Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tall Ships

HMS Bounty
Saturday afternoon, the nation watched as the east coast prepared for hurricane Sandy's impending arrival by stocking up on bottled water, flashlight batteries and gas for their generators. Saturday afternoon, the captain of HMS Bounty and his crew were already battling 40 knot winds and 18 foot seas in an attempt to sail her offshore and out of harm's way.

William G. T. Shedd is often quoted as saying "A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." While inspirational, it's not entirely true. In good weather, harbors are relative safe zones for ships. When facing a storm, the best bet is to either have her hauled out and put in dry dock inland of the storm until the threat of danger has passed (not very practical or cost effective), or take her out to sea.

August 7, 2002, my friend Kirk Scott and I were ferrying a Beneteau 38' sailboat across the Gulf of Mexico when the weather turned. Kirk is a professional sea captain; I'd signed on as crew. We'd postponed the trip for three days watching the weather before leaving Puerto Aventuras enroute to Galveston. A low pressure system had developed just outside of Louisiana, but it looked as though the storm would die out as we crossed the waters north of Cuba. With any luck, it would be a quick trip.

We left port on Saturday, August 3rd and sailed to Isla Mujeres for dinner. Early the next morning, we left with decent winds and blue skies. By Monday evening, we'd rounded the north coast of Cuba and it looked as though our planning was paying off. Then the winds died. For the next 24 hours, we did little more than bob like a cork and take care of general housekeeping on the boat. Late Tuesday evening, the winds picked up and we were back underway.

Tropical Storm Bertha 2002
Offshore sailors set their course according to prevailing winds and sea currents. It wasn't possible to sail a direct line from Puerto Aventuras to Galveston; our path rounded the western coast of Cuba, then due north, a left turn about 40 nautical miles south of Louisiana, and then on to Galveston to take advantage of the prevailing currents. Since we were ferrying the boat from it's current owner to a broker in Galveston, the boat was pretty stripped down: basic food stores, our personal emergency gear, emergency fuel, our nautical charts and a hand-held VHF radio. No weather fax. No NEXRAD.

On August 7th, as the storm hit landfall in Boothville, Louisiana, rather than dissipate, as it turned southwest, it turned mean.

Sea captains set the schedule for crew duty. Kirk had set 4-hour duty schedules for this trip meaning that during my watch, I set the sails, charted progress at the top of each hour and ensured that we didn't bump into anything. When you're not at watch, typically you're sleeping or taking care of housekeeping on the boat.

HMS Bounty 10/29/2012
Neither of us took more than a 2-hour catnap the next two days. Sustained winds from 35 to 50 knots with 18 to 25 foot seas pushed us closer to Galveston. My gravest concern wasn't the storm; it was that I couldn't see the oil rigs rising from the Gulf over the rough seas and driving rain. My gravest concern was that while on watch, I was responsible for the safety of another life. We sailed into Galveston Harbor around 7 pm on Friday, August 9th on Kirk's watch.

To put things in perspective, Bertha was merely a tropical depression and the entire trip took just under a week. Our ancestors crossed oceans on vessels much like the HMS Bounty in rough seas with no weather radar or emergency equipment. There wasn't anyone to call for help. And a trip from London to New York took anywhere between two weeks to six months.

I've heard cruisers claim that offshore sailing is a lifetime of sheer ecstasy marked by intervals of sheer terror. I marvel at the courage that it took my ancestors to undertake the great adventure to America. I marvel at those individuals who've chosen the sea as their passion and their calling; those who've not steered the easy course, but who've embraced life head on.

"Sometimes we are lucky enough to know our lives have been changed, to discard the old and embrace the new and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me...on that summer's day when my eyes were opened to the sea." (Jacques Yves-Cousteau)

My thoughts are with the captain and the crew of the Bounty, and with their families and friends.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Calling all Artisans

About four years ago, I asked my brother Don to take the Y-DNA (Y-33) genetic matching test. At the time, I thought the mysteries of the universe would unfold and I'd meet a distant cousin who could introduce me to Ellen. The fact is that I found Ellen by sifting through census records, but that has a weak story line and I really want you all to continue reading my blog, so let's just say that rather than mysteries unfolding, mysteries were confirmed.

