Wednesday, May 8, 2019

"Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Lattitudes, nothing remains quite the same"- Jimmy Buffet

Most of you have been exposed to some wonderful bloggers on this subject who have done a great deal of scientific parsing and advancing of the subject in general. This is not that type of resource. My intention here is to document the many layers that comprise who we are,  to investigate, interrogate, and synthesize the pillars of our identity.

If you are looking for more thorough and granular scientific investigation, I highly recommend the works of some of these leaders for which we are all indebted to:

Roberta Estes :
Blaine Bettinger:
TL Dixon (aka "King Genome"):
Teresa Vega:

I would also like to thank the many years relationship that I have maintained with the folks at Family Tree DNA. Without them, I would still be in perfidious darkness, and to this day are the only company who avails themselves on a personal level to customers. Bennett and Janine, you are to be treasured.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to both Ancestry for their tireless data sourcing, of which I am deeply grateful for.

Now on to the show.....

I wear many faces of the ape but it gets tiring.. oh,  how I long for there to be but one mask.

It was in 1999 that I flew my then girlfriend to Italy for Christmas, where the plan was to take her to the Duomo in Florence on Christmas Eve and ask for her hand in marriage. I had already successfully sought permission from her parents, and procured the engagement ring (which was given to me by my stepfather, as it was his mother's wedding and engagement ring that was fused together by her) which hopefully she would accept. Why Italy one might (or at least should) ask? That's where the first of my many "beginnings" commenced...

I entered into my foray into genealogy back in 1998. I was an emerging classical vocalist who was also an emerging husband. My youth was very painful, and my sense of home and structure was as broken as chicken bones on Sunday. I had little to no idea about my father's past, except for the the rumors that our family was directly related to Queen Victoria. A rumor that my verbose paternal grandfather most likely had started as a joke and is more than likely giggling about it now in the fifth dimension. He was a man that I had met once when I was just a lad. He was living with his wife in an apartment in Rutland, Vermont. The place wreaked of cat urine- a trigger for me in the future, to visit the past. The second time I had met in him he was lying in a box made of wood. But even then that early story resonated with me-  could it have been the truth? There was really only one way to find out and that was to begin at the beginning, which turned out to become a wormhole into a very different space than I was accustomed to.

I cannot speak for my mother, and since the Alzheimer's has taken hold, neither can she in a clear and cogent way. But I will say this, she is the monolith of strength, endurance, and inspiration for me. Many in this world have endured more, for this I am certain, but this life for her was filled with nothing but pain: physical, verbal, institutional, marital. In many ways, I am glad that she has Alzheimer's, because sometimes forgetting is better than the remembering.

At an early age I knew that "Grandma Junior" was not my biological grandmother. I cannot recall how I knew that, but for argument's sake, I ask that you trust me on this one. Grandma Junior was very poor in the ethereal sense, as she struggled every day to put food on the table of the very old and weathered home that she inhabited amongst the weeds in rural Vermont. With that said, there was a chicken coop along the flank of the house that never had any chickens in it. I thought that to be very odd for an impoverished person. Perhaps she was so poor she couldn't afford the start up chicken coop chickens, the Adam and Eve of featherdom. What I do know is that I never knew anyone else to be biological family on mom's side. I had non-biological cousins, a couple of boys and a few girls (whom to this day still have a relationship with), and three aunts and an uncle. All were Grandma Junior's children, all were not biologically related to me, but they were the only family that I had known on mom's side. We lived a great distance from Vermont, our visits were twice a year and were generally isolated to my father's side of the family.

In physical appearance it was obvious that mom was not biologically related to the others. But as a kid, that never mattered much to me. Grandma Junior, who for all intents and purposes could have chosen to give up on life in general as she had endured some severe hardships, yet, chose not to. She had a very strong moral compass in the most practical of senses. She was known as a very warm and loving woman who took care of other people's children. This was a very foreign concept to me at the time, but I knew that mom was one of those children.

I cannot remember when it was that I asked mom about her ancestral background, but it was probably around the time that I was 12. Her biological mother she claimed was French Canadian and her father, Sicilian. Sounded reasonable, I tanned very well and had black hair. I can recall being called the "Mexican" kid at my new middle school- something that perhaps was welcomed (because that distinguished me from the others) and foretelling.

