Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where are YOU From?

                “Where are you from?”
                Such an innocuous question.
                But if you are a genealogist, or are interested in your family history, this is a more difficult question.  To wit:
                I can tell you that I am currently from the Portland, Oregon area.
                I can tell you that I came here from North Caroline, where I did my graduate work.
                Or perhaps I can say that I am from Pennsylvania, my home state.  Or I could list Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, Kentucky, and/or Oklahoma as other possible “froms”.
                My grandparents on Mom’s side of the family are from West Virginia.
                Dad’s family originally lived in Virginia.
                Mom’s family came to the US from Germany.
                The James family arrived from Wales, while the McConahys came from Ireland.
                So the question of my provenance is a difficult one to answer.
                I imagine the same is true for many of you, too.
                Even stay-at-home types, like my husband, get complicated.
                He has lived his whole life in the Portland metro area.  His dad is from Yakima, Washington.  His mom’s family moved here from Winchester, West Virginia.
                But before that that you can find a German mercenary who came to fight for the British, got captured, and chose to pledge his loyalty to the burgeoning nation and stayed on.
                My father-in-law’s family moved west from Pennsylvania.  They actually lived in the same part of the state in which part of my family lived.  Before that they were good, sturdy Yankee stock from New England.  There is even a famous preacher in the family.  Before the family lived here they lived in England and Holland.
                The places that we are from say something about us:  who we used to be, what we wanted to find, why we left.  We may have been driven by desire to go, driven by the weather to flee, driven by a government or religion or lifestyle to escape.
I think of my mother-in-law’s family who literally fled a flood that destroyed their entire life and all of their possessions.  The Vanport Flood exodus led to a series of events that ultimately led to the meeting, courtship, and marriage of my in-laws, so I find it hard to see the whole episode as anything other than good.  My husband is the result of that union.
I’ve lived all over this big sprawling country.  I have been fortunate enough to live in Switzerland one summer, and travel to Europe three other times.  Every place I have been to, visited, lived in, or passed by has felt like home to me.  There is something about each place that resonated with me – even sunny Mediterranean places that no one in my family ever hailed from.
Some might say that proves an enormous store-house of former lives is stacked up inside of me.
I prefer to think that for me every place that I am can be my home.  I can see myself living in any of the places I have been to, or I can see myself being from some of them (no offense to any Neapolitans, but I would rather be from Naples than live there!)
So to answer the question “Where are you from?” I suppose I have no answer that makes any sense. 

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