Tag Archives: Genetics

Musings on Nicotiana Tabacum

17th century tobacco smoker

My Jacobean ancestors made me do it.

Some of the Jones’ have “the book gene”, while others among us have “the Wanderlust gene”. Those two are pretty much mutually exclusive as far as I can tell. But there’s at least one more gene that is indiscriminate – it’s an equal opportunity expression of “bad men made worse.”. It can express “on” in any of us, without warning, and with the gravest of consequences.

You know how the American Medical Association says that alcoholism and drug addiction are “diseases”?  What they are really saying is that the predisposition towards getting “addicted” to these substances is genetically predetermined. Once upon a time this was a radically controversial theory. It was once believed that people who had drinking or drug problems were considered of weak moral character; they were just plain bad people. Today we know better. (At least some of us know better.)

I’m no geneticist, but I know a little bit of the biochemistry of the human condition; production of dopamine and how it interacts with receptors in the brain, as well as other chemicals released by our nervous systems to either bring-on or reduce anxiety, hunger, fatigue, you name it. We’re all just a big old bundle of complicated chemical and protein processes going on inside us all the time. From time to time our genetics reveal that some of us are genetically predisposed to chocolate, some to booze, and some to the evil weed… Nicotiana Tabacum.

You know when you go to the doctor they take a family history to assess your risk of every-friggin-disease-imaginable? Well, if you are a Jones or Crews (or a Crew or a Crewe) whose people hail from the general vicinity of Virginia, let me give you a little family history that will show you what your risk is of becoming instantly addicted to tobacco actually are.

The Crews’ History with Nicotiana Tabacum
Your earliest ancestors in America came here in 1607 and almost as soon as they got off the boat they started growing some of the best damned tobacco the world had ever smoked. They sold the stuff all over the planet, addicting poor saps from Australian Aboriginals to Eskimo’s to Queen Elizabeth I. They became exceedingly wealthy off the stuff, but more to the point; they used it themselves to an extreme that today seems outlandish. They smoked constantly! Mostly from pipes, but they also piled it in bowls and lit it and just let the smoke fill the rooms in their homes. Can you imagine?

Yeah, me neither. So… the Crews ancestors all became tobacco farmers (and tobacco addicts.) They kept up that line of work, as well as their smoking habits, right up through the late 20th century. That’s a ridiculous 300+ year, generation-upon-generation, bit of genetic engineering that created offspring ever more susceptible to the addiction. With the exception of my grandmother (a woman of Temperance to the extreme if ever there was one), every single one of my “Crews” relations (as well as their offspring) smoked cigarettes. Including my mother – while she was pregnant with me. (Hey, they just didn’t know…)

Oh – wait – I almost forgot. All those Crew’s line relations? They suffered with and died from some pretty predictable diseases; emphysema, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems. Pretty stuff.

Jonesing for a Smoke
The Jones line was not much smarter. I know this about my immediate Jones lines’ history:
– Thomas Ellis Jones smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 68 years old. Too soon!
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked cigarettes most of his life. He died of a heart attack at 52 years old. That’s too young.
– His father, F. Ellis Jones, smoked; whether pipe or cigs, I do not know. He died of some serious lung ailment at 35 years old. Sobering.
– His father, William Ellis Jones, smoked a pipe. He survived getting shot in the Civil War, and then lived to ripe old age of 72 years old. (This guy had the best luck of anyone, ever, in all my family histories. Fate loved this man. His life story is simply amazing. Son-of-a-gun should have passed some of that mojo to me!)
– His father, Thomas Norcliffe Jones, smoked a pipe. He died of unknown causes at 67 years old.

I grew up in a house filled with cigarette smoke. I absolutely reviled the things. Nothing in the world was as unappealing to me as the smell of cigarettes. One of the highlights of getting out on my own was getting away from the cloud that hung over everything – and stank up everything I owned.

