This isn’t a funny post. It’s just me talking. My sister and I do genealogy stuff for fun and we’ve gone through libraries and records and websites and cemeteries, but a lot of time we hit dead ends. It’s fascinating to pull up the lives of these people we never met and try to figure out who they were and what they were like, but so often there are bumps because of estrangement or missing records or because relatives refused to speak about ancestors for strange reasons. And sometimes for understandable reasons.
You’ll find stories you don’t want to find. Hints that show that your ancestors may have owned slaves or may have been slaves. Records that show that your ancestors have been forgotten and hidden, and you wonder if those roads were closed because they wanted to escape from who they were or if they wanted to escape from the line that would produce you. You find that your family stories are sometimes hard to verify and sometimes you get more information than you want. You read about your not-so-distant ancestor who died in a mental institution from “extreme psychosis” (or more likely, died as a result of the barbaric treatment of that psychosis at that time) when she wasn’t that much older than you. You find ancestors with hidden pasts and ancestors who had brushes with notoriety and ancestors who had names like “Moonbeam” and “Sour Mash” or who had no recorded name at all.
When I did my DNA test I’d hoped it would give us more info regarding our Native American ancestors but they’re so far removed from me that I assumed that their DNA might not show up, and it didn’t. What I didn’t expect was the small but measurable amounts of African, Jewish Iberian and Middle Eastern that we can’t explain. My father (and all of his ancestors as far back as I’ve been able to check) are 100% slavic so I expected more than the 21% Eastern European that showed up on my test, but each child gets semi-random amount of DNA from their ancestors so I suppose it makes sense. More confusing is the 19% Irish that I haven’t figured out yet.
For Christmas I sent my grandparents and my parents DNA tests because they’re just as fascinated, and my grandmother really wants to research the Native American bloodline that her mother refused to speak about. I’ve found a lot of Native American branches from different parts of her family in the records I’ve uncovered (many within several generations of her) but her DNA test showed no Native American, which surprised me. But it showed the same confusing Iberian markers, and a very heavy Irish background that seems contrary to everything we’ve found so far. But why? Is it because the group of Native Americans we’re supposedly related to haven’t been DNA tested? Does that branch not exist anymore? Are the records wrong? My grandmother’s DNA was such a surprise that I suspected that maybe she’d mixed up her results with my grandfather’s but I got a message from Ancestry today that my DNA is a match with hers as a “close relative” so it has to be hers because my grandfather isn’t blood related to me.
So what does it mean? No idea. Maybe it means that it’s important to tell your story while alive so that it can be passed down. It means that DNA results are confusing and might have a lot of weirdness in them. It means that you should know that your ancestors were real people with flaws and with brilliance and with lives that were shrouded in secrecy. It means that finding the immigration records of my great grandparents when they fled from “The Kingdom of Bohemia” are almost impossible because their confusing slavic names were recorded in a million different ways. Ditto with the Native American ancestors who married into other tribes and sometimes had very different names for each tribal affiliation. (My favorite relative so far is The Squirrel King – leader of the Savannah River Chicksaws – who had an amazing name but a very sad life.) And sometimes it means that a road you’ve been chasing is a different one than you thought…one you may never find because sometimes a secret is kept forever.
I’m looking forward to my parents getting their results in because it might help me better understand mine but I suppose I’ll never entirely know where I came from. But I know who I am now and I suspect in some way I’m made up of the lessons learned by my ancestors, even if I’ll never know them.
So I’ll keep looking, but I’ll also keep remembering that I am more than my past and that it’s my job to leave a better record for the next generation…both of successes and failures. Because that’s what makes us human.
PS. This is me, according to my DNA test:
33% Great Britain
21% Eastern Europe
5% Western Europe
1% European Jewish
1% Iberian Peninsula
1% Middle Eastern