When I was fourteen, I wanted to know where I came from, and what my family origins were beyond the generations I’d met. My mother’s mother, my Giggy, had always told us stories about her side of the family, but I barely knew anything at all about my other three grandparents. I was young and using the relatively new internet to find things, so I only was able to go back a few generations on most sides.
Giggy’s family was Old South. On her mother’s side they were related to “those Carters and those Lees” as she always said. My great-grandmother fell in love with the son of an entrepreneur. Her mother didn’t want my great-grandma marrying a man from “new money”. She said all her grandchildren would grow up not knowing how to speak proper English, that they’d be poor white trash. My great-grandmother swore all her descendants would use good grammar and those lessens were passed on to me.
Her husband, my great-grandfather, came from possibly Jewish origins. His male ancestor from a few generations back was part of an immigrant ship, as a child traveling alone. The last name he was given on American shores was possibly an Anglicized adaptation of a Jewish name.
My mother’s father can trace his lineage back to the Mayflower manifest. My father’s grandmother on his mother’s side was a Blackfoot Indian, taken from her parents as a baby and raised by a white family. My father’s father was a mystery I never unraveled.
I’ve felt ever since my teenage genealogy attempts that mine is a very American origin. Native and immigrant and Pilgrim and slave owner, all in my blood. Some of my ancestors were more admirable than others. Some left little record. All contributed their bit to my DNA, maybe the good bits and maybe the bad. Maybe the parts in myself I admire and the parts of myself I’d prefer to change.
I know little of their true stories. It’s fun sometimes to imagine what they might have been like. I do not share any of their cultures today. I am not Pilgrim or plantation owner. I am not Jewish by faith or tradition. I can’t even be certain (without genetic testing, unavailable back then) if I am Native or Jewish at all. These people made me who I am, and yet I am not them.