In college I was a bit of an athlete; raced bicycles, swam laps, worked out. I took my health quite seriously. Ate really well (as well as a poor kid in college can eat.) I was never tempted by peer pressure to smoke or over-indulge in alcohol, use drugs. It just wasn’t in my plan for my life.

A few years after my first marriage broke up, and when things at my job were going really rough (I was damn near thirty years old!), a friend (who smoked), exasperated at how high-strung I was, lit a cigarette up, put it in my hand, and said “Just try it… it’ll calm you down. You need it.”

He was right of course. It did calm me down. Almost instantly. Made me feel a lot better. (They call that “oxygen deprivation”. It’s a natural chemical thing your brain does – inducing a slight sense of euphoria – because your brain thinks you’re about to suffocate to death and it doesn’t want you to suffer while you die.)

From that moment onward I was addicted. It was just that fast. It wasn’t a choice I made. It isn’t weakness of character. God knows, I have overcome some really hard stuff in my life – but this affair with Nicotiana Tabacum is one nasty affliction I cannot cure. (And I have tried all the so-called cures.)

I got the “book gene”. Happy about that.  Got the “Nicotine gene” too. And it stinks.

Just don’t start. Don’t even think about it. You don’t know what’s in your genetic soup.


Clay Pipe stems from Jamestowne, VirginiaDid You Know? Clay Pipe stems and bowls discarded by Jamestown settlers can help date an archeological site.  Over 50,000 have been found by archeologists at Jamestown.
(That covers the Crews and Beheathland ancestors.)


From Marionethshire in Wales, very near where our Jones ancestors hail from, we have this:

Perhaps the most singular Will was that of a woman named Margaret Thompson who died more than a century ago.  She was a noted snuff-taker, and left behind her a Will, redolent from first to last with the fragrant dust with which the good woman had been accustomed to regale her nose during life.

The following is a copy of it:

“In the name of God Amen, I Margaret Thompson being of sound mind etc. do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following:   I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant Sara Stewart, to be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for the purpose, together with such quantity of the best Scotch snuff (in which she knoweth I always had the greatest delight) as will cover my Deceased body; and this I desire the more especially as it is usual to put flowers into the coffins of departed friends, and nothing can be so fragrant and refreshing to me as that precious powder.

But I strictly charge that no man may be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and as it is necessary to carry me to my burial which I order in the following manner:  Six men to be my bearers who are known to be the greatest snuff takers in the parish of St. James, Westminster.

Instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff coloured beaver hat which I desire to be bought for the purpose and given to them.  Six maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff to take or their refreshment as they go along.

Before my corpse I desire the Minister may be invited to walk and to take a certain quantity not exceeding one pound to whom I also bequeathe five guineas on condition of him doing so.  And I desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse and to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scotch snuff to the ground and upon the crowd who may possibly follow me to my burial place on which condition I bequeathe her £20.  And I also desire that the least two bushels of the said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.”

The Jones Family Wanderlust Gene

The Wanderlust Gene at play.

The “Wanderlust Gene” at play.

In our family there is this well-known “gene”. My father and I called it “the book gene”. It’s been closely associated, at least in my family, to the name ‘William Ellis Jones’. This is due to the fact that we have at least three accomplished men of that name in the family; William Ellis Jones (Cawrdaf), the Welsh bard; William Ellis Jones, the Civil War diarist, historian, editor, and publisher; and William Ellis Jones, the playwright and poet.

My father said “the gene” skipped a generation, just like the name skips each generation as it has pretty consistently since about 1730-something. He named his son according to this tradition in a firm belief that the gene would latch on and his son would become the next great author or great something in the family. (My brother is pretty damn great in every way that matters. He didn’t need the name to get that way. He did it all by himself.)

After all my research and pontifications on this Jones family of ours, I can now say with reasonable certainty that the name itself has nothing to do with whether you get “the gene” or not. The gene doesn’t follow sentimental or prejudicial naming preferences. It goes wherever the hell it wants to go. Sometimes it even goes to girls.

