Conveniently my mother left behind a sister with a nose for decoding public records and a binder full of her paternal genealogy entitled The Hampton Book, which traces that ancestry back to 16th century England. I keep meaning to ask if such a detailed report exists for my grandmother’s Greer(e) heritage, but I get busy, make excuses not to call, and generally convince myself that the precious resource that is my Aunt Bonnie will always be there.
What I’ve been told
Just about one year ago I learned that I am Scottish via my Greer grandmother. Indulge me while I butcher some European history.
Once upon a long, long time ago there were some rowdy Highlanders by the name of McGregor. They found themselves double crossed by the Campbells and lost all of their land and were outlawed. Figuring the wicked King an idiot, they changed their name to Gregor. The ruse was unsuccessful, so they changed their name again – this time to Grier, or Greere, or Greer, or some variation. It worked, they lived, and somehow found themselves in rural Appalachia where, according to family lore, one of their descendants boldly and drunkenly rode, standing horseback, into an Indian camp and stole himself a bride. The end. But not really.
Now that I’m aware of this burning Scottishness inside my soul, I have vowed to keep the traditions of my people alive. So far, that means buying kilts for all of the family members and drinking scotch high up on a mountain once a year. I’ve yet to learn of my other cultural obligations.
Unless you count my deep and sincere gratitude for small pox vaccinations, I never felt a close connection to my Native American roots. I’m not fond of casinos and I can’t get my hair to lay silky flat to save my life. I like to think I’d object to being stolen by a drunk-assed hillbilly, though.
About The Hampton Book – I learned from this that the first ancestral Hampton to make his way to North America was a wool merchant. Given my fixation with most things fiber, that’s pretty cool. I suppose I’m honoring that heritage every day by knitting and spinning like a crazy woman.
But except where alcohol or sheep are involved, (said the Scot) it’s the unknown that draws and holds my attention and imagination.
What I don’t know
I want to know my dad’s history, and that is proving to be elusive enough that I’m just about to declare myself a descendant of sasquatch. His impressively luxurious back hair only strengthens this growing suspicion.
My research in this direction has been, until recently, greatly hindered by having no point from which to start; I only had what I’ve come to accept is probably legend – which started unraveling when I began binge-watching every documentary about everything, ever on Netflix.
I first learned that his family could not possibly have come through Ellis Island when he said they did. I learned concentration camps were liberated long before his mother was said to have been freed. I learned that some of his more illustrious stories about his time served in Korea just don’t hold up on the conflict time line. I also learned that the United States has never lost a war in which mules were used. That’s not relevant to my story; I just want you to think about that a minute and what that might actually mean for the War on Drugs.
Anywho, that my father was a story-teller does not come as any surprise. But that his whole autobigraphical account could have been the working script for Tim Burton’s Big Fish? I’m gobsmacked.
Not so conveniently, he left behind a brother who was more interested in doling out cryptic, but tantalizing tidbits about my dad’s criminal and promiscuous past than directly answering any questions I had about our family history. But when that uncle passed away, he left a son who has so helpfully sent me pictures still stored in his family home: including a snapshot of the family Bible – a curious possession for a Jewish family, no?
The front of the Bible held names (but no locations or dates) going back several generations beyond my grandparents, as well as a unique spelling for my father’s first (known) daughter. I’ve been just as curious about who he begot as I have been about who did the begotting before him. New searches using the new spelling have so far turned up nothing.
What I do know
In March, curiosity got the best of me and I ordered my Ancestry.com DNA test. While interested in where in the world I come from, I was also excited that I may be matched with other family members who’d taken the test.
My results yielded some surprises; the first being that my ethnicity estimates totalled more than 100%.
The greatest of my components is Great Britain at 42%. Ireland/Scottland came in at 25%. I’m a respectable 14% Scandanavian and 9% Iberian Peninsulian. I am 3% Eastern European. At 2% each, I am equal parts Western European, Middle Eastern, and Nigerian. I am only 1% each Italian/Greek and European Jew.
