Genetic Genealogy: Visualizing your past

I’ve been doing genealogy for over 20 years now. Genetic genealogy has taken the world by storm only in the last few years. Millions of people have sent in DNA samples to the big companies. By matching with other living descendants of your ancestors, DNA has opened up a whole new era of exploration and collaboration. I may have info on an ancestral line my match doesn’t have or vice versa. When you start matching to an ancestral line where paperwork is sparse, such as Irish lines, DNA may be the only guiding light you have.

I am not a DNA expert, by any means, but I am learning a great deal. Ancestry uses a feature called Shared Matches. This means when you look at a match, say to Person A, it will show you matches who match both you and Person A above a certain threshold (20 centimorgans). This is helpful because if you don’t know where Person A fits in your tree, but you see he matches known Cousin 1, then you know he is probably on the same ancestral line as known Cousin 1.

As helpful as Shared Matches are, they are limited. For instance, I have several large groups that match to each other but not related to any known match. I don’t even know if they are on my mother or father’s side. With no family trees or responses from messages, how can I ever place them on my ancestral lines?

Other DNA sites employ a tool called a Chromosome Browser. This not only tells you how many centimorgans (the unit of measurement for DNA) and segments you share with that person, but exactly which segments on which chromosomes. People you match that are all from the same lineage will usually have some overlapping sections.

Here is an example of a chromosome browser:

Genetic genealogy - Chromosome Browser

Which can also be shown in chart form:

Genetic genealogy--Chromosome chart

Once you have the chromosome information, you can use a tool called DNA Painter and “paint” them so you can see where they fall. As the segments align, you begin to understand which segments represent which ancestral couples. For example, this is a chromosome painted with 5 different matches from the same line overlapping:

Genetic genealogy--overlapping segments

Painting known matches, you can then take unknown matches and see if they overlap any of the known ones. If they do, this is an indication that they MIGHT be on that line. Why only “might”? Because each of our chromosomes have 2 sides—one from your dad, one from your mom. See below:

Genetic genealogy--chromosome sides

The chromosome browsers tell you which SEGMENTS you share with a match, but not which SIDE of the chromosome you match on. So if it seems to overlap on your dad’s side, it may be true. But it may also be on your mother’s side. However, it gives you a hint of where you might start looking.

Here’s one full profile from DNA Painter. This person’s profile is 28% complete.

Genetic genealogy--DNA profile

Since most of my known matches are on Ancestry, I do not have chromosome information for most of them. I would be a lot further along in my chromosome mapping if I had them! Ancestry so far has insisted they will never provide a chromosome browser, so I am out of luck.

The more I learn about genetic genealogy, the more intrigued I become. The more tools we have, the deeper we can go into our origins.

Perhaps someday genetic genealogy will help me find the so-far-mythological DNA match to my mother’s Irish grandfather that will prove he was human and not an alien, figment, or leprechaun.

A Muddy Revision Slog

I am finally getting back to writing. Not drafting right now, but revising something I have been putting off. Sometimes revision is clear and straightforward. In fact, I usually prefer revising to drafting. But this time the revisions are difficult—muddy.

In theory, I know what to do. Among other things, I am shoring up the “goals” in my protagonist’s scenes. Making clear what she wants. Because the feedback I got was that her goal got muddy after the first few chapters and therefore the reader lost interest in all the confusion.

So I have sharpened in my mind the overall story goal—the one that drove her from the beginning. But I am having trouble bringing that goal to the surface in all the scenes, because sometimes the scene goal necessarily overshadows the book goal. When you’ve been imprisoned and tortured, the immediate goals of survival and escape take precedence over all else. So maybe I have the wrong story goal altogether and that’s why I’m having so much trouble with it. And sometimes what the character thinks they want and what they actually need are not the same. And sometimes what they want changes over time. So I’m slogging along but not sure I’m making the story any better—I may be muddying it further.

The second part of the revision is my struggle with the Points of View (POV). I have 3 POV characters—but have been told that I should lose two of them. One is the villain (an adult), and the advice I got is that adult POVs have no place in YA. Unfortunately for me, I love this villain and find her very interesting, so it’s killing me to lose her POV. I also need to find a way to get some info that only that character knows into the story so the reader can know it, too.

I disagree with losing the second POV, as it is the twin brother of the main character. The genre is also space opera, which by its nature has a large canvas and usually needs more than one POV to tell the complete story. So I am trying to tie his POV closer to the main character’s to make his POV more relevant, as well as trying to find other ways to tell his part of the story that may involve the main character.

