Thanks to our flat screen TV and Apple TV box, we have discovered there is life beyond Netflix and Acorn. There is YouTube.
Good old, ordinary YouTube provides regular access to our latest indulgence: ancestral searches of the somewhat famous.
We discovered the UK version of Who Do You Think You Are by accident (try the audio search, asking Who Do You Think You Are. The response: I’m Siri, but enough about me.) and are now absorbed in the genealogical findings of the likes of Annie Lennox (Scottish), Stephen Fry (Jewish), and Andrew McGowan (thought he was Scottish, learned he’s Indian). The discoveries and stories are human and moving, filled with poverty and forbearance. Paupers and Dickensian workhouses feature in the ancestral pasts of many, except for Boris Johnson who traces his line to King George ll. Figures.
Unlike the US version, which is pretty much an hour-long advertisement for Ancestry.com, the UK program relies on old-fashioned archives, musty tomes, and documents requiring white glove handling.
Anyway, the program is riveting and appeals to a generation of us who forgot to probe our parents or grandparents for their knowledge of our lineage. In my own case, I’m pretty sure I was told and just wasn’t listening.
But here’s the question everyone is asking these days: Have you done your DNA test? People inquire in the same way they ask whether you’ve had your shingles vaccine. It seems everyone’s doing it. And if they haven’t yet, they’re considering it.
My friend Linda took the test and wasn’t surprised to learn her ancestors were centered in Ulster and Eastern Norway – the results can be that focused — but the bit of Polynesian in husband Dan was unexpected. Likewise Bob of Inverness roots, wasn’t expecting to learn he has African ancestors way down the line.
Deep in a family trunk I’ve come across a worn and much-thumbed-through leather album of plated pictures, a gift to my grandmother when she left England to follow her man who’d come for the gold rush. It is inscribed To Maggie from Eliza, August 14, 1902. It is a remember-us gift; pictures of friends and, presumably, family she was never to see again. There are no names. And I wonder: the women with dark hair and complexions . . . family or friends? The stern looking woman . . . are we connected? The family groupings: my family? And who was Eliza?
I haven’t done the DNA test yet. If I do, it won’t be the one that tells me about my family health predispositions. I expect to die of something.
But tell me, have you taken the test? Have you learned where you come from?
It’s a fascinating era in which a wee bit of spit, helps unravel our family stories.
I’d love to hear yours.