I suppose I'm more obsessed by my ancestry than most people I know. Sometimes my friends give me an eyeroll when I start to go on about it. But I really am curious about where I've come from. Who are my ancestors? As Bronwyn says in Nightsong, one hand reaches back to another to another in time--I feel this connection and want to explore it.
I’ve delved into Ancestry.com to try to learn about my ancestors. You know those commercials about the guy who thought he was German and wears Lederhosen and finds out he’s actually a Scotsman who should be wearing a kilt? I suppose we grow up with a “story” and it’s intriguing to find out how much of this story is true or not.
In my case, I grew up identifying strongly with my Welsh ancestors (my father’s side) and as they came to the US relatively recently, this story was true--my grandmother was in contact with her Welsh cousins.
My mother, however, wasn’t that interested in genealogy. She thought that her ancestors were possibly English, Scottish, and French. A few years ago, I joined Ancestry.com (no this isn't a sponsored post!) and made so many fascinating discoveries. In my case, I should probably be wearing a dirndl and not a tartan. I found dozens of German ancestors, many of whom were Pennsylvania Dutch. They came to this country pretty early (late 1700s and early 1800s). They were escaping war, poor harvests, religious persecution, poverty, oppressive landowners—all the usual reasons people emigrate.
My research did explain why we had a very old framed recipe for calves foot jelly decorated with Pennsylvania Dutch designs hanging on the wall in our kitchen. It must have been passed down to my mother. But I couldn't really find any other evidence of my German heritage. In an interesting twist, I joined a Lutheran church when I moved to Hoboken many years ago. (I was baptized as an Episcopalian.)
I always felt a bit distant from the historical German part of the church--the writing painted above the altar, for example, is in German. I had no idea when I joined the church that I had a single German ancestor. But since then I've discovered many German Lutheran ancestors. So I guess in a way I've come home.
I am looking forward to getting my DNA tested. My sister sent me a DNA kit as a gift (pictured above). I hope a few more questions will be answered about my ancestry.
And, of course, I can't wait to find out if I really do have Neanderthal ancestors!
UPDATE: I received my 23andMe report (4 percent Neanderthal DNA!), but it looks like I should be wearing a tartan and not a dirndl after all. I have only 5 percent German/French DNA and 67 percent English/Irish--the rest Scandinavian. I think a lot of my British ancestors are missing--they went out to places like Kentucky during the Daniel Boone era and there are no records of them before the mid-19th century when the US Census became extremely thorough.
One real surprise from my report is that I have a Native American ancestor who lived sometime between 1690 and 1810. I'm very intrigued by this ancestor but I'm not sure I will ever find out who he or she was.
I am the author of NIGHTSONG: A Neanderthal mystery. I hope you may want to dip into my blog after you've read my novel (or even if you haven't) to learn a bit more about the Neanderthals and to hear some of the music described in the novel. I may go off topic sometimes...