When it comes to family trees, I’ve always said that instead, I have a family forest. With more than one generation of adoption of a step-child, my family tree grew exponentially. When my Mom discovered her biological father, another wonderful, interesting tree was added to the forest.
My Dad’s adoption of me was one of the biggest blessings of my life. I was only four at the time, so I can’t remember a time without him in my life. He may be the person I admire most in this world, and I have always felt that I was wholly his daughter. Much of the time, people forget that I’m not a blood relative. Embarrassingly enough, it has even slipped my mind on occasion. I have run into some curious dilemmas and humorous situations: In school, when we had an assignment to create a family tree, I wondered how to fit my 14 Grandparents and Great Grandparents on the page; whenever I mentioned my grandparents, I would always identify them by where they lived (my Grandpa in Idaho, or my Grandma in Hebron); friends or relatives commented on how I resemble my Dad, to which I just smile and nod; completing a section of a form on medical history, and not realizing until after my appointment that I accidentally filled out the father column which, of course, wouldn’t be applicable for inherited conditions.
I do, however, wonder about my lineage, my genealogy, those who came before me.
Thanks to some wonderful relatives who had put together our family history, I had a great deal of information about my Mother’s side. As for my biological father’s side, I hadn’t met him and had minimal information. I decided to take a DNA test from an ancestry site that estimates ethnicity. Based on the little I had to go on and the demographics in the area, I speculated my other half would probably be German or Scandinavian. Then my results came in. The English and Irish and some other ethnicities in smaller percentages that I expected from my mother were there. Scandinavian? A little bit. German? A tad. What was it then? 30% Ashkenazi Jewish. This was quite unexpected. The odds were so against it, it hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility while I was speculating, waiting for my results to come in. The Jewish population in my state is approximately 400 (or 0.0005%). Could these results be right? To remove my doubt, I even submitted a test to another DNA site, which confirmed my original results.
Some odd, and probably insensitive, thoughts raced through my head: Thank goodness I’m not anti-Semitic; there are a lot of Levines in my DNA relative matches – maybe I’m distantly related to Adam Levine; I bet there aren’t many Jewish people named Kristi; I am the only Jewish person I know.
I realize that based on the common criteria I am not considered Jewish, but a branch of my ancestors was and I was excited to learn more about my roots. I did a great deal of self-reflection and read a considerable amount about Jewish history and Judaism. (I even found a fitting book called Suddenly Jewish, that had stories of others that unexpectedly learned of their Jewish heritage.) I imagined what my ancestors’ lives were like, pondered how they could be so resilient to move forward from such great and extensive persecution. I became more aware of stereotypes and prejudices, and cringed when I heard someone say “jew them down.” I had never even noticed this before.
I have become more self-aware, and my perspective has shifted a bit because of this discovery. I continue to learn more about my history, my story, and am glad to be able to pass this rich history on to my children so they can understand themselves, be thankful for their family, and shape their own stories.