Category Archives: Meanderings

Reason #38 Finding Family is Helpful – Our Health

Hi there! How are y’all doing? I’m great. Summer is here. Our tornado season has been mild this year (knocking on wood as I write). My little vegetable garden is rolling along. This isn’t a family history reporting piece. It’s more of a “fringe benefits of doing genealogy” opinion piece.

I kid you not. I have started this piece 3 times, staring in early April. It began differently each time. I have this incredibly morbid obsession about my own death. As I quickly approach my 50th birthday, I’m freaking out about quality of life into my elder years now too. Keeping this piece light-hearted is gonna be a task!

When I visit the doctor I have to fill out those forms that ask for family medical history. I am grateful for all of the boxes I get to skip over, but I always checked off what I knew: Diabetes, Colon Cancer, High Blood Pressure, High cholesterol, Asthma. My 40th birthday was lots of fun. That’s when it was suggested I start all of the testing that goes with creating a “baseline” for the Golden Years. Hahahaha!

Over the last six months, there has been a nagging voice to look at all the Death Certificates I have for genetic direct-line family members.

img331 (2)

Death certificates can tell you the diseases that your family passed from, as well as how long they endured their condition.

So here are what 6 family members passed from:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Heart Attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Tuberculosis
  • Uremia Nephritis (Renal failure)
  • Colon Cancer
  • Cardiomyopathy (1st cause) exacerbated by Intraluminal Thrombi (2nd cause) exacerbated by Gastric Tumor.

Well, okay then.

About 5 years ago, I talked to my Nina, Phyllis Baltierra. I knew she was unwell, but did not know her specific issues. I asked if she was diabetic. “Oh yeah, honey,” she said. “We all are. You will be too.” What? But I didn’t want to be a diabetic. Needless to say, this conversation was key to my losing weight, exercising, and limiting sugar intake. It started my proactive attempt to take care of myself.

I married into a medical family. For 23 years, I’ve been privy to extensive conversations about dentistry, physiology, biology, medical journals, medical history, and current health issues. My mother-in-law is still so well read she can tell you about new medicines with a mental list of the pros and cons of each.

If I stop and think about it, we can document lots of causes of death on that side of my husband’s family as well. Prostate cancer, heart issues, tuberculosis, asthma, diabetes.

My husband and I actively listen to the friends around us when they discuss health concerns they are currently facing. We are working to face our health future head on. I finished working as a substitute preschool teacher this year because getting up off the floor with a 20 pound child in my arms was getting REALLY hard. I was exhausted when I got home. The job flexibility was great but at the end of the day I had to consider my physical well-being.

My chiropractor recommended yoga. Ted and I do some at home. I found this great little DVD at the local thrift store. (And sad to say, but I was truly happy to find it!)


Happy almost 50th Birthday to me.

Genealogy can assist in filling out those medical forms the nagging doctors press upon you. Having chatted with distant family members, I discovered that I shared infertility issues with many women in my family. Fibroid tumors were an issue for them. Many of my closer female cousins didn’t have this problem, so I felt validated and connected with these other women who shared the pain I did.

Honestly, I had no idea my paternal grandmother died of a heart attack. What?! Probably because she died when I was 8 and never thought to ask my dad about it much. Our natural propensity to not talk about illness is not thought of when we are younger. Then it’s too late to discuss. And in many cases, it’s considered off limits. Remember old TV shows when a character would whisper the word “cancer” to the other? Now we have 5K walks, and benefit runs, and we are wearing pink for breast cancer awareness. Changing times with health in the forefront.

There are now genetic screenings to see what each person might be have a chance of developing or passing on. I’m not quite ready for that yet. Not when I can look back with paperwork.

I work with several women my age who have been widowed already. I can’t imagine my life without Ted. We are working to care for each other – insist the other get to the doctor to look at the mole, the back pain, the hitch in our git along. As you get older you find love takes many forms.

I realize all of this post is from the current part of my life’s journey. If you share some of my direct line peeps, put their issues on your medical forms. Work with your care giver. Make some different life choices. My paternal grandfather worked in a mine in Montana which probably explains the lung cancer. So my NOT working in a mine could be helpful with keeping that disease at bay.

img329 (2)

Grandpa Baltierra’s Death Certificate. Heart Disease was a secondary factor.

One recommendation I will give is simply endeavor to be happy. It is an amazing tonic and is good for the soul. You never know. It could cure many ailments that may, or may not, be a part of your path.


I have found a few new things to research in the old family history department. I’ve sent out my “we are related, but you didn’t know it letters” this week too. So be prepared for new blog pieces. Have a great summer! Stay cool.


