Friday, June 15, 2012

The Stock We Come From

Our impression of what stock we come from is likely strongly influenced by what genealogical lines we know something about, rather than the actual numbers.  I know parts of my two grandfathers' lines back 1) beyond the Mayflower into the 16th C and 2) beyond the Anne back into the 13th C. This tricks me into thinking I am deeply Puritan/East Anglian/Saxon in heritage. But those lines are only a fraction of even the section they are in.  One grandfather - so, 25% of my DNA - does indeed seem to come from a network of early Puritan lines - Wymans, Doanes, Richardsons, Spinneys, Crowells, Hopkins, Snows.  But the other is mostly Scots-Irish with a thread or two of Puritan Ponds, Smiths, Balls, and Hawes way, way back.  Gramps's line is about 75% seige-of-Derry stuff.

One grandmother was Swedish on both sides, so 25% of my DNA contributors 200 years ago were all eking out a precarious living near Lake Vannern in Gotaland.

The remaining 25% - a big chunk, really, as big as the lines I focus on - come from a grandmother born Ruth Irene Neat, who died before I was born.  Her lines all seem to be Welsh and North Midlands.  That was a whole separate migration, to different parts of Massachusetts.  And most of the lines seem to have fizzled out.  I and mine may be among the last representatives of a few lines on their last legs.

I don't think of myself as Welsh. We keep no Welsh customs, identify no immigrant ancestors, study no Welsh history.  But it may be as strong as the others.


Grandma Bee said...

Don't lose the family stories! If you haven't asked parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to tell you what they know, do it!

I was the kid in the family who actually had the opportunity to listen to the first generation immigrants in my family. So I know about the great-grandfather who was apprenticed to an abusive blacksmith, and dumped his master into a horse trough. Then he took a train to Hamburg and sailed aboard a square rigger, all over the world. I have the diaries and scrapbook my grandfather made during WWI. I'm transcribing my dad's Navy letters now.

One set of ancestors were peasants on a potato plantation in East Prussia who survived the Potato Famine by scrounging in the woods; and were emancipated in 1848.

We can also claim an opera singer, quarry workers, enterprising people who fed large families from a chicken house and a one acre garden, and a petty crook--a stevedore who wore an overcoat in all seasons so he could liberate small items from the crates and hide his loot in his pockets.

You will find your ancestors both maddening and magnificent. Go find out who and what they were.

Dubbahdee said...

The original three books of Frank Herbert's Dune story posits a fascinating idea of what might be called "genetic memory" -- that the memories of our ancestors are somehow coded into us. The God-Emperor's power (of the third book)comes in part from his mutant ability to use this collective ancestral memory to not only see into the past but also to comprehend the threads of futures.

I romance my own past by thinking that my affinity for celtic music is genetically encoded by ancestors who must have been frankish celts, perhaps from Brittany. I know it's a stretch since, although both sides of my lineage are French, the only one that I can trace as far back as Europe leads directly to Marseilles. That's about as far from Brittany as you can get. Then again, Marseilles collected all kinds.

Then again, the Scots and the French both hated the English and often consorted. Who know what that my have led to.

It's all imagined. I agree that the influences of our lineage are largely hidden from us.

james said...

And on my side of Bee's family we find a lad who tried to tell his kinsman Devil Anse Hatfield that a company he'd just cut a deal with was cheating him--and quickly decided that it might be more pleasant to live somewhere else.

On the other hand, one of my mother's cousins wanted to get into the American Legion, and traced her ancestry back to someone who fought in the Revolution--a "privateer". I never heard if she decided to try and join anyway.

Gringo said...

In looking at my family tree and hearing or reading tales about them, I found I had a a fair amount of ornery ancestors. Some might say that ornery is a genetic trait among the Scots-Irish- though not all of my ornery ancestors were Scots-Irish.

james said...

There's a bit of a sampling bias in memories and records. A cousin of mine traced his family line back as far as he could--to a man in England who came to the attention of the authorities because he kept barring a public road and charging tolls. It makes a good story, but if he'd been less larcenous there might not have been any other records of him (I gather the baptismal records turned spotty about then).

Sam L. said...

James, I suspect you meant to say that cousin wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe one has to have been in one of the armed services to join the American Legion.

james said...

Yep. That's what I get for staying up too late.

Retriever said...

Thanks for this post, Avi. Linked to it. Got me thinking about all my dour scots and wild adventurer ancestors not to mention New England Puritans and Southern planters. We Americans are all mongrels...Such a mix.

Nash said...

Geanealogy is the best history course I've ever taken. The internet makes finding ancestors and cousins easier than ever.

I summarize my family as 1600s - Puritans, 1700s - Patriots, 1800s - Capitalists, 1900s - Communists, pretty much the history of America.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Nash - lol.

I would correct only to say that genealogy is the best corrective of history courses. We learn school history, and then the modern it's-all-oppressors history, but in both cases, the real people we discover something about, who we feel some identification with, didn't act the way they were reported to. We find many exceptions, good and bad, to the prevailing narratives.

And this reminds us of the fierce limitations of historical narrative: the actual people and events don't fit them well. We like stories in order to store information. Reality is uncomfortably complicated and ambiguous instead.

Hmm. Post on this coming up...

Texan99 said...

There always seems to be someone in the family tree who was a dramatic bottleneck. My sister dug up news of an ancestor about eight generations back who was smuggled out of Uzes as a baby and made it safely to England while his protestant French family were mostly wiped out by the evil papists. Her husband's family owes its existence to a 19th-century ancestor who was too ill to join the rest of the family in a trek out west, where they were all killed in the Mountain Meadows massacre.