Friday, September 17th, 2010 | Author: mjward

Does genealogy equal identity? The title of a popular genealogical television show suggests that it does.

I’ve had a lot of fun researching my genealogical background. I’ve debunked some of the family legends. For example, the Baldi family in England did NOT descend from the younger brother of the famous Giuseppe Garibaldi. Rather, they were ordinary labourers with their surname originally spelled “Baldy”. Until my great-grandparents, the family was illiterate, signing the parish marriage register with an X. I’ve learned a lot of facts about my ancestors’ births, deaths, and marriages. It’s been interesting to trace the history they lived, their social and political times, and even the effect of natural disasters. There are also mysteries remaining that puzzle me still.

Is my ancestry my identity? Part of it is. My physical make-up — appearance and basic health — come through my genes. So does my level of intelligence. My parents, like any parents, provided me with a unique set of experiences that helped shape who I have become. And they were shaped by their parents and other relatives.

But I have made many choices that have also shaped who I have become. I chose a particular university in a large Canadian city, and a specific academic area. I also chose how much time I spent in study and how much in enriching my social life. My ancestors did not choose my mate for me nor dictate my age at marriage. They did not determine the quality of our marital relationship. They also did not decide how many children we had, either biological or adopted. They did not dictate my career path or that I would be widowed before all my children were independent, or even what I have done with my later life. My choices were probably shaped by family traditions and modes of expression. However, they also depended on my particular circumstances. Who was available? What paths were open, following the specific choices I’ve made? And they depended on what I made of the circumstances. For me, therefore, while genealogy is a pleasant pastime, it does not equate to my identity.

In the words of Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – /I took the one less traveled by, /and that has made all the difference.”

Category: About Families
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