A check-in based upon today's letter to my friend, Bernard

An obese Goeth shoots starving Jews
I am 5'10" and my weight fluctuates from 168 to 180, often within weeks. Peggy says I look dumpy at 180, plus I need to keep my weight down because of knee pain, but it's hard to do. Part of the problem is narcotics in that they tend to make a fellow hungry and they also make it harder to pass stools. As for drinking, since I live with chronic pain and not a little depression, it's increasingly hard to stay away from liquor because it at least gives me a little respite from what I would sometimes call intense misery. Yet, as I'm sure you know, a person isn't supposed to drink and take antidepressants (not to mention narcotics, sleeping pills, and nerve pain pills), so I worry a good bit about my health, and I feel guilty knowing that such things that very well cause me to die prematurely, leaving Peggy on her own.

Your book about the Holocaust has arrived--thank you. I can't imagine a man making his career writing about senseless brutality, but it's good from a historical standpoint that he does. While browsing genealogy books at the public library recently, I saw one entitled My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me. The grandfather in question was Amon Goetz (the camp commandant of Schindler's List fame), and the granddaughter was half black, so she might very well have been right about him shooting her. I had given no thought to the impact of notorious Nazis on their descendants, so I found the one-third of the book that I read interesting in that regard, yet I can't recommend it because I didn't like or respect its author.

I don't know how I lost her, but I once had a German blog friend who grew up in post-war Germany, and who described the men of her father's generation as sullen and angry. Indeed, what could they say except that they fought on the side of evil and lost? Given the misery they brought to the world, the depression of their descendants matters little to me. I can understand why those descendants feel as they do, but since millions upon millions of people were murdered by their fathers and grandfathers, I'll reserve my sympathy for others. The older I get and the better I understand suffering, the more compassion I have for the victims and the less for the perpetrators. Psychopaths who hunger for power--men like Putin, Trump, Kim Jong-un, and al-Assad--bring nothing but needless pain to the earth, and for what, so they can feel powerful during their few short decades of life? If I could, I would shoot them down for the mad dogs that they are, not that a quick death would be adequate justice. 

I know that in writing as I do, I must also sound heartless, but is it not true that to have sympathy for evil people makes one a party to their crimes? What I have written also comes from my intense dislike of Jennifer Teegue, the author of the book I mentioned. I considered her narcissistic, a woman who could put on a good show of sympathy but who was devoid of any real feelings for anyone but herself. She wondered in the book whether there was an inheritable aspect to being the descendant of someone like Goetz, and I thought that, well, given that I see you and your maternal ascendants as being unable to feel the pain of anyone but yourselves, maybe there is.

As for the genealogy, I've been neglecting other things for it. It seems that the further I go back in time, the less interest I have, what with the number of grandparents doubling with every generation. Once I got to 32-great-great-greats, the names started running together even while, once I got to the almost useless censuses of 1840 and earlier, my ability to learn about their lives decreased. I have learned much, though. For instance, Peggy and I come from a long line of rural people, and while I knew that rural families, at least, used to be big, I had no idea how big. It's not even unusual to find people with ten kids, and, given the high childhood mortality, that's not counting the many who were born and died between censuses. I was also surprised to learn that nearly all of the ancestors I studied lived in but two counties in Mississippi (on my mother's side) and two counties in the Appalachian Mountains of Alabama (on my father's side). I should think that if, on my mother's side, I visited Choctaw or Attala County, Mississippi (or, my father's side, Dekalb or Jackson County, Alabama) every third white person would be my cousin, yet I didn't know this until the last few weeks.

I also noted that most of my ancestors were dead before my age of 68, that nearly all of them listed their occupations as "farming" or, in the case of the women, "keeping house." Few were well-educated, and most were barely literate. Some people on my side--and on Peggy's side--had a few slaves, but not enough to make them rich (some slaveholders owned hundreds of slaves). With this knowledge comes the will to believe that, if my ancestors did it, it surely couldn't have been that bad (which is how the descendants of Nazis think). I know this is silly, but that's the feeling. I also found that I had several relatives who fought on the side of the South during America's Civil War, and I was more appalled by their willingness to fight to preserve slavery as by their actual owning of slaves because I can't imagine the defense of slavery as a justification for the loss of 600,000 lives (the Civil War is still the costliest in America's history.) When I was a boy, Southerners still held "Yankees" in contempt (the South referred to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression"), but I gather that Southern contempt is now based more on religion and politics than geography.
Alcoa Transport, Sunk Oct 2, 1942
One of the treats of my study has been finding photos of long dead relatives and World War I draft registration cards that listed my ancestor's physical characteristics and contained their often childlike signatures. I also found my father's war records and a photo of one of the two merchant ships that he was on (the SS Alcoa Transport) and were sunk by U-boats. Six men died on that ship, and I so wish my father were here to talk to because I would love to know that if the Alcoa Transport was the ship he told me about on which men died for a cargo of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Unfortunately for me, World War II draft records have yet to be released, as have censuses since 1940, which means that recent history becomes harder to trace than earlier history, at least on the more reputable genealogical sites.

