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Old 02-14-2013, 10:27 PM
 
631 posts, read 1,026,587 times
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Last year I joined a genealogy site and began doing some research about my family ancestry. I didn't really have any preconceived notions about my "stock" so I kept an open mind.

On my mother's side of the family I found out that pretty much the majority of my mother's ancestors came to America as poor immigrants. I have g-g-g grandparents who came to America from Ireland during the potato famine, poor Italian ancestors from the south of Italy (one was a stowaway) and Germans who came to the US to farm. Well, my assumption is that they came to the US for economic opportunity, leading to my belief that they were likely underclass in their home country. I mean, they didn't come to America to be an ambassador. I was excited to find all this great data and told my parents. My mom already knew some of the info and was happy that I had done the research. My father seemed to bristle at the idea of most of my mother's ancestors being poor. "Why would you be proud to be related to European peasants?" he said. I told him that they likely came over to escape poverty, as most immigrants have. He told me that it was wrong to assume that they were poor, that it's insulting to them and it's not something I should admit to people.

Then on to his own family ancestry: His family has pretty much lived in the south for centuries and there was only so far back I could go. I never found any countries of origin or immigration records. I was still impressed with what I had found. They had been prominent members of southern communities for centuries, although a few had been slave owners. During my research I ran across an article that posited evidence that a large percentage of white southerners have traces of black and native American ancestry. I innocently asked my father if he thought there might be any black ancestry on his side of the family. His s**t hit the fan. He said absolutely not and I shouldn't assume that or tell people anything of the sort. I showed him the article and the genetic evidence and he just got angrier. We finally just dropped the subject. A few weeks later I mentioned that you can buy a DNA kit that tests your ethnic and racial makeup. He said I shouldn't buy it, because he'd prefer not to know if his side of the family has any black ancestry- so he clearly doesn't completely refute the idea.

Basically the whole experience uncovered some prejudices that my dad holds and has made me question his values. My dad is a self professed liberal, loves Barack Obama and has always taught me not to discriminate, so his anger doesn't line up. 1) I'm proud of the fact that my mother's ancestors came with very little and worked hard to build a life in America. I have lived a privileged life and I have the relatives who came before me to thank for that. Why would he not share the same pride in our American dream? 2) I have no idea if my father's family has any black ancestry and I'm certainly not pretending that they do, but if that's the case, then so what? Does that somehow diminish their sense of whiteness? I mean, it might have been scandalous 50 years ago when my father was growing up in the south, but I doubt many would care these days.

So do you guys think my father is being overly prejudiced and elitist? Was he hoping that we would be related to kings and queens? And have you ever come across ancestors or ancestries that you were ashamed of? And how can I talk to my dad about this without creating more tension?

Sorry about the novel! I would just love to know the root of my father's attitudes on the subject.
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Old 02-14-2013, 10:48 PM
 
Location: Georgia, USA
21,522 posts, read 26,139,087 times
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Anyone who does genealogical research will find something that causes him to raise his eyebrows. I, too, found slave owners. I never expected it because I did not expect to find anyone with enough wealth to do it. My eyebrows just about hit the ceiling when I discovered one who was hanged for murder.

Each of us is a product of all our ancestors, good, bad, indifferent. You have to accept them all.

I would not say, however, that a large percentage of Southerners have traces of black or Native American ancestry. A friend who thought she was distantly Native American recently found through DNA that she is not. On the other hand, many Americans who identify themselves as predominantly African in ethnicity are surprised to find how much European DNA they have.

One option would be to continue your research but respect your father's desire not to know what you find.
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Old 02-15-2013, 12:07 AM
 
631 posts, read 1,026,587 times
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Perhaps I exaggerated. This particular article cited a genealogist who determined that about 30% of whites have trace amounts of black ancestry.

