I got to thinking about ancestors recently. When I lived in New York City, I occasionally dropped into the big public library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, where I would walk past the Genealogy Room, where people sat behind huge stacks of books, looking up their ancestry. I suspected they wanted to do the job themselves, because when you hire OTHER people to do it for you, they so often come up with lists containing minor royalty. No one ever seems to have any ancestors who were ordinary folk (except for me!)
My mother died when I was seven years old, and after a few years, my father remarried. My dad was a Southerner who had moved North, so I rarely met any of my relatives when I was young. In contrast, Whitley’s father was a member of the Sons of American Revolution and his mother was a Colonial Dame. He has ancestors who fought at the Alamo, which is a real badge of honor in San Antonio.
I fondly remember his great-grandmother, who died at the age of 106. Interestingly enough, this must have been due to long-lived genes, because her diet consisted mainly of white bread. Her family had been English tea planters in India who were forced to leave due to the political situation there. Until the end of her life, she carried a British passport and spoke with a slight British accent. Whitley remembers her sitting in front of the TV, watching the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II (the current monarch) with tears streaming down her cheeks.
My favorite story about ancestry comes from a Texas couple who were both the first to go to college in their respective family lines. The man told me about a legend that had run through several generations in his family and was repeated whenever times got bad. It basically ran like this: "No matter what happens, we don’t have to worry because we have the papers in this box."
When I found out what was in the box, it reminded me of the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which was written by Thomas Hardy in 1891. In it, a young peasant girl finds out that her ancestors were actually the people who lived in a huge house in her hometown. She goes into this mansion and sees portraits of the D’Urberville family and recognizes that she resembles them all.
When the man from Texas graduated from college, his family allowed him to open the box, having decided that, with his fancy new education, he would be able to make us of it. He found papers written in an old-fashioned script that he was not able to read, so he took them to an expert, who said that this was a deed to most of the land in what is now downtown Manhattan, which had been given to one of his ancestors in thanks for supporting the king. The trouble was, he discovered that this deed was dated in the pre- Revolutionary war period, so it was no longer valid under what is now US law. The family had once been rich and influential, but like Tess’s family, they had deteriorated, in this case to a "shotgun" house in a poor area of rural Texas.
When Whitley and I were newlyweds, we were amused when we looked up my maiden name in the Oxford English Dictionary that we had (this was the two-volume set with type so small that you had to look things up using the magnifying glass that came with it). We discovered that my former last name is ALSO the word for a "primitive hoe used by peasants." In other words, my ancestors were so poor they were tilling the soil with little more than a stick! I told Whitley that his family had been intermarrying in San Antonio for so long that they needed an infusion of my strong, peasant genes.
Then recently, I was emailing someone in Australia and when he wrote back, he copied his assistant?who, I noticed, had the SAME last name as my maiden name! Since Australia was originally settled by England as a penal colony (featuring exile instead of jail for criminals), this means that my ancestors, besides being poor peasants, were ALSO thieves! Yes, while Whitley is descended from some of the brave heroes who helped create this country and the state of Texas, it seems like my family seems to comes from much more questionable stock.
Not all my ancestors were kind to me: In fact, most of them weren’t. When the powerful medium Glennys MacKay came here from Australia over a year ago and I arranged to have her tested by Dr. Gary Schwartz, she took my hand in hers in order to read my life story. Then she put my hand down gently, took out her handkerchief and wept copious tears into it.
I was recently contacted, via email, by some members of my step family (the children of my father and his second wife), but after I wrote back, they never followed up. Maybe, after this, they won’t be sure they want to be related to ME.
NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.