Here I am, back in the south for over three years now, and I am having the opportunity to think about what being a southerner really involves. For all the 45 years when I lived here before moving around the country, I didn’t give it much thought because, despite opportunities to travel, this was largely the world I knew.
Now, being back here, I am seeing the place with new eyes, as I promised myself I would. Upon my return, the new eyes saw much physical beauty in the plants with the big leaves, the beautiful beach I so love, I smelled the intoxicating Confederate jasmine, and I appreciated being reunited with the familiar southern foods I ate as a child. Despite some of the craziness that makes Florida Florida, I have been enjoying being back in the land of my birth.
For Christmas, I gave Jack and myself a gift of doing the Ancestry DNA ethnicity testing. I have become totally drawn in to this way of learning more about the history of what makes me me, and what made the world go round in earlier days. I have never been particularly interested in the subject of history, being naturally drawn towards focusing on where we are going, aka progress, and wanting to help shape that, rather than looking backwards, on where did we come from. One fascinating difference I have seen between Jack’s and my history is that Jack’s ancestors were operating in the northern half of the country, and in Canada, whereas almost all of my ancestors were below the Mason-Dixon Line. I have an ancestor who ventured south into a relationship with Cuba, to aid in her fight for independence from Spain, and on the other side of the family, I have an ancestor who started a business of building railroads in Mexico.
One thing that Ancestry.com does with the DNA testing is list the people who have also taken the test that you share DNA with, which, in my case, is over 4,000 individuals. It also gives you an ethnic breakdown of your DNA, and mine was in various percentages from Scandinavia, Ireland, Great Britain, Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy/Greece. Jack’s had high percentages in Western Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland. I found cousins of some degree from each of my paternal and maternal grandparents’ lines, which was very exciting to me. Seeing my DNA connnection to someone from the Kirven line (my father’s mother’s line) was particularly special, because my paternal grandmother died when my father was four and I have known little about her family, although I had heard very positive things about her. As it turns out, my shared DNA Kirven connection was a powerhouse of a woman who just died last year at the tender age of 106, and it sounds like she was quite active until the very end of her life. I found this out by messaging the email address associated with “my match”, and her relative who managed her account got back to me, telling me what a wonderful woman I was related to.
I still have not viewed all 4,000 plus DNA matches, but I have connected with a 4th cousin that I am so enjoying getting to know. Coincidentally, or whatever you want to call it, maybe “meant to be”, this new-found cousin did a blog when her mother was struggling with dementia a few years ago, and I have had the opportunity to go with her on this journey with her mother through her blog. What an unexpected gift that has been to me! There was another name that I was linked to through our shared DNA, and I did some research on the family name, to learn that the family had a plantation in South Carolina, where they grew rice and they had over 300 slaves. (I keep trying to say employed 300 slaves, but they were not employed, they were owned.) Perhaps the most surprising thing I have discovered through this shared DNA exploration is that I have shared DNA with at least twenty individuals whose ethnicity is primarily from several areas in Africa, with some percentage of DNA from Great Britain, Ireland, or Western Europe. I was quite surprised to see the pictures of some of my African-American DNA sharers because, of course, I had no knowledge of these relatives. I am putting two and two together, and imagine that these relatives are the ancestors of slaves who were owned by someone or several someones in my family, probably the latter, because there is not just one line who owned slaves. Just a hunch, of course… (Many years ago, a black woman I worked with said to me one day that “your people owned my people”, and frankly, I could not really process that at the time, and I was clueless as to how to respond.) I may or may not ever know more about these DNA connections because they would have to respond to my messaging, and so far, that has not happened.
And, then, there is Sweet Briar, the southern women’s college I attended that is closing its doors after 114 years. This is another twist to the southern heritage that is mine. Is this really the end for Sweet Briar? Many alums are going to fight the closing. Could Sweet Briar be transformed into something new that can march comfortably in the direction contemporary education is moving? It would be a stretch, but I am not one to rule it completely out.
Who says you can’t go home again?! Yes, you can if you don’t count on it being like it was before. Fortunately for me, I am ALL ABOUT navigating life transitions, I taught this process for many years. Including all the different feelings I am having on this journey, I am so up for this adventure!