I think my father realized this long before I ever did. It’s why he started sending me the documents, the photos, and the books. It’s why he reached out after all those years of distance. He saw the “book gene” in me and he somehow knew that I was going to carry all this nonsense forward – if anyone chose to carry it at all.

Lord, I do digress….

In researching the family history, I discovered another gene; one no less curious and awesome and inspiring than the “book gene”, upon which all this family insanity is founded.

I wish I had my father here with me to discuss this with. Lacking him, you’ll have to do. You won’t be nearly as excited as he would have been. But never mind, here we go…

It’s the “Wanderlust Gene”. (Smile. I like that name.)

It occurred to me as I researched and wrote the accounts of so many of my ancestors who lived across nearly three centuries, that most of them had this absolutely pure loyalty and lifelong bond to their homeland of Wales. So much so that they were willing to endure just about anything – censure, shunning, even jail – to defend and improve Wales, the Welsh language, and the general condition of the Welsh population. But – oddly – there were a few others in the very same family who could not wait to shake the dust of Wales off their soles and see what adventures the wide world had to offer.

Richard Evan Jones and Lewis Evan Jones were just such young men as I describe. At sixteen years old Lewis left Wales and signed on-board a frigate, destined for Constantinople. He saw the greater part of Europe and America before returning to Wales to fetch his younger brother; the two of them heading out for the port city of New Orleans.

If you have children, can you imagine your sixteen year old boy having the maturity and sense of things to safely conduct himself across half the known world, and then establish himself successfully and profitably in a new country? I would imagine not. But that’s just what Lewis and Richard Jones did – quite on their own without a soul in the world to guide them except their genetic sense of adventure and survival. (There may be a few Roman Centurions in our genetic pool, after all.)

My brother, just like Richard and Lewis, left home at sixteen years old. He’s been from Japan to the South Sea Islands, from one end of Mexico’s California, all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia.

When he was a kid (his teens and twenties) my brother liked to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, just for the thrill of it. He got his pilot’s license to fly those same airplanes as soon as the law would allow. He’s surfed giant waves from Hawaii to Fiji to Baja (and still does every chance he gets.) And at fifty years old he successfully ascended Mt. Rainier with a group of twenty-something’s coughing and wheezing behind him. He’s hiked the Cascades and cycled from Mexico to Los Angeles. He hand-builds Galileo type telescopes in his spare time, because he loves to study the stars, the planets, the cosmos. He wanted to be an astronaut when he was a boy, and I’m still not quite sure why he didn’t pursue that. His adventurous spirit is without known limits. Today, in his mid-fifties, he’s still tempting avalanches along the crazy-difficult ski runs not far from his home.

He’s made his way, wholly independent of his East Coast family or ties to any particular place, lo these forty years. What’s more, he’s thriving! He loves the adrenaline-charged life of the barely tethered, adventure junkie.

Not me. I got the “book gene”. I write. I read. I pontificate. I piddle in my garden and mess with my honey bees. I like to talk to my chickens, and when I’m really feeling adventurous, I carry an old worn copy of Thomas Harriot’s escapades in Virginia and take a long walk through the grove on my property. I have traveled extensively (not as extensively as my brother.) From my perspective the best part of any trip I ever took was when the plane’s wheel touched down on home soil.

Thomas Harriot, (explorer, writer, astronomer, genius, friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, etc.), and my brother were kindred spirits. They would have reveled in one another’s company. I would love to be the third-wheel at their introduction, just listening to them recount every detail of their adventures in the world. Two fearless minds discussing the as-yet undiscovered opportunities awaiting us in the cosmos. Good Lord what a conversation that would be to record for posterity!

