“A person in search of his ancestors naturally likes to believe the best of them, and the best in terms of contemporary standards. Where genealogical facts are few, and these located in the remote past, reconstruction of family history is often more imaginative than correct…
“People who migrate are usually either dissatisfied at home or ambitious to improve their lot; but upper classes are already successful, and so have no reason to go to a wilderness to start afresh. Plain as these facts are, people still look for distinguished ancestors.”
― James G. Leyburn
I now know – from the DNA tests that definitively show my family’s roots – that I am foremost Scandinavian and Irish, with a small dash of English and West European, a pinch of Italian/Greek and, finally, a grain of African (which is the root of all), and a tracing of my family tree shows who my ancestors were.
I am where I am because those ancestors weren’t satisfied with where they found themselves and sought better opportunities in another land (or in the case of a Scottish ancestor, exiled to the colonies as a traitor to the crown by being on the losing side of the Jacobite rising of 1754.)
I have learned of a few famous ancestors by blood or marriage – Washington, Lee, Jefferson, Jackson and the royal families of England, Scotland and Scandinavia.
And I also have some infamous ancestory – a couple knights of old (contrary to legend, knights were nothing more than “hired guns”, thugs, the enforcers of their master’s will – for subservience and taxes – upon the peasantry), Viking raiders (who plundered) and Irish Gaels (gael was the Roman word for “pirate”).
As do most people who delve into their family past, I revel in the good and overlook (or romanticize) the bad in my ancestory.
But I am most proud of the overwhelming majority of my forefathers, the yoeman stock of “tinkers, tailors, and candlestick makers” – the farmers, tradesmen and shopkeepers.
Ackowledging them keeps me grounded in reality, they were just regular people, living ordinary lives, passing along the genes of both good and bad to me and to future generations, who may learn our names but will not know who we were, any more than I know who they that preceeded me were, even as I learn their names and their accomplishments.
Should I take up my sword and shield, set sail in my dragon ship and go a-viking seeking new adventures, or mount my steed with armor and lance remembering Arthur’s words of “Right makes Might” and battle the enemies of good, or seek and obtain high political office, all to make a name for my descendants to memorialize?
Nah. I’m rather content with who and what I am, without any ambition other than being a good son, brother, husband, father, grandfather.
That’s legacy enough for me. I feel no need to be remembered for more than that.