Perhaps it goes without saying at this point but I am a bit of a searcher in life, always looking to absorb new knowledge and collect new experiences, desperate to see and think and feel and understand as much about the world, and about myself, as I can while I have the chance.
Recently, this quest has led me to exploring my genetic ancestry, and tracing my family tree back through the generations in order to find out, literally, where I came from, and when.
What I’ve learned through this process is nothing especially surprising. Though I’ve never known much for certain about where my ancestors were from, or when they migrated to America, I’ve always assumed (for obvious reasons) that my lineage was predominantly European and specifically, mostly British and Irish, with a bit of German and possibly French as well. The DNA testing I did through 23 & Me and Ancestry.com confirmed this, with no real surprises.
However, it has been fascinating to be able to actually trace my lineage directly back to specific towns and regions of the UK and Ireland, to follow the path my great-grandparents and greater-grandparents took (through Newfoundland and Labrador, and then Ellis Island, mostly, it seems) to end up spread across various parts of the United States.
I didn’t grow up feeling especially connected to my family, for various reasons, beyond my immediate relatives. I never knew either of my grandfathers, and both of my grandmothers suffered a great deal of hardship in their early lives (poverty, abuse, abandonment, etc.). They certainly weren’t keeping genealogical records of our ancestry to spinning warm yarns to me about who we were or where we came from.
So it’s been really cool to learn more about the people I’ve descended from, even if I don’t feel any connection to them. To get to see their names (and in some lucky cases, their faces). To figure out who they were, and where the lived, and how they lived, and who they loved.
And if nothing else, this deep dive into my past has made me feel even more connected than I already do to the places I love that I now know for sure my ancestors came from: Ireland, the British Isles, France.
I will admit I was perhaps hoping for some trace of something a little more exotic or unexpected in my genes than just a confirmation that I am every bit as pasty and white as I thought, but, what can you do. We are who we are. And while our ancestry is certainly a part of who we are, and it’s nice to know, and I’m glad I made the effort to find out, this process has also been a welcome reminder to me that where we come from (and who we come from) doesn’t define who we are, or limit who we can become.
I know I’m descended from some not very good people, and I hope from some good ones as well, but neither has much bearing on who I am. I’m grateful to be living an era where technology allows us to trace our ancestry and discover things about our heritage we never could have otherwise, but also one in which the most essential choices about my life and my sense of self are ones I alone get to make.