The Y-33 DNA test matched genetic markers with other members who'd been tested. I didn't consider at the time that, as an early adopter, I would end up with a relatively small pool of cousin data. The test did tell me that our fraternal line (Dad's) was part of Haplogroup R1B, a group called "The Artisans" who first arrived in Europe from west Asia about 35,000 - 40,100 years ago at the dawn of the Aurignacian culture. Considering that I'm only tracing ancestors back to the 16th century, my Cro-Magnon cousins aren't going to be much help. However, what I did find interesting is that 70% of people currently residing in southern England are members of the R1B Haplogroup. Where, you might ask, are the other 30%? Actually, there's a large concentration just outside Chicago.

About four months ago, offered a new DNA test (mtDNA, or mitochondrial DNA) that is shared by both sexes in a family, and so also maps the female genetic line. The Y-DNA test only maps the male genetic line. Now, I assumed, the mysteries of the universe would would unfold in an array of colored markers pointing the way to the elusive Hanson clan.
Donna, Gary and
Donald Richard Hanson, Jr

I wasn't as disappointed this time. The test confirmed that 90% of my genetic ancestors settled in Great Britain. More people are curiously taking this test and so now I have a greater pool of cousins from which to share information. Having said that, the pool is still rather small as the closest relatives who've taken the test are from 4 generations back (2nd great-grandparents), and all but one live in England. The one Australian cousin provided me with loads of lovely information about the Joyner (Joiner) family.

What was a bit disappointing was that I still haven't found the Hanson family's origins. I'd hoped to find a Sven or Ollie in the mix. My brothers and I are tall. Lots of redheads. Lots of blue eyes. Many athletic, opinionated Viking-like personalities. Except for my brother Don who with dark brown eyes and black curly hair must have picked up the 10% "Other" gene.

The tests aren't cheap: $149 for the Y-33 test and $179 for the mtDNA test. The Y-33 test was more akin to discovering your sun sign; you really need the rest of the planets to get a valid reading.  If you're interested in broadening the list of reunions to attend this spring, choose the latter but take a sweater; spring in Chicago can be a bear.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Last night, as we were sharing our "so what did you do today" round robin over dinner, Walt mentioned that they'd been discussing personality profiles at the office and how understanding someone's profile helped to understand the person.

I like data, so I dug through my old work files and found my results from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Dimensions of Behavior Personal Profile System (DiSC) assessments as a comparison.

Before I continue, let me say that between 1994 and 2004 I was profiled not once, but at least five times: the MBTI three times, the DiSC twice, the Keirsey Temperment Sorter II once and two other tools that profiled me in a rainbow of colors and flavors. Seriously. As a matter of fact, the rainbow assessment was required by my manager at JPMorgan Chase for everyone in the team. Upon completion of the assessment, we were to post the results outside of our cube so that upon entering, visitors would be reminded of our communication and processing preferences and adjust their communication style accordingly. I remember a lot of red in the manager next to me. The guy who walked the isles with his coffee cup was yellow. I hid mine in my bottom drawer.

When I worked for LexisNexis, our team was profiled using the MBTI. The facilitator lined each of us up according to how we ranked in each of the dimensions.

The goal of the MBTI is to understand how an individual perceives the world and how they come to a conclusion about what they've perceived. Most people rank somewhere along a sliding scale for each of the dimensions. I do not. This means that I was always at the end of the line and always I'd left the house without my underwear.

Donna Hanson
DiSC: Creative
Keirsey: Counselor
Favorite color: Green
I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with genealogy. Actually, quite a lot. I don't just gather birth and death certificates or scan the census records, I look through newspapers and Google town profiles and search through libraries trying to understand why people made the decisions they did. Why they chose their professions. Why they didn't choose other options. Why they didn't have other options from which to choose.

