The thrill of finding your ancestral roots

  • Recently a friend posted on Facebook — in all caps — her excitement of learning that her ancestors came from Northern Nigeria and that she was a “full Fulani woman. I found my home. My heart is full.” In response, another friend said, “I think the feeling of connectedness that arises when we are able to trace our ancestors to a particular country and culture must be embedded at the cellular level.  It’s so powerful.”

I understand that feeling even though I have ancestral ties to many places and, thanks or no thanks to’s growing databases, these sometimes change. However, for every loss of one motherland there is usually a gain of another, and I take pride in being a mix of nationalities.

Since retirement, my husband and I have traveled to Europe, Ireland and several Northern countries. On our first trip, we spent a few days in Amsterdam.  Walking down city streets surrounded by Dutch pedestrians, he said, “I feel like I belong here.  These are my people.” His DNA results support this claim.

The next step was to visit the lands of ancestors whose names we knew.  My great grandmother came from Sweden. I felt right at home in Stockholm, especially when people spoke spoke Swedish to me.  Bergen, Norway, the port my husband’s great grandmother sailed from, became a special city to us. And I fell in love with Ireland, which was the home of a great-great grandfather.

I agree with my friend’s comment, “My heart is full.” There is something special about knowing where you came from, and coming from many places, which seemingly makes you root-free, is also a plus. You can pick and choose which cultural paradigms you want to accept from each country.  The Irish are famous for storytelling, so I’m thrilled with that connection. My husband and I also call ourselves Vikings because of what says are our Scandinavian, Northwestern Europe and British, Scottish, Welsh and Irish connections. The Vikings inhabited all those places.

The other bonus that come from searching for your ancestors is that millions of others are doing the same thing.  Today I heard from a woman who said one of my grandfathers was a brother of her grandmother. She’d even met my mother once. We share the same Irish ancestor and have both traveled to the counties in Ireland where this ancestor lived.

While joy comes from knowing what countries your ancestors came from, learning what they did when they got to the U.S. offers both good and bad news.  I believe some of my English ancestors who settled in the southern states were slave owners.  Contrast this to my husband’s Norwegian ancestor who became an artist and painter of French china in Wisconsin. (The photos here are of her work and that of her daughter)

One bit of advice to readers whose family members are still living.  Ask questions while you can.  At some point in your life you will regret not knowing more about your ancestors and their lives, even if the answers aren’t always what you want to hear.



About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
This entry was posted in intergenerational, personal reflections, travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The thrill of finding your ancestral roots

  1. Charla Garth says:

    Who is the China/French China painter? My mother is a long time China painter and teacher known for her work in Southern California. I bet she knows your husband’s relative’s name.
    I so agree with you about the feeling when you finally discover your roots. I was adopted and felt disconnected until I did the DNA tests. They also reconnected me to my biological brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. Priceless.

  2. stillalife says:

    The China painter’s last name was Havey and then Young; she immigrated from Norway. Her daughter also painted. They lived in Wisconsin.

    How wonderful that you got connected to family through DNA test. I can imagine how powerful that experience must have been.

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