Last night we had my aunt, uncle, and female-relation-of-complicated-nomenclature (we usually just call her ‘cousin;’ more on that later) over for dinner. As usually happens at family gatherings, especially ours, the talk turned to family history. I suppose it helps that the “cousin” moved her mother out of her gigantic house full of odds and ends dating back to the 1930s a few years ago, and my mother and aunt have finally (FINALLY!!!! –you have no idea how much of a triumph that is; the process took a year and a half) extricated my grandmother AND all of her grocery lists from the 1950s from her ginormous house of death. My uncle and father and brother and I had the joy of helping with that, and I got to be the Primary Provider of Moral Support. Oh, and my aunt’s daughter recently started working for the DAR, so she had to do a lot of genealogy to find ancestors proving she was eligible for membership.
…so, anyway, family history was very much on everyone’s brains. Or at least, on the women’s brains, and our menfolk just sort of put up with it. But the four-hour discussion of family history revealed to me just how little I know of my ancestors–and this is just on my mom’s side!
As the GHMC says, “I’m not actually a member of this family. Nobody tells me anything. Like when I found out Dad was almost an astronaut or something?”
I’m a little more up-to-date on family matters, especially recent ones, than he is (I knew Dad applied to be an astronaut, though he only made the first round of cuts), but when it comes to our ancestors, I know very little.
For example, GHMC and I were shocked to learn that our great-grandfather had run for governor in the state of Wisconsin (he lost, of course; I assume we would have heard about it if he had won). Or that there are still M.s (old family surname) alive in Scotland. Or that there were in fact two marriages of great age disparity on my mom’s side of the family, the most striking being between a 70-something colonel and his 20-something bride. Which, incidentally, is where the female-relation-of-complicated-nomenclature comes from. She is, in fact, my great-great aunt, despite being approximately the same age as my mother. And her surname is the same as my grandmother’s maiden name, but it wasn’t until last night that I learned they have no blood relation–she’s a “cousin” on my grandfather’s side.
If you’ve been able to follow the paragraph above, congratulations, you may now graduate to Genealogy 201.
I find all this stuff fascinating. It’s strange, though, because I don’t know these people, and I don’t find other people’s ancestors nearly as interesting. I guess it’s part of knowing where I came from, like when we found pictures of my great-grandmother of a girl that look almost identical to me at that age (er…I look almost identical to her, technically), or when we look at photos of Gramps from the war and he looks exactly like my cousin A.
The Gimps-ran-for-governor story still trumps all others in my book (how have I lived twenty-odd years without knowing this), but one of the best parts of the evening was when my mom read us the obituary for her great-great-great grandfather, or my great-great-great-great grandfather (I think. Keeping track of the generations in our family is near impossible; see the great-great aunt who is my mom’s age). After she read it, she said, “He just sounds like such a G. male.” And from the G. men that I have known…yeah. He sounds like Gramps, and Uncle C. and Uncle H.
One of my aunt’s favorite things to say to cheer me up is, “Just remember, [some number of greats]-grandmother G. [different G., I think] crossed the country in a Conestoga wagon. We come from a long line of women who knew a varmint when they saw one and weren’t afraid to put it in the bead of their shotgun and shoot it.”
I like to think I have some of that in me. Sure, the DNA’s pretty diluted by now–although, theoretically, it would be possible for me to share as much as 50% of my DNA with a female ancestor. I hope so; the women on my mom’s side of the family were amazing. I like to think it’s still floating around in my brain chemistry, just like it makes me happy to be compared to my aunt, or Gramps, or any of the other relatives who are just fantastic people. Maybe it’s the inevitable romanticism of looking back to the past, but I come from a lot of really awesome human beings. And, yeah, more than my share of batshit-insane ones.
I guess that just makes me insanely awesome 🙂