Archive for Thursday, July 3, 2008

Holiday about more than things that go boom

July 3, 2008

The Fourth of July celebration is not one I look forward to because I don't like fireworks. I especially despise the really loud ones. When somebody I care about is setting them off, I get even more nervous. So, I opt for a family celebration and try not to think about the noise in the background.

In addition to our country's birthday, my brother-in-law was born on July 4 and one of my grandsons' is July 5. Celebrating the birthday of our country is like celebrating a family birthday, all the more so because I pursue a vigorous interest in finding out about my ancestors.

Most of them came to this country within the last few hundred years. I'm related to a breathtaking scope of people in these states. But that's not unusual. We are all no doubt related to one another in some way.

One of the things I've learned is the amazing way my ancestors met one another. Some of them who arrived from England in the 17th century settled down near each other and their offspring married the offspring of fellow travelers. This means I can trace my ancestors to at least three of the men who settled Stonington and New London, Conn.

Both my parents came from large families. My father, who grew up in Hutchinson, had 11 brothers and sisters. Almost all of them had children, so on that side, I have many first cousins whom I've never met. I know more about my mother's family because I grew up in the part of the state where most of them remained. She was the third in a family of six. I do know all of my first cousins on that side of the family. I went to a one-room country schoolhouse with some of those cousins. I sat behind a male cousin who was a year older than I was. As a 6-year old I was smitten with him and was happy to do his homework even though he was a grade ahead.

It's those pesky cousins on my father's side that I not only have never seen, but don't know who and where they are. I often wish I knew more about them, and have posted queries on genealogy Web sites. I've gotten several, genuinely interesting responses but rarely do they follow up with more information. I have a family tree of my father's paternal side of the family with a huge number of people going back through the early pre-Revolutionary War days of this country. He was named for his grandfather, who was a veteran of the Civil War. He fought on the Union side. The number of relatives on just this side of the family boggles the mind. As each generation rolls by and people marry and intermarry, it may well be that a large number of people in this country are distant cousins.

An article in the July "Ancestry" magazine says research conducted by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation and the University of Pavia, Italy, shows 95 percent of Native Americans are descendants of only six founding mothers. These women lived in a land bridge between North America and Asia 20,000 years ago. This research uses mitochondrial DNA, which comes down via mother to daughter. I haven't made the clear link yet, but family tradition holds that I have in my family tree a Native American grandmother, so that means I have millions of cousins from that ancestor alone. And, my horizons continue to expand. My sister's son and his wife, a girl from Singapore, have a little girl who looks just like my sister did as a baby and who is speaking her first baby words in Malay. So, now I am related to people not only on this continent and in Europe, but also to those in Asia.

What does all this mean? To me, it means I live in a country with a wonderful polyglot mix. The many different heritages of my fellow citizens enrich all of our lives beyond compare. What's more wonderful is that we're all equal under the law.

We are each truly our brother's (and sister's) keeper. It's just sad that we don't acknowledge that fact more often - but what better time to do so than on the Fourth of July?

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