The DNA results from Ancestry confirmed my European ethnicity, but the makeup
wasn’t what I assumed it would be. My results say I’m 64 percent from Western Europe, 12 percent from Ireland, 9 percent from Great Britain, 8 percent from Scandinavia, and 6
percent from Eastern Europe. Through my research I’ve found that I have many German
ancestors on both my mother and father’s side, which accounts for my high percentage of Western European ethnicity. I was surprised by my low percentage of Scandinavian
ethnicity, especially because that percentage is significant in my Mom’s and Dad’s ethnic
makeup — 23 and 21 percent respectively. I was also surprised to find out that I share a
high amount of centimorgans — the unit that genealogists use to measure genetic linkage
— with my uncle Rick on my mom’s side. Apparently I share more centimorgans with him than with my grandmother, which might explain why I’m already getting grey hair in my 20s.
My uncle, Rick Parker, is our family’s unofficial genealogist. He has been researching
our ancestors at great length since December 2009, and wrote a 15-page report called “Our Parker Family Puzzle,” which answered many of my questions about where we came from. In this report, he explained that his mother’s side of the family is well documented and easy to research. They came to America from Denmark during the Second Schleswig War. Where he ran into trouble was with his father’s side. He couldn’t find any records of my great grandfather,
Charles Sidney Parker, before 1918. “He simply appeared in Montana without
a history,” Rick says. Through Ancestry, Rick and his aunt Ethel (Charles’ daughter) had
their DNA tested, which helped Rick find answers to the mystery of Charles Parker.
Rick tried to find records for Charles for more than two years without luck. He had
two primary documents: Charles’ WWI draft card and marriage license. Through Rick’s
research, he found that Charles wrote on his marriage certificate that his mother was Mary Stoltz and his father was Ira Parker. He also found an Iowa Census document that listed a Charles Albert Parker as living with Ira and Mary, but no Charles Sidney Parker. There was also a person named Peter Close listed as living with Ira and Mary, but there was no record of Peter’s relationship to the family.
It turned out that Charles allegedly lied about who his parents were on his marriage
license in order to preserve a family secret. Through the Iowa Births and Christenings
Index for the year Charles was born, Rick found a record of a baby boy born to Sarah Jane Parker — Charles’ presumed older sister. On the birth record, the baby’s father was listed as a man named James Homes. Rick researched Homes — as well as alternate spellings like Holm and Holmes — through Ancestry and found no DNA links with this man. Out of curiosity, he researched Peter Close. Rick found that there was a Close family who lived a mile or two from the Parker farm. Rick listed one of the Close men, John Close, as Charles’ father on Ancestry and found that Rick and Ethel shared 12 DNA-matched relatives with descendants of John Close.
Rick’s theory is that Peter Close is actually Charles Parker. He believes that John
Close is not listed as Charles’ father on his birth record because four days after Charles was born, John married someone else, and Sarah wanted to spare him the scandal. Sarah
married William Logan when Charles was three years old, and according to Rick, there is
some evidence showing that for a while Charles went by the name Peter Logan. Rick’s
report says that Charles and William didn’t get along, but Charles was close to his stepsiblings — Rick has a picture passed down to him of three girls Charles called his sisters, who were Sarah and William’s children. Charles moved to Montana — where my grandpa was born — and adopted the surname Parker, which is shown on his draft card and marriage license. Many of Charles’ children share names with his step-siblings; My
grandpa’s name was Richard Logan Parker.
After this family mystery was solved, Rick had an easier time putting our family tree
together. He discovered that we can trace our ancestors back to the 1500s. I am descended from Francis Cooke, who came to America on the Mayflower. I have a Quaker ancestor, Sir John Mendenhall, who came here from Germany with William Penn in the 1600s, and helped establish what is now Pennsylvania. I also have confirmed ancestral ties to a handful of U.S. Presidents from both sides of my family, including Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, the Bushes, and even Barak Obama (If I counted right, we are fifth cousins through my great grandma, Lula Singletary). In my first paper I wrote about the book my dad gave me about my family’s history on his side. My grandpa Rudolph (or Larry, as he was known) was one of eight children. His grandpa, Samuel Brown LaRue, enlisted the Union Army during the Civil War when he was 14 years old. His Company fought in the Battle of Vicksburg and the last battle of the war, but Samuel was sick in the hospital for both of those battles, and was discharged before the war was over. After that he settled in Wisconsin and became a farmer, but couldn’t work very much because of his weakened state from his illnesses during the war. As I mentioned in my first paper, my grandpa — the author of this book — was in the Air Force during WWII. He was an aerial photographer. According to his book, his work mostly consisted of mapping. However, he did have this to say:
The aerial photographer is usually in that lonely reconnaissance
plane that flies over enemy territory days before the mass of
bombers make their approach. After photographing a city, we
would sometimes drop a propaganda pamphlet. Note the copy on
page 121 of one we dropped over Hiroshima prior to the Atom
Bomb attack. Someday I will get it translated to see what was
said. After the smoke of the bombing has cleared, another lonely
reconnaissance is made to assess the damage.
I didn’t know my grandpa, but I did know he and my dad didn’t get along. There was
a story my grandpa wrote in the book about a time he called his father by his first name as a boy. His father chased him down, lifted him off the ground, shook him, and demanded that he be addressed as “dad or sir.” My grandpa concluded this anecdote by saying the experience stuck with him, and was a lesson that children should always respect their parents. I gather from the very few mentions of my grandpa by my dad that this experience seems to have shaped my grandpa’s parenting style. My dad is the fourth of five children, and has been working since he was 12 years old. He put himself through college, sometimes only having canned green beans that his friends gave him to eat. Because of his rough upbringing, my dad has done everything in his power to make sure my brother and I always had the things he didn’t: not just material things, but college educations and a person to talk to. While I’ve always imagined my grandpa as nothing like my dad, I was shockingly moved by little details that my grandpa wrote about, specifically his passion for photography, his love of spaghetti, and his views on the importance of nature conservation, that are present characteristics in my dad. This knowledge will have a lasting impact on me.
My grandpa Rudolph is first from the left. My dad is Marty, second from the right (with the sweet moustache).
I think the biggest lesson I learned as a journalist was from the example of my uncle
Rick. He had a mystery to solve, and he did not stop digging, even when he hit dead end
after dead end. Through his own process, he found many relatives we had no idea existed, and traveled across the world to see the places where our family came from. This has taken him years, and I can tell he’s nowhere close to being finished with his research. When he talks about our family tree, he is extremely passionate and knowledgeable. He is truly an expert. I believe that kind of wisdom is something that journalists need when reporting in diverse communities, because it’s these communities that are traditionally underreported. Modern journalists owe it to these communities to make up for the mistakes of past journalists, and put in the work to provide fair representations of these communities.
I think there is a tendency to get caught up in deadlines, and sometimes it’s seen as
more important to report a story first than to report it correctly. Although the industry
might not always allow for it, I think it should be the primary goal of journalists to become experts on whatever they report, which means continuing to dig, even when they run into dead ends. Even though the news media right now is dependent on breaking news and catering to the short attention span of consumers, I believe there is a need for long-form reporting and producing complete, diversely sourced stories of the highest quality. If future journalists take a cue from the relentless reporting of my uncle Rick, they can change news media for the better.