My family story is typically American. On my father’s side of the family, it’s a tale of immigration from Sicily, with all of my great-great-grandparents going through trial and tribulation to get a better life for their families in the United States. Decades later, some of their grandchildren settled in Portsmouth, where my father and his siblings were born. The story of my paternal roots is almost set in stone.
But on my mother’s side, everything is a lot murkier. Her mother was adopted as a baby and knows nothing about her birth parents aside from the fact they were probably Hispanic. Her father died when she was young, and his family had little involvement in her life. She knows he had some Irish heritage, but not much else.
We’re a country of immigrants, and I am a clear example of that. And it’s why I, like so many other Americans, are fascinated with ancestry. Now that you can make your own genealogical research, you can find out exactly where in the world you’re from, and I decided to do just that.
Here is what it was like to find out where I really come from.
Nothing is set in stone
As my father was told it, his family came from Sicily and kept the family line Italian throughout. No one intermarried until him and his siblings found love in Portsmouth. However, my ancestry results did not share the sentiment.
It turns out that somewhere along the line, someone with Native American DNA became part of his family tree. It’s not clear who this was, as there are so many potential figures. However, it does make me more cognisant of the fact that diversity is a crucial part of being American. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be certain you’ve kept the “outside” out.
While my grandparents and great-grandparents may not have liked the thought, I find it quite comforting. My father bucked the trend by not marrying an Italian, but he wasn’t the only one in the family tree with an independent spirit.
Challenging our assumptions
My mother’s side provided even more surprises. My grandmother believed that she was Hispanic. That’s what her adoptive parents thought, and they passed this idea on to her. It made sense to believe this, as she looked Hispanic and was born in Miami.
However, just because it “made sense” that she might be Hispanic, doesn’t mean this was truly the case. In fact, according to my genealogical results, she was more likely African-American. I am only 5% Hispanic, meaning that she probably did have Hispanic heritage which explains her features.
It is so strange to realize, however, just how easy it is to project features and characteristics onto someone based on an assumption. It does say something about how set in our ways we are in thinking about race and ethnicity. As much as we like to deny it, we use plenty of shorthand when thinking about these matters, and this leads us to see things in a certain way even when it is not biologically true.
Learning where I am truly from has been eye-opening. As an American, it is important to see our similarities and not only our differences. Even the most straightforward family trees have some secrets.
Editor’s note: This is a paid article.