Debunking Family Tales

My twin and I have spent our lifetimes researching our family ancestry. We began in our grammar school days asking why we didn’t have grandparents like our friends. “They died,” my father said. When we wanted to know more about them, his answer was “Let sleeping dogs lie.” That ended the conversation.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

We pummeled Mother with questions. She believed she was French and Native American. She told me stories about her grandfather who was a medicine man. “He could make a sound like someone knocking on the door, but when I went to see, there was no one there,” my mother said. Then she talked about his magical powers. “He made a table walk. I saw it when I was a little girl.” I wasn’t surprised. Levitation seemed normal to me because I had recurring dreams where I rose and floated in the air twenty years before Sally Field and the Flying Nun TV series.

“When the gov’ment,” Mama’s tone emphasized the mispronunciation like a forbidden word, “wanted the Indians to sign the roll, my father wouldn’t sign up.” No matter how often she told this story, a sad look clouded her face. “He said they would move us far away like they did the others. That’s how them Indians from someplace else ended up on the reservation next to us.”

My favorite of Mama’s stories of how she was afraid when the Native Americans came to buy tobacco from her father. It must have been because he camouflaged his roots with his French surname. She could have done the same. Instead, she acknowledged her mixed blood in her teen years when she married an Englishman.

My twin and I traveled thousands of miles in our search to document our ancestry. We thumbed through books in public libraries and family history centers in a dozen states. We dug through courthouse records. We shivered in cemeteries—some shrouded in fog and others drenched in rain. We donned wide-brimmed hats and carried water bottles through burial grounds on blistering summer days. In 1990 we visited the headquarters of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma—the tribe our mother believed to be her heritage.  Disappointment overrode the anticipation as I read the pages of the Dawes Rolls. None of my direct ancestors had enrolled.

Back to the stories of my great-grandfather’s magical powers. Perhaps she said my grandfather—not hers— because her grandfathers died before her birth. And the reservation next door to my grandfather? History seems to establish those parcels as tribal lands long before. But these family stories continued to trickle down through the generations.

And then came DNA testing.

My twin and I submitted our test kits in late 2017. The results proved the majority of my heritage to be French and English as I anticipated. I stared at the minor percentages.

No Native American ancestry.

All my 22 chromosomes matched my twin’s results. But I knew that. Family stories said my mother had no prenatal care with any of her pregnancies that spanned 25 years. When her last delivery became complicated, one of my brothers went into town in search of a doctor. Meanwhile, my father’s sister, a midwife, assisted in the delivery of identical twins. When the physician arrived, his main chore was paperwork for two birth certificates. The women who witnessed the at-home delivery of mono-mono twins are dead, the stories buried with them. But FTDNA will retain the records of our exact chromosome match for 25 years.

Now that’s family history.

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2 Comments

Filed under Memoir

2 responses to “Debunking Family Tales

  1. In doing our family history, I found several stories that I didn’t dare share. Your DNA testing is incontrovertible family history, and I enjoyed the story that went along with it.

  2. I had Native American tales too but no facts, Not sure where they came from and not as detailed as yours. Interesting story, Vi.

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