I have never really known where my ancestors came from. In grad school, I took a course called Multicultural Children’s Literature, and the instructors emphasized the importance of knowing your own family’s culture so you can appreciate and respect the cultures of others. We talked about “white culture” in America – about how, for many of us, being white is really all the culture we know. What does that mean? I knew my ancestors probably came from various European countries, but I was entirely uncertain about the details. Some of them were definitely from Germany. There was some Scotch-Irish on my paternal grandmother’s side. When I asked family members about our heritage, I received a variety of answers, including: “We are European mutts,” “I don’t know,” and “We’re from Kentucky.”
It wasn’t until I took this class, at the age of 25, that I realized how desperate I was to know my own story. Still, the task of conducting a thorough genealogy seemed too daunting at the time as I was completing grad school and working an assortment of part-time jobs. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that I really had a chance to get serious about my research. A few months later, I made a fascinating discovery: I am a little bit French!
I grew up with a French flag in my bedroom. I was excited to start high school because I could finally sign up for French classes. My fascination with France began around the time I turned ten, when my mom gave me a little book called Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Christina Bjork. This book introduced me to many things I would grow to love: travel, art, gardening, and history. I studied Lena Anderson’s illustrations daily, and read the book many times over. I wanted to ride the train to Monet’s pink house at Giverny! I wanted to picnic with a baguette and cheese! I wanted a cat to follow me around while I photographed flowers!
In the summer of 1998, I got to go to France for the first time with the French department at my high school. The group met for months beforehand to discuss what we wanted to do when we got there.
“Notre Dame!” someone suggested.
“The Champs Elysees!” another traveler said.
“Versailles!” someone else called out.
Reluctantly, I raised my hand.
“Giverny?” I asked.
Sadly, Giverny was actually kindof out of the way, and no one else really wanted to go there. Still, in addition to Notre Dame, the Champs Elysees, and Versailles, we also visited Jim Morrison’s grave, the Paris Opera House, and of course, the Eiffel Tower. It was an amazing experience to have as a 16-year-old, and one of my best memories.
Now, I wonder what that trip would have been like if I had known then that some of my own ancestors came from France. I want to make sure that, if I ever have children, they will know where they came from. So, for the past year, I have been researching and documenting my family’s story. As I continue to discover more about who I am and how I got here, I will share what I learn at www.alittlebitfrench.com. I hope my stories will encourage others to embark on their own adventures in genealogy. Thank you for reading!