I wasn’t curious about biology and human reproduction. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was curious about biology and human reproduction, but I was even more curious about my family history.
Perhaps my interest was piqued by peers who proclaimed they were descendants of famous historical figures. I was convinced that my family tree was a common Elm while everyone else’s was a Giant Sequoia.
All these years later, I’m inclined to think my classmates had active imaginations and an innate ability to stretch the truth. But at the at the time, I just wanted to be related to someone famous.
“Your great-grandmother was a Houston, and you’re related to Sam Houston,” my mother told me. That wasn’t a lie. I am related to Sam Houston. I’m just not related to THE Sam Houston. My pedigree, or lack of it, had been confirmed. I was a mutt.
Decades later, before the birth of my son, my interest in family history was renewed.
There is something about babies that binds us to our past. We realize that our existence is completely dependent on previous generations and that we will forever be connected to people we never met.
As I began to pursue my family’s history, so did my husband, although he had an unfair advantage.
His uncle Jack was so passionate about genealogy that he actually wrote a book about the family patriarch who moved from Bavaria, Germany to the small village of Shepherdstown, West Virginia only to be thrust into battle during the Civil War. It was a good story, and my husband took pride in his Bavarian roots. So much so that he was excited when he submitted his DNA to his surname family group in Bavaria. He knew he would discover even more about his family.
He did find out more – just not in the way he expected.
“Your DNA doesn’t match anyone in this group,” he was told. “Do you want us to expand the search outside of the surname and the region?”
He agreed while still insisting that he was German. When the results came back indicating he had roots in Denmark, he blamed the Vikings.
“They pillaged German villages all the time,” he said. “Denmark borders Germany. I’m sure the Vikings invaded a Bavarian village and that’s why I’m showing Danish and not German blood.”
I tried to politely suggest that one of his grandfathers had been adopted or that maybe, just maybe, one of his great grandmothers had fooled around a bit.
He wouldn’t hear of it. The paternal side of his family was German, and no one would convince him otherwise.
Even when his mother bought him a Viking hat for his birthday, he refused to see any humor in the discrepancy between what the family tree said and what his DNA indicated. He may have Danish blood, but he will always be German.
He has a valid point.
DNA may provide the genetic code for the color of our eyes, our skin tone, and even our predisposition for medical conditions, but the core of who we are is so much bigger than that.
Just as none of us would be whom we are without our DNA or ancestral heritage, neither would we be whom we are without people who gave a piece of themselves to us.
I am a compilation of all the people who believed in me, challenged me and, most importantly, loved me.
The person I am today came from the elderly neighbors who provided a refuge when I ran away from home on a regular basis as a child. The person I am today came from the teachers who chose to see beyond my academic performance and also wanted to nurture my creative and empathetic tendencies. The person I am today came from all the people who hurt, betrayed and abandoned me and from the people who encouraged, supported, and loved me during those same times.
The person I am today could never give a simple answer to the question “where did I come from?” No biology lesson or family tree can even begin to describe where I came from. Only my relationships and the stories I pass on to my children can do that.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.