Lazy Man’s Guide

I wonder how many people remember Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment? I think I bought my first copy when it was brand new, at the head shop on North Avenue in Grand Junction. I would have been 16. Over the years I’ve bought and given away so many copies I’ve lost track.

This passage has been particularly influential over the years in keeping me from turning myself into a spiritual teacher like so many of my friends.

Every person who allows others to treat him as a spiritual leader has the responsibility to ask himself: Out of all the perceptions available to me in the universe, why am I emphasizing the ignorance of my brothers? What am I doing in a role where this is real? What kind of standards am I conceiving, in which so many people are seen to be in suffering, while I am the enlightened one?

This approach is a necessary corollary of two main ideas. One, “We are equal beings.” And two, “There is nothing you need to do first in order to be enlightened.” Put the two ideas together, and it’s easy to see, “The state of mind that most needs enlightenment is the one that sees human beings as needing to be guided or enlightened.

  • The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment, by Thaddeus Golas (1971).

20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History

With the full majesty of the New York Public Library, one of my favorite spots on Earth, here are 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History by Carmen Nigro, Managing Research Librarian, Milstein Division of U.S. History, Local History & Genealogy, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (February 9, 2015).

When I lived in New York (1987-91), I worked just a few blocks away at 90 Park Avenue, so I was there several times a week and often also on my lunch hours.

An Ancient Plague

Something happened to Europe’s Neolithic farmers. These people had largely displaced the old hunter gatherer population in many places. Then, 5 or 6 thousand years ago they began to decline themselves. Some people have suggested they were displaced by invaders from the steppe. That has been my preferred theory. Other people think they just moved away because of stress from climate change. That would be interesting. There’s no evidence either way, or at least there’s not enough evidence to convince a majority of experts. 

Now, here we go. A new theory. Maybe it was the plague.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, many Neolithic societies declined throughout western Eurasia due to a combination of factors that are still largely debated. Here, we report the discovery and genome reconstruction of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, in Neolithic farmers in Sweden, pre-dating and basal to all modern and ancient known strains of this pathogen. We investigated the history of this strain by combining phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses of the bacterial genome, detailed archaeological information, and genomic analyses from infected individuals and hundreds of ancient human samples across Eurasia. These analyses revealed that multiple and independent lineages of Y. pestis branched and expanded across Eurasia during the Neolithic decline, spreading most likely through early trade networks rather than massive human migrations. Our results are consistent with the existence of a prehistoric plague pandemic that likely contributed to the decay of Neolithic populations in Europe.” (Davidski, quoting Rascovan et al., emphasis added by Davidski)

Y. pestis. Oh, very nice. This seems like good answer. It’s certainly an interesting answer.

Grandma’s Ethnicity

When I was in, oh say 3rd grade we were supposed to go home and ask our parents where our families came from. That was probably the first time in my life I ever heard about this ethnicity thing I’m always writing about. It might also be the first time I had any sense of genealogy.

I don’t actually remember what my mother told me or what I told the teacher the next day. I’d bet my answer was that I’m English and Swedish. Something easy, anyway. I know that because I was surprised so many kids the next day didn’t know and some had what seemed to me to be unnecessarily complicated answers. One guy said he was “Heinz 57” and that was the first time I ever heard that expression. This was Brigham City, Utah circa 1964. You’d think parents would be prepared with answers to genealogy questions.

I’m pretty sure the point of this exercise was to begin introducing us to fractions, but I don’t remember actually doing any fractions here. At least not in school.

But I do remember my mother explaining it all. Her father’s parents both came from Sweden, so he was full Swedish, and that meant she is half Swedish, and I’m a quarter Swedish. There was even an Swedish sailor when I was little who called me his “little qvarter Swede.” (In Greeley, Grandma Long’s boarder.)

What I really remember from it is that Grandma Place was German. Easy. She spoke German. And Grandma Swanstrom was “half English, a quarter Scottish, and a quarter Irish.” Hard. I learned something about fractions.

When I was a bit older I figured out that Grandma Swanstrom’s ethnicity was simpler than I imagined at first. My bet was she arrived at her numbers by figuring her dad was English, and her mom was Scotch-Irish. I was able to confirm this insight many years later when I saw the marriage record for one of Grandma’s brothers. It said exactly that. Father English, Mother Scotch-Irish.