 Mom did not know why she and her brother (a man that I saw once from afar, and never really met) wound up with Grandma Junior, a story that confused me even further. I was hopeful that someday I would discover the roots that grounded us. If dread be the game of fools, I knew that I was going to win but it would take a very long time.

Now dad, for whatever reason, was very parsimonious with his emotions, money, words, and family history. Without going into granular detail, it was not a happy household, but dad did the best that he could to provide, which for this I am grateful. In many other ways we all have suffered and really the wounds have never healed, and have shaped me in the most positive of ways- I never wanted to live the life that I had as a child and swore that the lives of my children would be the exact opposite.  I am proud to say that this has become word.

But despite the negative, there was something that stood out about my father (and still does)- something that I would not be able to pinpoint until much later in my life. He was vastly different than his siblings in terms of personality. Dad was a reader. He was a voracious reader of the canon. He owns all of the great books, including the great works of philosophy. He had a pronounced understanding of them all. His vocabulary was mammoth, he was a sesquipedalian. To this day I cannot recall seeing his siblings or mother ever reading a book. They were townspeople also from rural Vermont, but definitely carried themselves well and were respected community members. Dad labored hard in that town as a young man, and as many young men and women did at that time, enlisted in the military so he could see the world.

His mother, a very stoic woman who to this day made the best damned apple pie I have ever eaten, had divorced eleven years after my father was born. Soon thereafter she had found another husband who would become the authority in the household. Grandmother Inga was everything you would expect from a New England woman of the day. Permanently bedecked in ankle length skirts, collared shirts, and always wearing an apron, the stove was always teeming with action and I suspect that many of my physical characteristics can be attributed directly to that. Pot roast, chicken and biscuits, mashed potato sandwiches, butter sandwiches, and apple pie. That apple pie alone would humble some of the most devastating of personalities I am sure. The emanation of cinnamon and sugar would permeate the air, and the buttery crust was enough to bring Santa early. It was posited that Inga had a conveyor belt that operated 24/7 down in the cellar- and if you must know, I think that it was true.

She was very measured in countenance and fastidious in tasks. Her children always came first, and her loyalty to them was well known throughout the village. No one, and I mean no one, was ever going to impede her fortress, she was indeed the iron curtain of the slate belt. To that end, her children returned that loyalty with fierce aplomb. We never asked her questions beyond food- that was pretty much all that I can remember. She passed about 15 years ago and I took a chance at asking a question outside of the food realm 17 years ago. Boy did I not regret that.

I had been estranged from my father for about seven years at that point. Sometimes a human needs to create space and distance from things that are toxic. I became a renaissance man in every sense of the word. I had changed my name and reclaimed myself and my Sicilian heritage that my mother had told us about. I had taught myself how to speak the language, cook the food, and had become a classical vocalist. In short, I was everything a Sicilian-American should be.

 Oddly, no one on either side of my family had questioned it. When I distanced myself from my father, I also had to distance myself from Vermont. This for me was very difficult to do. Despite my differences with my father, I loved the act of going up to visit family. I did not have any cousins my age up there from his side, the closest one was 10 years older, and the others were 20 years or more older. Needless to say, it was somewhat lonely while I was up there, but mom had created this magical landscape for me that included the poetry of Robert Frost, whose works had created a different Vermont in my childhood years. As we were both children of abusive homes, we had a tendency to find ways of escaping our painful existence. Mom helped me to do that, as it was our escape valve.

The leaves had all been discharged from their duties from the Vermont maples by Thanksgiving of 1998. The snow had come early and my mind was wracked with nerves. I had not been to Vermont in probably 10 years, and definitely not since I had changed my name and reclaimed myself. I was bringing my girlfriend (who ultimately would become my wonderful wife) up to help detract from the firing squad that I knew was coming. At that point, I had already begun in earnest in exploring my family tree on my father's side. It was very vanilla, and in my mind, about what I had expected. I had drawn from many primary resources available on websites such as and the NEHGS (New England Historic Genealogical Society), where I discovered something interesting: that many others who derived from our MDKA (Most Distant Known Ancestor) all had heard the same story that my grandfather had once told me about emanating from an aristocratic Anglo-Norman family(and quite possibly Queen Victoria!). Hot dog! It was going to be fun (in my spare time) to explore my existence,  but boy was I nervous to confront the family that I had not seen since I was a teenager... I knew that I would be called to the carpet for the decisions that I had made with regards to my name change, it had been 10 years since we had seen each other. The ride was about to get bumpy.......

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