May is an important month for family historians. May is the month when we remember those who have died in the service of our country. For me, May holds an additional significance, because it is the anniversary of the death of my uncle Buddy, who was killed in Vietnam a little over a year before I was born.

Byrl Gaertner

When I turned 18, I went to a government building in LaCrosse and registered for the Selective Service. It was a big day for me — a rite of passage. As an adult, I could be called upon to serve in the…


Last month I used this column to look at my Neanderthal ancestors. Since I have a little less than 2% Neanderthal DNA, that also means that 98+% of my DNA is traceable to the early “modern humans” who displaced the Neanderthals. So this month, in the interest of fairness, I want to look closely at the differences between my modern human ancestors and their cousins, my Neanderthal ancestors. This is deep genealogy, part two.

I study genealogy to hold a mirror up to myself. Who were these people? What were their lives like? What do their successful adaptations tell me…


I’m white and I live in the country. Up until recently, I haven’t felt like there is any special privilege to country life. There is a lot of hard physical labor in my job. I see a lot of signs of white rural poverty as I drive around. Rural folks have to drive long distances to get anywhere. The broadband is awful. There is no good Thai food or pizza delivery. I get stuck behind a tractor on the road sometimes. Many people have negative stereotypes about rural people. …


Let’s talk deep genealogy.

When you hear the word “caveman,” what comes to mind?

For me, “caveman” conjures up images of a hairy man wearing animal skins, with a low forehead, huge muscles, and a stooped posture. He is pre-verbal and communicates in grunts and body motions. Ooga Booga. He carries a large wooden club and is violent and misogynistic, dragging “his” females about by their hair. And he lives in a literal cave!

You can send a sample of your spit into various companies to have it analyzed for DNA, and at least one company will tell you what…


What languages did your ancestors speak? For me, on my dad’s side, one set of great grandparents spoke German as their first language. By the time I came along, our family only had vestiges of it. I remember singing some Christmas carols in German, and my father talking about how — in German — our name would have an umlaut over the “a.” I want to reclaim German, both for my genealogy work and for myself.

The dominance of standard American English has pushed many generations of people to lose their ancestral languages and accents to assimilate. If we recover…


A version of this essay first appeared in March of 2021 in the Hay River Review, a monthly newspaper published in Prairie Farm, WI. It is a companion piece to the essay published in February which stated why I have come to focus on my white European ancestry.

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One of my goals as a genealogist is to distinguish (to quote mixed-race author Darnella Davis) “who we are” from “who we think we are.” As a child, I was fascinated by our family story of Native American heritage. Although I am pale white, my late brother, Peter, had darker…


Ancestry research changed how I see myself and how I see history. I am still on this journey, and I invite you to join me. Each month, I examine family tree research and connect it to history to create stories shared in our local paper. This story (with a few edits) was first published in the Hay River Review out of Prairie Farm, WI, in February of 2021. I invite readers (including you!) to send me questions about their family histories.

When I look deeply at any one person or event, I find connections. Ten years ago, I joined an…


“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya in the The Princess Bride

R.I.P. cancel culture. Cancel culture has no meaning.

This week we have seen news about boycotts affecting Goya and My Pillow because of their owners’ political views. These two men cry that they are being unfairly canceled. Then the publishers of the beloved Dr. Suess children’s books decided to stop printing new copies of seven titles that are offensive to some people. People on the Right said that now even Dr. Suess is being canceled. …


Republicans keep winning elections in rural Wisconsin. In a recent essay (“Cancel Culture and White People”) I proposed that one reason they win is because they have been using the politics of blame and division to their advantage. They have been doing this for a long time, but recently their tactics have been given a new name: “cancel culture.” They accuse Democrats of cancel culture, while at the same time using cancel culture tactics to win over what they see as their base. When Liberals take the bait and try to cancel Conservatives, it seems to play into the hands…


The other day I was making canvassing calls to people in Western Wisconsin in support of non-partisan redistricting. As part of the call script, we asked people what they thought the biggest problem facing our state is. One person told me that it is “the ‘libtards’ in Madison.” Whoa. This is the world we live in.

I am fascinated with trying to understand what the Republicans are doing in order to win the rural white vote. I think they have been very good at using cancel culture techniques to go after the Democrats and people allied with them, while at…

Andrew Gaertner

I am a white, midwestern, cis male, het, raised Lutheran, organic farmer and Montessori educator. I live in Wisconsin and am connected to Honduras.

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