The reason I started studying Peggy's genealogy is that her father is still alive. For her part, Peggy cares much less about such things than I, although she was moved when I found the original custom's record of her family's 1959 return from Spain (where her father was stationed in the Air Force) on a truly beautiful Lockheed plane called a Super Constellation. Yesterday, her father told us that, while over the ocean, he looked out the window to see that one of the props had been feathered, but that he kept this information from Peggy's mother, who was morbidly afraid to fly. That's the kind of information that one could never learn without living relatives.

I'm sure I told you that my DNA study indicated that my ancestors were nearly all British and Irish, and that have no American Indian blood (I had thought I was at least 3/16), but a higher than average amount of Neanderthal blood and a little West African blood. I'm happy about my Neanderthal ancestors, but simply puzzled about the black ones (it sounds like rape to me, but then that could be true of my Neanderthal ancestors as well). It's a hell of world, and then we die.


Elephant's Child said...

Lovely to see you pop up in my reader again.
I suspect you are right about rape playing a part in your blood line. And equally suspect it is true of us all.

Stephen Hayes said...

Another well-written and informative post. My family tree is a weed and I have little desire to shake it.

Elephant's Child said...

Love Stephen Hayes comment. I suspect that some at least of my family tree is toxic and should be handled with care.

Charles Gramlich said...

Too many people seem to measure their success in how much pain they bring others.

Strayer said...

Men dying over a load of beer. Sounds like not much has changed. I don't know much about my ancestry. I know we have black blood from the first American slave, that's on my maternal grandpa's side, but how can I have already forgotten his name? Apparently he was first an dentured servant with two white guys. They all ran away, all were caught and he then became a slave. And reproduced with indentured white women or something or other which apparently was common back then but highly illegal. The guy was from N. Africa, originally, but I don't know what part. That's about all I know of my history. Neanderthal blood, eh? Awesome! I also just watched an older crime drama (2012) where a guy had sent his samples off to an ancestry site and then became a prime suspect in a murder, because that DNA registry was acquired by the law, in the investigation. However, he did not commit the murder so the DNA sampling done by the ancestry site was wrong, somehow.

Emma Springfield said...

My son did the DNA testing. It was fascinating. If your father was attached to any of the US services (like the Navy) during World War II there may be records. They are available to you free as next of kin. You can apply online. I found my father's records and learned so much. Good hunting.

Snowbrush said...

“I suspect you are right about rape playing a part in your blood line. And equally suspect it is true of us all.”

What with all those thousands and thousands of grandparents, rape surely happened somewhere back in all of our blood lines.

“My family tree is a weed and I have little desire to shake it.”

I don’t know if that means you’re concerned about what you might find or that you’re simply not interested. While I haven’t done research into mine until lately, I’ve always been interested in genealogy, whereas Peggy is the exact opposite. Maybe we’re born with a tendency to go one way or the other. It seems like a good time to do this kind of research because of the Internet. Everyday, more information goes online, and the sites get better and better.

“I suspect that some at least of my family tree is toxic and should be handled with care.”

That never for a moment occurred to me as a reason to not learn about my ancestors, which was why I responded to Steven as I did. I would be sad to learn that I had truly evil ancestors, but I can imagine there were not, and Bernard did say that if I went far enough back that I would find both scoundrels and people of renown. It hasn’t happened yet though.

“That's about all I know of my history.”

I’m amazed that you know that much since it seems like there would be a lot else that a person would have to learn first to get back that far unless the story was passed down in the family.

“Neanderthal blood, eh? Awesome!”

I suppose we all have some, but my ratio is greater than 66% of people, although it’s still under 4%. Aside from being 0.2% black, I’m western European all the way. Even my Neanderthal blood came from the area of France and Germany.

“he did not commit the murder so the DNA sampling done by the ancestry site was wrong, somehow.”

I think these sites are probably accurate, but the only way I could test for consistency would be to do a DNA test on another site, and while I’m thinking about it, I’m hesitant to spend the money. As for black blood, mine goes back to the 1600s and is from West Africa, which, I would assume if where most American slaves came from.

Snowbrush said...

“If your father was attached to any of the US services (like the Navy) during World War II there may be records.”