Again, not sure if I am helping or muddying at this point.

I’ll just push through the mud and then take a look at the finished whole and see what I think. I’m not totally happy with the way the revisions are going, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not actually going well. It’s just that right now there’s so much mud I can’t find the solid ground underneath.

So, fellow scribes, how do you know if your revision is making your story better or worse?

New Year, New Goals

Everyone posts New Year’s resolutions. I don’t so much do resolutions as goals. And I would like to try and make them realistic goals, so I don’t frustrate myself. The uber-healthy diet and sculpted beach-body? Not gonna happen. I’m going to try something more amenable to my couch-potato self.

I have talked about being in the midst of a great burnout. No creativity at all. 2018 was horrific, writing-wise. I totaled 89,672 words—and 73,218 of them were blog or other non-fiction writing words. Compare that to 2017, when my total words were 405,116, with 326,542 of those being fiction, and you can see how badly I fell off the workhorse.

So what am I aiming for this year? I have no specific word count in mind, but I do have two goals I want to reach:

  1. Finish revising Veritas.
  2. Re-release The Witch of Zal with new cover and illustrations.

Both are doable. I intend to do them.

Over this holiday, I have been trying to sleep more, to get out of the spiral of exhaustion and anxiety that I’ve been in for months. I think it is helping. I have an interest in getting back to revising Veritas, which I have been avoiding for quite some time. There’s a new angle I want to lay into the existing framework that intrigues me–and scares me, as I am not certain I can pull it off. But I want to try, which is  huge step forward.

So that’s my master plan for 2019. Not Earth-shattering, for sure. But within my reach. The burnout took a long time to set in fully, it make take some time to climb my way out of it. But I pledge to be kind to myself, to try and focus on taking better care of myself, and hopefully get back on that writing workhorse again.

What goals have you set for yourself this year?

The Best of The Goose’s Quill 2018

I always enjoy looking back over the past year and seeing what posts readers enjoyed most. I see an unexpected pattern with the top 4. Enjoy!

10. Genetic Genealogy: Proving the Paper Trail

9. Anxiety Spiral: Idling in “A” Gear

8. Control Your Inner Critic: The Power of a Name

7. Power Outage 2018

6. The Split Brain Phenomenon: On the Outside Looking In

5. On Being a Low-Energy Person in a High-Energy World

4. Spring Book Fair 2018: Snowmaggedon!

3. The Enchanted Book Fair: Fall 2018

2. 48 Years

1. Book Fair Magic: Casting a Reading Spell

Thank you to everyone who has read The Goose’s Quill this year! I hope you all have a safe healthy, happy 2019!

Christmas Week 2018

Merry Christmas to all! And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I will wish you Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, because the whole world needs that right now.

I’ve been enjoying the slower pace of this week, as there is no school and few extracurricular activities. My husband is off from work, so we’re all piled lazily in the house. Christmas was quiet—none of us got out of out pajamas all day!

Looking forward to a party tonight, our extended family Christmas Friday, and another holiday party with writing friends on Saturday.

I hope all of you are having a peaceful holiday and getting in some relaxation.

The Split Brain Phenomenon: On the Outside Looking In

I used to think only I experienced a split brain. Even in childhood, I always had the strange sensation of being on the outside looking in. I watched my peers and marveled at the ridiculous (to me) things they fought about, raged about, lost friends over. I always just figured I was an “old soul” type, plus being an introvert I did not usually place myself in the center of social angst.

But there is more to it than that, as I have found as I grew into adulthood. I have often felt like I am in two places at once—both experiencing my life and observing it. As an introspective type, this observing of my experiences often takes a two step form that most people are familiar with—something happens, and later on in a quiet moment, I examine it. But sometimes I have disconcerting moments where the two happen simultaneously.

For example, as my best friend was dying, I and my friends spent many emotional hours in the hospital. One night another friend and I fell into each others’ arms in a hallway and started sobbing. And my split brain says to me, “This would make a good story.” Seriously, brain? So now one part of my split brain is deeply grieving, while the other is arguing with itself over the inappropriateness of its intrusion.

I am aware that this “removed” feeling in the situation above could have been a defense mechanism against my grief, but that is only one instance where I had this occur. Many times I feel both inside and outside my life, like a bridge with an upper and lower deck—connecting to the same places, but taking different routes. Both observer and observed.

