Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Tapestry

A Tapestry

“That’s where you get your cheekbones.”
This was the reply given to me by an elderly great-aunt as I gaped at her in disbelief.  You see, she’d just informed me that despite my sugar-white skin, light eyes and blonde hair, I had a full-blooded Cherokee Indian woman sitting comfortably in my family tree, waiting to be acknowledged.   A great-great-great grandmother I’d known nothing about.  To say I was a bit gobsmacked is putting it mildly.   My great-aunt turned me towards the mirror and ran her knobby index finger along the line of my cheek.  “See those?  She gave you those.”, she said with theatrical effect.  She proceeded to tell me the story of a distant patriarch who fell in love with a Cherokee woman and of the marriage that, eventually, led to me.  

Looking in the mirror later that night it was difficult to see past the light eyelashes and pale skin to a woman with a life I couldn’t even imagine.  My experience being limited to the schoolroom, I had always thought of Native Americans as exotic, almost storybook, individuals.   To think a measure of their blood ran through my veins was just astonishing.

As Americans, our eyes, be they blue or brown, hazel or green,  reflect the shadows and light from other lands.  We all have ancestors who made that one great wrenching choice:  to leave home and make a new life.  The tapestry of America is woven and knotted with uniquely colourful threads, each unlike the other, and the resultant creation is stronger and more beautiful than any woven with a single hue.  I have felt the primal pull of ancestral memory in the hills of Glencoe; my MacDonald lineage stirring in the marrow of my bones.  There are grains of my life in the soil of Yorkshire and Skye, beneath the bracken of Roslyn and on beaches and hilltops I know nothing about.  I am even, as I now know, native to this country I call home.

I once heard Stephen Fry expounding on his affection for Americans.  It was his belief that our optimism and fearlessness is an ancestral trait springing from all those distant relatives who took squared their shoulders and swallowed their fears to take the great risk of leaving their homelands for the journey to an unknown land.  He could see those strong strains of hopefulness and bravery still running through Americans.  I love that thought, just as I love the fact that America is made up of so many different nationalities.   I find it amusing when I hear Americans speak of “foreigners”, for we are all of us foreigners in this country.   
If one has been blessed with the gift of curiosity, it is impossible not to wonder about one’s own personal history.  I have journeyed to a few of my own ancestral lands and I know how unusually meaningful those explorations can be.  I wonder, have any of you made similar journeys?  What magical parts of the world joined together to make you who you are?  
Do share!


  1. I read a book recently on some of those early British settlers in America - their courage and fearlessness were quite something. I have done quite a lot of my family history and there is some Romany blood on my mother's side - she was very ashamed of it - I love it and know that that is where I get my dark skin and hair from.

  2. I think the fact we all have a mixed heritage speaks more about love than geography. I recently found out that through my Father's family I am a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, he is my 29th Great Grandfather. Very thrilling. Equally thrilling is my Viking ancestry on my Mother's side.


  3. I am the tenth generation descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins and I love all things English. Also I have Scottish ancestry (Ewing clan) and I am profoundly moved whenever I hear bagpipes. Would love to visit Scotland and England, so I do this vicariously through your blog!

  4. When I was visiting England back in the 80's, I took a side trip to Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where my great great grandfather grew up. Apparently he didn't get along with his father, so his mother gave him her savings in 1865 and sent him over to the US. I had to go to another town to see the church records from that time, but sure enough, there he was, along with many of his ancestors. I ended up looking in registries from Malmesbury Abbey that went back to 1590!

  5. One GrandMother was from Sheffield, England, the other Sligo Ireland
    Australia has the right idea, if they leave to join enemy forces don't
    let them back in the country I still can't believe the Boston Bombing.
    There are so many great people who came here only for a better life..

  6. So true! I loved watching the Henry Louis Gates 'Finding Your Roots' show on PBS. We Americans are such a mix and, more likely than not, are more related than we think. Most of my known ancestry, as well as my husband's, is British or Scots-Irish, with a little Germanic Swiss. I was thrilled recently when looking through genealogy on my mother's side to find that an ancestor was here in Buncombe County (Asheville), North Carolina, in the census of 1810. So, I felt I was a 'bona fide' mountain woman though I wasn't raised here, and chose this place of great natural beauty as the one place that felt like my soul's home, at least on this earth. I do long to go back to the UK and soak up the atmosphere that feels part of my blood and bones. By the way, the family that lived here left for Georgia, which led to my mother being a native born Atlantan. Maybe we're related!

  7. Researching my family history is one of my very favorite things to do. I write about my discoveries at www.peopleofpancho.com, and have such fun doing it. If you're really curious about your Cherokee heritage, you might consider DNA testing with either 23andMe or Ancestry.com--it's fascinating, and will perhaps reveal other ethnic connections you never imagined. It certainly did for me!

  8. I think where we come from is in our DNA! I landed first in New Orleans...(my mother was from Alabama; I had never been tothe "South" before); I felt it stepping off the plane!

    I also "felt it" when I went to Scotland!!!! There is "memory " in our DNA!!

    What a wonderful post!

  9. Pamela,
    I have Cherokee in my family tree and I'm a redhead with hazel eyes. I've promised myself that sometime I must spend some serious time on ancestry.com researching the family roots that include Ireland and Germany. Such a great post.

  10. Pamela have you watched the Ancestry show on PBS? It is so fascinating!!
    I would love to find out more about my family tree, especially the French side of my heritage!

    The Arts by Karena

  11. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!