What next stood out the most to me is what I am not.
I am 0% descended from Eastern Asia. That makes sense since I’m not Chinese anymore (another day, another story). But I’m also 0% Native American. I don’t know who Pappy McGregor kidnapped, but she wasn’t one of my foremothers.
While surprised by the low, low percentages of Nigerian, Middle Eastern, and European Jewish blood, I initially assumed it was paternal. That’s one really frustrating aspect of Ancestry.com DNA testing; while it tests both sides, the results are not differentiated. Still, the lineage at least matched my father’s stories even if the abundance did not.
But not so fast. My hope of being connected to a long-lost relative was realized almost immediately when I was contacted by a Mr. Fred Moretz.
Fred, he says, had ancestors who came up out of North Africa, traveled to the Middle East, then into Eastern Europe, settling in Czechoslavakia before eventually resettling in Todd, NC.
Dad, while claiming to be an immigrant, grew up in Kentucky. However, you could throw a cow pie from my mom’s birthplace of Aho, NC (yes, that’s a real place) into downtown Todd, NC. It would seem that all of my DNA of color, if you will, is accounted for right there on my mama’s side.
I speculated to my Aunt Bonnie that this supposed Indian in our family lore might have had darker skin for another reason entirely. Aunt Bonnie, being of a certain generation, categorically denies this possibility. She does admit it’s strange nobody ever specified what kind of Indian she was and concedes such an incident would surely have started a war significant enough to have been mentioned in local court records. How ’bout that.
That’s entertaining and all, but I still don’t know where I come from – or more precisely where my father came from. But see, here’s the thing: I knew my dad, or at least the last, most recent iteration of him, my entire life. My parents were married from anywhere between 1973 and 1975 (again with the fuzzyness!) and remained so until my father died in 2007. And despite any number of possible other reasons why this might be so, I still think not knowing his history is why, at 40 years old, I still feel I don’t fully know who I am. I think it’s probably safe to say that I’m not the Jew I’ve always thought I was.
I’m in no danger of running off with a band of gypsies (whom ethnic testing suggests could be my kin) or joining a cult to find myself, but I am on a quest.
So now what?
I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks sitting at home with very little else to do besides seek wise answers from the oracle that is Facebook Quizzes. In the absence of reliable oral history or discernable DNA test results, whaddaya gonna do? Despite learning what TV mom I am, what gem I am, what country I am, what movie star I am, what dog breed I am, and what my theme songs from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are (Carol Brady, Diamond, Italy, Bette Davis, Chihuahua, Good Vibrations, Bohemian Rhapsody, Born in the USA, and Only Wanna Be With You), I somehow don’t feel any closer to unraveling the mystery. Got any better ideas?
Find the guru atop the mountain
A few years before Mr.Me and I were married I tossed him this wonder of mine: “Bill Anders said we had to go to the moon to discover earth. How far do we have to go to discover ourselves?”
For several moments he was silent. Finally, and without looking up from his book, he replied, “To the top of a very tall mountain.”
“You mean to ask the guru?”
Another few moments of silence before, “No. They have full length mirrors up there.”
He thought he was putting an end to my interruptions, and he was right, temporarily. But he might also have been onto something.
Last year I returned to my homeville to attend my first ever Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. On the second afternoon of camping my cousin invited us to climb to the peak to watch the sunset. There was, actually, a guru already there and waiting for us when we arrived. He looked confused when I asked him who I was. He looked even more confused when I coincidentally ran into him again in a lowlands pub 200 miles and 7 months later and excitedly pointed and exclaimed, “That’s the guru!”
But that night, way above our camp, I found a beauty I’d never seen there before and I doubt exists any other time of year. My cousin and his buddy began to play their pipes and the sun fell behind the mountain. I’ve never felt so at home in my life.
This year I’m giving all 101% of me ten whole days of self discovery back on the same mountain. If that’s not enough to make up for 40 years of wandering through the desert, or even if it is, I know I can never not return.