My Inner Feelings about My Outward Appearance

I am writing this piece from my heart. It’s been bubbling to the top for a while now. This is my experience.

From the time of my childhood, I have prided myself on being American. I still do. Being American was enough for any of us. Remember “The Great American Melting Pot?” School House Rock did a song about it.

One day, when I was a junior in high school, David Donate asked me “What are you, Edwina?” When I replied American, he said, “I know that. We’re all American. But what are you?” Until that moment, having lived in a wonderfully multi-cultural town, it had never been an issue. It never occurred to me to ask. It was that day a seed was planted. Thus, this blog site.


Pretty sure this is how most people see my childhood. Haha!

Three of my four grandparents were citizens. My paternal grandparents came from Mexico, but took the citizenship test; prideful of their new country. They birthed children all over the heartland of America: Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, California. My parents were born here. My dad is a Korean Conflict Veteran. He retired from that all-American company, Ford Motors. I have uncles on both sides that served this country, along with second cousins. Even some once or twice removed, proudly serving as I write. We love Elvis, baseball, and apple pie.

My American story is not enough for many though. Simply because I look different.

I have been recently calling myself an Ethnically Ambiguous Bird of Paradise. Ownership is a powerful coping mechanism. I look just different enough not to be Caucasian-American. But if you chatted with me, you would be very confused. Because I talk like one. [Note: the song “Valley Girl” was a part of my formative years and sorority girl talk is like soooo easy to imitate.]

English is my only language. Although my ancestors immigrated through Mexico, I cannot speak Spanish. Why should I? My family has been in the US for over 100 years now. This stereotype confounds everyone. Even those who have Spanish as their first language.

I am not visually American enough for some, and not Hispanic enough, in how I live, for others. This had been a sticking point regarding me for many years.My college roommates were sisters born in Mexico who came with their family in the 1980s. They called me White Washed. Nice.

Then I moved to Oklahoma with my husband. Now that my location had changed, so had the perceptions of those around me. As most Oklahomans weren’t very knowledgeable about Hispanics, I was either going to be classified as White or Native American. When I denied tribal affiliation, I was looked at with scorn. As if I was denying my roots. Yet another group I could not please. Aaarrrggggh!

Over the last twenty years, I have come to realize that human beings simply categorize those around them. They can’t help it. I no longer take it personally. Apparently, I was born to be that special person who throws everyone off by NOT filling the stereotype for which they are looking. I am a California girl, with a Master’s Degree, who has chosen to stay at home with her child, who married outside of her traditional faith and ethnically similar group. Boom!

I have made tamales only a few times – not 3 times a year since I was knee-high to a molcajete. And I learned how to make them by reading about it. Thank you, Rick Bayless. I am learning to read Spanish because I have to translate Spanish documents to find details in my family history. Any Spanish I can speak I learned from Dora and Diego. “Stars! Estrellas!” I took Latin in high school. Didn’t everyone?

My parents are having their DNA evaluated by Ancestry. One of my branches has a partial break down like this:

Europe: 45% (Iberian Peninsula/Italy and Greece); Native American: 18%; West Asia: 29% (Caucasus/Middle East) [with others in there as well].

So. I am Native! Just Native from Mexico; and so very far removed  from tribal life that we have NO idea to what tribe we can connect. I have more Native in me than many of my card-carrying tribal friends here in OK. My great-grandfather emigrated from Turkey to Mexico in the last 1800s. This explains the West Asian facet of the breakdown. Bet none of you saw that coming. Hahahahaha!

I don’t get have the advantage to just consider myself a middle-class American SAHM who drives a super-dorky mini van, drinking coffee from Starbuck’s. Noooooo. (Read with inflection)

Being caught in this vague ethnic limbo forces me to look more deeply at groups outside of my own. From their perspective. I recognize the immigrant who works in the restaurant cleaning the tables. She may not be able to chat with me, but she looks like me. I see men on Facebook being shot in their cars without trial, much less Miranda Rights, differently because I am a visual minority; because others see ME that way. I am looked at by those I attend church with as the person who can easily provide tacos for the college student finals feed. Unbeknownst to them, I would get the recipe from Pinterest, just as they would. Thank you, Rick Bayless pins. I am talked to in Spanish by a non-English speaker who then looks me up and down as if I am broken when I cannot answer.