This is the article
Race Now: #2: How White Are Blacks? How Black Are Whites? by Steve Sailer for UPI; Mark. D. Shriver, admixture, genetic, gene, race, miscegenation, African-American, passing, Sally Hemmings

I have no idea how accurate and it's pretty old. The point is not that I believe that my family has any black ancestry, because I'm doubtful about it. The point was that it shouldn't matter.
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Old 02-15-2013, 05:22 AM
 
Location: Colorado (PA at heart)
8,226 posts, read 12,822,612 times
Reputation: 10451
Quote:
Originally Posted by workaholics View Post
Last year I joined a genealogy site and began doing some research about my family ancestry. I didn't really have any preconceived notions about my "stock" so I kept an open mind.

On my mother's side of the family I found out that pretty much the majority of my mother's ancestors came to America as poor immigrants. I have g-g-g grandparents who came to America from Ireland during the potato famine, poor Italian ancestors from the south of Italy (one was a stowaway) and Germans who came to the US to farm. Well, my assumption is that they came to the US for economic opportunity, leading to my belief that they were likely underclass in their home country. I mean, they didn't come to America to be an ambassador. I was excited to find all this great data and told my parents. My mom already knew some of the info and was happy that I had done the research. My father seemed to bristle at the idea of most of my mother's ancestors being poor. "Why would you be proud to be related to European peasants?" he said. I told him that they likely came over to escape poverty, as most immigrants have. He told me that it was wrong to assume that they were poor, that it's insulting to them and it's not something I should admit to people.
Well, he does have a point that you shouldn't be making assumptions. Most Irish and Italians were indeed among the blue collar working class. However, German farmers were not necessarily poor. While I wouldn't say they were wealthy, Germans were renowned for their prosperous farming and it's thanks to them that Pennsylvania has such a strong agricultural history. Successful farmers could live quite comfortably and in fact, the Swiss/German Mennonites in particular were specifically recruited into the Palatinate region to regenerate the farming there after it was devastated by the Thirty Years War. They mostly immigrated to the US for religious freedom and cheap, available but fertile land (which is enticing to any farmer, poor or not).

However, I don't agree poverty is something to be ashamed of.

Quote:
Then on to his own family ancestry: His family has pretty much lived in the south for centuries and there was only so far back I could go. I never found any countries of origin or immigration records.
They were probably early colonial immigrants - you should look into old local history books or lineage books at Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine, your lineage might be detailed in some. Most southern colonial immigrants were English or Scotch-Irish.

Quote:
During my research I ran across an article that posited evidence that a large percentage of white southerners have traces of black and native American ancestry.
I'm not seeing where the article you posted says that a large percentage of white southerners have traces of black and native American ancestry - could you point it out? The only thing I see about the percentage of whites with African DNA says nothing specifically about the south:

"It appears that 70 percent of whites have no African ancestors. Among the 30 percent who do, the black admixture is around 2.3 percent, which would be like having about three black ancestors out of those 128."

Nor does it say that 30% can be considered a "large percentage".

What it says about the south is in relation to the percentage of African Americans with European DNA, not the other way around:

"In contrast, according to a recent article published by Shriver's team in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the Gullahs of the long-isolated Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, who are famous for speaking a pleasantly African-sounding dialect, are only 3-4 percent white.

In the rest of the rural South, African-Americans tend to be not as black as the Gullahs, but still blacker than the national average. Shriver's team found that the white admixture percentage in four Lowland farm counties in South Carolina was 12 percent."


Quote:
So do you guys think my father is being overly prejudiced and elitist? Was he hoping that we would be related to kings and queens? And have you ever come across ancestors or ancestries that you were ashamed of? And how can I talk to my dad about this without creating more tension?

Sorry about the novel! I would just love to know the root of my father's attitudes on the subject.
I don't know, maybe he just never considered it before and doesn't know how to absorb the information. I am not ashamed of any ancestors, not even the ones who owned slaves, as I had nothing to do with it. I find all of my ancestry of great interest and don't really view it in terms of "good" or "bad", just interesting.
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Old 02-15-2013, 06:02 AM
 
Location: Everywhere and Nowhere
14,131 posts, read 26,268,254 times
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My parents seemed to be concerned that if people knew about their humble family backgrounds people would think we were dust bowl people, which I guess in their time and place (California) was considered a stigma nearly as serious as being black. It's difficut now for many of us to relate to that.
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Old 02-15-2013, 06:44 AM
 
Location: 2016 Clown Car...fka: Wisconsin
738 posts, read 771,234 times
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Like the OP, my lineages were of mostly Italian and Irish ancestry. The Italian side was very difficult to research mostly because the eldest daughter did not (does not) want to talk about it. After putting some of the pieces of that family history together, I have a better understanding of why. But on the Irish side, I had much better luck in spite of a family legend of being "Lace Curtain Irish" which was a total fabrication to obscure the real history of their struggle to survive in the slums of Griffintown, Quebec, Canada.

