For the past 86 years my Grandpa’s ancestry was a mystery. He was orphaned from birth and no matter how hard we tried, we could not find information about who his parents were, where they were from or whether or not he had any siblings. He spent the majority of his life believing, due to the origin of his last name, that he had a German heritage. That is, until about six months ago, when it all changed.
With some encouragement from my family, my Grandpa agreed to take the Ancestry DNA test to get more information about where he his ancestors may have originated. Our speculations of German heritage were quickly put to rest when the results indicated the origin of almost fifty percent of his DNA came from Ireland with a very small percentage from Germany. It was time to trade in the sauerkraut and apple strudel for corned beef and cabbage! Not only did the results show us a different side of the region of our ancestry, it also led us down an incredible journey to finding out who our family actually was.
The results led us to connect with people who shared common threads of DNA by which I was able to determine who my Grandpa’s parents were. For the first time in his life, my Grandpa was able to find out information about his biological family.
This led me to thinking how important it is to know where we come from. For most of his life, my Grandpa was unable to look back at baby pictures to see which parent he looked more alike. He was unable to search family history to see where his love for music originated. There was no comparison of craftsmanship or similar careers with those in his family. For years he felt like a piece of him was missing, his life somehow not quite complete.
I believe the James Baldwin quote to be true,
“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
It has been such an adventure for me over the past six months to find out who my great grandparents were and what they did. I think it has been wonderfully insightful and sometimes a bit overwhelming for my Grandpa to finally have some of the holes of his life story filled.
We, as a human race, crave to belong. No matter what aspect of life, we long to know that there are people like us, especially when it comes to our family. I am very blessed to belong to large families and we take pride in our last name and the people who have built our foundation. They are my support system, my encouragers, my mentors and some of my best friends. I know that my spunk comes from my grandmas, my tenacity and work ethic from my grandpas, my love for music and art from my dad and my compassion and sincerity from my mom. I recognize the roles that each of these people have played throughout my life to instill their best qualities in me. I know who I am and where I am going because of them.
This is why knowing our past and where we come from is so important. It not only helps us to understand those that came before us, it helps us to understand ourselves better. To understand our tendencies, our beliefs and our traditions.
Now my Grandpa will be able to expand his sense of belonging to those that share his ancestry. This summer, my Grandpa will, for the first time, meet a relative from his mother’s blood line. The first person he has ever met from his biological family. He will connect a piece of his life that was missing for so long. Though his present and future will always include us as his family, he will finally meet a piece of his past and “know from whence he came.”