Monday, June 1, 2015

The Missing Link

"Three Masts" Watercolor by Linda Lee Greene
In the opening years of the 1990s, I unexpectedly fell seriously ill with Ulcerative Colitis, later diagnosed as Crohn’s Disease, a disorder unfamiliar to me at the time. My research revealed that although the exact cause of Crohn’s is unknown, there is thought to be a genetic component to it. A staggering 20% of people with Crohn’s have a close family member such as a parent or sibling with the disease. The byword within the Crohn’s community is that it tends to “cluster” in families. Though it can raise its nasty head in any ethnic or racial group, it is commonest in Caucasian populations and alarmingly dense in Jews with Eastern European ancestry, also known as Ashkenazi Jews.

Depending on the studies you read, Crohn’s Disease is, or is not, considered an autoimmune disorder.  If it is, then one of the culprits in my case would likely be identified. This is due to the fact that since the age of sixteen, I have battled Graves' disease, also known as toxic diffuse goiter and Flajani-Basedow-Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. It frequently results in hyperthyroidism and an enlarged thyroid, with a range of serious symptoms that absent treatment is life-threatening. Like Crohn’s Disease, the exact cause of Grave’s Disease is unclear, is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and is likely to “cluster” in families. For example, if one twin is affected, there is a 30% chance the other twin will also have the disease. In my immediate family, my maternal grandmother, my mother, and one of my three siblings, and I contracted it. That’s a whopping 50% of the off-spring of my parents who fell ill with this particular autoimmune disorder—that’s also 20% higher than the incidence of it in genetically identical twins. I’m not a geneticist, but if I were, I would follow that track like a scent-crazed bloodhound. It suggests to me that my particular autoimmune monster is a two-headed beast, one inherited from my mother, and the other from my father.

                Despite my noteworthy autoimmune behemoth, copious specialists in the field of gastrointestinal disorders involved in my particular bout with Crohn’s Disease weren’t much impressed with it, and suggested strongly that there was at least a 50% chance that I did have an ancestor hell-bent on doing me in with his/her bad gene. My guess is that they had inside information they were ill-inspired to share with me. But since I hold the dubious distinction as the only member of my family known to have ever been afflicted with Crohn’s Disease, where, then, is the stealthy genetic link?
I have long speculated that a person of high color found his/her way into my family’s otherwise pale woodpile. But as far as we know, ours is the traditional “Plymouth Rock” story: Irish/Welsh/English to the core, with a bit of German thrown in, and Native American, Cherokee specifically, linked to my paternal great-grandmother Annie Lane Green. Just look at me, my siblings, and most of our cousins, and the Anglo-Saxon/Celtic connections stand out boldly. Our Cherokee blood has proved resilient, as well, clear-cut in the high-flying cheekbones, convincing noses, and black/brown hair with brooding midnight eyes in most of my father’s paternal aunts and uncles, as well as in three of his eleven siblings, with some trickledown to the current generation. An image of Annie Lane survives—it is a family photo; she sits at the left hand of her husband (my great-grandfather Joshua Green), and behind them stand their several young off-spring, my father’s father Alderson Estep Green(e) the one that is the blondest and bluest-of-eyes among the entire group. To my mind, Joshua has always been the perplexing one in this line-up of hearty Appalachian humanity, however. For many years now, his proclaimed “Protestant Englishness” has not set well with me because I swear I see in his swarthy countenance a Persian, or a Turk, or a Jew.
                 In my quest to nab my underground nemesis, my mind cleaved to what it held to be the phantom olive-skinned presence in my paternal great-grandfather’s face and body and bearing. Could it be?! Could it be he who was the carrier of the Crohn’s gene, wrought through Ashkenazi Jewish DNA? Why not? He looked like a Jew. And…and…there is further circumstantial evidence of it—for example, the surname “Green.” Might it be a diminution of a Jewish name such as Greenbaum, Greenblatt, Greenstein, or the like? Joshua and Annie Lane Green were vigorous disciples of the Pentecostal arm of Protestant Christianity, a religious fervor reborn, and intensified, in most of their progeny, including my grandfather, the self-proclaimed “Reverend” Alderson Estep Greene(e). Their exuberance for the credo bordered on fanaticism, which wrought prejudice toward a broad spectrum of humanity, including Jews—of course Jews. It is a blight on my family, indeed on my nation, that this culture of xenophobia was pervasive then, and unfortunately exists today, although to a lesser degree, thankfully.
            You will also note the extra “e” that my grandfather added to his legal surname “Green.” The purpose behind it remains a mystery—a mystery to all but me, I submit, because I think it quite possible he did it to Anglicize his name, to my mind, a transparent camouflage of any appearance of a Jewish ethnicity, a circumstance that my Family Green either suspected, or knew to be the case, and that my grandfather went to extraordinary lengths to keep under wraps. By the way, the defective gene aside, I would be right proud if it were confirmed that I share an Ashkenazi bloodline with the likes of Mayer Amschel Rothschild; Marc Chagall; Albert Einstein; Sarah Bernhardt; Sigmund Freud; Stanley Kubrick; Golda Meir; Felix Mendelssohn, and countless others. 
              The Ashkenazi coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the 1st millennium. Upon the Christianization of Rome, unwelcome and fearing their wholesale extermination, they scattered throughout Central and Eastern Europe, in modern times banding together in great numbers in Israel. Both paternal and maternal pedigrees of the Ashkenazi show a genetic structure drawn towards the Caucasus and Eastern Europe, reflecting historical admixture events with Europeans. Located on the peripheries of Turkey, Iran, and Russia, the Caucasus usually has been incorporated into the Iranian world. At the beginning of the 19th century, it fell to the Russian Empire.
              Before Iran became the only remaining remnant of Persia, the vast Persian Empire spanned the ancient Near East, Egypt, and parts of India. It was a kingdom generous to its resident Jews, an environment that no doubt resulted in instances of new and far-reaching gene-pools. The Persians were a resourceful people. They were responsible for several significant cultural and administrative innovations, among them by way of one especially insightful soul, Zoroaster by name, the founder of the religious concept of monotheism, which many religious scholars believe to be the basis of the Hebrew and Christian religions.
              A fascinating mix of factual and mythological entities and events, Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia has also made it a land of significant geostrategic importance. With its one thousand kilometers of incomparable shoreline of the Aegean and Mediterranean waters, known as the Turkish Riviera or the Turquoise Coast, it has been a continuous and popular tourist destination. Apparently, later on, the jewel-like beauty of the Turquoise Coast landed it in Cleopatra’s vast collection of baubles. Rumor has it that Rome’s Mark Antony chose it as the most beautiful wedding gift he could bestow upon his beloved Egyptian Queen. The Greek gods and goddesses succumbed to its allure, as well, for within its volcanic mountain ranges, they played out their melodramas and comedies.  Additionally, Turkey was the birthplace of St. Nicholas, the doppelganger of Santa Claus. Herodotus, the Father of History was another of Turkey’s native sons.
              In the company of such shimmering personalities, I wonder if my presumed Ashkenazi Jewish ancestor also hailed from Persia, or Turkey, or somewhere closely akin to them, rather than from Germany, as my Anglo-Saxon blood would suggest? The human interplay in areas of commerce and personal relationships among Persian, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, and other Mediterranean neighbors, many of them Ashkenazi Jews, separated by just the span of a relatively small body of water, was the melting pot in which the initial fortune-hunters that overran America was brewed. I have a basis upon which to entertain the possibility that the carrier of the flawed (Crohn’s) gene in my DNA was among them, as the following second part of this little drama will illustrate:    

