Seeking the Details of My Ancestry

Bear with birth announcementEven decades after her birth, I still marvel at my daughter. Her genetic makeup covers the Caribbean, South America and at least three European countries.

That we know of.

I’m certain that I inherited my coarse, curly hair and need for eyeglasses from the birth mother who left when I was a toddler. I’m kind of sure of my ethnicity but feel sad that I passed the uncertainty to another generation.

So, we have decided to get genetically tested. While my daughter’s father knows exactly where his people were from, having known the grandparents who came to America, my background is a little murkier. I never understood how I could be the lightest-skinned Puerto Rican I knew until I learned, only a few years ago, that a great-grandfather was from Spain. Ok, one mystery solved.

Puerto Rico has a complex history that started with the indigenous Tainos, who were subjugated by the Spaniards in the late 1400s and early 1500s. When the supply of natives started to dwindle, slaves were brought in from Africa. That explains the wide range of skin tones in modern-day Puerto Ricans.

I was privileged to learn this history by accident: I squeezed a Hispanic Studies class into my college schedule just for the credits. The professor didn’t like that I wasn’t bilingual but nonetheless, he was a brilliant instructor. Or maybe it was a case of “When the student is willing, the teacher appears.” Having been raised mostly away  from the culture, I was learning the history  literally for the first time as a young adult. The little island’s story and mine were connected.

And now I want more. I don’t know when the testing will actually happen but the results, whatever they are, will be fascinating.

Some years ago, at a memorial service for my father’s cousin, my grandmother’s friend’s daughter gave me a birth announcement she found when cleaning her mother’s basement. It is one of the only artifacts in existence that proves that I was once a newborn, a little girl, a child of two people. We’ll never know why this lady saved it all these years but I am grateful. The details on the card were written by my late aunt, my godmother, whom I had always been very close to. Maybe I was meant to own it someday.

DSCN1520The other item I treasure is this little silver potato masher from when I was a baby. My grandmother gave it to me when my daughter was born. While I love having it , I sure wish she also gifted me with my family history.

At midlife, that’s my responsibility now.


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