Deep-Diving Into My Ancestry

There are a handful of images I never get tired of seeing. A woman leaning on a motorcycle in mid-1900s Japan, her husband stationed nearby, gazing into the camera. In another, I get a good look at a family portrait, picturing everyone donning early 1900s Russian clothing and a small child named Constantine standing in the foreground. Others picture my grandparents as young couples, the Polish neighborhood of Hamtramck in Detroit’s earlier days, my grandfather as a young man in Vietnam and, of course, baby pictures of my parents, aunts and uncles. These images give me a glimpse of my ancestry, parts of my family I was never alive to see, but parts I treasure nonetheless.

Ancestry and genealogy have always interested me. I adore listening to stories of people’s lineages and exploring the variety of families that live in this world. From any one person I might hear about someone’s hodge-podge family tree, with branches from all corners of the globe, or of a family story that has been concentrated in the same area for centuries. Some might reach generations back, while others may be shorter because of factors like poor record keeping or adoption. I could hear about someone’s great-great-great uncle and the tales of how funny his habits were, or I could hear about the day someone’s mother met them for the first time, having only ever seen them through photographs sent in the mail.  They’re all so different, and I love them all.

Unfortunately, these family stories aren’t always happy, but I suppose that’s part of life. In fact, some of them are heartbreaking. There’s always a little beauty in them though, as those family trees and webs of forbearers were all that was necessary to bring about the friends and family I know today. And, if anything, hearing about an ancestor facing adversity can be inspiring.

Overall, I am extremely grateful to live in a time when so many resources for researching my family tree are available to me. Discovering and connecting little pieces of history feel important, even if the people I'm learning about aren’t likely to be seen in a history textbook. From more basic resources like old photo albums to modern technology like DNA testing and ancestry databases, it seems that I’m living in the ideal time to dig into my lineage. And, of course, there is the age-old art of storytelling. I’m sure oral history gets augmented with its fair share of tall tales, but oftentimes, the most meaningful stories I’ve heard are of intimate moments between loved ones, the types of stories that tell you about someone’s childhood antics and their old pets’ quirks, or the ones that describe what a person’s voice reminded you of and what they smelled like when you hugged them, maybe a person’s favorite bittersweet memories, and the kind you won’t find anywhere else.

Call it self-centered, but my own ancestry intrigues me. Some parts of my family tree are fairly familiar to me, thanks to my family members’ memories and research efforts, but there are quite a few parts that I only hear tidbits of and so heartily desire to learn more about. For instance, it seems that my surname was originally something else, but nobody can seem to agree on what it actually was. As you can imagine, this creates quite a few roadblocks in terms of research and can be mildly frustrating. On the other hand, I know that I’m luckier than most, with an abundance of old photos from both sides of my family and lots of stories, recipes and treasured objects passed down through generations. I even took a DNA test with an ethnicity estimate that showed me just how Scots-Irish, English, Polish and Russian I really am (hint: it’s a lot). I’ve just got to work with what I have and hope I’ll stumble across something new.

To conclude, I love people. I might not always feel that way when someone gets on my nerves or when I’m forced to shuffle through a crowded area (slow walkers are my pet peeve), but every person is like a little living story. I don’t know every story, but they’re all connected in some way or another, and the themes of those stories are often the same across the board. This library of people we call the world is beautiful, and I’m glad to be a part of it.