Friday, March 17, 2006

Luck of the Ancestry, or Something...

So one day a couple of months ago, my friends Tim, Barbara, Val and I were chatting. This is a post about St. Patrick's Day, ancestry, bloodlines and genealogy. REALLY.... I'm just starting with a story.

Tim is Irish, born and raised in Ireland.
Barbara is South African, born and raised in Nebraska, USA.
Val is American, grew up American but his family ancestry/bloodline is clear cut: his father's parents were German and his mother's parents were Italian.
I, on the other hand, am all over the place. People look at me and immediately exclaim (especially if I am wearing my favorite green sweater), "oh, you must be Irish!"

Likely it's the sweater, because all we really know is that we were descended from horse thieves in Pennsylvania, may claim the Maxwell clan in Scotland and that we are related to the famous Comanche chief, Quanah Parker.

But I digress.

Tim, Barbara, Val and I started talking about what it means (in America), when someone asks you where your family is from. Because Americans tend to think that means somewhere *not the U.S.* --a question of ancestry and not of place.

And this drives Barbara and Tim bonkers, and this all came up because there was a guy they met who says, "Hey, I'm Irish, too!" as if he and Tim are suddenly going to be best mates. So Tim asks what part of Ireland he's from, to which he replies "oh, you know, that was 4 or 5 generations ago. But my family is from Ireland."

Which, from Tim's point of view, he isn't Irish at all. He's American and at some point in his lineage, his family lived in Ireland. But all he's ever known or his parents have known is America. I guess it's all a matter of perspective, really. Which brings me to my next question:

Do countries outside the U.S. have as high a demand to do genealogical research? We USonions all want to know where we're from. Even if Tim doesn't want to hear about it. But do other, less melting-pot societies experience the same yearning/nostalgia for roots? For a sense of place? A groundedness?

I have read enough Faulkner to know that it really all gets back to the land, which is a nice way of saying you become where you live. Which brings me to genealogy.

There was a great conference this week at BYU that one of our OCLC colleagues attended. She was there talking about WorldCat and how it can assist genealogists. I dare say, with digital image libraries and the right metadata, just tonight as I write this post, I stared at Quanah Parker's image, thinking "Wow, I guess I didn't get Parker cheekbones."

Maybe I just got the fighting spirit. Or make that the fighting Irish spirit. Well whatever/wherever you are, enjoy your ancestry and raise a toast to those who came before you. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When I lived in the Chicago area, I was always so confused when people asked me what nationality I was. Uh, American? I would say, not really sure what this was supposed to be about. Eventually I realized that they, like the guy Tim met, wanted to know about my ancestry and where my family was from. My ancestors came from enough different places long enough ago that I don't think of myself as being anything but American--but clearly others think otherwise.