My birthday looms. It’s actually next month and the acknowledgement that it is coming soon, is based on the birthdays of close friends and family members, who celebrate right before I do. I’m fine with birthdays as a benchmark in my life. No getting around them and accepting that we are getting older is just a sign of maturity and acknowledgement of what is real. Of course, 63 is old to lots of people and young to others. I hold fast to the possibility that I am in the final third of my life and happily consider that if I live to 100, I am not yet at that two thirds marker.
Recently, I began to research my family tree. My FHB had given me a kit to get my DNA tested to check whether my European roots were not what I thought they were. I sent my very unique spit to Ancestry.com, and I kind of forgot that the time had gone by, past the time frame I was given on the website. I had read that I would be notified within six to eight weeks. I looked back at the date the company received my sample and did the calculations and found in fact, it had been 11 weeks. So, there are people ready to help me at all hours of the day and night (depending on the time zone). It was 9 pm on a Friday and after listening to some fairly innocuous elevator type music, I was connected to a very earnest sounding man, named Josh. He asked me for all sorts of identification that “only I would know” and after establishing my identity he walked me through the website, told me to scroll up and that I would find…..my ethnic origins. Tada!!!! I am 100% European Jewish. I was underwhelmed. Josh could hear the disappointment in my voice. He did find something that he felt was important for me to be aware of with the news. He told me that he had been doing this work for a while, and that he had never actually seen results of someone whose DNA was 100%! He indicated that he had seen results in the high 90s but that I was the only one who came up with 100. I felt somewhat like a purebred of something. I felt slightly better, yet still not very interesting. I did examine the website for others (this is calculated for you) who have some matching DNA that increases the possibility that we are related. It is complicated. There were a couple of messages from other folks who were possible relatives looking for my information to see where our tree branch might be intertwined. It was like falling down the rabbit hole. I was now part of something bigger than just me.
I know quite a bit about my roots. My father, after retirement, spent an enormous amount of time “digging up old relatives”. My mother, suffered along with his pronouncements that he had found a new cousin or set of cousins that he added to our family tree. They would often coordinate vacations with meeting these new folks. I paid quite a bit of attention at the time. He accumulated lots of photographs and records, and flowcharts and floppy disks, which, when he died, I took , with the eventual intent of looking at everything. Those floppy disks and 3 1/4 inch disks are part of our archives but of course, technology has gone way past their use.
In the past few weeks I have re-examined photographs for clues of dates (by wardrobe) and who was related to who. The pictures are fabulous but the clues are not written anywhere so I have to slow down the process and analyze what I do have, and figure out the connections. I try to make an educated guess as to which side of my family the photos may be from. I match pictures of younger people with similarly looking older people. Yesterday I found a golden anniversary party announcement with two pictures, one of a younger couple and one of an older couple. I found some separate photos of the man and the woman. I figured out that these were my great-great grandparents. I used Google translate to understand the text. Small victories. I attempt to cross check with other sources. It is arduous at moments and exhilarating at others. The reality is this….on my mother’s side, my sister, my only first cousin, and I are now the matriarchs. No one else is left. Some of my father’s first cousins are still around and I hope to reach out to fill in some of the branches. I think about why I am doing this.
“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
― David Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
We all want to be remembered. Collecting the branches and leaves of my tree allows me to pass it along to the next generation. I think we all want to do something and in the moment this is something I will do. Remembering the past helps anticipate the future.
Look at the fallen leaves of the trees around you and look up at the branches where the leaves remain. Think good thoughts. Have a good week.