amw (amw) wrote,

thinking about family trees

Several of my friends have been writing interesting posts about their family history this week, and it made me think about the fact that i don't really know my family history.

Like, i don't NOT know it. It's just... not really something that ever came up in conversation, unless someone wrote a book about it. Which two of my family members did!

So, my mom, she was born in the Netherlands, into an upper-middle class Catholic family. Her father was a corporate exec and her mother was a nurse. She was the eldest of 6 siblings - all girls - and the only things she's really told me about her childhood is that she hated the church (which is why we were not raised religious) and she was mortified in school when all her classmates wrote up their favorite bands (like, The Beatles) and she wrote up some classical composer because it's all she'd been exposed to at home.

She went on to leave the Netherlands and go to university in Scotland, where she met my dad.

My dad was born in Africa, i think Nigeria, but it might have been Kenya. His father was in the foreign service, not sure about his mother. All i know from dad's childhood is he has good memories of Africa and he spent a bunch of time in English boarding school. He went to a Led Zeppelin concert once and was thoroughly disappointed because he was so far away. He also played Dungeons & Dragons.

The only family history i have going further back than that is a book that a great auntie on my father's side wrote about the origin of our surname, and a book that my opa wrote about the origin of his.

The history of my father's side surname starts in Haiti, back when it was called Saint-Domingue. One of my ancestors was a Scottish merchant who married a mulatto woman. When the Haitian Revolution happened, she escaped to Jamaica and they had a kid. The kid couldn't keep the family name because of the scandal of being mixed-race, so he adopted his mother's French name and went to Scotland to seek his fortune, trying to pass as white. So we have this strange French-named man suddenly appearing in Scotland in the 19th century, and that's the origin of my dad's side of the family.

I have no idea what my great-grandparents did or how my grandpa ended up becoming a New Zealander, or working for the British foreign service, but i imagine there is a long thread of globetrotters on that side. I have a vague memory that my grandpa worked in a Chinese restaurant as a boy, but i could be wrong.

The history of my mother's side surname starts in Malta. I guess one of my ancestors on that side was a merchant too, and he ended up taking his family branch to the Netherlands and changing their Spanish/Aragonese-rooted name to a more Germanic-friendly version. Just like my dad's side, i have no idea what all happened in between. I guess it was just a chain of good Catholic families.

Apparently my mom and dad's relationship was poorly received by opa, who tried to pay dad off to not marry mom. But they did marry, and then dad joined the British Army and got posted to Gibralter, then West Germany, then our family headed down under (by way of Scotland) and the rest i've written about before.

Which is all to say, i don't really know who i am or where my roots are. I think on one side i have a fairly traditional European merchant class background. On the other side is full-blown, colonize-the-world British Empire shit.

I guess that somewhat reflects two sides of my personality. One is the conservative, spendthrift, intellectual side of me. The other is "fuck everything, i'm taking a ride on this boat to wherever".

But if you asked my culture or ethnicity, or my family's values, i wouldn't have an answer. I'm not much of a Christian. Not much of a Brit or a Dutch either. I consider myself generally Europeanish, but i live in Canada. My family, i think what i got from them is... We'll give you an education. For the rest, go forth and do it for yourself. I think that's the values. Is that European, or is it just middle class?

My family name ends with me, the eldest son who decided to change their surname along with their sex. I'll never have kids. So what will i leave behind? I guess no people 200 years from now will be looking up my travels while trying to figure out their roots.

Meh. I'm okay with that.
Tags: family

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