Saturday, December 11, 2010

Life Lines 77


My ninth grandchild arrived June 22, 1998 in Pasadena, California. I was visiting my closest friend, Dr. Peter Gary, a composer in Victoria, British Columbia. He is a Holocaust survivor and had studied with Kodaly and Bartok. My wife, Nedra, was already en route from Vancouver to Los Angeles when baby Maxwell arrived a week early. His mother, Lyn Yasumura, MD is an obstetrician and this was her first child although she has delivered over a thousand babies for other women. His father, Anders, is finishing his Ph.D. in structural engineering at Caltech. Anders and Lyn attended Ward Melville High School in Setauket.
Baby Maxwell, you are my mother’s 52nd descendant. She was born in Bound Brook, New Jersey of immigrants from Tarnapol, in what is now the Southwestern Ukraine. You are my father’s 17th descendant. He came from Stockholm, Sweden and settled in New York City after a few years in the merchant marine. You have eight cousins on your father’s side and none yet on your mother’s side. You are a melting-pot American who combines Swedish (one-eighth) Japanese (one fourth), Ukraine (one eighth), German (one fourth, English (one tenth), Welsh (one percent), Scottish (one percent), and French (a trace) ancestry. Your ancestors are Lutheran, Baptist, Jewish, Huguenot, Catholic, Unitarian, and Buddhist.
Four living relatives also have your Y chromosome. Three relatives have your mitochondria. You have about 100 genes (out of 25,000) of your ancestor, Andrew Babcock, who helped make the links of the great chain that stretched across the Hudson River near West point to prevent the British navy from supplying its Canadian forces during the Revolutionary war. Seven generations ago, your ancestor, Israel Dock Johnson, fought for the Union during the Civil War with his Indiana regiment and he survived the rigors of a Confederate prison camp by digging up and eating raw sweet potatoes. You have about 400 of Dock Johnson’s genes. One of the slaves freed during the Civil War was the grandfather of Evelyn [Billie] Hawkins, whose last name is now your middle name. She was your father’s fifth grandparent and she had adopted our family before your father was born.
You bring together by your birth, four very different families. Your Japanese-American grandfather, a professor and physiologist, was American-born and raised in New York and California until World War II when he was sent with his parents to an internment camp in Idaho. Your maternal grandmother, a college administrator, was born and raised in New York of German-Americans whose ancestors lived many generations in Virginia. Your paternal grandfather, a professor and geneticist, grew up in the slums of New York. Your paternal grandmother, an in-vitro fertilization embryologist, grew up in the small towns and farms of Northern Indiana. What we all have in common is our designations as Americans.
From yesterday’s immigrants to those who have lived in North America for a dozen or more generations, we have enjoyed the benefits of freedom (sometimes denied) and opportunity (sometimes thwarted). Enjoy that good fortune, Maxwell, and celebrate the many components of your ancestors who each helped make America the world’s most admired concept.

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