The cool thing for me is because the calculation is not strictly correct, it tells me something about how people simplify American ethnicity. See the chart above for a more detailed analysis of Grandma’s ancestry. Her father has an English mother but his paternal ancestry has bits of Scottish. And her mother has bits of English. But both of them are really mostly just colonial American.

In the course of Grandma’s life I got a few other clues to how she saw ethnicity. Without asking directly. Because I already knew you can’t ask leading questions if you’re really intent on finding out how someone sees something.

I learned that Grandma thought of her red hair and her parents’ red hair as a part of their ethnicity. Her dad had “bright red hair and red handlebar mustache”. Of course. I think today we would say he was a ginger. His mother was from Yorkshire. And her mother had “auburn hair”, which her father said was her mother’s “crowning glory”. Her ancestors were Scots and Irish, so it’s not a surprise they had red hair.

Then too, when Grandma was diagnosed with skin cancer and again when she had high cholesterol, she told me her ancestors would have included many Vikings raping an pillage in Ireland and Scotland. So she must have a lot of Scandinavian ancestry. And that reinforces her fair skin. Plus, she said, half in fun, Scandinavians live up there where’s there’s not enough beef (remember her father was a rancher), so they live on fish. And there’s no fat in fish. So their bodies store every bit of fat they get, to use when they need it. So her high cholesterol proved her Scandinavian ancestry. (Grandma liked to read science and psychology magazines, so I imagine she had a pretty accurate picture of the science behind all this.)

This is all fun stuff. I’m taking time to write about it because it might be interesting someday for Grandma’s descendants to have this little glimpse of how she thought about ethnicity.

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  • Go out and play with Pedigree Pie. It’s the software I used to create the chart of my grandmother’s ancestry. It takes your ancestry from Very handy.

Luce Brands

My great grandfather Wilford Luce was a rancher near Big Piney, Wyoming. I came across this little clipping I pulled from the local paper back in the days when brands were recorded at the county level and published periodically as an aid to identification and protection.

Wilford Luce Brands

Grandpa Luce worked for A. W. Smith on the Mule Shoe Ranch he “had a rope and a good horse.” He homesteaded near Big Piney, Wyoming in 1886. His ranch, the LU Quarter Circle, was the first ranch on the Green River in that area, north of the cutoff on the Green River. He lived first in a dugout or “soddie” but afterward built a cabin with buffalo hides over sod for the floor. This cabin and those he subsequently built were all in the shape of an “L” for Luce.

The picture of his brands above shows the LU Quarter Circle first, then two other brands, the Circle Dot (used for horses), and the Flying Heart.

Branding was a community event. The following interview is from the Early Sublette County Brands Project:

Jonita Sommers- So how did they know which calf went with what person?

Bud Sommers- Well, at that time old Rex Wardell was foreman and he’d ride in the heard and mother a calf up with the cow and when he saw what calf belonged with each cow he’d rope it and drag it in and tell who it belonged to and they’d put the brand on.

Jonita- And what would he say?

Bud- Well, he was kind of comical far as that goes. He’d bring it in if it was old Bill Luce’s brand he’d say, “Red Willie” and if it was Olson’s brand, old Charlie Olson, he’d say, “3 Bar Charlie” and he had, oh, a lot of different. . . oh, Nels Jorgesen, who was Diamond Bar — and he’d drag one in and he’d say Diamond Bar — always the point down,” and it was interesting to listen to him.

I just discovered today there is a “new” book on brands in this area of Wyoming: Branded: History of Green River Valley and Hoback Basin Brands. I need to order a copy for myself. See New brand history book available at Pinedale Online (Nov. 27, 2016).

Changing Ethnicity

Both 23andme and Ancestry have recently made adjustments to their ethnicity calculations. Before I go on I have to say it makes me nuts to have everyone babbling about “ethnicity” when they really mean “ancestry.” I’m an ethnic American. More specifically an ethnic Mormon. I can be chill about it as long as I get a chance once in a while to be pedantic. Ethnicity is culture, not biology. Gedmatch calls it “admixture“, so it seems they’re putting in a bit more effort to get it right.

