Who aaaaaaaare you?

Have you been watching that new show... Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC? My mom and I are in love with it. If you haven't here's a quick premise. Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends) is one of the executive producers and basically it's celebrities finding out about their genealogy. Things they didn't know before. So far Sarah Jessica Parker has discovered she was descended from an accused Salem Witch. Emmett Smith found about his slave heritage. Lisa Kudrow found a relative her family had thought had passed away and about her Holocaust heritage. And tonight Matthew Broderick found out about his grandfather and great grandfather. It's really a very well-done show, check out the recaps on nbc.com...

What touched me was the first episode with Sarah Jessica Parker. She was talking about not feeling wholly American even though she was born here. Her family, she thought, had not been around very well. They were all immigrants and recent ones at that. Discovering her family roots in the US was amazing to her and I completely identify with that.

I have mentioned before that I was raised on an island in Alaska. What that means even more deeply was that we were the only ones there. Everyone else was in the lower 48 and we didn't see them much. I had an uncle who lived on the neighboring island and was a commercial fisherman, but he died when I was in grade school and I rarely saw my cousin or aunt much as we grew older.

It seemed to me that so many of the kids I was in school with had deep roots in the community and tons of cousins. The idea of cousins delighted me. I remember going to a family reunion when I was 10 on the East Coast and just being overwhelmed by all the cousins. Cousins were, to me, something rather elusive in understanding and even cooler than having friends... weird right?!?

Not only did I know that almost all my family was living elsewhere; I knew that in addition to that my family were recent immigrants. On my father's side, I am a fourth generation American and on my mother's only third. I am half Finnish Sami; 1/4 Dutch and my grandmother on my mother's side we're still working on but believe it's German, Welsh and Russian.

My grandmother's family on my mother's side I learned awhile ago has been around the US a rather long time. Finding this out reminded me of the moment when Sarah Jessica Parker discovered the same thing in her episode. I'm AMERICAN! I mean, duh of course I am, I was born here, but I'm FROM here at least a little. My family has walked the land, has been a part of building this history a long, ways back. Maybe I'm not explaining how that changed things properly. But before that revelation, before seeing it in print, I didn't feel as connected. I felt like an American, but not of the historical variety. Now, with that book in hand.... I had "connections" as you will.

In fact, as far back as the Revolutionary War if the current book can be believed. There's a little debate on the validity of what we have though tonight my dad seems to think that it's accurate and if he's certain, it's likely true. But, I want to find out for myself. I want to verify the data. I want stories.

In particular, I want to verify this little family anecdote. My grandmother told my mother when she was younger that her sister or a cousin had been doing research into the family and discovered that we were descendants of Russian nobility. Not anything fancy like the Romanovs, but who would have emigrated about the time of the fall of the Romanovs. There is apparently a museum somewhere in the Northeast US that is where these Russian nobles lived. My grandmother and grandfather went to visit once and my grandmother told my mom she felt they had not been properly received. I don't know how close the connection is, or even if it's true, but starting tomorrow, I'm going through the old book we have on the family and seeing what I can find out.

My mom said that grandma didn't talk much about her family when she was growing up. She was fascinated by my grandfather's Dutch family and talked about them instead. I don't know why. She doesn't know why. She thinks maybe my great grandfather was perhaps not the nicest man, but we don't know.

Now don't get me wrong. I am fascinated by my European roots. I was raised learning bits and pieces of my Finnish roots and they are fascinating. I am a descendant of the reindeer herders in northern Finland - the Sami. Truly a fascinating culture and one I love learning about.

I love my Friesan heritage (Dutch) and especially since I've had the opportunity to go there and walk around where my ancestors could have gone. Where I have met distant cousins who still live there. Where I was given a chunk of beeswax from my great, great, great grandfather's beekeeping farm. Where I breathed the air.

I just want to see where my grandmother came from. Who were her people really? What did they do?

Comments

septembermom said…
Jenna,

I love the self-exploration pull of this post. I think you have an exciting journey ahead. Thank you for all your support these days. It means a lot to me :) -- Kelly
Jenna said…
Thanks! I'm looking forward to the adventure! I think we've identified the line and who we need to follow already. We have a little note and a pedigree listing a lady who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and a more recent connection than we would have thought so it's exciting.

We will have to do the research ourselves since that's about all we have right now, but that kind of makes it more exciting in a way since I'll be doing my own little version of the show, sadly without the fun travel... but fun all the same!

I'm working on a list of people from back in the day and all the "American" connections I have - incredible really. So much fun!

I am happy to give any little support that I can to you.. Your blog has been such a source of inspiration and oozes love. It makes my day brighter just to see a new post from you! **hugs**

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