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Someone told me the other day about some actor who was on a program about finding your ancestors who discovered that some relative had been a slave owner and was so upset that he requested that it be deleted from the program. The secret got out, of course, accidentally on purpose, I'm sure, and it was all over the media, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone because the media is in love with that kind of stuff.
Apparently, the actor felt awful about it and his ancestor, which I completely understand, and which only goes to confirm my theory that it is a giant mistake to find out about your ancestral heritage in the first place. Who wants to discover that their ancestor was a slave owner, or Jack the Ripper, or even just some scummy con man?
When people I have known have been on some search for their roots and suggest I do the same, I have always declined due to the fact that with my luck they will all turn out to be horse thieves, wife beaters, the town drunk, or the local village idiot. No thanks. I honestly have no desire to know about any of them. I don't want to have to find out anything that makes me want to groan and I find it extremely annoying when people act like they can take some sort of credit for something fabulous some distant ancestor did hundreds of years ago. I don't want to take any of the credit and I surely don't want to have to shoulder any of the blame.
There are always stories that get passed down and along in families about relatives, mostly the good stuff because no one wants to remember the bad stuff. As a consequence, it is somewhat problematic as to the veracity of anything you learn that way. Some of it is verifiable because it happened more or less in modern times and there is some existing record to prove it. I had a cousin I never met who was one to the two chief developers of the technology that made the stealth bomber possible. I imagine that is something plenty of people would find worthy of some pride, but not me. I don't want to take anything away from the guy, I'm sure he was quite the smarty-pants genius, but knowing that I have a relative who was instrumental in creating a formidable weapon of mass destruction doesn't exactly fill me with familial pride. Personally, I would have preferred it if I had never found out about it that way I would never have had to waste one second wondering how many people my cousin helped kill.
Despite my desire to not know about my ancestors, my mother liked to fill me in on details whether I liked it or not. She told me some other cousin I never met did some research and was able to trace some ancestors of her back to Normandy in France all the way back to the 11th century. I'm not sure how it was done given that record keeping was a kind of hit or miss business back then, so I took it with a grain of salt. According to my unknown cousin, we had a relative who was instrumental in William the Conqueror's invasion of Britain in 1066. Now, if I wanted to let my imagination run away with me I might fantasize that he was one of William's trusted knights, a landed lord with a fancy title, or even just a brave soldier. Not so much. Evidentially, my noble ancestor was the guy who supplied William's army. Not with beautifully crafted swords or shining armor, with produce. Seriously, my ancestor was the grocer to the Conqueror. Yippee, I'm so proud. Not everyone is good enough to handle the King's lettuce.
This cousin also discovered that or ancestor who came from Normandy landed in Nova Scotia in the late 1600's and lived in the beautiful Acadian Valley. He also found out that in 1730 the British waited until the village was all in church on a Sunday, surrounded the place, and gathered them all up and shipped them to Louisiana or North Carolina or some other place I would never want to live. My ancestor, being my ancestor, was either hung over or an atheist or both and was not in the church, but observing the whole nasty business from some hiding place, took a runner and hightailed it up to New Brunswick to hide among the First Nations. For obvious reasons, the British had very little desire to take over that part of the continent. This may sound terribly interesting to someone who isn't me, but all it proves to my way of thinking is that I had a hung over, atheist ancestor who was strongly motivated by self-preservation and may have watched while his entire family and neighbors were rounded up and shipped off to who knows where, then ran away. I'm proud, I tell you, just proud.
Personally, I'm not so much interested in what my ancestors did as I am in how I conduct myself as a human being on this planet for the short time allotted to me, thereby suffering only the shame or experiencing the pride I bring on myself. It's safer that way.
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