All of the testing companies change their “ethnicity” estimates now and then, as new data emerges and modeling gets better. And you won’t get the same estimate at two different companies. It’s not an exact science, but it has gotten better—much better—over time.

I got a chuckle out of Roberta Estes’ comparison to the old weather joke. “If you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes, it’ll change”. (Don’t Like Your Ethnicity? Wait 5 Minutes.) People in other cities say it, but being a loyal Denverite, I know in my heart it was originally said about Denver.

The picture above shows my current results at Ancestry. These are probably the closest I’ve ever had to results that match my expectations and what my genealogy paper trail shows. Except the Norwegian. That makes no sense. Has to be a mistake for Swedish. My grandfather’s parents came from Sweden, so my DNA ethnicity should be about 25 percent Swedish. Instead, as you can see, Ancestry has me 14 percent Swedish and 9 percent Norwegian.

I think more than anything what impresses me here about Ancestry is that they are able to tease out my connections to Mormon pioneers and Ohio River Valley settlers. They’re missing the strong New England component, though. When I compare my numbers in this table to the numbers in the map, I see that what Ancestry seems to be doing is accounting for my “non-American” ancestry in their estimates for German, Irish, and Scottish. And that reinforces my sense that I am actually old-time colonial American with a few bits of other stuff.

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Ethnic Mormons

I tell people I’m an “ethnic Mormon”. The label confuses almost everyone, and that’s why I do it. It gives me a chance to explain. My experience is that when you’re a Mormon you’re a Mormon whether you believe or not, and whether you belong to the Church or not.

I was excited to see Masaman’s newest YouTube video. I enjoy almost everything he does (although I’ll never live long enough to watch everything). His latest video is Masaman’s Ultimate 2019 Ethno-Racial Map of the World. Quite an accomplishment, so maybe it’s a little self-serving to say my favorite part is where he affirms Mormons are their own ethnicity:

Now if you’re curious, I did indeed count Mormons as a separate ethno-religious categorization from Anglo-Americans or English, as the majority of the Mormon community of the western states are a tight-knit group that has somewhat become a homogenized, cohesive population with a separate identity, and hence many consider old stock, non-convert Mormons to functionally act as an ethnicity in their own right, as I discussed in the past.

Okay. Not really a blunt “Mormons are their own ethnic group” but close enough for now.

As a Mormon / Non-Mormon / Ex-Mormon living in Colorado, as soon as someone finds out I’m from Utah the first thing they ask is whether I’m Mormon. I’ve had dozens of different answers to that over the years. Most often, I’ve often described my relationship to Mormonism as similar to the relationship a non-religious Jew has toward Judaism. You’re not ever going to get away, and what would be the point anyway?

This idea of ethnic Mormons is still an emerging idea, I think. That is, the idea is emerging. The reality has been around for a long time, with roots in the “jack Mormons” of my childhood.

The idea that Mormons are not just active church members only became possible over the last few decades as the Church has lost some of its stranglehold on Utah, leaving many ethnic Mormons with lives not oriented to the Church and its members. It’s possible to stay in Utah and not be a Church member anymore.

And the general consciousness of Mormons as a separate group, not just a quirky religion, really only dates back to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. And the cartoon South Park. Let’s not forget South Park. This would be 2012, which also happens to be when the term Ethnic Mormon was added to

When I lived in Salt Lake City (1977-1986) some of us used to joke about being ethnic Mormons, and occasionally we’d swear off dating Mormon men (because of the many problems). I think my first encounter with the idea that ethnic Mormonism could really be a “thing” was David G. Pace’s article, “After the (Second) Fall: A Personal Journey Toward Ethnic Mormonism”. (I’m fairly certain he must be a relative, and maybe one of these days I’ll look it up.)

Pace’s idea in short is: “I for one am not interested in changing the corporate church as I am in exploding the notion of what it means to be Mormon. There is a difference between being a Mormon and being a member of the LDS church; the former embraces the latter.

Since Pace’s article, I’ve heard bits and pieces of chatter here and there, but nothing very weighty. Probably the best has been Mette Ivie Harrison, What is an Ethnic Mormon? but still I want more. My sense is that I’m going to have to wait. More people need to notice that ethnic Mormon is a thing, and more people need to join the conversation.

