Who Do You Think You Are?

Not one for a lot of television, I only recently discovered the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” It’s in its second season, but I didn’t know about it until a few weeks ago.

Sponsored by Ancestry.com, a genealogical research site I had a subscription to years ago before the internet was as widely used as it is today, it shows famous people on a quest for finding the answers to questions about ancestors—who were they, where did they come from, where did they go (in some cases).

The interesting part of the show for me is the effect the journey has on the people spotlighted when they add a piece of their story that they didn’t have, when the paradigm shifts with respect to those from whom they are descended. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s sobering, sometimes it’s painful to learn what those ancestors might have done, the conditions in which they lived, the decisions they made that would ultimately affect whether or not they were even born.

I rejoined Ancestry.com after watching the third episode, and found that in the years since I was first a member, a lot of information has been added. In one quarter of my family, through my father’s father, I’ve discovered German roots I never knew were there back in the late 1600’s. If one of my ancestors hadn’t remarried after his first wife died and had more children, for example, I wouldn’t be here—and I don’t mean not in the United States. I found, also, that my Irish ancestors came long before the potato famine—I now have the evidence that would enable me to join the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). Most got off the boat in Maryland. The rest came to Virginia and drifted south through North and South Carolina before arriving in north Georgia, mostly in the early 1800’s.

If we could go back far enough, I think we would find that we all started from the same general area. Those Germans weren’t always in what came to be known as Germany, after all. And there’s speculation and some physical evidence that the Celts were once French before they arrived in Ireland.

The lines of relationship are not nearly as clear as we sometimes think. Nor is our impact on the future as irrelevant. I like to think about things like that—to imagine sometimes what my life might have been like had I gone to a different college or married that guy or majored in math as I started out to. When future generations look back at whatever their counterpart to Ancestry.com turns out to be, they won’t likely know those things about me. And as for me, I can only speculate on what might have been.

It does matter, though. Every decision we make affects somebody else whose decisions affect somebody else, maybe even eight generations from now. It’s a big responsibility when you think about it in that way.

Who do I think I am? My brother’s…my sister’s keeper. That’s who.

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