What do a servant, an unwed mother, a cigar maker, a farmer, bastard children, Counts and Countesses and a mother of 17 children all have in common? How about people from England, Germany, Switzerland, France, The Netherlands and even Tibet? The answer is easy- ME!
I’ve recently researched my ancestry through Ancestry.com and found that I am the descendant of all of these people and many more. I have discovered that I am the human version of a mutt.
Through ancestry.com, I’ve managed to trace my roots back through Europe- with some lines going back to the mid 900’s! I was humored by names like Urban Wolff and the Count of Sponheim and swept up with my imagination with names like Volmar and Hedwig to a time that once was.
Researching this lineage was like reading a novel, but these were real-life stories, full of heartbreak, adversity, success and celebration. They were more than just characters in a book to me- there were in some way, a part of who I am today.
Yet, of the more than 800 ancestors that I’ve found so far, each was different in their own way. They came from different countries, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, classes, religions, genders and eras. Each had a unique story. Each was there for a purpose, yet all inter-related in this magical web of life.
How does this matter to me now? It many ways, it doesn’t. Unfortunately, being a descendant of a French Count doesn’t add zeros to my bank balance any more than being a descendant of a potato farmer gives me a green thumb. Just like life- that part is up to me.
But what amazed me the most was the realization that I wouldn’t be me without the contribution from each one of them. Take just one person out of the web and the rest of the tree below them dies. I am created from a piece of each of these 800 people- and more. With all the factors and choices, the statistical probability that I am me- just the way I am- is staggering… as is yours.
I am a very tangible person and one thing that really stuck me was the direct connectedness of each of us to one another. As I progressed up my chart to the 4th and 5th generation above me, I was struck by how many other families shared this same relative coming down another branch of the tree. My great-great grandfather had a brother, who is the great-great grandfather of a boy I had a crush on in 5th grade. I saw the surname of a girl from high school that I didn’t like, a guy who is responsible for my passing Physics II and of many neighbors on the street where I grew up- all sharing my ancestors with me. Suddenly the world got much smaller.
As I was researching this project, I kept hearing the song, “We Are Family” in my head. We’ve all heard that “we’re all brothers and sisters”, but this exercise made this so very tangible for me. I have to admit, I was glad that it didn’t work out with the boy from 5th grade when I realized that he is a distant cousin. It also made me think twice about not liking the girl from high school- as she’s directly related to me too. If we go back far enough, we are ALL related.
For those of us in the US, many of us have families where different branches of our tree fought on opposite sides of the Civil War. One friend I know had both of his grandfathers fighting on opposite sides in WWI at the same place, at the same time. They literally could have killed one another, and if either had died, my friend wouldn’t be here as we know him today.
We are family. When we look at life in this way, how can we be unkind to one another? How can we have judgments about one another? We are all connected. Don’t believe it? Just follow the thread of your ancestry and you’ll be amazed where it leads.
The next person you see might be a direct part of your family. So be gentle with one another. We’re all here enjoying this ride we call life, with its ups and downs, trying to keep our heads above water and make a difference. We all have the same heartbreaks, the same disappointments, the same fears. So be understanding and forgive with compassion.
We also have the same ability to reach out and be there for one another, to share joy, to be kind and to love. Take the opportunity to make that happen. Reach out. Connect. Share a hug with one of your global brothers or sisters knowing that in some way, on some path, they really are connected to you…. for we ARE family. :)