He was a Merchant Marine, and when I learned in the early ‘90s that wartime Merchant Marines had been awarded veteran status, I ordered his service record and his Honorable Discharge. When he died, the government sent me a casket-size flag that I didn’t know to do with it and ended up giving it to the VFW. However, I’ve again ordered his service record in the hope of getting more information because the first one wasn’t complete in that it showed he served for the duration of the war but didn’t list all of the ships he was on, and didn’t give a record of the two sinkings. I’ve tried to find the crew lists of those ships online, but they’re not there.

I hope that no one is offended that I haven’t visited her or his blog lately, the truth being that I haven’t visited anyone’s blog lately. I plan to get back into it though.

Tom Sightings said...

That's a great title, though ... My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me. Personally, I don't think we're at all responsible for what our grandfathers did. We don't approve if they were involved in the horrors of history, but again, why should we be ashamed? It has nothing to do with us. Btw, my grandparents were among the persecuted, not the persecutors.

All Consuming said...

Wonderful post sweetie, it's rich with fascinating info and your enjoyment of the subject really shines through. x

Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

i wish I could find the articles I was reading about Nazi descendants, a lot of them volunteered to be sterilized so that they would be the last of the line. will have to see if I can find it again.

Like a lot of people fro Canada, I have native blood but not a lot, my great grandmother was half native, so not a lot of native in me, but I would still love to find out more about her. I've tried finding out more info about either mom or dads side of the family, but being from immigrant families that changed names and are spread all over, its hard without the money to really go looking

rhymeswithplague said...

Jennifer Rose, if your great-grandmother was half native, then one of her parents, your great-great-grandparent, was fully native. So with 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, and 16 great-great- grandparents, that means you are 1/16th (at least) native, which is somewhat more than "not a lot", especially when you consider that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is 1/32nd Native American and was awarded a scholarship to Harvard because she qualified as a member of a minority group, helping them meet their diversity requirements.

Snowbrush said...

“Personally, I don't think we're at all responsible for what our grandfathers did.”

I agree, and I will even go so far to acknowledge that the children of miscreants are themselves victims of their forebears, and that as such, their stories might be worth telling from a sociological/psychological viewpoint. For me, it’s simply a matter of scale, so when I compare what they suffered psychologically to what dissidents and members of minority groups suffered in every conceivable way at the hands of their relatives, their suffering seems as nothing, and I hold them in contempt for making money from talking about it unless they donate that money to a relevant charity.

“being from immigrant families that changed names and are spread all over, its hard without the money to really go looking”

I should think you could investigate whatever Indian ancestry rolls there are in Canada because your Indian blood probably doesn’t go much more than a hundred years back, so it might not be so hard to trace as you think.

“Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is 1/32nd Native American and was awarded a scholarship to Harvard because she qualified as a member of a minority group”

I’ll need some sources for that, although I’m sure we will both agree that she shouldn’t lay claim to Indian blood without something more in evidence that family stories, and that at least two universities were wrong for touting her as a minority faculty member. I even imagine a hint of self-serving and callous racism in what they did and in her acceptance of being called an Indian because it makes minority status meaningless and the achievements of those who really did suffer because of that status meaningless. Also, when I recall thinking for all these decades that I was at least 3/16 Indian, only to find out that I have no Indian blood, it certainly casts doubt on verbal history. I’m sure it was an honest mistake on the part of my Granny who had no memory of her birth parents and only knew what she had been told, but I’m completely blocked in trying to find out what her ancestry actually was.

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

I am glad you are back also.
I had a father who had many negative attributes: selfish, belittling to women, an extreme racist. I tried to distance myself from him and protect my mother as much as possible but I would hate to think that because we are genetically linked, I am like him or responsible for him.

I did have my DNA tested: I am less Irish than I thought but more Eastern European. As some of my ancestors had common Jewish names, I wanted to see if I were Jewish also (all matrilineal lineage) but less than 1% versus 25% as I had calculated. My husband showed up as 91% European Jewish.

One of our granddaughters is half African American. Her other grandma insisted she (grandma) was half Native American. Well it didn't show up in my granddaughter's test. She has ancestry from all over Africa, not just Ghana and Nigeria as I assumed.

rhymeswithplague said...

You are right; I was misremembering. Senator Warren was hired as a faculty member based on her unverified claim, not given a student scholarship.

Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

If I got my great grandmothers maiden name and married name I might be able to find out more because yeah it probably doesn't go back that far even tho she lived a pretty long time

PhilipH said...

Only just seen this post of yours, Snowy.