Lewis Evan Jones and Richard Evan Jones were just like my brother. Adventurers. They knew no fear. They were not sentimental. This is a recurring gene in our Jones family history. It’s not as common (I think the bio-science-PhD-types call it “recessive”), and not as well documented as the “book gene”; but it’s no less real.

Without this gene extant in our family line, I would not be here today, writing these lines. Thomas Norcliffe Jones got the “Wanderlust Gene” gene – though perhaps in somewhat of a lesser full-on expression than my brother, Richard, or Evan. He got it none the less. As a result I am here to pass along this small observation about my family, its genetic eccentrics, and how we all came to be precisely who, what, and where we are – and may yet be.

I hope the current and future generations are paying attention. Their genes are making some pretty important decisions for them (which is just as it should be. Don’t fight it!)

I’m not done yet with this whole line of Genetic Predestination, Genetic Memory, Genetic Conundrum thing… There’s more to come and this one stinks!

Musings on the Jones Family Genetics

Cader Idris Snowdonia

Cader Idris, rising over Snowdonia.

Over the course of the last two months, while I have spent every single day, 16 to 18 hours of it, up to my ears in this project, I’ve made some silly discoveries that I think are worth sharing. But first I have to give you a bit of background concerning my rather strange spiritual, chemical, and biological “philosophications”. (Yes. That is a new word. I just invented it. Somebody notify Webster’s, Please!)

Here’s the thing. It is my most ardent, indisputable belief that genetics determine far more about us than the color of our eyes, our hair, our height, build, etc. So what? You say. That’s nothing new.  The bio-smart-type-PhD-people are making that fact more and more obvious every day.

Not the way I see it.

I believe that our genetics include far more than a digital on-off switch for predisposition to disease, right or left-handedness, or an ability to dunk a basketball. I’m going way farther than that. I think our genes include (encode) actual memories, and emotions.

Let me tell you why I believe this. (It’ll take me a minute. Be patient I’m a story-teller. Don’t rush me.)

The first time I ever traveled abroad was 1997. I had to go to Sweden  for several weeks for something related to my job.  My flight was an American Airlines jet out of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. The route used to be called “The Nokia Breakfast Club”, because it left at some silly hour like 7:45 in the evening, and flew all night into an early morning arrival at Gatwick before we changed planes for the “All-Seats-Smoking-All-the-Time”, SAS Airlines leg into Stockholm (arrival about 10:00 a.m.)

Most of the flights’ occupants were employees of Nokia Telecom; the company then having headquarters in Raleigh and in Stockholm. They drank copious quantities of alcohol all night long, then woke up rearing to go to work, probably still a bit drunk, with just a few hours’ sleep. (You have to know a few Swedes to fully appreciate this. They are amazing drinkers. And they get up way too early, and are happy about it. But I digress.)

So I’d never been anywhere except California, Mexico and Hawaii before that trip. (All of them excellent vacations, by the way.) I was a little apprehensive and excited to finally get a chance to head off to an exotic, European destination like Stockholm, Sweden. In prep for the trip I boned up on my tourist Swedish, planned a few hoped-for side trips (assuming the work schedule permitted them – it didn’t) and boarded my plane with too much baggage in-tow (newbie mistake.)

We encountered some weather late in the flight and the pilot had to change our course a bit. Not long after sunrise, he came on the intercom and announced that we were about to fly over the west coast of Wales – across Snowdonia (a place I had never heard of before) – and if I looked to my right I would be able to see Cader Idris rising up, still capped with snow even though it was already April.

