I think you probably know someone who has sent their salvia along to ancestry.com and found out data about their heritage. As well, perhaps you have done so or at least thought about doing it as you watch the very clever ads populating so much space on the television. They get me every time. I stop fast forwarding for the one where the neighbours find out they both have a common nationality inside them. As a result they tear down the fence that separates their backyards and together build an outdoor skating rink. My Canadian heart leaps and I think if only we could solve world problems with our saliva!
This desire to discover our roots goes back such a long way. In the Bible in the first of its books, Genesis, knowing one's family tree is very important. Great pains are taken to record over and over how one person begat another. Genesis is currently thought to have been written in the 6th century BCE. or 2500 years ago. There is nothing new about wanting to know where we came from.
Why do we do this? This is very complex. Historically it has had a lot to do with establishing power. Jesus' lineage is much debated for this reason. Who will be in and who will be out? Do we keep the fence in place or tear it down and build a skating rink for the neighbourhood. For instance late in the New Testament in the letter to the Hebrews we see the author trying to establish a “no genealogy” for Jesus so that all can be in. It is a problem with a long history.
I like to think that you and I are interested because we are curious. Why do I have a low forehead and not a high one. Why are my earlobes out of proportion? Perhaps somewhere inside is the hope that we will find a buried pot of gold waiting to be claimed?
Unexpectedly this past summer I got caught up in my origins. Friends invited me to spend a few days in Cornwall and I knew I had roots there. I knew that somewhere in my past a brother and sister had emigrated from Cornwall, the young woman to Canada and her young brother to Australia. The young woman was my great grandmother and her name was Elizabeth Trounce. The young man who went to Australia was Peter Trounce and I knew my sister had made a second marriage to the grandson of this man. The Trounces of Cornwall and Australia shared blood with me. I had sought out the Trounces in Australia while visiting there and met them. It was easy to get from them the links to the Trounces of Cornwall. It is a good thing I had this connection because there are a lot of Trounces in Cornwall and they go back a very long way.
I also had been to Cornwall many years back and knew that the place was magical for me. A most memorable moment of my life was sitting with my daughter on a cliff overhanging Tintagel waiting for the sun to set. I felt then some sort of unexplained connection to the land and the sea of Cornwall. It is a mystical place endowed with that kind of power. My father always thought I was marked with a bit of it.
There is also something about Doc Martin that just gets to me. Port Wenn which in real life is Port Isaac called to me as idyllic. Here is my Port Isaac.
This is Port Loe and it is where my maternal family comes from. I was there for just a few hours this past summer and I am determined to go back. My great grandmother Elizabeth for whom I am named left this place in the late 1800’s and travelled to London, Ontario to be with her intended who had preceded her. How ever did she make this trip? I knew that she was a contemporary of Jane Austen and I knew how treacherous travel was for Jane even between London and Bath. That trip took two weeks and people and horses died on that route. I had to take in that I have a very spunky adventurous woman in my DNA.. I am pretty pleased about this.
The house she left has been standing since 1200 AD where it is recorded in the Doomsday Book, The Great Survey of England. And being made of stone it is still standing and awaiting a renovation when a current will is finally settled.
In that very long ago time it stood on more than a thousand acres of Cornish water front. Imagine that. I came from landed folk on my mother’s side. I spent an hour or so by myself in front of this house waiting for the arrival of a distant cousin who was to greet me and tell me what he knew of my ancestry. I was very excited as I clambered about the land and surveyed the grazing cattle by the sea. Land is inherited by first born sons and the other children have to fend for themselves. Girls can try to marry a first born son and stay on the land. Boys could go into the church which did not seem to happen in my family. Boys could also fight over the land which in my family they did and were still doing. My great grandmother due to patriarchy had struck out for a new land. I felt a kinship with my namesake.
I was delighted to learn that my very distant cousin was, all these centuries later, determined with his brothers and sisters to put an end to this warring. He was forging a way with his siblings to share. They were going to dismantle fences and do things differently.
This distant cousin, Jamie, took me about to share with me my heritage. I have always felt the sea to be my second home. I can see the Pacific Ocean as I type this. I was overjoyed to be on the Cornish coast. I had roots.
My family I learned had a deep loyalty to the church. This surprised me to find this in Jamie who was but forty years old. With pride he took me to the family church and the grave yard behind it where they had just buried his dear dear Nan. The church is in the nearby town of Veryan(n). You have to know the name was not lost on me.
I share this with you because it has been a lot of fun and more as well. I encourage you to go for it; for if such an opportunity comes your way, you are to be blessed. I think it is rare that this house still stands and is to be preserved yet again for more centuries. Even homes these days are built to be disposable. I know how fortunate I am to have this experience.
On my father’s side it is very different. My father was a homechild, an orphan on the streets of London England. He was picked up and shipped to Canada in the late 1800’s as a very young lad. He was more or less indentured to a farm family in the Eastern Townships. He was “scooped” as part of an English program to deal with orphans and sent to the colonies to clear the kids from London streets. The British maintained this program until 1970’s. The Canadian Government has taken actions to acknowledge their part in this scheme but has never formally apologized to the home children and their families as Australia has done. If you want to read or hear that incredible and thorough apology and have forty-five minutes you can at http://canadianbritishhomechildren.weebly.com/australian-apology.html. It is the best apology I have ever heard.
Official Canadian documents were released and we as a family received some helpful information about our father. We learned he was a “good” child, who saved his meager allowance pay for his older brother’s passage to Canada. This was the brother the he was forced to leave behind probably as we now know, dockside. We learned my father was attentive at Sunday school, the only school he every knew. It is no wonder that as a child ,when he took me to Sunday School as he did every week, I knew he had forty years of perfect attendance. He had never stopped going and continued to serve impeccably this one place of learning.
Some how he managed to bring on that ship to Canada as probably a ten year old (he never knew his actual age), a very few belongings. He had his father’s work book, a small black scribbler that I have held many times and pondered. In it were names as well as his father's work orders. It had in it the sort of data one would have kept in a family bible. My grandmother Annie Louisa’s death at childbirth was recorded. The births his children and their names are recorded. My brother spent quite a period of time trying to trace those siblings with no success. He also brought with them a photo of his mother.
Here is a photo of Annie Louisa
How often I have stared at this photo. They say I look like her. But I wish I had her high forehead and her tiny earlobes.
But I have her hands and I like they are resting on a book and although such photographs may have been posed I am glad for it. She could be holding a parrot! Then I would have had to revise my identity.
Why bother with all this? Why share it? Do you find it interesting to wonder about your ancestry? I am curious as to why I have the urge to do this and further what it means that I am not alone with this urge.
I find that on my mother’s side of my family, I am rooted in land and the cruelty of inheritance rights. Yet they yielded the resilience in my great grandmother that got her to to Canada and ultimately to my grandchildren. On my father’s side I am rooted in a very questionable program to rid England if its orphans. This yielded deep kindness in my father for all children and for my handicapped mother. That kindness is an important quality to emulate. I am grateful for it. In the world it led to an activism that has issued deep and meaningful apology.
Perhaps we live in a time where we need to find the goodness, resiliency and promise in our roots. It gives us hope for the future in these times. Could there be any better pot of gold?