Tuesday, June 5, 2018

DNA and Me



My DNA results are back and it’s left me as clueless as before. A few years ago Sharon spent considerable time working on our respective ancestries. She was able to trace her elders back to Germany and a few strains for me back to France. She felt satisfied with her findings and hopes to do more research in the future.


My new DNA results from Ancestry.com (ancestryDNA) did spread out my forefathers further along than France where Sharon had uncovered some rumblings of a past for me. My new Ancestry DNA found that 58% of my relatives came from Europe West (defined as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). Further along, another 19% came from the Iberian Peninsula and finally 18% from Great Britain. If I was hoping for old real estate or land holdings in France still in my name, it wasn’t there.



I guess if you go back far enough one can probably find traces of their past beyond recorded time. At least there seemed to be no traces of Neanderthal in my past. What did intrigue me was under the title of ‘Migrations.’ That was listed as Saint Lawrence River French Settlers. Ever the dramatist that seemed like a great back water for me to follow. Who cares about relatives coming over in a steamer trunk or over the Bearings Straits, I had French fur traders, Indian fighters and adventurers to stir up my imagination.

In the past, I’ve never been a big fan of Genealogy or family trees. I tend to dismiss those infamous tall tales handed down through the ranks of relatives about the ‘good old days.’ The past is the past and can’t be changed. Or so I thought.



Perhaps this laissez-faire attitude comes from my own upbringing. Being raised in a single parent household we never recognized the absence of my father. So it was hardly an incentive for me to care about my own ancestry. Today we’d probably categorize ours as a dysfunctional family. But it didn’t seem that way to my sister and me at the time. We were poor (maybe lower middle class is a better moniker) but so were many of our friends. We had a place to call home and went to good schools so little else mattered.

Therefore, it was with only mild interest that I watched my wife begin her search for our respective family trees. Sharon very quickly became immersed in the search and began tabulating ancestors on both sides of our family. Thus far she has researched more than 152 individuals. She was able to go back to the 1600s in Germany. The oldest person she’s found was Pierre Helle who was born in 1676. France, Germany, and Canada seem to be the favorite countries of origin.

As she clicked along, some fascinating facts began to emerge.



For example, there has always been a ‘George’ Schumacher for at least eight generations back on her side of the family. Her descendants came from a small village in Germany, no surprise there. One distant relative served in the Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company E, Unit 31.



My mother’s roots followed a much similar lineage. Her grandparents also go back to another part of Germany. There was a grandfather who fought in the Civil War. He went in as a private and came out the same. But he did survive. Our assumption is that he probably got his farmland in Sterns County from the government for his time in the service. That seemed to happen to a lot of returning veterans. Most of my distant relatives come from Sterns County or nearby.

Another relative was rumored to have had thirty kids although that hasn’t been confirmed. Now that’s a shame because it would have been a reality TV series, guaranteed.




The real mystery begins with my father; no surprise there. As far back as I can remember there was never any mention of his ever being alive. Growing up, there were no pictures of him in our home nor any references to him at extended family gatherings. It was as if he never existed.

I was too young to understand the significance of his absence in my life. The only comment I ever got from my Aunts was that it was OK not having a father and (hint hint) I was probably better off that way. My Uncles had nothing to say…about anything.

Growing up, I always sensed a kind of animosity on my aunt’s part toward my sister and me. I could never figure that one out. Now with age and this research it’s become a little clearer. Doesn’t hurt any less but it’s more explainable. As time passed, I became aware of real families with a father and a mother…just like in the chapter books at school.


Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

Back in the early fifties on Randolph Avenue, it was just the three of us: my mother, my sister, and I. We were each dealing with life on different levels. My sister has a lot of memories of that period growing up in Saint Paul. I have practically none. I’m not sure what that says or means but it remains a fact.



I vaguely remembered that my father’s lineage was French Canadian. Beyond that… little else. He had been married once before. There was a lot of confusion about whether or not there had been a divorce or annulment with his first marriage. He married my mother but we’re not sure when. The reasons for their separation and subsequent divorce had been clouded by denial, mis-statements, and confusion. About the time my Mother decided to come clean, the fog of aging and miles traveled made any clear recollection of times past just a guessing game on her part.


My Parents' Wedding Day

Thirteen years after my mother’s death, Sharon finally began making some headway on un-wrapping the mystery of my father. It’s been one long and arduous journey fraught with poor records, incorrect dates, family lies, and purposeful misstatements to protect the innocent…or so they thought.

Stumbling back in time, we found out that the core of my ancestors settled in Quebec, Canada. Their descendants came from France. Now I’m inclined to imagine them as French settlers or fur traders plying the waters of Canada in their long boats.

One of my grandfathers was a ‘wagon loader.’ Laugh as you might, today he’d probably be working for UPS in logistics and making a nice income. Back in my college years, I used to load and unload trucks in the dead of winter. Now I know where those deft skills came from.



The French nuns at the little French school in downtown Saint Paul had a huge impact on my life even if I didn’t know it at the time. When the school was built back in the 1873, it was meant for the children of second and third generation French settlers.

By the time my sister and I started school there, it was a cosmopolitan smorgasbord of ethnic groups. There were Irish, Italian, German, Spanish and oriental students. Almost all of them lived along the fringe of the downtown loop. Unlike all of our white counterparts where we lived in Highland Park, it made for some interesting playground banter.

Turns out, I love Cajun music and French cinema; especially romantic comedies. I love the gentility and flow of the French language. I loved Paris two summers ago and want to return there soon. Something French must have rubbed off on me. I tried to explain that in a past blog entitled A Catholic Education.

It turns out there was a critical junction or fork in my ancestral road. The road split and one branch was named Lacombe and the other LaTulippe. The plot of flowers was on my grandmother’s side. I never knew her but she must have been a wise woman to have chosen Lacombe. At least I didn’t have to defend myself in grade school from some bully mocking my name.

Another interesting fact was the evolution of the name LaComb. If you go far enough back there used to be an ‘e’ at the end of Lacombe. At another point, the ‘c’ became capitalized.

I was surprised to see on my birth certificate that my name was spelled: Dennis. When I asked my mother why it had been changed she had a simple explanation. She said that in first grade, the French nuns informed her that the proper spelling of my name was Denis. Mom knew better than to mess with the French nuns.



That’s OK; I’ve grown quite accustomed to Denis…and besides it’s not too flowery.