My new concern. I worry that my having Middle Eastern ancestry could be detrimental to my safety as a third-generation American citizen. And now that Ancestry has my official DNA results, will it ever be used against me? The many DNA evaluation companies are privately owned. Until a court order asks for their lists. Let’s not pretend it isn’t possible. Let’s not pretend that our country hasn’t put racial groups in camps before. For the safety of our country.

This is the crap I get to dwell on occasionally. Ethnically ambiguous birds of paradise have that burden, you know.

I am so made up of various groups that I can’t even get mad at history. I wouldn’t be here if all these people didn’t do their migration, their exploring, their conquering, their loving and inter-racial marriages thing.

This post isn’t to wear everyone down. It’s to ask for one thing. I want you to practice looking at each other differently. Practice looking at a stranger outside of the “race” category. Look at what we all have in common. I’ve seen Muslim women in mini-vans in the Drive-Thru line at Panera on that first day of school. Just like the rest of the other moms. Super glad that summer is over. More than likely, as I happen to know, you will have their story wrong any way. Trust me on this. Like those two Indian men in Olathe, Kansas. You know. The one the shooter thought were from the Middle East. Sigh……






The Hard Discussion About Your Familial Past

Hello! So sorry to be gone for so long. Been a busy Spring and Summer. Now I can concentrate again on my family history and the blog.

That being said, I am going to go WAY off topic today to discuss something that has been weighing on my heart. Two things have happened this summer that have me in deep contemplation: a church shooting and a denial of family history.

The first event was the tragic shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This occurrence hurt my soul. However, my heart has been inspired by the true Grace the congregation has shown during this difficult time. Mankind’s violence against each other has been a constant throughout history. We cannot change history, but we can know it and use our knowledge to improve the future.

I grew up with the “American Melting Pot” ideology. I feel my personal beliefs in racial equality are grounded. My racial heritage is varied. My husbands’ heritage is too. My son is stereotypical Heinz 57. Our little family discusses equality often, but I forget that I live in a self-made bubble of protectiveness.

One morning in June, I finally got up early enough to watch the news only to see the church tragedy unfurl. I cried. The day moved on and I started to ask myself “How do violent acts like South Carolina happen? What causes a young man to want to hurt a group of people in 2015?” The blame game started whirring in my mind; “Didn’t anyone notice? Did he always have these tendencies?” Soon those thoughts took a turn.

I actively work to be cognizant of my behavior, but what about other people who are careless with the words or attitudes they convey? I can easily see, in my own family and friend circles, those comments and quips that promote racial/socio-economic…what is it? Differentiation? Need to be better than others?

Over the last 30 years of my research, I have heard friends and family say the following things:

    • Our aunt told us we were getting too dark in the sun. Being dark was not a good thing.
    • Well, she might call herself Mexican-American, but I’m not.
    • I’m pretty sure we are more Spanish than Indian.
    • It’s weird, he’s half Portuguese, half-Mexican, but he hates his Mexican side.
    • We don’t want him to marry into that Cherokee family. (Aren’t you part Cherokee?) Well, yes, but that was a long time ago.
    • I’m Hispanic, but I’m not like “those” kind of Hispanic people.
    • No one is going to make me say politically correct things. I’ll say what I want to say. Screw them.
    • She got teased for being a blonde Mexican.
    • You can’t speak Spanish? Seriously?
    • When I asked if we were part Jewish, he just winked at me but would NEVER admit it.
    • We are part of the struggling. We are the oppressed. It’s the wealthy whites who are holding us back.
    • You are not Mexican. You are white-washed.

Most of my family would think that they are on the tolerant side of this issue. But even the most liberal of freedom fighters make quips that, if examined carefully, smell vaguely of judgement when it comes to the wealthy in our country. And it is these passing phrases, comments on social media, discussions over coffee, that have made me wonder if we unknowingly create these issues in our country?

What if the above phrases came up in casual conversations, dropping into the minds of others in the room? A simple seed planted. And what if one of those seeds sprouts? Takes root? Occasionally, humans are known to feed the wrong thing. Add a little Self-Righteous Indignation, some Perceived Wrong-Doing against us by some group, then with either a loud boom, or a quiet click, violence can spark. Maybe pent-up feelings emerge, taking those who don’t know what to do with their angry emotions into dark places their family never thought they would go.

The second story in the news was Ben Affleck not wanting the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” to share that he had slave owners in his family. This isn’t related to the shootings in South Carolina, but stick with me here. Mr. Affleck’s lobby to get his familial results tweaked so as not to show the darker, yet historical, side of his family in America saddens me too.

