Friday, March 16, 2012


As St. Patrick's Day, the day when everyone is Irish, approaches, my thoughts turn to my own ethnicity. My last name is English, and there are documented reports that the first immigrant to this continent with our surname came in the mid 1600's. That was my great-who-knows-how-many-other-greats grandfather, Daniel. Several generations later, the branch of the family from which I am descended went through an interesting trend. All of the men married women of full Irish descent, so that eventually our last name was the most English thing about us.

That's not an uncommon American story, is it though? We watch Who Do You Think You Are? every Friday night, and one of the draws of the program is seeing people find a connection to some other amazing person or culture, separated from us by time and space. As proud as most of us are to be American, everyone gets choked up on that show.

Once I told a friend that on my mother's mother's side, I'm 1/16 American Indian. Rather than be impressed, she laughed dismissively and noted that many poor white trash families use the same story to elevate their heritage.

I can't say that I'd ever thought of those ancestors as white trash before, although they did work hard at farming for a living. I was silent, but my expression must have conveyed my dismay. "Think about," she said, "how did that white guy get hooked up with an Indian in Mississippi? Much less marry her?" I stayed quiet, and I confess that I wondered if my story seemed so foolish to everyone who heard it.

Recently, a friend at work mentioned that she had gotten her husband Ancestry DNA testing for his birthday. For a hundred bucks and a couple of cheek swabs you can discover your genetic heritage.

Hmmm. That just might be worth it.


  1. I also enjoy watching, Who Do You Think You Are? I often wonder about my heritage because five generations back my ancestors came from Wales.

  2. White trash? That seems harsh. I'm of the melting pot generation - remember School House Rock videos? I think the DNA testing could be really cool. We'd all find surprises in our heritage, I bet.

  3. I want to know if you're really 1/16 American Indian. My grandfather claimed we were part Portuguese, and it was years before I realized he was probably bluffing.

  4. That is interesting - my grandfather claimed that we were 100 % Irish - and 1/16th French - not sure how that math worked - but he loved saying it! I agree with Wendi - White Trash is terribly harsh. I prefer to think of those ancestors as true romantics.

  5. I hope you find the stories in your heritage. The DNA idea is interesting.