It's funny how you think you know everything about yourself until there's concrete evidence directly in your face.
Growing up, I was always told that we were Native American, English, Irish, and German. We really had no justification for any of those claims, except for a bit of family research my mom had done when I was born. That family collection only went back about four generations and even less on some branches of the tree. Until about two years ago, the most extensive work I had done was a mediocre project in seventh grade about my ancestry.
My dad's side of the family never talked about our heritage. We never brought it up at holidays or other events, and I never really thought to ask about it until I was older. My grandfather couldn't even remember the name of his grandparents. It just wasn't a thing that we discussed.
My mom was adopted and didn't know much about her biological heritage. While she did meet her biological mother, there was never an in-depth family history spoken— While we had some records of a few family members, nothing was extensive enough to satisfy my curiosity.
I was so frustrated with my family. I kept asking my dad questions like, "Why don't you want to know?", "What are you so afraid of?" and "Why don't you want to know about every little piece that makes up who you are?" My mom's side had only been in Dayton, Ohio for about 100 years and I had no idea how long my dad's side had been settled in Springfield, Ohio. My interest kept piquing to the point where I finally took matters into my own hands and did the research since no one else in the family had done so.
Over the course of a summer, I had tracked down my ancestors all the way back to their homelands. Of course, some branches were more advanced than others, but that's the nature of the beast. Each person in the tree has their own story and legacy. It was my job to bring them back to light and to make sure they weren't forgotten in history.
While knee-deep into the research, hints attached to people kept popping up. These hints included stories, photos, and documents. With each piece of history I had attached, I was able to reconstruct their life stories and resurface tidbits of information that would usually be lost as the family history was lost over the years. I was able to trace back my 20th great-grandparents to 13th-century England. I had ancestors that came across during the Irish potato famine— I saw the ship they were on and I read the details of their emigration. I'm 5th cousins 6 times removed with the Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. I have 14-times great uncles that served on King Henry VIII's table. Stuff like this is pretty remarkable. I found it amazing that I was even related to people who had accomplished so much in their lives.
While I felt satisfied filling in the blanks with my tree, I still yearned for the data. I was (and still am!) too much of a curious person to not take the next step. I then took Ancestry's DNA test to find out exactly which regions I came from and how much of that region made up my DNA. For $100, I spit in a plastic tube, shipped it off to Ancestry's labs, and received a link in my inbox when my results came in.
Seeing the map of my DNA for the first time was genuinely life-changing. I was honestly shocked to find out that there was no Native American. I was even more surprised to find the Mediterranean link in my DNA, as I hadn't found any southern European in the tree (yet!). Having the physical numbers and the map right in front of my face put everything into perspective. This is me. This is who I am.
Doing ancestry research was more than just figuring out what parts of the world I originated. It was about putting faces to names, learning about their lives, scouring through ripped and stained old photos, and finding an identity. All of the people in my tree make up who I am. I am their legacy. All of the things they accomplished in their lives and all of the hardships they went through really made me take a step back and appreciate the generations before us. This identity that's created from my makeup will stick with me forever.
However, my research will never be done. While I am dealing with deceased people, the tree is very much alive. I'm always looking for more hints, photos, parents, grandparents, and more. There's always a story that needs to be told.
Tracing my lineage was one of the best decisions I've ever made. If you ever get the chance to do so, DO IT. Do it out of curiosity. Do it out of passion. Do it just because you want to. It's amazing what you can find out about yourself when you look at life from a different perspective.