Besides my maternal family tree, I tend my Mother-in-Law’s tree as well. Her family is fun to research because: Americans were great at documenting, I can read every page as the documents are in English (my shame of not speaking/reading Spanish,) and her tree has been in the U.S. pretty much from the beginning. Her Revolutionary War veteran great-grandfather was a New Jersey slave-owner.  She has a great-grandmother who was a cousin to Abraham Lincoln.

Do I hold the now considered “sordid slave owner” information back from my son? Do I just talk up President Lincoln because he signed the Emancipation Proclamation? This is where I make a decision to talk with my son about those who came before him, their life choices and what my hopes are for his walk in this world. I can help him feed positive seeds.  I think Mr. Affleck could have said something to the effect of: “I’m not necessarily proud of what they did. It was the time they lived in. My family didn’t stay slave owners. They changed. They grew. And their experiences influenced who I am today.” My MIL’s great-grandfather did free his slaves, by the way.

I am from a very patriotic family. My dad fought in the Korean conflict. We love the United States. But make no mistake, I was made fun of in school when kids asked me “What are you?” and I answered “I’m American.” As most American families emigrated from somewhere else, this was never a good enough answer. Humans are notorious for categorizing each other. For putting each other in boxes. After working this hobby for sometime, I can now answer with more definitive clarity where my people came from.

I have found peace with the journey of being an American who values the trials and tribulations of those who came before me. There are very few of us who will be related to kings and queens. A relative might have been rich, poor, black, white, super smart, not too bright, and even of different faiths. When a person investigates their genealogy, they might find an invader of a country married an indigenous person. And even that love could have even been reciprocated between the two. Gasp! Colonization isn’t always “rape and pillage.” Their decisions in regards to family came from their time and culture. We need to learn to accept our familial “good, bad and ugly.” Those who made me who I am today get my respect for being who they were. As our ever-morphing values and culture changes, I am certain one day I will want that same courtesy.



The Power of Cake

One of the first things I discovered when I started my journey into searching family history was that family members wanted to be related to someone famous. The first Escalante to set foot in Mexico. The Escalante that discovered the canyon in Utah. I am rather old-fashioned and don’t want to be related to Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante (pardon the lack of accent). Father Escalante was a priest. If we are related to him, we’d be part of his very scarlet history.

I have told my family that if they want to related to someone famous, then they should go and get famous. But to please take great care not to confuse “famous” with “infamous.”

To give all the branches of the family comfort, they are related to someone  who is famous. Me. In my tiny part of Payne County, Oklahoma, I am famous for something very simple. Chocolate cake.

12 years ago I wandered onto And wow! Cakes, cookies, brownies, oh my! We had a potluck at work. I brought the Deep Dark Chocolate Cake. One of my co-workers started to squeal in such a passionate way, many in the office were concerned she was not alone. And she wasn’t. She had the cake. And it made her VERY happy.

I took her amorous exclamations as a sign the recipe was good. I started taking it with me to various functions. After my son was born, I became a Stay-At-Home Mom. One day a group of moms got together for a luncheon. I brought the cake. One of the mom’s said, “I love this cake. My husband would love it too.” I told her she could find the recipe at Hershey’s. She looked at me completely puzzled. “From scratch? I could never make it from scratch. How could I make a box mix taste like this?” There was nothing I could say without laughing hysterically, so I went into the other room.

At the beginning of my marriage, I made a move to cook from scratch for frugality reasons (a whole different blog topic). But what had been an ode to cheaper eating has become my “go to” recipe for chocolate cake. I don’t buy box mixes for chocolate cake anymore. I buy white and yellow box mixes, but they tend to go bad on my shelf.

Over the years I have moved to the Black Magic Cake recipe and I use the One Bowl Chocolate Buttercream frosting recipe that is at the end of the Deep Dark Chocolate cake recipe. Both cakes are excellent, but the Black Magic is my husband’s preference, so we go with it.

I was invited to parties, I am certain, only to bring the cake. I have tried to tell others they can make it too. They ignore me. I’ve had friends’ children ask me to make it for their birthdays. That is one of my biggest honors. My ego puffs up to an enormous size on those days.

For over a decade, I’ve been bringing this cake to parties. But it is more of a time of food fellowship with friends and family. My husband has learned to make it. He understands that cake makes friends. On a potluck table, no one will eat it because it looks so plain. When the guests hear that it’s “Edwina’s cake,” they flock to it.

For many families, food is a central part of the history. One of my cousins was missing her Nana’s beans the other day. Comfort. Hospitality. Family. Love.

I understand this isn’t a familial recipe I’m passing down to future generations from those before me. It will be me, making my own history. Here in my little neck of the woods. One bite at a time.