Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MITOCHONDRIAL DNA

My Great Grandmother, Margrete Brandlien Wangen

It didn't take a turn of the calendar page to tell me fall is here. The kids are back in school, the yellow school buses are on the roads again, the elm branch that's always the first to turn is a spray of gold, and there is that certain, indefinable tang in the air. Wood smoke, hay, dying foliage?

Julia Wangen Munro, my maternal grandmother


Last year at this time, I was busy planning "The Autumn Sketch Book of Bess Stanhope", inspired by Lena's (Mrs. Staggs)' autumn sketch book on her blog, "A Happy Miscellany". I loved writing Bess' story in diary form, following her life as she returned to North Dakota for another year of teaching, took the train back home to St. Paul for a weekend visit, enjoyed the beauty of autumn and celebrated Halloween and Thanksgiving with her students and new friends.


My mother, Myrtle Opal Munro Johnson

This year, I have no inclination whatsoever to write fiction. And Bess' diary is one of the few fictional pieces I've ever written. As a journalist, though, I told the stories of many real people. I wrote the story of a nun from Annunciation Priory who had encephalitis as a small child and has extreme difficulty speaking, yet she clearly communicates her love of God and service to others. I won the North Dakota Press Women's first prize for feature story for that one.

At Christmas one year, I told the stories of actual North Dakotans who have seen angels or felt their presence. I was thrilled to have scooped Time and Newsweek with their similar stories at the beginning of the "angel craze". I've told the story of "Bismarck's Benny", a developmentally disabled young man who worked for a local law firm, just like Benny on L.A. Law.

I wrote the story of Patrick Atkinson, a young man from Bismarck who established the internationally known "God's Child Project". I was the first to interview him. Now there's a book out about him. Darn it - I certainly snoozed through that opportunity.


Me, Julie (Julia) Marie Munro Johnson Fredericksen

I really enjoyed meeting those people and telling their stories. But now it's time to tell my story. To quote Toby Keith:

You know talking about you makes me smile

But every once in a while

I wanna talk about me

Wanna talk about I

Wanna talk about Number 1

Oh my me my

What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see

I like talking about you you you usually, but occasionally

I wanna talk about meeeeee

I wanna talk about me!



My daughter, Kristen Anne

You're probably countering with the thought that "she's been talking about herself all along." Well, true. But now I want to get down to the real nitty gritty. I wanna talk about the girl who can trace her ancestors to Norway, Scotland and Ireland. The girl whose mom went to a Florence Crittendon Home to hide away before she was born. The girl who lived in her Grandma's house until she was four, then moved to a village on the bare Dakota prairie.

I wanna talk about the nature-loving girl who roamed the countryside, the book reading girl who was a reserved, quiet and shy teen. The girl who bloomed when she reached college. The girl who went to work, got married, had a child. The girl who went from maiden to mother and finally to crone.

Yes, the impetus for wanting to write about "that girl" is having turned 60 this summer. As Winston Churchill said, "The further backward you can look, the further forward you can see."

I'm looking backward so I can find me, the real me. I feel as if I lost young Julie along the way. Don't worry - I won't be looking backward in every post I write. To quote Toby again, it'll be "occasionally".

My first look backward is a simple one - posting pictures of five ladies linked through the centuries by mitochondrial DNA, inherited only from the mother.

If it were possible, all of us could trace our ancestry further and further back through the maternal line until we got to "Eve". Not Eve of the Bible, not the first human female, but our ancestral mother - a woman who lived 168,000 years ago. "Eve" was jokingly named by the researchers who found her in East Africa, where the most ancestral mitochondrial DNA is found. Or just call her our MRCA - the Matrilineal Most Recent Common Ancestor of all people living today.

How I wish I could look at all those women's faces. But these scant few photos are all I have from the countless generations of women who preceded me. However, we are forever linked by our mitochondrial DNA.

14 comments:

lila said...

Coming by to say, "Let's have a good September"...I know I will enjoy reading what you write about yourself!

Utah Grammie said...

Love this. You know I am in the Genetic Genealogy realm, right? And I can so relate - I am turning 60 in a couple of months..Have you had your mtDNA tested? Email me...

Gretchen Joanna said...

These photos are wonderful. Thank you so much for letting us see the marks of the DNA showing up through the generations.

Piecefulafternoon said...

I love the generations of photos - can't wait to read more. You always give us such interesting things to think about.

AutumnLeaves said...

What an awesome entry. I so enjoyed reading your words and seeing your photographs. Your mom looks so much like her mom! Your daughter looks so very much like you! I wish I had such photographs of my family!

Odette said...

I am amazed that you have photos of your ancestors! I only got a photo of my grandmother but none of whom she preceded.
It must be wonderful to learn of one's lineage.
xoxoxoxo

Carmen said...

Julie:
This is a wonderful and heartfelt post!
I can't wait to read more!

gemma said...

DNA is amazing. There are similar traits in all of you. I think it's in the eyes.
When my granddaughter was born she had mannerisms of her great-grandma Mary. We thought Oh No she's come back! lol
Looking forward to more of your writing about yourself. I always learn alot here.

Patty said...

Great post Julie.
I love looking at the old photos. I too think of my ancestors and wonder who they were, what they did, and what they thought. Do I look like someone, did they look like me. When my grandson was born he looked exactly like my daughter, who looked like me at birth. My daughter in fact said it was a bit creepy because he first words when he came out were. He looks like my mom.

Rowan said...

Fascinating post Julie - I've never really thought about that close and special connection going right back through the female line - I share it with my daughter and my mother - now I need my daughter to have a daughter!

Mary said...

Fascinating memoir of your family's women Julie.

Turning 60 is to celebrate (I'm much older than you, for what that's worth!)and I believe you will enjoy joining this decade. Suddenly one realizes how special every day becomes, how important it is to enjoy the moment, and how at long last we can each become the person we truly enjoy being without all that other stuff that screwed up the early days!

Glad you quit the book club - having you do your fabulous reviews for us, your readers, will be much better. Their loss is our gain, yippee!!

Enjoy the holiday weekend.
Hugs - Mary

P.S. Sorry I've been absent - too much time on the road - but then at my age one really doesn't have to apologize, right!!!!?

Janet said...

Fantastic post! I hope you continue to talk about you as often as possible!

I recently watched a program about the human genome project (or something like that) and it was fascinating. They traced people all the way back to that "Eve" you spoke of.

Laeriss said...

I thank you very much for your link toward A Heart in Provence, I'm very flattered.
So I linked your blog here : "My readers"
Best wishes.

Jo said...

You can "see" the DNA in those photos! Great post, i'm looking forward to reading about Julie :-)