I have always had a big interest in my family history. I think it was because I didn’t grow up with a particularly large family. I also wasn’t terribly close to my extended family and didn’t get to hear stories about my relatives growing up so I was always a bit curious about my family.
Originally I thought this would end up being just one post telling one specific story. But as I was writing it, I found myself oddly enjoying writing about this and revisiting the ancestry research I’ve done up to now. It also had me writing a fair bit about how some of the things I found have affected me. As a result, this is going to be broken up into three posts shared during the week ahead. I also kind of assume nobody cares about this stuff or that nobody cares about my personal life or personal story but if even one person finds this all entertaining or helpful in some way, then it was worth taking the time to do.
I grew up in the same town in Connecticut that my Mom is originally from. My Dad was originally from eastern Maine about an hour from the Canadian border. Some of my Dad’s family was also in CT, one of his sisters and a brother, but the rest were in Maine. They got married in 1971 when my Mom was 21 and my Dad was 23. I came along in 1975 and then my sister came into the picture in 1979.
My Mom’s immediate family were part of my daily life growing up. My great-grandmother (Nanna) was around until I was 25 and my grandmother (Mamie) until I was 36, which at that point I was married and living in San Diego. My grandfather (Papa) passed from a heart attack when I was 9. I also have an aunt and she and my uncle never had kids so I don’t have any first cousins on that side, but I have a few second cousins I’ve never met.
With my Dad’s side, I have six first cousins. Four of them are all a good number of years older than me, so we were never really close. Two of them are younger than me but grew up in Maine and I almost never saw them growing up. One of them, my cousin Nicky, died in 2004. He was serving as a sergeant in the Army as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan when he was killed after his Humvee drove over an anti-tank mine. He was 5 years younger than me, was married and had a four-year-old son and a daughter on the way when he died. He was only 24.
I hadn’t seen Nicky in years. I would hear about him at family gatherings because he was always doing something good and was always taking care of everyone around him. So even though we weren’t close his death hit me and made me really sad. To me, that just shows the power of lineage, family, and shared DNA.
This is what I THOUGHT my ancestry was…
I was raised being told that on my Dad’s side of the family that we were Native American, French Canadian, and a little Irish. On my Mom’s side, we were German and Italian. Carlson is my married name, I’m not Swedish at all. My husband and his father’s side of his family…OMG yes, they are quite Swedish.
I never questioned my ancestry because I never felt there was a reason to doubt any of it. My Dad’s family definitely looked like the Native American’s from the area. Growing up I heard family stories and learned things that always made me positive that I was part Native American. I was told that we were primarily Passamaquoddy with some Micmac going back a bit which also accounted for the Canadian ancestry.
My Dad even gave my sister and I “Native American names” when we were born based on things that were happening when my Mom was in labor and we were on the way. For me, it was Little Eagle. My Dad had to go back to the house for something and on his way walking up to the house the shadow of a large bird flew over and his first, albeit illogical thought was that it was an eagle. Which he has told me since was probably just a crow, to which I always say, “Hey, Little Raven would have been just fine with me!”
The story with my sister is that she was born during a really bad rain storm so my Dad named her Falling Rain.
There was ZERO doubt about my Italian and German heritage. You know that image you have of old-school Italian grandmothers that have food around all the time and very out of date home furnishings, often covered in some kind of protective plastic or that you’re not allowed to ever sit on because it might get ruined? That was my Nanna. We had fried dough for breakfast at her house on Sunday’s with everyone and she hosted a mean Thanksgiving when I was little.
My great-grandfather died LONG before I was born. He and my Nanna were both born and raised in Connecticut. My great-great grandparents (both of their families) came to the states from Italy, specifically Campania and Calabria.
But this is what I found out later…
I wasn’t into all this stuff when my Nanna was alive so I never got to ask her about her family. Mamie also didn’t know much but she told me what she knew a few years before she passed (which was sudden, it’s not like this was something she was doing because she was expecting to die). It leads me to find a few interesting things.
My great-great grandmother Mary ran a “boarding house for men” (aka a brothel) in the early 1900s. She was apparently known as a bit of a hussy around town, and she was NOT a looker.
I also learned that my great-great-grandfather Pasquale, Mary’s husband, died in the 1906 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius while he was back home in Italy visiting family. The thing I always find a little creepy about that is the eruption began on April 5th, which would be the day I was born 69 years later.
So that’s the Italians. I can’t find much solid info before that except that Pasquale and Mary’s families lived their whole lives in Italy. Anything earlier back from there I can’t find which made me wonder how far back my family goes in Italy.
As for the German’s, they’re there, but I also can’t find much about them. They come from Papa’s mother but I can’t find much about them. Papa’s father has quite an extensive family that I was able to research.
As it turns out I am INCREDIBLY Dutch. On that side of the family, there are knights, castle builders, religious scholars, musicians, and artists mostly from the Netherlands.
