Like most Americans with no discernible ethnicity, I hunger after any knowledge of my ancestors. I think we envy those who can say, “I’m Italian” or “My grandparents came over from Slovakia.” Oh, to have such interesting forebears!
My family line on my mother’s side is murky. So murky that all I know is that my mother’s maiden name might be from Wales. Otherwise, that side of the family tree is just a melange of WASPy, white-bread names. On the other hand, my grandmother on my father’s side supposedly did extensive genealogical research (though I’ve never seen it). From this alleged research, I know that my great-great-great…(I forget how many greats)…grandfather came over to America from Scotland and that is where my surname comes from.
On the basis of this slender belief, I buy books like How the Scots Invented the Modern World; I daydreamedly browse through the inevitable picture books of the Scottish countryside in Barnes and Noble (why are there always so many picture books of Scotland, by the way?); and I even own a tie the color of my surname’s tartan.
The odds that I am even one-sixteenth or one-thirty-second Scottish are not very good, yet still I am fascinated by my possible ancestors. I want to know more about them and understand their lives. There’s a good chance I am at least an eighth or even a quarter German. For some reason, my German ancestry doesn’t have quite the same romantic pull as the Scottish, but I still want to know where my German forebears came from and when and why they emigrated.
I think this is highly relevant to many discussions of Mormonism. My mother is a convert and my father converted with his family when he was very young. My Mormon ancestry dates all the way back to the 1950’s. That’s it. I have little empathy for or understanding of the strange pioneer families with four or five wives. I simply can’t relate: those aren’t my people. My people were dirt farmers or city dwellers during this era. They weren’t trekking across the country for what might seem to me to be a suspect reason. This might explain why, when I went on Pioneer Trek as young man, all I got was blistered and malnourished, instead of inspired.
I know from various discussions that several members of the bloggernacle are descendents of pioneers and polygamists. I think I understand how they can reconcile their feelings towards early Mormons and polygamy while I find the practice extremely off-putting and creepy. For them, it’s their tartan kilt. They wouldn’t be here without it. It’s hard to condemn something that would erase your very existence.
I also can’t help but wonder if my lack of Mormon roots makes it easier for me to abandon my faith. It’s not like I’m letting down five generations of Flanders; would I feel the same way if one of my ancestors had been killed by a mob?
I don’t honestly know how I’d feel about polygamists if I had polygamous ancestry, but I’d probably be less critical. Let’s be honest: even though I’m not in the same pickle as Australians (sorry, Aussies!), my ancestors were likely the dregs of European society. If they weren’t, they never would have come to America. Nevertheless, I romanticize their lives and their legacy, even though they were probably drunks, tramps, and thieves. Never mind that, I’m late for my bagpipe lesson!