I’ve always envied people who have traced their roots back several generations. Hell, I’m often envious of people who know their great-grandparents. Because I don’t know mine and I never have. I never even knew their names. Though I’ve heard the nickname “Candy Grandma” a lot because my mother’s grandmother used to give them candy when they visited or something like that.
Family has always been elusive to me and over the years, it’s gotten to be more so. When I tell my kids about the number of aunts and uncles I have and list off the names of my cousins, they’re impressed. There are a lot of them. But it’s been years since I’ve seen very many of them or talked to them. Communication is not our forte.
So, when my daughter asked me about our rumored Native American heritage, I gave her my standard answer. “That’s what I’ve been told, but I don’t have any proof.”
She’s a lot like me, my daughter. But a lot better at math. And when she gets an idea in her head, she holds on to it like a pit bull. When she asked if she could “look it up” I nodded. The thought of her not getting very far broke my heart. It’s not like I’m the product of a closed adoption who doesn’t know anything about her past. My parents are alive, all but one uncle is still living, and my grandmothers are both still kicking. It’s just that no one talks. Or there is some kind of horrid past they’re all keeping from me....hmmmm...you never know.
My daughter though is not easily deterred. She got on this website and started digging. When she got stuck, she convinced me to hand her my credit card so that she could get the “free” fourteen days. She’s persuasive and I’m easily convinced.
Within a few hours she’d located several family photos posted there by my mother’s sister. She found two other people closely connected with my maternal grandfather’s family tree and asked me to help her compose messages to them asking for help. Every few minutes she checked to see if they’d responded. She wasn’t giving up.
The following day I encountered another reason to get more information and contacted my mother’s sister to learn more. And my daughter texted to say there were new messages on her account. She was so excited; I didn’t say anything about the fact that she was checking her email at school. This was history she wasn’t going to get anywhere else. Believe me, I’d tried.
When I learned we might hail from either the Blackfeet or Crow tribes, I texted my daughter. And when I learned my great, great grandmother was a princess, I texted my daughter again. It was worth the risk of her getting scolded at school. Who’s going to mess with royalty?
A few desperate texts later, I learned some interesting information about my father’s side of the family. Something about Aztec Indian status from South America. My maiden name stems from Spain. And something about how we have a brand of ketchup over there too.
That night, we spent hours scouring what we’d learned in the family tree and adding more to the tree she’d created on the website. We hit pay dirt when we googled a long lost family member and came across pages of documentation going back seven generations. That’s right, seven.
All of a sudden, I could put a name to family members I didn’t know existed. I knew their birthdates and death dates. I knew where they lived and could follow their geographical progression to “de Region.”
It turns out, I don’t come from some mysterious nowhere. I may have to look up my family members names to make sure I get them right, but I know their names now. And that’s how I found out some other interesting information.
Although we have yet to pinpoint the American Indian status and nail down that rumor (which had been our initial goal in this endeavor), it just so happens, I stem from the Irish. How cool is that? All my life when people ask me “What are you, exactly?” because they don’t know how to phrase it differently (or just don’t care to), I’ve always identified as Mexican (on my father’s side). It’s the more obvious answer. My mother’s side of the family has always just been “white” to me.
I don’t mean to be rude or dismissive about it, I just don’t really identify with that part of my history. My skin color is too…in between…and my hair is too…non-white (read: not blonde, not brown, not tame) to be anything other than Mexican. It’s the easier answer.
Now that I know the roots of the maternal side of my family, I think it’ll still be difficult to really identify with the Irish side of me. It’s just not apparent when I look in the mirror. I think I will work on digging a little bit deeper though and try to come to terms with who I really am.
Isn’t that what it’s really all about? Knowing who you are, appreciating where you come from, and accepting yourself as a whole person? I think it is.
My daughter is reminding me how rewarding it is to grab on to something and not let go. I remember being like that when I was younger and had the energy to fight for what I wanted in life. Maybe my age is catching up to me or I’ve become settled in what little I know without fanning the flame of desire. Regardless, I’m going to make some changes in that department. I’ll start by saying: “Kiss me. I’m Irish.”