The sun, the buzzard & DNA

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In the days immediately following my Mom’s death this past November, we had the daunting task of cleaning out her house and garage.  It was during that time, while my brother was sorting through items in the garage, that he found a handwritten note tucked in the underside of a ceramic figurine/planter.  We both recognized the handwriting, most of the note’s content and the ceramic container as belonging to our grandma Virginia.  But there was one comment in the note that we had never heard before and we wondered why she tucked this note away for someone to read later.

Virginia's-noteThe small 2.3″ x 3.3″ handwritten note was likely written when Virginia was living with our Mom, which was when Virginia was in her late 80’s or early 90s.  The shakiness in the handwriting gives support to this theory.  It reads: “Have you ever wondered what life would be like to be an orphan?  And white-headed?  Kids called me cotton top, cabbage head and everything they could think of.  They said know (sic) one wants wanted me.  Aunt Piety would say a buzzard laid you and the sun hatched you.  I know you are not Jakes girl.  Your Old Man Foxes and he didn’t want you.”

I vowed then and there to learn whether Jake or Mr. Fox was my grandma’s father.  Her birth certificate and everything we’d ever heard said Jake was her father but this note, in Virginia’s handwriting that she tucked away, indicated she was uncertain and she had carried that question with her since she was a young girl.

When Virginia was 18 months old her father, Jake, died leaving his wife a single mother of 7 children.  It was a short time later that Virginia’s mother, Eva, married Mr. Fox who had been a business partner with Jake.  Virginia and her siblings did not like Mr. Fox and Virginia recalled often how she told her stepfather “I hate you old man Fox, I hate you so”.  Her feelings toward Mr. Fox never faltered from that little girl’s view.

Virginia shared with her daughter, Donna, a particularly sad incident.  Donna described her mother’s recollection of the time when Eva was pregnant with her tenth child (third with Mr. Fox) in 1921:

“Mother said she was home hiding in a closet while her mother and Mr. Fox were fighting. Mother was seven and reported her mother was shouting at Mr. Fox, “I hope I die and I hope this baby dies!” Shortly, Eva went into labor and mother was sent to stay in the country. Eva had a cerebral hemorrhage during delivery and lived in a coma for seventeen days. When mother was finally allowed to come home, it was to be taken to the church to attend her mother’s funeral; her half-brother’s death had occurred five days earlier and if she had been told, she had no memory of it. In other words, the last time she heard her mother’s voice, it was as she shouted her hope for death.”1

By January 1922, both her parents were dead (typhoid fever and complications from childbirth) and she and four brothers were sent from Oklahoma to the hills of western Virginia to live separately with various aunts and uncles. Before she turned eight, Mother was thrown into working for her keep and the opportunity to get an education was mostly non-existent for the next seven years, though she said she loved to read enough that she would read in bed at night by using a flashlight under the covers.

Her father’s sister, Piety, with whom mother lived, was apparently a harsh and unhappy woman, although her husband/cousin, Dave, was an apparently kind and loving man. Even when mother was over 90 years old, she would sometimes cry as she remembered her Aunt Piety calling her “the unwanted spawn of a buzzard.” Fortunately, Uncle Dave was more welcoming and gave mother some semblance of a loving home.”2

The buzzard, the sun and DNA?

Both of my grandma’s children have taken DNA tests but learning if their DNA was a full or half cousin match with grandma’s older brother’s nephews or nieces would help answer our question.  I decided to ask a one of my grandma’s brother’s sons because DNA from a son of a son provides Y-DNA as well.  If he agreed to take the test then I would have DNA from my grandma’s mother’s 4th and 7th child.  Thankfully, my Mom’s cousin agreed to take the DNA test.

The results show that my mother and her cousin share 850 cM (centimorgans), which is the expected amount for full 1st cousins.3  The expected amount of centimorgans for half 1st cousins is 425.3  Below is a table for my Mom’s 1st cousin that shows the shared cM amounts with other known relatives.

Who Suggested Relationship Shared cM Known Relationship
My Mom 1st Cousin 758.2 1st Cousin
My Mom’s brother 1st Cousin 854.29 1st Cousin
From Eva’s brother’s line 2nd Cousin 486.95 1st Cousin 1R
My brother 2nd Cousin 426.3 1st Cousin 1R
Me 2nd Cousin 294.69 1st Cousin 1R
From Eva’s sister’s line 2nd Cousin 320.65 2nd Cousin
From Eva’s other sister’s line 2nd Cousin 320.12 1st Cousin 1R

Eva’s 4th and 7th child have the same father and DNA further supports that those descendants share Jake’s ancestors. The conclusion is:

Yes, Virginia, there is DNA proof that you were Jake’s girl.  The buzzard did not lay you and the sun did not hatch you.  RIP my beloved grandma.

Endnotes:

  1. Brown, Donna M.  Remembering It All; unpublished autobiography in Kay Bauman’s possession, 2014.
  2. Brown, Donna M.  “A Tribute to Women – My Mother” DonnaB’s Weblog; March 14, 2009. accessed March 14, 2015. <https://dmbr622.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/a-tribute-to-women-my-mother/&gt;.
  3. Lacopo, Michael. “Centimorgans or Percentages?” Hoosier Daddy?; January 1, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2015. <http://roots4u.blogspot.com/2015/01/centimorgans-or-percentages.html&gt;.

Interesting tidbits:

  1. The confirmation of grandmother’s paternity came on International Pi Day 3.14.15.  As if that isn’t interesting by itself consider these:
    1. my grandma shared her birth month and year with that important number 3/14 (March, 1914)
    2. The blogpost A Tribute to Women – My Mother was written about my grandmother by my mother on 3/14/2009.
  2. The response to the question where did I come from “a buzzard laid you and the sun hatched you” is found going back many years.  We do not know exactly what Piety intended to mean but Virginia found it hurtful.  Here are a couple of links to resources that mention the history of that phrase:
    1. Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture by Charles W. Joyner
    2. A riddle (URL: http://able2know.org/topic/14126-4):

I was laid by the buzzard
Hatched by the sun (son?)
Mother and Father I had none.
I spoke my first word
And never spoke again.
Who (or what) am I?

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