My 10th great uncle was Adriaen van Gaesbeeck, a painter from Leiden, Holland who did his most well-known works while living in Amsterdam in his mid-20s. His paintings are VERY Dutch, they’re just very reflective of the culture at the time. He painted what he saw, so it makes sense.
My 8th great-grandfather, Rev Dominie Laurentius VanGaasbeek (that last name just keeps changing as the years go on) received an M.D. with honors from the University of Leiden in both medicine and divinity. So I know where my religious, spiritual, and artistic interests came from!
While there were certainly surprises over there, it was my Dad’s side that would turn out to shock me. And it shocked my Dad a bit too.
So about those Native Americans…
I can’t find a Native American anywhere, going back 10+ generations! When it comes to birth, death, and marriage records, if someone lived their life on a reservation, it’s highly possible that the state and government might not have those records.
I did a DNA test (more about that later) because I was so confused about finding nothing through research. At least for me (nobody else in my family has done one), I don’t seem to have a drop of Native American in me.
Instead, from my Dad’s family, I have lots of Welsh, Scottish, and English. There’s also Canadian, Irish, and French in there but it’s mostly the British Isles. On this side, I have knights, “distinguished ladies”, ship captains who were famous in their day, Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War soldiers, plantations owners, and lumberjacks.
My 11th great grandfather was Francis Cutting, a lutenist from England who regularly performed for royalty. He was known for adapting songs for the lute, most notabley “Greensleeves.” According to history, he had a song of his own called Packington’s Pound that was a hot jam back in the day. You know, the late 1500s when people were rocking out to lute music.
Then the DNA test came back…
Around the time I was finding all of this I got back my DNA test I had taken through MyHeritage.com. Surprise…I’m 93.8% European.
North and West European 75%
German, French, Dutch, Swiss ethnicity is found here. No wonder I have a thing for dairy-based food and anything chocolate. When I was discovering just how far back my family goes to the Netherlands, since I’d never thought about it much before, I did some reading about the Dutch. This article, in particular, was really funny to me and explained a lot about me. I can related to almost all of these things.
Irish, Scottish, Welsh 8.1%
This is where all that British Isles stuff is found. This is where I found it interesting that the percentage was what it turned out to be considering how much of my family from my Dad’s side comes from this area. It made me realize that I’m never going really understand how DNA and ethnicity works.
I’m white and European with a bunch of family going back past the 1400s in the British Isles. I would imagine without much doubt that they were also there in the late 700s. So a few raiding Vikings naturally would have snuck in there when they were in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
France, Spain, and Portugal, which makes sense. I’ve had a hard time finding the long line of Italians that I was lead to believe were in my Mom’s family, so we both agreed that it made sense if there was family that was in this area first and then over the years made their way to Italy. I’m sure a chunk of Mamie’s ancestors came from Spain…
…because this doesn’t make any fucking sense!
West Asian 4.1%
Persian and Turkic blood here, which I’ve heard I have from my Dad’s side somewhere. I still haven’t found it, but I remember when I was in high school one of my Dad’s uncle’s was doing family tree research and my Mom was checking in with him during the process because she wanted copies of things related to the Native American side in order to apply for college grants for me (again, we assumed that there was a good amount of connection there so it made sense). I very distinctly remember (which my Mom insists never happened) that my Dad’s uncle ended up not wanting to give anything to anyone because he found that my Dad’s mother had family from Iran. I haven’t found that yet, but I very distinctly remember listening to my Mom tell my Auntie about this at the time when I was starting to apply for college. And I’m not going to lie, some of my relatives on that side are a bit backwoods and kind of racist, so while I thought then and still think now that it was ridiculous to be upset about this discovery, I also get it.
North African 1.1%
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia…not surprising with all the Northern European since there are a lot of North Africans who found their way to France. In the early 19th century there was a North African population boom in Paris and then a little later on a lot of people who previously lived in French colonies in Africa began leaving their homeland and immigrating to France.
Why not! I kind of have a feeling this could be a result of slavery since many American slaves came from that area of Africa and I do know for a fact that there were slave owners on my Dad’s side of the family at that time. (I did mention the plantation owners, right?) One thing that I had read years ago, and that I still came across this time, was that most people who have a lot of white European heritage will typically have anywhere from an average of 1-5% African ethnicity as well because of the emigration and the slave trade.
I actually have a DNA test from Ancestry sitting in my office that I haven’t done yet. I got it in March shortly before I moved in April so I never did it. I’m planning to do it soon because I’ve been doing the majority of my research on that site for the last handful of years.
This isn’t even the most surprising thing I found…
Since this is getting so long, as ancestry stories often do, I’m going to share the big thing I found for next week. Check back with me on Tuesday to find out about my connection to the Mayflower and the Salem Witch Trials!