Guest Post: Ancestors

Ancestor: An ancestor or forebear is a parent or (recursively) the parent of an ancestor (i.e., a grandparent, great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent, and so forth). Ancestor is “any person from whom one is descended.

This is another wonderful guest post for whilst I am away en France! This time it is from the lovely @raspberryswirls. She used to blog and this post makes me wish she still did…because it’s brilliant!

One of the wonderful things about the summer holidays is that I get to be at home with my 13 month old son, R. I miss this time so much when he’s at nursery and I’m at school. I spent the other morning sat with a cup of tea, just watching R play and explore. He was trying very hard to make his bricks balance on top of each other and it wasn’t going so well, possibly due to the fact that he was trying to do this on a cushion – not the most stable of bases. His little face was set in such a pose of stubbornness and concentration and for one brief moment, he looked so much like my grandma that it took my breath away.

My grandma was, for the most part, a cheerful, gentle Scotswoman. However, the genial exterior hid an inner determination and focus that she could use to move mountains, if needed. You always knew when Gran had decided ‘something was going to be done’ as her eyes slightly narrowed and her lips slightly pursed…it’s very hard to describe her exact expression, but trust me, once her face showed it, you knew STUFF WAS GOING TO GET DONE. Whether that was getting donations from companies to support her charity fundraising, or simply getting me to do the washing up, it worked. I know from talking to my mum that when Gran received the news that she had breast cancer, she fixed that steely look of immovable determination onto the consultant, took a deep breath and simply asked, “So. What are we going to do about it?”

It was quite a surprise to see that distinctive expression on my young son, but I didn’t think anything of it till the other night. I was pondering what to write for my guest blog while ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was on in the background. Nigel Havers was exploring his family tree and discovered that one of his ancestors was a bit of a cad, a role he has played many times during his acting career and he said something about how these genes get handed down and affect the next generations without us knowing.

These ideas of ancestry and inherited characteristics have always fascinated me. Through choice, I have never had any contact with my real father or his family; therefore there has always been a large part of my personal ancestry missing. This has never really bothered me, as I am so much like my mum that we could be twins, so I’ve never had any curiosity as to what made me ‘me’ – I’m essentially a carbon copy of her. Mum’s always answered any questions I had about my father openly and honestly, so I know that he was very tall, hence me being slightly taller than the rest of my family, and he was a musician, which explains why I’ve ended up as a teacher specialising in music, despite there being no previous history of musicians on my mum’s side.

Despite never having met my real father, blood will out, as the saying goes, and these traits have shown up in me. I do believe that there are certain things that are inherent in our genetic make-up that get passed down through the generations, traits that go beyond chromosomes and DNA. It made me think about R, his family history and the little personality he is becoming. What will he inherit from us? What will be unique to him? How much of his ancestral past will shape his future?

Physically, R resembles his paternal side. He is the absolute image of my father in law, but seems to have inherited his height from my side. His personality so far seems to be a mix of both me and my partner; he has his dad’s laid back and calm demeanour and my confident, gregarious nature. He adores music, and according to his nursery, shows a natural sense of rhythm. This isn’t a great surprise, both his grandfathers and his dad are accomplished musicians and I’m a music specialist teacher. Is this early love of music nurture, nature or a combination of the two? He’s certainly been exposed to lots of music and singing, so it’s part of his day to day environment but I like to think that music is hardwired into him, part of the genetic code that is in every cell of his little being.

Genetics are not the only thing that gets passed down. Family traditions and histories follow and shape us as we grow into adults. We chose R’s middle name to honour his Great Uncle, a man he’ll never meet, but whose name he will carry for the rest of his life. If R had been a girl, his middle name would have been Anne, like me, my mum and my grandma and every girl born into my family have been named for as far back as we can trace using the family Bible. I don’t know who the original Anne was or why the name holds so much importance to our family, but I continue to honour her memory, and so will any future daughters of ours. I’d one day love to find out who this woman was, and why her memory has echoed 150 years down our ancestral line.

We are responsible for forming our children, physically, emotionally and mentally. They develop according to how we nurture them, what influences we expose them to and those threads of our family histories and ancestors. Whether we mean to or not, our parenting choices are influenced by our own parents, who in turn were influenced by our grandparents, and so the pattern goes through the generations. I think it’s awe inspiring that when that microscopic sperm and egg meet, it’s not just physical characteristics like eye colour that are passed on, but hundreds and thousands of years of our ancestry and family history combine to create these walking hopes and futures that are our children.

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