The alternative to the aforementioned proposition is that the Ashkenazi Jewish blood that I think courses my veins comes from my Cherokee great-grandmother Annie Lane. She was the mail-order bride of my great-grandfather Joshua Green, and although I haven’t confirmed it in research, anecdotally this was a common practice in the late nineteenth century, and earlier. Like theirs, intermarriage among Native Americans prevalent along the eastern regions of the New World and its early foreign invaders was common. I can see it in my mind’s eye: my distant Semitic relative, perhaps kin through Persian blood to a contemporary of Zoroaster, or Turkish blood to neighbors of St. Nicholas or Herodotus—this bearded, turbaned, bangled, and sashed exotic was the great-great-grandsire of the similarly exotic buccaneer who jaunted onto the utopian soil of the New World, and swept off her feet, a nubile Cherokee maiden, and in them, was born “a new race.” It is entirely possible that the roles in my imagined scenario were inhabited by one of Annie Lane’s long-ago grandmothers and a Mediterranean sailor. It might even be probable given the large number of adventurers of that breed of humanity who sailed the early ships to America’s shores, many of them, to a greater or lesser degree, of Jewish extraction. If such a union were to be corroborated, it might go a long way in marking the starting point of the Crohn’s gene in my DNA.
              Why don’t I get a blood test? I’ve wondered about that too. I think the answer is that I really don’t want to know for sure. Ultimately, finding the missing link to the faulty gene isn’t as important to me as preserving this mystery. I prefer not knowing—knowing would take the fun out of it. It would remove the element of romance that I want to believe in for Annie Lane’s great-great-grandmother and her handsome swashbuckler—or of the lovely Ashkenazi Jewish girl whose sloe eyes melted the heart of a Persian lad and generations later found renewal in the heart of Joshua Green.  And besides, this mystery sets the stage for another novel. I think I’ll call it Footprints of the Cherokee.
Linda Lee Greene is the best-selling author of the true-life novel GUARDIANS AND OTHER ANGELS, and the co-author with Debra Shiveley Welch of the suspense novel JESUS GANDHI OMA MAE ADAMS Linda’s artwork is on view at Linda’s Twitter handle is @LLGreeneAuthor. Her Amazon Author’s Page is at, and follow her on Facebook at!/LindaLeeGreeneAuthor, as well as on her Goodreads page at

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