Having done my share of research for various families, and uncovering some, shall we say "disturbing" facts about their ancestors, it actually does not surprise me that there is resistance to the things presented. Stories evolve over time and each successive generation puts its own 'spin' on the facts. EVERY one wants to believe that they are descended from royalty or have a native american princess in their lineage, but NO one wants to believe that their ancestors intermarried or were murderers. It's just human nature.

The fact that we are living today is proof that our ancestors were here, regardless of who they were or what they did. Since history both fascinates and infuriates us at the same time, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

RVcook
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Old 02-15-2013, 08:16 AM
 
Location: Chambersburg PA
1,739 posts, read 1,691,106 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PA2UK View Post
Well, he does have a point that you shouldn't be making assumptions. Most Irish and Italians were indeed among the blue collar working class. However, German farmers were not necessarily poor. While I wouldn't say they were wealthy, Germans were renowned for their prosperous farming and it's thanks to them that Pennsylvania has such a strong agricultural history. Successful farmers could live quite comfortably and in fact, the Swiss/German Mennonites in particular were specifically recruited into the Palatinate region to regenerate the farming there after it was devastated by the Thirty Years War. They mostly immigrated to the US for religious freedom and cheap, available but fertile land (which is enticing to any farmer, poor or not).

However, I don't agree poverty is something to be ashamed of.

Agreed, my ancestry, on my dad's side is PA Dutch and they were all farmers or blacksmiths when they came over. We didn't become poor till much later Around the Great Depression, maybe a bit before, my grandfather and going back several generations were blacksmiths, but by that time, there wasn't as much smithing needing done. Things had to change, and they did, WWII came along, my dad joined the navy and when he came home took up road construction. He wasn't "rich" but we lived a solid middle class life.
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Old 02-15-2013, 11:19 AM
 
Location: Canada
3,675 posts, read 2,487,401 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by workaholics View Post
So do you guys think my father is being overly prejudiced and elitist?
I think you shouldn't judge your father. You have no idea where he's coming from. For example - perhaps he half-remembers some slights or derogatory remarks from playmates in childhood or something similar which from that time forth made him feel ashamed his background. I still remember a negative comment by one playmate, a slight from the mother of another playmate and the father of third playmate I faced as a 5-year-old simply because my father was an immigrant. I was lucky I was too young to really understand, although my playmate's comment did upset me for a day or so.

Respect your father's wish not to discuss his family background and continue to enjoy your hobby.
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Old 02-15-2013, 01:00 PM
 
3,325 posts, read 3,267,174 times
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I think it's likely that a lot of blacks in the Americas have some white ancestry, for the unfortunately obvious reasons. It's far less likely that whites have black ancestry, since if any white woman gave birth to a baby with negroid features, they'd probably both have "died in childbirth".
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Old 02-15-2013, 05:38 PM
 
1,097 posts, read 1,659,818 times
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Family stories die hard, as do generational attitudes. My father was inordinately proud of his family, sort of. In general yes, in the details no. He was happy to skip over the details and accept the mantle of a great generality. I don't think that mattered. It was a product of when,where,& how he was raised.

It does matter for me because I generally have few judgmental attitudes on my ancestors, therefore I like the details, the stories. My father's contemporaries had big problems with illegitimacy, religion, race, poverty, occupations, and lord knows what else. I can understand mentally where they were coming from, but can't personally relate to it. I didn't discuss details with him that made him uncomfortable - what was the point? My personal genealogy wasn't/isn't a 'mission' with me, at least not in a political way. Sometimes genealogy can change hearts & minds in a really positive way. But that's a nice bonus.
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