Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Nora Olive Jones Smith - Our Link to mtEve

I've been doing some reading about Mitochondrial DNA, a unique part of the human genetic makeup that is only passed from mother to daughter. My interest was piqued when I had my own DNA tested through the National Geographic Genome project, and being female, my mitochondrial DNA is the line I now have most knowledge about. But all that is only important in this blog to explain why I am thinking about genealogy, genetics, and our Smith/Jones family line.
Nora Olive Jones, the fourth of thirteen children born to James Archibald Jones and Eliza Jane Holcroft Jones, married her longtime neighbor become boyfriend, Thomas Alvin Smith, on August 24, 1910, at the Jones family home in Weatherford, Oklahoma. It was Tom Smith's 21st birthday; Nora was seventeen. Their first child, Ola Mae Smith, was born a year later on August 10, 1911. A son James Franklin Smith followed on May 11, 1913, and a second son, Oliver Thomas Smith, on June 30, 1915. Nora's short life ended on October 23, 1918 in Craig, Colorado, where she had just given birth to her second daughter, Jennie Frances Russell on September 12, 1918. The childbirth weakened her and the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 took her life. A rift occurred between the Smith and Jones families after Nora's death, specifically, Nora's mother blamed Tom Smith for taking her daughter to that God-forsaken land northwest of Craig, Colorado, and letting her die there, far from her Oklahoma family. Eliza Jane had lost her husband in 1917 so the death of her daughter a year later was particularly cruel. Because the families were estranged Jennie Frances Smith, or Frances as she was called, grew up with scant knowledge of her Jones relatives. It was only as an adult that she made contact with uncles and aunts, learned a little about the mother she never knew. Frances did pass along to us, her children and in-laws, a bit of the history of the Jones family and a few personal stories about her mother but not nearly enough for us to know what Nora was like. Instead we are left with a few sad photographs of an over-worked woman living in a small log house on the sagebrush covered plains of Bare Valley, Colorado. But she left two daughters, Ola Mae and Jennie Frances, and those daughters had daughters and granddaughters and so Nora Smith's mitochondrial DNA lives in the cells of those granddaughters and gr-granddaughters today. Ruth and Emily can trace their mtDNA from their mothers, Nora and Cyndee, to their maternal grandmothers, Irene and Gladys, to their maternal gr-grandmothers Ola and Frances, to Nora. Nora's line continues back through time through her mother, Eliza Jane Holcroft, through Martha B. Robbins in the early 1800s and beyond. Current genetic theory traces us all back to one woman living in Africa about 140,000 years ago, nicknamed Eve, not the Eve of the Bible but the Mitochondrial Eve. As I understand it, the mitochondria is not responsible for traits like hair and skin color or shape of our eyes. In fact, scientists are not sure what traits are passed through the mitochondria but it's a fantastic tool for tracing our ancestry through our mothers. It has been used by geneticists to establish migration routes and time frames. Nora Olive Jones Smith had a short and difficult life but her contribution to our family was significant and her genes live on.