I lifted the shade on my tiny porthole window (I had been trying to sleep, despite the snoring Swede next to me), and I leaned forward to see what I could see. At first all I saw was blue water beneath us. Then a coastline and a small city near the shore… we were flying lower that I thought we should have been… and then a river a valley below and lovely rolling hills, and green, green pastures, and Oh-My-God!look at those mountains… I can see little thatched-roof houses down there… and churches with graveyards… and garden patches… oh, look at the sheep… there’s a black one!…look at that mound… that’s an ancient burial site… and there… there… that house. That little town there… the streets look so familiar the way they are laid out…. the chapel there, with the little wall around it…

And suddenly my stomach was in my throat and my chest was heaving and my eyes were full of tears – and I didn’t want my eyes to be full of tears because I wanted to see what was below because I missed it so much and it was home and then… it was gone.. behind us. I could breath again… as the mountains flattened out and the hills receded… and we were over England. My breathing returned to normal. The tears withdrew from my eyes. My pulse slowed and I recovered myself… and I shook my head and I laughed and I said to myself, “What in the hell was that?”

That was ten years before I had even an inkling of a clue about my Welsh ancestors and their absolutely passionate attachment to their homeland. More specifically their native attachment to the Mawddach Valley that I had just flown over, and the tiny hamlet of Dolgellau with it’s little houses and odd streets, and its little chapel and it’s little wall all around. My ancestral home. Going back at least a thousand years.

That was genetic memory. When I saw that landscape, that snow-capped peak, those tiny little villages down in the winding Mawddach Valley; some gene inside me suddenly clicked on and I knew I was home. If only – unfortunately – 15,000 feet above it and passing over within minutes. Something in my body recognized it – reacted to it viscerally– with a pulsing energy and power that still moves me to tears to this very day.

Scientists and psychologists can tell me any stories they want to tell me (they used to treat menstrual cramps with electro-shock therapy, you’ll recall) – but I know this was ancestral memory. A memory encoded into my DNA as clearly and as unmistakable as my height, my build, the cut of my jawline; and my inexplicable predilection for books.

But there is more. There is more than one weird gene in this family of ours. I’ll let you in on all of them if you care to follow along.

Next stop; the “Wanderlust Gene“.

civil war memory

The Online Home of Kevin M. Levin

Old Used Bookshop

Home of a million stories hanging on the walls.

Renegade South

histories of unconventional southerners

Student of the American Civil War

Reflections on learning about the Civil War--Copyright 2020

The Gettysburg Compiler

On the front lines of history

Emerging Civil War

Providing fresh perspectives on America's defining event

this is... The Neighborhood

the Story within the Story

The Daily Dahlia

Not so daily, but definitely Dahlia.

Irish in the American Civil War

Exploring Irish Emigration in the 19th Century United States

To Preserve Family and Farm

A True Story of a Family's Encounter with Sherman's Army

Crutchfield's Orthoglossary

Notes & Comment on Language, Spoken & Written

stillness of heart



Musings on public history,, the history of Fredericksburg, the Civil War, and the Army of the Potomac--whatever I'm working on

Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants

For the sins of your fathers you, though guiltless, must suffer. - Odes of Horace

Cenantua's Blog

As a Southerner and native of the Shenandoah Valley, I offer reflections on the Civil War-era South... and sometimes a little more. But... expect the unexpected

Southern Unionists Chronicles

Reflections on the lives and experiences of Southern Unionists, during and after the American Civil War

Damyanti Biswas

For lovers of reading, writing, travel, humanity

Mark Coakley

Author of "Hidden Harvest" and "Tip and Trade"


A site devoted to the Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novel The Eye-Dancers

Break Room Stories

Service Industry Stories and More Since 2012


Cataloguing at Cardiff University

Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Chronicles of Harriet

The Very BEST in Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Fiction!

Middlemay Farm

Katahdin Sheep, Chickens, Ducks, Dogs and Novelist Adrienne Morris live here (with humans).

Author Adrienne Morris

The Writing Life at Middlemay Farm

Mysteries & Conundrums

Exploring the Civil War-era landscape in the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania region.


A discussion of interesting books from my current stock A WordPress.com site

Special Collections and Archives / Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau

Showcasing Research Resources / Hyrwyddo Adnoddau Ymchwil

Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Historic Collections at Senate House Library

Showcasing our rare books, manuscripts, archives, historic maps, artefacts and artworks