Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought him back

About 25 years ago, I made a concerted effort to find out more about my family’s genealogy.  It was a frustrating search.  Not only was I up against old and far-flung records, but many in my family were ill informed at best, or downright devious. At the time, I thought I might find the ship that carried my maternal grandmother here around the turn of the last century but all I uncovered were more questions.

Me, with the next generation.  
Enter DNA testing and in a matter of weeks, I have filled in many blanks. I now know my father’s line goes back to colonial days in this country and originates in either Ireland or Scotland, not Germany as I was told as a child.  While a noted Civil War general I had been told was my great-grandfather, is not, I have many soldiers in my father’s line going back to the American Revolution. 

My mother’s line is still mysterious, due less to deflection than to distance and language.  Her parents immigrated here separately from Ukraine and no family lore or records exist – at least in this country.  I never did find the ship my grandmother took to come here.  According to my mother, she arrived in Baltimore, but according to immigration records she had to have come in through Ellis Island.  Such “mistakes” can derail a search and make one wonder why this simple fact was gotten wrong.

I have found hundreds of records about my father’s paternal and maternal lines and I have found dozens of distant cousins through my DNA test.  What I will probably never know is the why of all the misdirection.  So, I am doing my best to make it end with me.  I am compiling the records I have found and will make them available to any and all in my family. 

We all do things about which we are not proud.  But those things should not define our lives nor should they color our history with shame.  And they certainly should not confuse our children or their children into future generations.  Whether our beginnings are humble, like mine, with farmers, laborers, and soldiers, or illustrious, we should claim them so that we can see, not just from whence we came, but also how far we have come.

Some sites can track one’s DNA back to ancient civilizations.  Perhaps the most satisfying thing in my search so far has been that my DNA links me to two civilizations known for their pottery.  I have always believed that I had a genetic link to clay because even as a young child, I felt the pull to handle the earth and make vessels.  Long before I could define the word, “potter,” I identified as one and can still recall my excitement at seeing a short documentary on primitive pottery on our newly acquired TV in the mid-1950s. Other girls wanted ponies.  I wanted a potter’s wheel.

Sometime this fall, the sole relative I have discovered on my mother’s side will travel from his home in Russia to Ukraine to do genealogy research into his family.  He will take with him the little I know of my grandparents and try to find out more for me.  I hope he can find something but I suspect my grandparents were of so little importance, and the time was so chaotic, that few records will remain.  While I would love to know more, I feel quite satisfied with where my search has led me. 

The next time I travel to Florida to visit my sister-in-law, I will also meet a third cousin who lives nearby. My parents and siblings are all dead and I am unlikely to live to see another generation beyond my five grandchildren, but I am content knowing that I have finally found the facts – if not the full truth – about my father’s line.  My search led me to answers concerning the likely cause for the lack of reproductive success in my mother’s line.  I carry two mutations, one responsible for my grandson’s defect, and one responsible for neural tube defects, a common cause of spina bifida, and miscarriages.  Knowing this may cause my grandchildren to avoid the pitfalls to which their parents and grandparents were blind.

Some people have asked me why I wanted to know about “all this stuff.”  It doesn’t change anything for me, but it might have, had I known about it sooner.  I might have followed my earliest instincts to create pottery and become accomplished while still young.  I might have avoided giving one daughter spina bifida with the simple addition of the right supplement during my pregnancy.  I might have avoided my several miscarriages.  I might have gotten to know aunts and uncles and first cousins.  Who knows where it might have led? 

The bottom line is that I was curious and now I know.  And I’m glad I know. 


  1. Rosemary, this is fascinating. Keep at it. Your children and grandchildren will thank you for it.

    Sometimes I think we tend to interpret the past and the way immigrants arrives by our own standards today. It may not be that your grandparents were unimportant, but in those distant days you kept yo' mouf shut and hoped no one would notice you. Especially in Eastern Europe. And people didn't leave, they escaped.
    Even over here they were terrified of the police, of any authority figures, and who can blame them, coming from such turbulent countries?

    I think you've been amazingly lucky to find what you have, already. Im leaning that way, as well, since my entire family is gone, at least my generation and before me, but I do know I have/or had relatives in Canada, it would be nice to connect with them.

  2. Ah, I have been fortunate. My research is near complete and I have confirmed that all but one first cousin is dead. However, I have spoken to him and it pleased me no end to find someone so close alive in my family. My goal is to write it all up for my children, nieces and nephews, and grandkids. Then it will be up to them to stay in touch and add to our tree.