Folks back East’r probably wonderin’, “why don’t he write?”It has been said that to have lost your reputation is to be dead among the living. I think that to have lost one’s family, to be without roots and having no history is the next best (or worst) thing. One can certainly understand Alex Haley’s desire and drive to find his own beginnings.
About the only thing I ever knew of my family tree with certainty while growing up was that we were Scots-Irish (with Dutch and apparently some association with the Cherokee mentioned as well over the years). Relations between my parents and my father’s side of the family were strained at best so we were the black sheep and never got to know those relatives. Most of them are now gone from this world and gone along with them are the stories and family history they knew from personal experience. I consider that a tragedy.
The same is pretty much true of my mother’s side of the family who contributed the Scottish heritage to my lineage. Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother, who knew all the connections and kept carefully recorded family photo albums developed Alzheimer’s in her last years and, in a state of dementia one night, literally reduced those albums to a pile of random pictures which, like Humpty Dumpty are impossible to put together again. Photos that date from the Civil War and a bit before are now little more than curiosities, and the faces of people who, like us, once led vibrant and interesting lives just so many strangers.
Now that both my parents and all their forebears have passed into the void, I’ve been reaching out to my remaining relatives trying to reconnect and piece together our family history and lineage. However, I’ve found that blood is not always thicker than water, for while that water has to me long passed under the bridge it still seems to contain the treacherous and hidden currents of old resentments not of my making. Information has not always been forthcoming and, sadly, it seems that even these now-aged relatives are lacking in much knowledge about who was who and why certain things were done, or how certain marriages occurred.
Despite their apparent success or at least survival since immigrating to the U.S. generations ago, no one has maintained any contact with our relatives in either Scotland or Ireland. I know only that my father’s roots trace directly back to our own family name plus those of Lenham and Markham (my grandmother’s family), all of whom are in County Clare, Ireland. I’ve been told my Scottish side seems to trace to Clan Gunn or an offshoot. While I’m hardly averse to doing so of course, I wonder just how one might go about re-establishing a line of communication with any relatives I found “in the old country” after so very long.
As Sam Levinson depicted in his excellent and touching film Avalon, family relations have to be actively maintained and can unravel so easily, else dwindling and dying a little with each passing generation. Children in succeeding generations need to be taught to know and value their heritage, even while learning to think of themselves as being “American” (in the U.S. anyway); I am always American first and foremost, not some hyphenation of something else (which always seems to be first, as if it comes before thinking of oneself as American). Growing up though, there seemed to be an emphasis against feeling part of a larger family, the result of which is that my siblings and I now are all scattered to the winds.
Over the years though, each of us have come to long for that sense of family, something we pointedly lacked in childhood, coming to believe that family is important and we are each drawn toward finding and re-establishing it. So, until I can somehow reassemble my family tree and learn of my roots I shall have to remain, in the manner of Duncan MacLeod in the TV series Highlander, RassaFrassa of the Clan RassaFrassa.