The better majority of my life has been spent wondering what my heritage is. Most people when asked can tell you the exact origins of their family like it’s another science. They’ll say “I’m one-eighth Cherokee, a quarter Irish, half German, etc…” As for me, I have no idea as to where my bloodline runs. Some people don’t find their heritage to be of much importance, and in most aspects they’re right, as it does not determine who they are as a person. But isn’t the historical aspect of it interesting?
Obviously, most people know their heritage because their family passes their story from one generation to the next. However, my family didn’t have that opportunity, as my grandfather was adopted and never knew his biological parents. This presented a challenge to most of the family, as we all possessed at least a certain level of interest in finding out about our origins.
As I read Emma Smith-Stevens’ The Australian, I noticed subtle hints of heritage as a theme at the beginning of the book that grew stronger in prevalence towards the end. However, there was one quote that really struck a chord with me in prodding me to be the first of my family to discover my heritage. When Smith-Stevens wrote “Whereas he had never given the role of heritage much thought before in relation to his son’s upbringing, it strikes the Australian as vital in this moment that his son love, and feel loved by, his homeland” (Smith-Stevens 47).
Although the Australian obviously knew his heritage down to every detail, he felt that it was important for his own son to know about it too, which is a prime example of origins being passed down from generation to generation. After spending a decent amount of time as a kid looking into my heritage, my grandfather eventually forbid me from looking any further, as he felt angry towards his biological parents, when he told me that they abandoned him and his brother. Upon being told something like that from my own grandfather, I felt terrible for seeking my heritage in the first place, thinking that I didn’t want to know about or be a part of a bloodline that abandoned their own children. I was only 12 years old at the time.
Upon reading the prior quote, I felt an ember burning inside of me with the strong desire to reattempt my search for my heritage. So I made the two-hour drive back to my hometown to see my grandfather and ask him again. To be honest, I was scared to ask him again after almost a decade, as even though my grandfather has always been a great man, I have always been at least slightly scared of him, as he has always been incredibly rough around the edges and slightly bitter at times. But for the first time, I decided to muster up the courage to ask him again and ask with a little more tenacity this time around. I got to his shop, walked up to him, and told him that I felt that even though his biological parents weren’t good people in his eyes, I wanted to know about the origins of our bloodline. I told him I didn’t care about who we were related to, but I only cared about where we might have come from. I was very adamant and very straightforward, as I know that is the only demeanor that he has ever truly responded to.
Once I got all of my thoughts out to him, my grandfather paused for a good 2-3 minutes and said nothing. I felt remorse line the innermost nooks of my body, as I thought that maybe I was too aggressive and may have hurt my grandfather in a way that he has hasn’t been hurt in awhile: emotionally. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth. After he paused, he looked me dead in the eyes and simply said “You’re right”. Now those that know my grandfather know that he very rarely admits that someone other than himself is right, so what he said stopped me dead in my tracks, as it was something I didn’t expect from him in the least.
He then asked me how I planned on discovering our heritage and told me that he was fully supportive of my decision to pursue this. I told him that I found a service that Ancestry.com offers called Ancestry DNA, which entails placing our saliva sample into a tube and sending it back to their lab for testing and the price of $100 dollars. At this point, I was almost fully certain that my grandfather would at least make some sort of snide comment like “So we’re some kind of lab rat?”, but I was again wrong about that too. He simply told me that it sounded like a great idea and told me he wanted to split the cost with me for the fees.
In hindsight, I never knew that reading such a simple quote from a novel would provoke me to making such a bold action that I never would have done in the first place. But the way The Australian captured that sense of belonging that the Australian wanted so badly for his son prodded me to want that sense of belonging too. So I returned to a battle that was fought 10 years ago and actually got somewhere from arguing with my elder. But because of that book, I not only created the reality of finally discovering my own heritage, but I also learned something about my grandfather that I never really thought about until then: he made me feel scared about discussing things like heritage and ancestry with him because he was scared himself. But after having that much needed conversation, we both embraced it.