Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great question.
... Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Like Alice in Wonderland, many of us spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out who we are. Some put little effort into their search, yet claim some exotic origin, often quoting a great-grandmother on her death-bed as the source of their astounding revelation.
Such was the case of a guest at our B&B who claimed descendancy from Richard III, irreverently referred to by his subjects as Richard Crookback, a victim of scoliosis. He supposedly murdered the princes in the Tower of London and was himself slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, after a short reign of just two years.
After learning the historical facts on her Royal ancestor, she was no longer sure it was a good connection. But should she wish to affirm the link, she can now have her DNA compared with that of the dastardly Richard, after the discovery of his remains at Greyfriars, Leicester, Uk, in September 2012.
Claims of Royal ancestry are as common as Cherokee wannabes, or Beothuck wannabes, or Ojibwa--you get the drift. The likes of Cher, Kevin Costner, Johnny Depp, and writer, Joseph Boyden, are among the most prominent.
In this country, the most famous pretendian, Archibald Stansfeld Belany, born in Hastings, East Sussex, UK, on December 18, 1888, became Grey Owl, The Ojibwa, after he immigrated to Canada. He parlayed his trumped-up heritage into fame, films, fleeting fortune, and an audience with famous Royals.
Alas, Archie had not one iota of genetic material or genealogical evidence linking him to the Ojibwa people nor to anyone else in North America for that matter.
With Aboriginal people, Grey Owl's name became mud.
The First Nations have put up with the legacy of residential schools, blatant discrimination, bad drinking water, and stolen lands, but the greatest insult is to have a bunch of white people masquerading as Facebook Indians.
Great-grandmother tales don't cut it in the field of genealogy where at least three pieces of solid evidence are required to establish relationships, not as difficult as it sounds with the proliferation of family history databases online over the past twenty years.
The Rooms in St. John's, Newfoundland, for example, have just announced that many of their records are now available in digital format. In pleasant surroundings, you can generally find what you need in church records, census material, and vital statistics.
If you want to go further afield, online records are available (for a fee) in countries like the UK and the US. If you are fortunate enough to be in Salt Lake City, Utah, by all means, pay a visit to the Family History Library, the genealogical arm of the Latter Day Saints church, with millions of records from around the world.
Archival searches in North America are of course constrained by the time factor in what they can reveal about your ancestry. In most of Canada, the descendants of immigrants are limited to a maximum of 400 years of New World roots, and on average, much, much less.
In the province of Newfoundland, there were few European settlers outside the Avalon Peninsula until the late 1700s. Even in 1800, the total population of the island portion of the province was just over 5000 souls excluding the rapidly diminishing Aboriginal population which had been around for thousands of years.
My own paternal GGGG grandfather and grandmother brought their four children to Twillingate, Newfoundland from Sturminster Newton, County Dorset, UK, in 1782. At that moment in time, I would have had 126 other GGGG grandparents assuming they were all alive in the Old Country. With each one of these four-great-grandparents, I share 1.5625% of my DNA. There would also be thousands of blood-relatives, uncles, aunts, and cousins many generations removed, with whom I also share some portion of my DNA.
Other branches of the family shrub extend from settlers who arrived from the West Country between 1835 and 1840, around 175 years ago.
My maternal grandmother, Bessie Raines (Ryan), shared 25% of her DNA with me and thank God she did. She taught me the value of story-telling and the importance of having doubt as my constant companion.
My great-great grandmother on that side of the family brier-bush arrived in the New World about 1840. Despite the myths, we have not been around these parts for all that long.
The graphic below details how much of your DNA you owe to your most recent forbears. Thank them before you run off in dark corners of the past seeking one-night stands with attractive predecessors.