I have since found that other creative people experience a similar phenomenon. So maybe I’m not crazy—or maybe we all are. This ability to see the larger picture, to see beyond our own experiences even while having them is, I think, a part of what makes a creative brain what it is. We interpret as we experience, and are able to then lay that observation over the larger human experience and make it resonate with people.  Rather than being a disconnect, it is actually a unique connection between the intensely personal and the widely human.

It is often said that artists see things other people don’t. That they have vision. The split brain is part of that perspective. We are a conduit, able to extrapolate from our experience to that of others. Our job, our purpose, is to shine a light on the humanity in us all.

That moment of grief in the hospital hallway? That is a story played out in every hospital in every country in every language in the world. It is more than a good story—it is the human story.

And my split brain allows me to see both stories at once.

NJASL 2018

This past weekend I wrapped up my event schedule for 2018 with the New Jersey Association of School Librarians’ Conference. I was only able to be in the Authors’ Alley for one day of the three day conference, as usual, but I enjoy putting in an appearance.

Sunday was a misty day, not a great beach day. This was the first year the conference has been in December, so I got to see the conference center decked out for the holidays. Christmas is my favorite holiday, so I love the decorations (although nor before Thanksgiving, please!).

For the first time in my 4 years attending the conference, I was on the upper level of Authors’ Alley. It was a bit warm up there, so we propped open the door to the balcony to get the cool ocean breeze swirling in. We had a good view of the ocean from up there, when the fog lifted enough to see it. The waves were large and I could have watched, mesmerized, for hours.

NJASL holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first book event I did after my book The Witch of Zal came out in 2015. I was terrified, but my friend and tablemate Donna Galanti showed me the ropes. Plus, all the librarians are enthusiastic and interested, and that love of books is infectious. NJASL is one of my favorite events, and I hope to perhaps be on a panel next year to expand my experience there.

I have heard that the NJASL 2019 will be at a different location, so onward to new things for all of us! I will be back next year.

48 Years

Today my best friend Donna should have turned 48 years old…but she is forever 32. Cancer took her much too soon.

Donna was more of a sister than a friend, and I feel her loss keenly even after 16 years. There are many things I miss about her, of course, but for me what I always miss most is the laughter.

She could make me laugh until I cried like nobody else. And she did it on a regular basis.

These last few years have been rough for a number of reasons, the last few months especially. I could use her laughter right now.

So today I am missing my friend while remembering with gladness the 18 years of friendship we had.

I miss you, Donna. I miss the laughter.

I always think of her when I hear this song:

Thanksgiving 2019: My Thankful List

Today is Thanksgiving, and here in America we celebrate being thankful. It is so hard to see the good things in life sometimes, because human nature focuses on the bad. Our culture also encourages greed and envy, creating a selfishness that can make us forget to be grateful for what we do have. So today I am focusing the many good things in my life.

  1. I am thankful for my health and the health of my family.
  2. I am thankful for my husband’s return after almost 6 months away for work.
  3. I am thankful for a family that is warm and loving.
  4. I am thankful for having a strong house and enough to eat.
  5. I am thankful for the luxury of time to rest.

I am lucky. My family is healthy, we are all safe, we are all well-enough off that we have enough food to eat and healthy places to live. I am part of a family who is kind and generous and loving. I have work I enjoy, and hobbies that inspire me.

I have enough. And in this world right now, where so many people work themselves to the bone, where they live in fear for themselves or their loved ones, where they have to worry every day about food and safety, that is a tremendous amount to be thankful for.

I have enough.

And I am thankful.

South Jersey Writers Conference…and Snow

On Saturday, a group of writers got together for the 2nd Annual South Jersey Writers Conference. The original location was only about 5 minutes from my house, but then it got moved to a place 45 minutes away. But I went anyway because this is a great group of writers to hang out with and we always have a good time!

We kicked it off with a workshop by Laura Kaighn, then the keynote by K.A. Magrowski. We rounded out the day with two panels where we discussed everything from what/who inspired us to write what we write to marketing to process. As always, much learning was accompanied by much laughter.

photo by Kristin Battestella

Many thanks to Kristin Battestella for organizing the South Jersey Writers Conference, and to all the people who came by–including my cousin and his wife! A nice surprise.



The rest of this week was taken up in mopping my floors and steam cleaning my rugs. (I live such a wild life.) I gotta say, when you have a child in the house, it takes longer to clear out the room so you can do the rug than it actually takes to do the rug. Still, it was worth the effort.

Today, it’s snowing. Since I have nowhere to go, I am able to actually enjoy watching the snow fall, and take pleasure in the beauty.

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