My first introduction to the concept of family ancestry came in the form of a social studies class project fourth grade. I'm sure many of you had similar experiences in elementary school! We were each asked to research our family lineage and create a poster and cook a recipe from one of our ascendents' countries for our "world's fair" feast. A fun concept, for sure! The idea of "being from" another country other than the United States toyed with my imagination.
The project seemed like an easy task for me, considering that I knew my grandfather was a first generation Italian-American immigrant. I had heard many stories about my Pop-Pop being bilingual, working at the steel mill with so many other Italian immigrants, eating "cow-brain" and the seven fishes for Christmas. The choice seemed pretty obvious as to what recipe I should create! Granted, I had some knowledge that my mother's mother was probably German and so was my father's side. We all assumed that their last names "sounded" German, and we had no physical record or recollection of who was the first family member to immigrate to the US... so, at the time, no further questioning came about.
Ancestry was a big deal in my family. My aunts and uncles spoke of "the motherland," they often regarded our Italian heritage with a sense of pride and ownership, a feeling that I have held on to as well into my adult life. My family members would see different personality quirks and identify them as aligned with our Italian heritage. "You're so passionate and artistic... it must come from your mother's Italian side!" "Look at how expressive you are when you get excited. You're such an Italian at heart!"
It's funny... talk about ancestry to an American and you'll be given a range of excited responses. "I'm three quarter Croatia, one sixteenth German and some kind of mix of Russian and Ukrainian!" Ask a European and they'll probably tell you that they're from whatever country they were born and raised in. Dig a little deeper, and they might tell you where else they're lineage comes from, but more often than not they'll add, "but I'm really just (insert whatever country they're living in)!" And even after polling my friends on Instagram, many of them shared their own thoughts on ancestry not always encompassing culture, religion and race appropriately or with a holistic lens. It was such an interesting conversation! Hearing everyone's insight on ancestry blew my mind... and it also made me feel so fortunate to have a community of well-spoken, open minded and all-embracing group of friends on social media.
Ancestry isn't viewed the same way around the world. But I will say, to a born and bred American citizen, the concept of genealogy has a certain romance to it. And as an American, our deep history lies in our immigration stories. The unkept chronicles of our pilgrimages to our country are one of the most curious and puzzling chapters of our families' history. We know that (most often) our history doesn't begin and end in America. In fact, the mystery of it all and the nostalgic relationship to old-world societies is an attractive puzzle for most of us. It's a romantic notion that our beginnings stem further than the location we're currently inhabiting. It's a riddle. It's sometimes a well-kept secret. It's a notion that we, as humans, are so much more than the passport cover we hold. It's a silly idea for most outsiders. "What do you mean you're Italian?! You've never even been to Italy. You're an American!" But it's undeniably intriguing to find a deep rooted kind of connection to the beautiful, wide, wild world.
About a year ago, both my mother and father bought DNA kits from Ancestry.com. (This post is TOTALLY non-sponsored, by the way, I just wanted to share with you all the discoveries and thoughts I have regarding our DNA results!) Selfishly, I'll tell you, I bought one for my mom for Christmas and she basically started bawling when she realized what she was holding... I mean, she was beside herself with excitement. Definitely one of those moments where you know you NAILED a present! Anyway, the results were super enlightening. A lot of exclamations, disbelief and a ton of interesting stories from our older relatives in the family shortly followed. Soon after, my father took the same Ancestry DNA test. My dad has long been infatuated with his family history. However, he'd run into so many roadblocks along the way, leaving him stumped about who exactly immigrated to Maryland so many years ago. His deep research into his family lineage inspired me to write this post, actually!
Now. The results! From both my parents' DNA results, I've learned that I'm:
49% Great Britain (wayyyyy more than I had originally thought!)
23% Italian/Greece (yep!)
5% Middle Eastern (woahhh!)
3.5% European East
2.5% European West
2.5% Iberian Peninsula
2.5% European Jewish
And a smattering of others, including Finish and Scandinavian
Needless to say, MIND BLOWN!
Since learning my ancestry results, I've had a completely different perspective about the various countries my lineage goes back to, almost like an invisible, nostalgic, romantic thread connecting me to countries my forefathers have traipsed through. Initially writing this statement has made me realize how much of a romantic I am for far off places. But, I truly believe it. I now feel a change in my perspective and emotional connection to countries I now know housed and mothered my ancestors. I begin to wonder about the mysterious folklore they believed, the lives they lead there, the food they cooked, the parts of society they felt excited to participate in. Have some my Scottish ancestors died in the Highlands fighting in the Jacobite wars? Did my coastal Middle Eastern ancestors trade with pirates and world travelers? What did their lives look like? What did they wear? What did they worry about? I get swept up in the romance of it all.
There have been times were I've felt particularly PART of a country... almost like a piece of me belonged there. My time in the Scottish Highlands comes to mind. Trekking through the muck and the cold, bitter wind sweeping my hair into my face felt very right. I hadn't known the extent of my family ancestry when we visited, but the feeling was very deep and very visceral. Visiting candlelit churches in Rome, seeing the Vatican with my very eyes and taking a passagiata before a delicious meal felt like a homage to something greater than me, but one that I was a part of nonetheless. Now knowing that my family lineage extends to places like the Middle East, European West and more makes me long for experiences to connect with there. I wonder if part of me will feel and kinship with the coastal ports of Turkey or the side alleyways of old Monaco or Luxembourg? Maybe these feelings are just me projecting my deep sense of love and appreciation for family and culture, sure. Maybe these feelings are just windswept memories that I've amplified since learning my ancestry, sure. But to me, they feel real and they feel right.
Ancestry might not mean a lot to everyone, but it sure feels close to my heart. I now look forward to learning more cultural traditions and histories of the countries my family belongs to more than ever. I celebrate the rich history my family has woven in its fabric. I hunger to explore and learn more about the intricacies of my family history so that I can honor the deep history my family extends from.