When you have a go at something you certainly dig deep. Time-consuming and not inexpensive which is one reason I know little about it. I may have mentioned something about my father's claim that he was one of nineteen children and that I always thought he was being less than honest. However, a stranger, Peter Harfleet, gave me the family tree which proved that my Dad was actually one of TWENTY-TWO kids! Apologies Dad, for doubting your veracity. Peter Harfleet is one of the many cousins I must have had, and probably still have. My paternal Grandfather had two wives, the first died after producing over half of the family sprogs. No surprise there then. Never knew anything about my maternal grandparents; this doesn't bother me at all.

I'm the eldest of the five boys that my poor old Mum produced. Three of my younger brothers have died, the fourth is probably still alive and kicking, sadly. He was a murderer, shooting dead his lovely wife Doreen. He was a colour sergeant in the army and used an automatic rifle to shoot Doreen in the back, killing her instantly. It's a tragic tale and I'll no relate it here, although I did write about it on my blog,some years ago.

kylie said...

I hope you are doing ok!
I dont know where to begin with replying to this post, so I wont.

Snowbrush said...

“Her other grandma insisted she (grandma) was half Native American.”

It’s funny to me that American Indians hold their oral traditions as equal—if not superior to—to scientific research and recorded history in terms of reliability, yet where oral traditions are subject to verification, oral traditions are notoriously unreliable even to the extent of a given person knowing whether or not he or she even is an American Indian. It makes my head swim, yet American Indians regularly hold their oral traditions as the gold standard by which truth can be measured.

My friend, Elaine wrote the following about DNA testing:

"Do you have siblings? If every sibling took a DNA test they would each be different. It is possible for one to show Indian blood and another not, so don't give up yet. I and my husband have taken the Ancestry test just to link with others that might have info we don't have. But, I also had my husband and my father take the YDNA37 & 67 test at: https://www.familytreedna.com/login.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fmy%2ffamilyfinder%2f

"Familytree has Surname Projects that you (males) can join and do your DNA test under. My husband did his through the Root Project and my dad through the Moody Project. On the link above you can check to see if there is a project with your surname (YDNA only follows the male line). If not I would still do the test. You can start with the YDNA37 test and see what you get and then upgrade (without doing a second test) to YDNA67. Their tests are so much more detailed that there is no comparison to Ancestry!!! I will warn you that it takes about 3 months to get results back, but they will break it down into every country in the world you have DNA from. And, show other members with similar DNA.”

I can’t make heads or tails of this because if my 23andMe test could show that I’m 0.2% West African, how in god’s name could it miss the fact that, according to what my orphaned Granny believed, I’m nearly one-quarter American Indian???!!! But if I don’t have even a molecule of Indian blood, does it matter to me? Yes, because of my Granny. It would mean that something she strongly believed and valued about herself was a lie, and it would mean that something I had thought she and I shared was a lie. Neither she nor I knew all that she was genetically, but we at least had a mutual belief in our Indian ancestry to hold onto, and now it’s gone. Still, my “loss” is complicated because of my feelings about American Indians whom I see as upholding ignorance in many ways. For example, when a 9.000 year old skeleton was discovered along the banks of the Columbia River, the local Indians fought tooth-and-nail to prevent scientists from studying his remains, the belief being that his spirit would be unhappy with being studied, and would revenge itself upon the living. There is no possibility of reconciliation between such silliness and science, and because of this, I would be almost embarrassed to have Indian blood.

Snowbrush said...

“Senator Warren was hired as a faculty member based on her unverified claim”

Which, if true, is bad enough. I just know that she allowed herself to be listed as a minority faculty member without ever once trying to prove that she was, although as this comment chain suggests, family lore is often worse than meaningless when it comes to establishing truth. Science can be wrong, and recorded history can be wrong, but oral tradition is a crapshoot.

“If I got my great grandmothers maiden name and married name I might be able to find out more because yeah it probably doesn't go back that far even tho she lived a pretty long time…”

If you joined Ancestry for that free trial, you would have two weeks to see what you could do. What I’ve found is that one piece of information leads to another, so was surprised by how far I could get in a short time. Of course, I’m to the point now that everything is much, much harder. In fact, I think I would need to do some studying of research techniques to progress at all.

“He was a murderer, shooting dead his lovely wife Doreen.”

How sad! Did you know that the Republican Party’s proposal to reduce gun violence is to allow more people to have more guns and to carry them wherever they go? Their idea is that if everyone was carrying a gun, no one would dare shoot anyone else because all of those other gun-toters would shoot him. They’re completely serious about this, or at least they say they are. I think that what it comes down to is that these are paranoid people who just want to be able to carry guns around to protect themselves, and if thousands of other people a year—many of them children—get shot, so be it.

“I dont know where to begin with replying to this post, so I wont.”

I see this as my loss.