Tuesday, January 8, 2013

So, What Does All This Mean, and Just Who Are We?

I don't think I will really arrive at an answer to who we are this way.  I can say that when I started all this in 1984 around Uncle Joe and Aunt May's dining table with all the gathered family experts, I had a few questions about who we were, but I thought that following a couple of family lines would answer them pretty completely.  Now........God help me, I have all these hundreds of answers and no idea of how to apply appropriate questions to them.  Just think how confused and lost I will be when the last of my Massachusetts family elders are gone or have completely lost their minds.

I have found church officials in the family, with no easy way to place them in the line correctly.  I have found Italian Counts and Knights that will take decades to research in a language that I only stumble around in.  I now have a Welsh Prince and his line of  kings of a fleeting medieval kingdom in the family.

So what is it good for?
When you are working with 30 or forty generations of couples contributing DNA, and twenty or thirty branches of the family that will likely be just as complex, you might ask what in the world you have in common with them.
By the time you split all those branches up, and spread the DNA contributions out on a bulletin board,(3x5 cards work best for this) you might be able to point to that Welsh prince and say "I am descended from Welsh kings".  Then you would magically rifle through the gene pool and find his contribution to your body.  They all have name tags!  There it is...the fourth one from the end on the 8th Chromosome.  It turns out that my left nostril is this shape because of him...Please refer to the illustration.

I will tell you the ultimate fantasy.

 You run across an old snapshot of a 15th century Lord High Treasurer of England, that you know is related to you.  He has his arm draped over Henry the 7th's shoulder and it looks like they just picked up a couple of babes in a tavern in Winchester, just down the street from the cathedral. (Where else) You look at it carefully as those 15th century Polaroids are fading out pretty fast.  Suddenly you exclaim...."Oh..My...God...He looks just like my brother Dick if he just grew a red goatee!
Actually, you do get those little revelations.  But it happens a little differently. 

You are browsing through old family photos, or see a family portrait in some museum house in Pennsylvania, and you say ...Oh...MY...God...I thought those eyes came from Grammie Cafarella's family, and those hands too...but you are looking at your Mitchell side.

It does not take too long before you realize just how interconnected we all are.

I knew that the Normans were in Sicily for a time, but it has only been recently that I found that they were all over the southern part of Italy, and they were from the same handful of families that eventually became our relatives in north western England.
You also realize that some of your basic ideas about history just have to be scrapped.  What the hell were these Frenchified Vikings doing in North Africa, Palestine, Russia and Sicily.  Not every European a thousand years ago was traveling to neighboring villages twice in a lifetime with the family oxcart.  Europe, (and people from other cultures will find that Asia and the Americas were the same), was a very dynamic place.  And you must remember that just because technology was a bit primitive, does not mean that these people were in any way dumber than we are, or less able to leave DNA in some hotel one night stand, half way around the known world.
Anerio Cincotta is fond of telling the story of his teen aged father hopping on 25 foot boats in Malfa and ending up in Lisbon a few days later, with his father in hot pursuit to drag him back... Do we really think that this sort of thing happened a hundred years ago, or do we picture these people spending their lives in a single village somewhere, trapped in a proscribed role in their community, until cheap steamer tickets to the New World or Australia set them free?

You also learn that your ancient family members were not that much different, and sometimes a lot less virtuous than you picture.

I was tickled to learn that one of my great great+ grand parents was one of the very earliest settlers in New England...1623(I think) in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and later in Marblehead where evidence of his name is in the streets of the town.  Pretty Neat...until you realize that this guy named Norman, was traveling to the New World as a non Puritan laborer, and his name was an Alias!  His name was actually Fryeth.  Times just don't change.

OK, so how about another example.

Perhaps you history buffs know that the famous Henry the 8th  was a younger son.  He had an older brother Arthur.  Arthur was a great choice for a Prince of Wales, where the family of Tudors was from.  What would inspire confidence in the English rabble like a new King Arthur.  And here he was the future sovereign in a new and teetering dynasty after the Wars of the Roses!

If you know about Arthur, you probably also know that he died young and did not assume the throne.
That is an interesting tidbit of history, but did you know that one of your 15th century ancestors was Arthur's intimate friend, and that Arthur had his own room in our family member's home even as an adult.

Connections...That is what I get out of all this.  I get a feeling of connectedness..if that is a real word...

When I went to King's Landing in New Brunswick and volunteered my time as a blacksmith and as a painter, I knew that I had a connection, and that my father had grown up only a few miles away.  But I did not really...FEEL... my Canadian background.  I did not feel his British...his Loyalist...his backwoodsman identities.  I have not been able to find much on my grandfather Mitchell...his supposed Patterson mother....no clues so far...  As a result I do not feel the slightest connection with my Irish roots...I do not identify with my Mitchell name that much either.  I definitely snickered when I heard that Aunt Vera thought that the Mitchells in Lowell were all a bunch of horsethieves...I can absolutely identify with that!

All of my recent discoveries about my Grandmother Henrietta(How unfortunate was that name?) have opened new worlds to me.  I feel the Loyalist and the Canadian now.  I can even feel the Norman French.  Why have I always been drawn to Welsh stories, Celtic folk songs.  I absolutely love Normandy and count my time at Mont St. Michel as one of the highlights of my life.

I am feeling a connection with the world.  Even if I do not have a single source to point to as my family's home, I go someplace and can say to my self , "my family once walked these same streets".  This was something that overwhelmed me in Malfa when I walked along with the procession for Saint Joseph's day, to the top of the town, where Grammie's birth records are.  She said, " Just go into that church and you can find my baptism in a big book there".   When you do these things you find that you do not recover from the accumulated emotions from the day before, and there you are connecting yourself into a place on the earth, a place in history and a place in family.

I think we all wonder from time to time if there is really a point to the time we spend on earth...well, maybe not...But doing all of this has given me a tranquility and satisfaction knowing that I am part of a whole, even if that whole is running the planet into the dumpster.  If we survive our own ineptitude, who knows, in a couple of thousand years when some descendant, direct or otherwise, on our next home planet,... some grandfather will point to a fuzzy point of light in an obscure part of the galaxy and say to his grandchild...."On that little point of light we had a wonderful ancestor.  She was a round little woman who had a hard life, but as a child she lived on a little, flower covered volcanic island in a sparkling blue sea.  She used to get up at night and sit in her window when her parents and her cousins were all asleep.  She could smell Jasmin on the wind, and a little sulfur, too, as she watched the volcano across the channel in the Thyrennian sea, erupting, just as it had for 2000 years before she was born.  It would cast gold framed shadows on the wall of her bedroom."

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