So few degrees of separation

William Brewster

William Brewster

My parents, at 92, don’t really shop any more.  So for birthdays and holidays they give a check and I pick my own gift.  This year for my birthday I bought an Ancestry DNA test and then took advantage of a sale and purchased six months of membership so I’d be able to take advantage of the test results.  I’ve been immersed in research ever since and feeling such shifts because of it.

Thomas Prence

I’ve filled in some extensive branches of the tree, found out I’m a Mayflower Descendant, a many times great granddaughter of a governor of the Plymouth Colony and a distant cousin to Frank and Jesse James.  Oh and my great grandfather died as a result of wounds sustained in a knife fight with a Constable who was trying to arrest him.  Whew.

Thomas Gaitskill stabbing

All the research I’ve done before this seemed to lead to poor tenant farmers who left the British Isles to try for a better chance over here.  And everyone I’d found owned a farm over here.  I thought of my ancestors as up-by-the-bootstraps poor folks, some of whom prospered well in the “new land”.  I saw poverty consciousness, anger and repression.

Now I see the Gaitskills were actually ship captains for a few generations.  And bunches of my ancestors were fairly prominent in the Virginia Colony.  It’s hard to describe the inner shift it creates to feel I came from people from all walks of life and that they weren’t all poor and scrabbling.  I have the qualities of those leaders and movers and shakers in me as well.  It makes me feel…  different.

As I discover surname after surname on my tree, read histories of Colonial Virginia that are loaded with these names, check out the migration pattern of all those names into Kentucky, and extend my tree, I’m so amazed to realize all these connections.  To see that I have cousins of various levels by the hundreds of thousands out there [just to give you an idea, they estimate the number of current descendants of my one 10x great grandfather Mayflower passenger is multi-thousands and we all have 4196 10x great grandparents — do the math!!!].  Suddenly it’s so clear that the “one web” isn’t just an amorphous spiritual concept but a physical reality.

Just as I found out several years ago that an acquaintance of several years is actually my double fourth cousin, we’re all probably passing cousins in the street all the time, friends with cousins, working with cousins.  My seemingly all-British roots turn out to go back to Europe and ancestors who entered Britain as part of the Norman invasion, according to the DNA test.  And there are hints of ancestors before that who go back to some sort of migration from India.  Slaveholders in my tree have provided me with Black cousins.  My cousin’s children are half Chinese.  I’m connected to every other race and many ethnicities even though hundreds of years of history say I’m WASP through and through.

I’m sure the same is true of most of the people who wear their whiteness as some sort of badge of honor that makes them better or more entitled or whatever their goofy thought process is.  If they only knew their whole ancestral picture I wonder if it might change them?  It becomes so clear — at least to me — that we are all separated by only a few degrees.  One.  All one.