can do to forewarn them about the little things… perhaps even the big things… they will miss if they don’t pay close attention.
Each time I go to the well of familial information, I come out with another layer of ignorance washed away. I am changed. Today is no different. I look back, as I try to do less these days, and lament those lost moments; moments I don’t even know were lost. My heart is heavy as I remember them. 99% of my direct lineage are gone now. I see names dating back into the 1800s, 1700s, 1600s, and beyond. Names who never imagined me. Faces I will never see. Yet, they are my people. All of them. They contributed to my life in ways they could not imagine as they went through their days. They could not have possibly known me; yet, I am blessed to see them, at least a little part of them, in my genealogical journey. So, for that, I am deeply and eternally grateful.
I wish I could say that this post would answer all our questions plaguing our country. It won’t. What this post hopefully will offer is a design for unifying our legislative and ideological process more efficiently. It is neither complicated nor particularly innovative. It is simply an effective measure toward success.
Currently, when we approach an issue in America, we assume that the “other” party, which ever party one considers his “other,” or group or organization will have the wrong answer. We are so incredibly certain about our correctness at every turn. We have no intention of discovering new information; we simply want people to agree with us. If they don’t, they are necessarily wrong and simply require education. We walk in with a fight in our hearts. We automatically presume we know best. The problem is that if we begin from that standpoint, we are the ones who are instantly wrong.
If we want harmonious and constructive work to begin in earnest in America, we must begin by walking in with five questions:
1. How do we each define the issue in front of us?
2. Can we agree not to move toward a resolution until we are all satisfied with the definition of the issue?
3. Do we understand that no one person or group is going to get everything he or she wants in the resolution?
4. How do we work together to resolve this issue in a manner that would benefit the greatest number of Americans?
5. What are your ideas? I am willing to listen to you fully, then thoughtfully consider them before responding graciously.
If we start here, then we can reduce the polarization in this country. Any adamant statement in the process that starts with, “Well, you/your party did this…” is not effective. It is counterproductive toward future work together. It brings the issue into the past and necessarily demands that the focus on the work in the present be forgotten.
If we want unity and creativity to move the process forward, we must start by listening, not talking. When I was a boy, my father insisted that my brother, David, and I learn this poem:
“A wise old owl lived in an oak.
The more he saw, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why can’t we all be like this wise old bird?”
Good guidance for a difficult time, I’d say. If we approach one another with a willingness to listen, to understand that others have differing views than we do that do not make them wrong or bad, then we can build something great together. Until that time arrives, we will continue to watch the chasm between our fellow citizens widen and deepen. If that happens, all of us lose, no matter how “right” we thought we were in the first place.