From my mother's stories and everything I've read so far, I feel like I understand my great-grandmother Julia (Pigg) Dudgeon the best. Julia was a collector of facts from how to make library paste to documenting every purchase; every life event. She wrote poetry. She kept scrapbooks. And she wrote the price she paid and location of the purchase on the back of every piece of furniture. She was fastidious in her dress and disciplined in life.

I'll bet that Julia scored a high "I-N-J," but with a very solid "T."

"Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cousin Charlemagne

I'll never forget the thrill of discovering my great-grandparents' names. Three generations of the Hanson family: names, birth dates, marriage dates, children and when they died. But discovering a new ancestor is much like only eating half of the Hershey bar. Simply not possible to stop after the first bite, and so began a (now) twelve-year-long habit.

Three years ago, shortly after we moved from Cincinnati to NW Arkansas, I stopped by the local Family History Center and fell in love with the volumes of books and the quiet hum of the microfilm readers and before too long was asked if I'd like to volunteer. I will say that the only thing I like better than researching my own ancestors is helping someone discover theirs. 

Not everyone that visits a Family History Center is Mormon. In fact, most visitors are not. Having said that, church members are strongly encouraged to research their ancestors and so oddly enough, I assumed that I'd bumped into a whole community of data junkies. 

Not so much. In fact, one young woman told me that doing the research was more like writing a never-ending term paper. I like writing. I love research and so of course, I didn't get it. So I offered to do hers for her. 

The next week, she showed up with a large blue plastic storage bin full of papers.

"Have you done any research at all?" I asked. "It might help to understand your goals. Two or three generations?" "Well" she replied, "my aunt said that she'd researched the family clear back to Charlemagne. I'd like to start there."

Now, let me say that I'm a little skeptical of anything I find much earlier than the 1600s. Very few people could read or write. As a matter of a fact, it wasn't until 1440 and the invention of the printing press did scholars consider standardizing the written word. Since then the English written language has undergone at least two major revisions. 

In 1806, Noah Webster published his first dictionary: A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. His follow-on publication in 1828: American Dictionary of the English Language sold for $20 for the two-volume set containing 70,000 entries...22,000 more entries than any previously published dictionary. Today, the current Webster's posts over 988,968 entries.

The written language wasn't the only place to find recorded inconsistencies; the spelling of given and surnames changed, oftentimes with the recorder. Within my mother's family, Dudgeon is also spelled Dugean. 

In 1086, William the Conqueror commissioned a two-volume text known as the Great and Little Domesday Books. These books provide a detailed record of all lands held by the king and his tenants and under tenants, and of the resources that went with those lands. They were written in a very abbreviated and stylized clerical Latin that provided such a challenge to translate that it wasn't until 1975 that the first of the 35 county volumes were printed.

In this country, very few records were kept of individuals unless you lived in a large town or owned enough land or property to be taxed. Even in the UK (my ancestors' origins), records were often destroyed to make space for others and even if records existed, there are so many Andrews, Johns, Marys and Anns that it's very hard to prove which of the Andrew-Mary parings are related to me, yet somehow this lady's aunt had traced her family to Charlemagne.

Let's close with a little math. The formula for the number of ancestors in a given generation is: 2n = x  where n is the number of generations back and x equals the number of individuals in that generation.
  • I'm generation 0
  • My parents are generation 1 and it took 2 individuals to survive birth, meet and procreate for me to exist 
  • My grandparents are generation 2 and it took 4 individuals to survive birth, meet and procreate for me to exist
  • Generation 3: 8 individuals
  • Generation 4: 16 individuals and so on.
Charlemagne lived roughly from 742 to 814. We'll make the math simple and just set his year as 750 AD and mine at 1950 AD. That would make him my 38th great-grandparent, or generation #40. Based on an average generation time of 30 years, that means that 1,099,511,627,776 individuals would have needed to have survived birth, met and procreated for me to exist. 

Plus someone to write it all down so that I can verify that I'm actually related to cousin Charlemagne.

(...although there is something awfully familiar about his eyes...)

I want to thank Diana Gale Matthiesen ( for not making me do the math myself.