I have never classed myself as a racist but I’ve always had a bit of a gloss on matters international for the simple reason that you can’t take the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you did, your life would be miserable and if I’m honest I’ve been much happier in my personal life since I stopped watching tv and turned off the news – the jumble of modern wants destroys the meaning of life and I needed to get away from that.
But as my family tree extended further and further I began to see everything in a different light. There is no such thing as a purely ‘English person’ being truly English. We all have ancestors from around the world. Pure white British is a myth. It doesn’t matter how many generations you go back, at some point, somewhere out there your DNA came from somewhere else.
In the early days we always thought our family were of Spanish origin because of the Oliver surname. There seemed to be some, as it turned out misinformed, evidence we could be traced back to Scotland where many Spanish people landed in centuries past. On holiday Spanish locals would come up to me and start talking in Spanish assuming I was one of them. But this was terribly flawed research in the days before the internet. And as I investigated our tree it turned out Oliver wasn’t even our surname and we hailed from Dublin and who knows from where before that, I’m stuck in the 1740s at the moment.
On the other side we are Italian, VERY VERY Italian. It may be five generations past but because of how connected I have become to that part of our history and to the country now, I know there’s a lot of Italian DNA firmly rooted in me. More than that, it’s Venexiane DNA which is like getting a gold medal in my book because I’m not sure anything in Italy is more special than Venice.
I have always been fascinated by other cultures, accents, ways of life, the world is a melting pot of amazing stories of survival and suffering and success and colourful lives and dreams and challenges. And to deny that in your own genetic makeup is the ultimate folly. It can also explain a lot about who you are. Untangling my DNA has explained why I am who I am, how the DNA leap that didn’t seem to be as evident in the rest of my immediate family, came out in me all singing, all dancing and threw spanners into my life at every turn. I was at the mercy of my heritage without even realising it.
The other day Ruby Wax’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are aired. It was a particularly noteable episode. I’m never entirely sure that celebs really connect with what they are discovering but Ruby certainly did. What she discovered explained a lot about her world, her family, her own self. Had she known about her family’s past years ago I think she may have had a different coping strategy for everything that she’s had to deal with. One line that resounded with me was ‘Instead of doing therapy, I should have been doing my family tree’. And she is absolutely right.