I’ve been doing two things this week that on the surface probably don’t look like they are connected and yet both involve my ‘self’.
In a moment of madness just before Christmas, I decided to get a better feel for who I was heritage wise and took a DNA test with a company called *MyHeritage (*other DNA tests are available). I sent the test off and got on with life, work and planning for Christmas.
Several weeks later and the results made for fun reading. I was zero per cent English! I knew I was part Welsh due to my father and I knew I had some Irish heritage courtesy of my grandfather, but the rest was interesting to learn. Part Northern European, part Iberian, part Welsh and Irish but NO English. In fact, I was actually more Welsh than one of my Welsh friends — surname Rees!
Amused, I scrolled further down the page taking it all in and there it was: “Extended family – one match”. I wondered who that could be. I don’t have any immediate cousins on my mother’s side and I had no immediate cousins on my dad’s side as he was an only child.
Jane Smith* (*not her real name), 30s, USA was listed as a “first cousin once removed through to a second cousin”. Intriguing.
So that brings me to the first thing I have spent much of this week doing.
Having messaged Jane via the site to no avail I eventually tracked her down via Facebook — it took approx 3 weeks of googling, messaging strangers with the same name or connected to someone of the same name to find her, her mum and her half-sister Jill.
I should say at this point that everyone I have spoken to has been really nice and happy to help a stranger in her quest to locate someone of the same name as them. Two asked me to promise to update them when I found her. Lots wished me luck in my search past the first “sorry, it’s not me” message. Luckily with tenacity and stubbornness to match mine, Jill and I have together been researching their entire family tree in the hope of working out where the connection is between my quiet English family and her huge American cacophony of ten-children farming families and several marriages spanning migration from Sweden, wars, loss, prohibition and droughts. We’ve discovered fascinating and heartbreaking backstories through the centuries and although we have mapped out around 6,000 names back to the mid-1500s so far, we are still no closer to working out the connection. More DNA tests have been ordered and we are going to at least narrow down which sides of the two families are connected next. Modern technology heh?!
I have an aunt who has been researching our family tree for years and has no idea who the Americans can be or how we all fit together. She has asked me why I care so much and thinks I’m mad to be bothering with a puzzle I may never solve. I don’t really know the answer to that, I just know I will put as much time and effort into finding out as I physically can. My family is small, I didn’t really know my dad and I only met his father once. I feel this is helping me understand my true sense of ‘self’ and is to me at least somehow important.
Ironically I didn’t need to look quite so far afield to find my ‘self’ today. I have been washing up a lot. Literally. My latest utility bill was double what I’ve been used to — so the dishwasher was the first to be sacrificed. I have never been a fan of the dishwasher tbh, it seems to me I could have loaded or unloaded it in the time it takes to wash up anyway. It’s like a really annoying version of Tetris with all the re-jigging and re-slotting of items back in and out again. Plus once clean everything feels weirdly squeaky.
Anyway, while doing the washing up this morning I noticed I was humming… my two boys who were at the kitchen table eating breakfast picked up on the tune and started singing it too, swapping out the lyrics for childishly rude ones… everyone started laughing. We were transported from the usual morning routine that resembles something out of a horror movie complete with running around, shouting and crying, to a 1950s warm and sunny Kellogg’s advert where the family have white teeth and the children have beautiful table manners.
Just that one simple action of washing up meant that as I stood at the sink I was present with my children and I was humming, daydreaming and looking out of the window as I did it.
After the laughter and singing, of course, we all returned to the normal harrassed shouting of Teeth! Shoes! Coat! but for those ten minutes, I felt a lovely sense of my self.