Thursday, October 10, 2013

Maybe Granny Didn't Know Afterall

I have to hand it to "Genealogy Roadshow" this week.  It hit on a subject that is very important to me and, if I said I have a "cause" in genealogy, this would be it.
There was a young Chinese girl who told the genealogist on the show a story we've all heard.  Paraphrasing her, "My grandmother told me that we were related to < Insert Semi/Well Known Person >.  I want to find out if that's true."
We've all be there.  The last names are the same, they were from the same area.  Hey!  Why can't they be related??  Sounds reasonable!
The problem was, this young lady was concentrating so hard on the "might be", she wasn't seeing the "really was".  Her family arrived in the United States around 1910.  They traveled quite a bit in the States and even back and forth to China a few times.  Even though they were Chinese, their lives during World War II were not easy.  They were photographed and watched.  They had to carry identification with them constantly.  They were interrogated.  And we're talking not just the parents, but the children of the family too.  I remember even seeing an "official" photograph of the baby!!  The expression on the young lady's face was priceless as the show's genealogist detailed event after event and experience after experience.  She said, "I had no idea."  He cautioned her to not be so caught up so that she misses the real story.
Given my family is from the Southern Appalachians, There are all types of "My granny told me...." stories.  By no means am I throwing those out.  Those are wonderful and facinating stories and can offer, at least, a bit of truth; however, don't take your's for gospel.  And don't have the Native American/Daniel Boone/Melungeon blinders on.
For the examples in this post, we're going with the Native American princess one.
Perhaps it was your granny's granny that was the Native American princess.  I'm using that because, currently, that's the most interesting racial/ethnic background to pick from.  That would make the "possible" Native American your great-great-grandmother.  This is what you'd be looking at - 5 generations: 
Yourself > your mother > your grandmother > your great-grandmother > your great-great-grandmother.
By rule of thumb, a generation is approximately 25 years.  Of course, that varies given how old each set of parents were when they started having children as well as what birth order you are and the number of siblings you may or may not have.
I'm going to use myself as an example...mainly because I don't know your birthdays, ect.  I was born in 1962.  My birth mother was born in 1944 (see paragraph above...not 25 years).  My maternal grandmother was born 1915.  My maternal great-grandmother was born in 1888.  My maternal great-great-grandmother was born in 1864.  Do you see the problem with believing what my granny said about her granny?  How many people in East Kentucky be 100% Native American in 1864?
Now for the mathematics section of the article.  I'm sorry for offending you, Mr. Grizzard.  You were right - I really did use algebra (of a sort) in figuring the percentages and such.  You see, a 2g-grandparent gives you 1/16 or 6.25% of your heritage.  Take it back a generation to your 3g-grandparents?  You're looking at 1/32 or 3.125% of your heritage comes from just one person.  4g-grandparents - 1/64 or 1.56%.  5-g-grandparents - 1/128 or .78%.  6g-grandparets - 1/256 or .39%.
And therein lies the rub.  Most people who are looking for a Native American ancestor would be looking at their 4th - 6th g-grandparents.  You're pinning your whole significance on someone who may or may not be Native American and, if they are, only contributed between .39% - 1.56% of your heritage.
By no means am I saying that isn't important.  I know the feeling of the Old Ones calling out to you and suddenly, you realize why you feel certain ways about certain things; however, to quote Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  A line that made me cringe, as having first hand experience, was on an episode of the Breaking Amish: LA reality show.  On the trailer, they showed that one of the Amish girls had been adopted and, while she was away from the Amish community, she pursued finding her heritage and birth family.  She found out her mother was Mexican.  Her response - "So that's why I like Mexican food."  It's nothing quite as trite as that.
What I am saying is, while you're researching, don't overlook the ancestors who, at first glance, don't seem so adventurous or brave.  You just might be surprised.

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