Over the last decade, I’ve learned a lot about the history of my family through online genealogy databases. Every year, more and more historical documents are available online through websites like Ancestry.com.
Personally, I’m too cheap to keep my subscription to Ancestry.com all the time. But I get caught up in research every now and then, once or twice a year, and subscribe for a month. Then when I get bored I cancel the subscription and my family tree waits for me.
Although I still have a lot of family lines to trace, I have more than a few relatives who traveled to America in the 1600s. I had ancestors on the Mayflower. I had ancestors in the Massachusett Bay Colony. My people helped settle countless areas, create countless towns. My people fought and died for America, in the Revolutionary War, and on the Union side in the Civil War.
There’s a lot to be proud of looking back on my ancestry, and there’s a lot to be ashamed of. I can’t find proof of slave owners yet, but there’s a family line that heads down to Virginia I’m nervous about. But I can prove that my family was very active in taking land and committing genocide against the Native Americans.
The more I look, the more I will find, both good and bad. My family has been in this country for 400 years and we’ve done some amazing things. We’ve also done some terrible things. You can’t feel pride for the accomplishments without feeling shame for the evils.
But lately, I’ve been looking at my ancestry and thinking pretty hard about the state of things in this country. Not all of my ancestors were immigrants in the 1600s. Two of my great-great-grandmothers were immigrants as well in the last part of the 1800s, one coming from Belgium and the other from the Netherlands. I also have a great grandmother who I believe was either an Irish immigrant or the daughter of an Irish immigrant. I have a strong streak of German and Scottish as well. You could say I’m something of a “White Cocktail.”
I didn’t really know what I was going to find when I set out to figure out my heritage. I expected to find a lot more Irish because that was the “family identity.” I hoped (but didn’t expect) to find Central American ancestors because there’s some part of me that has always been fascinated and drawn to Central American culture. So far, nada.
Getting to the point…
I’ve been trying to picture my ancestors as real people. I’ve been trying to imagine what it must have been like for them, what lengths they went to in order to create the amazing life that I enjoy today.
I think about my Pilgrim ancestors, my Quaker ancestors, and those ancestors who came to the New World just for the sweet, sweet cash. I think about those ancestors who came from all over Europe, eventually settling down in farms across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and finally into Michigan, where my family has been settled for over 100 years. What did it mean to them to come over here? What challenges were they willing to face in the journey for the promise of a better life?
I have never found a single immigrant ancestor who came from Central America, or South America, or even Spanish-speaking Europe. Yet when I look at the images in the news of a “caravan of migrants” moving together as a group towards our border, it’s easy to see it, right? It’s super easy to identify with these people.
After all, these people are alive. They are living right now in the kind of conditions that inspire them to pick up their children and walk for months, in danger and bad weather and terrible conditions. With no food, with no water, and with no guarantee when they arrive. I can hear their voices on the news. I see them, and I recognize them. They are my people.