Update March 22, 2019

I finally checked our relationship to David Pace. He’s Dad’s 3rd cousin.

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Haplogroup Nations

My old haplogroup posts are so out of date I ought to hunt them down and delete them. I don’t do it because I (still) like the idea of coming across them them now and then and being reminded what the world was like.

This map is not the most rigorous replacement I could find for those old posts, but it shows something much more interesting than mere detail. It shows the approximate boundaries of the male mega lineages of Europe. Or more strictly, where each of those lineages is the majority. Like nations but not. Or tribes but not.

I’m drawn to this map for the simple reason that this (in a way) is the most common question newbies have.

Everyone wants to know what their haplogroup tells them about their family history. That’s not an easy question to answer. For one thing, your haplogroup is not who you are. Everyone in Europe and in the European Diaspora is descended from men who belonged to all the different haplogroups. That’s just the way it works.

On top of that, no matter what your haplogroup, it is almost certainly spread throughout Europe by links that are tens of thousands of years old. Knowing where it originated or where it’s been for the past few thousand years tells you almost nothing meaningful about your personal history.

That doesn’t mean the big picture is meaningless. That’s what I like about this map. It gives the big picture. If you look at it, and remember what you see here, you’ll be able to get your bearings whenever anyone starts talking about haplogroups.

I encourage you to go read the original post If European Borders Were Drawn By DNA Instead Of Ethnicity at (June 25, 2017). There’s a short and very nifty piece about each of the haplogroups shown here. Then if you’re in love with the data, go explore the DNA pages at, starting with Distribution of European Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) haplogroups by country in percentage. Or, if you’re looking for something not quite as hardcore, European Prehistory, Anthropology & Genetics.

Good-bye, Mormons

When my Mormon ancestors joined the church and moved west their neighbors weren’t sorry to see them go. It was even worth a poem to celebrate them leaving.

good bye to Mr. Hale, Good by to Mr. Ball,
good bye to Mr. Woodruff, the greatest one of all.
good bye to all the Deacons good bye to all their Church
they Can not get their money, they’ve left them in the lurch
good bye their Book of mormon, good bye their Revelation,
good [bye] to all their fools, and all their Botheration—
good bye to Elder Luce, good bye to Deacon Thomas,
Look not to right or left, till you see the land of promise
good bye to all the Ladies that like this thievish Band
goe taste their milk and honey in the promise land
weil Eat our fish and taters, and tell the same old story
While you travel on, to the great Missouria
Remember old lots wife, was turned into Salt
for looking found Behind her, Commanded not to halt
To now you are pondering right between two Schools
good Bye to all your nonsense, for listening unto fools
Iv’e Bid you all good Bye, for forming Such a lie
the time is soon a Coming we surely all must Die
suppose I should die here and you die in Missouria
which do you Suppose, would be the nearest [to] Glory

A poem found in a Bible owned by a family living on the South Island represents perhaps the only surviving contemporary account of the anti-Mormon sentiments on the Fox Islands. Source: Religious Studies Center, BYU

Jason E. Thompson. “‘The Lord Told Me to Go and I Went’: Wilford Woodruff’s Missions to the Fox Islands, 1837–38”.” Banner of the Gospel: Wilford Woodruff, ed. Alexander L. Baugh and Susan Easton Black (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 97–148.

Cutter Races

Cutter Races, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

When I was a kid we used to go to the cutter races in Tremonton, Utah. Like chariot races but with sleds on snow. It’s a Wyoming and Utah thing.

After we moved away they’ve been a fond memory, something from my childhood most of the people I know have never heard of, much less watched.

Apparently, they’ve been waning in popularity. (So they say. I find that hard to believe.) I find scattered references online that show they’re still being held in Utah but the Jackson Hole Shrine Club in Wyoming cancelled theirs last year. Their February 2018 race would have been the 47th annual. There is no February 2019 race. That makes me unbelievably sad, although it’s been years since I lived close enough to go.

The Jackson Hole Shrine Club had some videos on their website (gone now, 2021). These aren’t quite what I remember. When I was a kid they used actual cutters, which are a type of sled. These are technically chariots even though they’re calling them cutters.