Friday, August 17, 2012

On Ancestry and Ancestors

Like most Americans I am a mix of different cultures. My ancestors were primarily European, though there is some evidence (perhaps apocryphal) that there is just a wee bit of Native American in there somewhere back in the mists of time. Unlike Elizabeth Warren though, I won't be claiming to be a "Native American" anytime soon. The story goes that my 9th great-grandmother was a Seneca, of the Iroquois Confederacy. To put that in perspective:
Note the arrow. If the legend is true, that would make me 0.048828125% Native American. Yes, rather statistically insignificant. I don't think I'll be applying for a casino license any time soon.

Now before you get all riled up with that whole hyphenated-American thing, I consider myself an American through and through. I don't introduce myself with "Hi, I'm Old AF Sarge, I'm French-Scottish-English-American." I'm not a hyphenated anything.

But one thing we did learn growing up was to remember and honor our ancestry. Perhaps it was because my paternal grandmother was born in Scotland and came to this country around the age of 12. She still had a bit of an accent (though not near as strong as some Scots of my acquaintance) and Scotland was definitely in her blood.

As a teenager I discovered the music of the bagpipe. Gram was delighted when I told her my love of pipe music! This music had and still has, shall we say, an interesting effect on me.

If I hear the pipes in the distance, I will stop whatever I'm doing and listen intently. I feel compelled to head towards the source of the music. It has to be something ancestral, though it may have skipped a generation. My Father could not abide the sound of the pipes. But for me, it sharpens the senses and gets my blood all a-boil, in a manner of speaking.

An event which occurred when we'd returned to the States from my four year assignment in Korea is perhaps illustrative. Though my wife and son had been to the States once before, it was a visit at Christmas time, this was their first time coming to the US to actually live.

Now I may have mentioned this but the Missus was born and raised in Korea, a country I have a great love for. My son, of Naviguesser fame, was born in Korea. My son was young so the return probably did not have such a big impact on him. For the Missus it was all a bit overwhelming.

So yours truly, in an effort (however misguided) decided to show off a bit of my native land by dragging the Missus and a wee Naviguesser to upstate New York to see Fort Ticonderoga (depicted below).
Fort Ticonderoga (that's Carillon, en français)
I had visited the fort as a youth and loved the feel of the place, the history which seemed to ooze from the site and the surrounding forests. I could almost picture Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas traveling through the woods en route to save Colonel Munro's daughters.

When we arrived at the fort, unbeknownst to me, there was a festival of sorts underway. In reality, it was a bagpipe competition. Upon stepping from the car I could hear the skirl of the pipes not far away. This was my wife's first experience at seeing the effect pipe music has on her otherwise normal husband.

The Naviguesser was bundled into his stroller and I hurried my small family unit up to the fort and down to where the pipe competition was underway. To her queries of, "Where on Earth are we going? What's the hurry, slow down!" I would just grunt and say "Hurry. This way. Oh my gosh, they're playing The Black Bear! Hurry, hurry!"

Well, the Missus suffered through that stoically, like the trooper she is. But mention of that day will cause her to mention that I'm an idiot. "Middle of the summer! So hot! Did you think to bring water or sodas or perhaps food? What an idiot!"

Okay, guilty on that count.

My maternal grandmother was also very proud of her Scottish heritage and would constantly remind us that her people were Gordons, dammit, and don't you ever forget it!

Now my paternal grandmother was your typical grandmother. Always baking cookies and other goodies in the kitchen and making sure her grandchildren were well-spoiled. My maternal grandmother was cut from different cloth.

One of my earliest memories was of my maternal grandmother's hunting stories. Yes, in her youth my grandmother was an avid hunter. Of course back then it was not for sport, it was to put meat on the table. Somewhere at my Mom's there is a picture of my maternal grandmother kneeling next to a rather impressive buck, holding her rifle with one hand and the deer's antlers with the other.

Now my paternal great-grandfather was born in Quebec, Trois Rivières to be precise, of French parents. He emigrated to Vermont back in the day and the family has lived in New England ever since (primarily Vermont and New Hampshire).

I remember it was only a few years ago that my Dad mentioned that his grandfather had been born in Canada. Only he said "Three Rivers", not Trois Rivières. When I (ahem) corrected him, my Mom laughed and my Dad accused me of being a "snooty Frenchman". I did not argue with him. Sometimes I can be quite the snooty Frenchman, if the mood takes me that way. Which it oft times does.

Now my maternal grandfather never gets talked about. I've never met him. Seems he and Gram divorced when my Mom was rather young. Seems that that gentleman was no gentleman, bit of a lady's man so the story goes. And with my grandmother's skill with firearms, I'm sure he made himself scarce with good reason. But his people were English, very English if my nephew's research is even remotely accurate.

I say that because some of these ancestry sites seem to be more about, "Hey, if people think they have really cool ancestors, they'll continue to subscribe. And pay us money." In my review of the alleged family tree, there seem to be far too many knights littering the landscape. In light of my blood grandfather's later conduct, either his innate code of chivalry was long expired, or our ancestors were simple peasants and countrymen. Like most peoples' ancestors are. (Really, pay for a coat of arms which you may or not be eligible to bear? Thank you, I'll make my own way in this life and not pretend great-great-great-great-great-great-grandpa was some sort of baron or knight or what-have-you!)

All that being said, I consider myself to be an American. Pure and simple.

But lurking beneath that Yankee exterior lies a Scotsman, a Frenchman and an Englishman.

At any rate, I figure the Scots blood makes me (ahem) thrifty. The French blood makes me passionate (and subject to wild swings in morale). And my English blood?
Probably explains my rather unorthodox sense of humor.

All those nasty knights running about the ancestral tree. Rescuing damsels in distress. Seeking the Grail and all that.

No doubt.

But if you ever want to get my attention? Play something along the lines of that tune in the video up top. No doubt I'll come running.


  1. I admire folks who are in touch with their ancestors and I wish I could share their passion. My second wife was big into genealogy (she edited a genealogy newsletter for years) and tried her damndest to get me interested, as well. Nothing worked in that space, however, and it's my loss, as they say.

    But Good On Ya for doin' what ya do, Sarge.

    1. Thanks Buck. Way I figure it, your ancestors must have been some righteous folks. Look how good you and your boys turned out!

    2. Well, that's pretty danged nice o' ya, Sarge. Most appreciated.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.