Which Family?

If the prompt is “where is your family from?” that is a complicated question. I would probably put my librarian’s hat on and ask a follow up question such as, “which family?”  I had two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great great grandparents and so on.  Here’s a visual:

Chart showing number of ancestors going back 10 generations

I do remember being asked this when I was younger, perhaps because we lived in a neighborhood with several different ethnic groups, including many Italian immigrants and their first-generation American children. I do not recall anyone of my parents or grandparents talking about ancestors who immigrated.  In my child’s mind, we had always been here.  Our origins were here.

Then I began doing family history. My father’s grandmother was born Mary Drumm. While Mary was born in 1864, probably in Syracuse, on her death certificate her parents’ places of birth were both listed as Ireland.

A similar thing happened on my maternal side. My mother’s grandmother was born Minnie McDougal and while I suspect her father had Scottish roots, I am not certain when the family migrated to the United States.

Both these ancestors likely migrated sometime between 1845-1855. As a child, I never knew their names let alone their countries of origin. Only through family history research did I find more information about my origins.

It has always struck me oddly, as a librarian and as a genealogist, the pride many people place in these historic facts.  Like having immigrants who came into Ellis Island, or having ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War, or were passengers on the Mayflower. These are facts related to our past that we had no control over, and taking some sort of credit for this seems dubious, something I could never quite understand.

Taking “credit” for our ancestors whether we are talking about their origins or the lives they lived and the choices they made or distancing ourselves from the less laudable family members, all feels like a very subjective appraisal of our past. At the same time, it is probably one of the most natural things we do with our family history research.