Tracing My Roots

Tracing My Roots

You learn a lot about yourself from the people before you.
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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.

Cover Image Credit: Helen Horton

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An Open Letter To The Friend Who Became My Sister

Love is thicker than blood.
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Sis,

There are friends. Then, there are best friends.

According to "Grey’s Anatomy’s" Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang, they're your person. The one who, “if I murdered someone, I’d call you to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor.” You’re so much more to me than any of those titles can express.

As I’ve matured throughout the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that good friends with good hearts serve an incredibly important purpose in our lives, going above and beyond what we give them credit and appreciation for.

The family we choose. You’re one of those.

The day we met, I knew that you were going to play an important role in my life. What I had no idea of was that you would join the cast of my life with a starring role.

First, I need to say thank you. Thank you for always coming to my locker to check in before class during high school. Thank you for letting me control the music on road trips. Thank you for sharing your family with me, and addressing my family as if you were born into it.

Thank you for patiently listening to the physical embodiment of a broken record when I complain about the same boy I’ve loved since senior year. Thank you for tagging along on every doctor’s appointment, grocery run, and trip to the post office, just because you know that I hate doing things alone.

Thank you for not thinking twice before dialing when I text you “please call me.” Thank you for never saying no to a coffee date. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for being my better half.

We don't share the same genetic makeup, but after all the sleepovers, heart-to-heart conversations, shopping until our bank accounts cry, and swapping clothes so often that we don’t know what belongs to whom, how could I not consider you family? We have shared some my fondest memories together, and I wouldn’t want them to feature anyone but you.

You’ve been with me on my best days, and loved me on my worst. You know how to make me laugh when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and die.

Picturing sitting in my car with you in the passenger seat makes me long for summer, where we spend three months together doing all of our favorite things. You’ve seen me naked, done my makeup, and warned me before making a poor decision. Being away from you for extended periods of time makes me feel incomplete.

You are a piece of me that I am not quite whole without. You taught me that blood doesn’t make a family; love does.

You know me better than I know myself, which is both amazing and terrifying. You make me realize I’m enough for this world, and that means more to me than I know how to express in the limited words that make up the English language.

You remind me that I am more than my mistakes, and you keep me grounded when I spiral out of control. You’ve helped me carry my burdens along with your own, even when the universe comes down on you full force, way harder than you deserve.

You’re the one I come to for the truth if I think my new dress makes me look fat, and I know you’ll be honest. I trust you with my whole heart. You know the gory details about every boy I’ve ever crushed on, every professor who was an absolute jerk, and every fight I’ve had with my mom.

I wouldn’t make it in this life without someone who already understands and listens to every thought going through my head and each thing I seriously over think, even when you know, though you don’t say, it won’t matter in a week.

With all these affectionate things being said, don’t forget our fights. The few we’ve had were very real. We still don’t see eye to eye on some events of the past, but I never told my mom about it because there was no need to make her choose a side between me and her “second daughter.

We have learned to move forward, because the love we have for each other overwhelmingly outweighs any disagreement we’ve had, and always will.

Through all the tears and laughs, I don’t think that anything the world has to offer could seriously come between us. You go to a different school than me now, and college has rudely gotten in the way of our routine of spending every waking moment together.

Since we met, we’ve grown separately without growing apart. Neither of us are the same person we used to be all those years ago. Even so, we’ve pushed each other to our limits and you’ve given me the courage to keep going and do things that make me happy.

We lean on each other when it’s been a bad day and all we want to do is to snuggle and indulge in whichever show the other is currently watching unceasingly and unabashedly for comfort (it’s the little things). Having you as my co-pilot on this crazy ride called life has been frustrating, exciting, slightly concerning, absolutely insane, and something I don’t know how I would live without, and I don’t intend to find out.

I’ll conclude this letter with a quote from every basic, white girl’s favorite musical, “I don’t know if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Love you forever,

Your sis

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Sister, Thank You For Always Being My Backbone And Always Having My Back

I can't even express into words how grateful I am to have you as my sister, because I know that you are one of the people on this Earth that genuinely just wants to see me happy and thriving.
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Dear Sister,

Thank you for always being honest with me; whether I want to hear it or not.

I know at times I don't tend to think about things rationally and I can get ahead of myself. Thank you for always being my voice of rationality and reason, even though I sometimes get mad at you for telling me the complete, honest truth because it is not what I'm wanting to hear.

Thank you for having my best interest at heart.

I can't even express into words how grateful I am to have you as my sister, because I know that you are one of the people on this Earth that genuinely just want to see me happy and thriving.

Thank you for teaching me how it is possible to be so angry or upset with another person at times, yet still love them unconditionally.

I know our fights can sometimes get ugly and intense, but I know that we love each other no less even when we're extremely pissed off at one another.

Whether it's because you borrowed my shirt without asking or because we were just giving one another attitude, I know that our fights won't last for more than a few hours- if they're REALLY bad, maybe even a couple of days, max.

Thank you for just being my shoulder to cry on or vent to after I'm sad over a stupid boy, get into a fight with Mom or Dad or just a compilation of little things I choose to unnecessarily get upset about sometimes.

It's a true blessing to have someone like you in this life because I know for a definite fact that I can always go to you with whatever it is that's on my mind.

Even if it's something that you get annoyed with me for talking about over and over, or just something you don't want to hear, I know that I can always count on you to listen and never judge.

Most importantly, thank you for being you.

There is nobody on this earth that knows me like how you know me, because of the special "sibling connection" bond we share. Thanks for getting my sense of humor and always seeming to know what I'm thinking.

Our bond is something I cherish and am so blessed to have you as my person and sis throughout this lifetime.

So thank you, Sis, for being you, and for always being there.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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