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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A Letter To My Father Who Was Never There

And a clear message to my insane step-mother: fuck off.
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Dear Michael,

First of all, yeah. I'm totally gonna call you Michael because you haven't earned the right of me calling you "dad."

You have never, in your entire life or mine, been there for me. I've been through some shit and you haven't seen any of it. Hell, you were the cause of some of it. I didn't realize it until later on in life, but I struggled and I cried and I got angry because you were never there. You didn't want me, let's say it like it is. You looked down at either Michaela - a living memory of your late wife - or me, a harmless infant, and realized that you didn't want us.

Because, again, let's be honest, this isn't just about me. It's about Michaela too. You fucking abandoned her. You are her only full-blood relative that isn't bat-shit crazy and you just...let her go.

I've also experienced real joy in my life. The difference, though, was that you were never the cause of that joy, for either of us. We didn't know you long enough to be happy to see you. You've always been a stranger to me.

The only time I ever got to know you was sitting at a booth at Friendly's or sitting on a couch, watching tv. You always felt so foreign to me. When I was little, I used to sit and watch you and Janet set up for parties in the back yard and think: "can he really be my father?" I felt so disconnected that I hardly even wanted to be there.

So when Michaela started cheerleading and dancing competitively in high school, and needed to stay home on weekends, I knew I wasn't going there without her. Because it would've felt like walking into a stranger's house.

One time, during Christmastime, Janet and I dropped Michaela off at practice at school, and then she and I went to the mall because she needed some gifts. Two older ladies approached us and chatted with us.

"Shopping with Mom?" They inquired. I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could, she cut me off.
"Yup, that's us, mother and daughter out Christmas shopping." I felt offended and confused. As soon as they walked away, I must've given Janet the most "what the actual fuck?" look in my life, because she said to me:

"It's just too complicated to explain to people we don't know that well, kiddo." I raised an eyebrow.
"You're my step-mother. It's not that complicated. You're not my mom, and you never will be."

I was mad. I don't remember how old I was. Maybe 10 at the most? I doubt she ever told you about it, probably out of sheer humiliation.

Even though I felt absolutely alien to you, I still desperately wanted a father. I wanted someone to be able to take Michaela and I to bowling on Saturday mornings so Mom could sleep in. I wanted to be able to afford to go on cool vacations. I wanted my mother to be happy and not have to work every waking second of her goddamned life.

It wasn't until much later on in life that I realized that you were unnecessary, especially if you didn't want to be there yourself.

When Pop-Pop died, you called the house. I answered. We hadn't spoken in years. You tried to talk to me as if nothing had happened, nothing had changed. I was so shocked that all I could do was give one- or two-word answers. That phone call, that maybe lasted 2 minutes or less, was when I realized I was never going to see you again.

When I was 20, though, I did.

I saw you out in public. I couldn't believe my eyes, I was floored. I stared straight at you, and you stared straight at me.

And then you walked away. You looked through me like I was a ghost and not your own fucking flesh and blood. I had to sit down. I felt like I was going to vomit. I think I actually did.

"My own father..." I thought, tears in my eyes. "My own goddamned father..."

You can imagine my surprise, then, when Janet decided to come out of the woodwork and send me a Facebook message last year, essentially blaming me for not having a relationship with you.

"Listen, lady," I wrote back, full of contempt and anger. "First of all, HOW DARE YOU CHASTISE ME as if you have the right to! You are not my parent and you have absolutely no sway in my life! YOU ARE A STRANGER. Also, if he wanted a relationship with me, he would've sought one out himself by now. I am the child, not the parent. It is not my responsibility to check in on him. If he wants to talk to me, he can find me himself. I don't need to hear from his carrier pigeon."

Send.

I should also note that she sent Michaela a similar message and tried to throw me under the bus. Congratulations on your 25 year marriage to a conniving, idiotic whore.

You're truly one of the stupidest people in the world, Michael, for doing what you did. You threw away everything. For what? Some bitch. Some fucking moron who tries to manipulate your children against each other. And a fucking retirement community in the goddamned woods.

I'm not writing this because I'm mad at you. I'm not saying I haven't been in the past, but that's not what this letter is about. I just want you to know what you missed out on - two vibrant, hilarious, caring, intelligent young women who grew into independent, strong-willed humans just like their mother. The kindest, most hard-working, amazing wife anyone could've imagined. I want you to understand, after 25 years, what you missed. Because you made the choice to miss it. And it was nobody's choice but your own.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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To The Person Who Is My "Grandfather"

I loved you unconditionally. Why did you hurt me?
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I know you'll never see this. Then again, you might since you have someone stalking me on all of my social media. Fine. Let them print this out too. This isn't to, "ruin your good name." You had to have had a good name before a twenty-three-year-old with too much life experience can ruin it. This isn't a hit piece. This is disappointment. This is hurt.

This is what two -- yes, I said two-- generations of abuse look like. I have been told awful stories about how you would whip my mother with a belt over something another sibling did. Before someone says there's a difference in whipping and spanking, I know. One night, you even beat her with your belt and left bloody welts from her neck to her ankles. Even in my life, you have done things that no grandchild should see you do. I thank God every day that I am old enough to comprehend everything now.

At three years old, I saw you leave the house at 4 AM, knowing, just knowing, that you were going to work. Why did I just know this? Because you saw me awake and you told me to be quiet and not wake Nana up. But you didn't come home until nearly 5 PM. Why? Where was my, "Pawpaw," for all of that time? I was almost 4 when I found out.

Mama, Nana, my six-month-old sister, and I went on a trip one day to Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. Yay! I was three so I still loved traveling. What I didn't know was that we were going there to catch you cheating on Nana. Once again, I was three years old.

How do you explain to a three-year old that she just saw the man she loves the most walking out of another woman's house? Luckily, I didn't understand. I still don't understand and I have a very deep passion about cheating.

At four, I was terrified of you. Why? Because you bought me my own ice cream maker for Christmas and I was playing with it. Nothing to be scared of really. Then, you decided to come do work in there. Okay, fine. I'm four and want to spend every second of every day with my Nana and my, "Pawpaw." Well, as four-year-olds do, I spilled the ice cream. You lost your mind. You yelled and screamed. You raised your hand to hit me. Mama stepped in. She didn't want me to go through what she went through.

At six, I listened to you try to beat my disabled father and, when my mother tried to pull you off of him, you turned around and slapped her in front of my two-year-old sister because she was trying to tell you that the two-year-old was in there. Mama finally had enough. Thirty-two years of this was enough. Shortly after, Nana filed for divorce. We all cheered.

For the next sixteen years, I avoided you. You constantly tried to buy mine and my sister's love. That's not how love works though. We would begrudgingly accept because we knew. We always knew. We weren't stupid. Then, Uncle Jeff got sick.

You came to the hospital the second night like you care about him his entire life. However, that was the first time in forty-seven years that you bothered to show up when he was sick. I was already upset because I had been at the hospital the night before until 3 AM and watched him make himself sick.

My sister and I got to the hospital that night not knowing what to expect because he literally died three times in the hour it took us to drive there. When we walked in, it was about you. Your son was lying in a bed dying and it was about you.

In reality, you were never the caring and loving father you portrayed yourself to be that night or anytime you've been since then. You have had our entire family convinced that Uncle Jeff as going to be dead in a matter of hours at least twice a month since October 13th.

You even tried to pull the plug after his doctors said he would be okay after he got medicine. You are the sore on society to me. You and so many people like you are the reason people don't want children of their own because they don't want them to endure the pain they did as a child.

Repeatedly, through this whole ordeal, you have somehow made yourself the most painful family member to be around. Everything is about how much money you have and how Uncle Jeff is going to die any day. I know that we are all embarrassments to you. We aren't rich. We didn't play sports. We are all happy people without you.

But, do you want to know what we did do? We did better for ourselves than being stuck in your vicious cycle, all thanks to Nana leaving you. You have turned my life into the worst soap opera of all time just by being in the same zip code as me again.

I, and MY whole family will be happy when you decide you can't make yourself look good anymore.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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