I Wish I Knew Where I Came From

My ancestry is shrouded in mystery–like we're part of some foreign bloodline witness protection program

I've never been a joiner. I'm the kind of person who starts my own group so I can already be in the club when the membership drive begins. I've just always had a sense of not belonging like the goose in the duck-duck-goose game. Maybe it's because I don't really know where I'm from or where my family's from. Oh, I know what I've heard, but something's not right. My ancestry is shrouded in mystery — like we're part of some foreign bloodline witness protection program.

Most everyone I know has "people." They're always going on about where they're from and how their family got to America. My friend Sandi brags, "My people came from Russia. We're Russian Jews." That's very specific, and it conjures up a cozy image of a small village, a lot of snow with balalaikas being strummed by village elders.

Other friends have Ellis Island stories involving great-great-grandparents that go on way beyond human endurance. I'm not sure who my great-great-grandparents were on either side and I have no clue how we got here. For all I know, they stowed away in steerage (whatever that is).

My friend Paul Flanagan always bragged he was 100 percent Irish, and we weren't about to argue. He seemed Irish; he had a hearty laugh and enjoyed a cocktail or three. Then his wife bought him "Guess what I am?" he asked.

"Chinese?" I responded.

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"Irish. One hundred percent." He threw up his hands in a "what are ya gonna do?" move. I was jealous. Not over being Irish, anyone can be Irish, but his clarity. There are bars in every major American city named after him for God's sake. Grabbing a Heineken, Paul asked, "What are you, again?"

I slipped into my usual schtick. "I'm a mutt," I answered. "Scottish, German, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Polish, Mormon, alcoholic, atheist, Cherokee."

All I know about my mother's bloodline is that her father's people were heavy drinkers from Scotland, making my mother "half Scotch, the other half was bitter," as I used to say as a joke on stage. The family name was Root, even though no one has a clue what ours was! Her mother's side seems to be from Scotland too, but nobody knows what part or who came over when. Conjecture abounds. One day, mom announced that we were descendants of James II from Scotland.

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"Am I a princess?" I asked earnestly,

Then I looked him up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was from the 1400s. Big deal, I thought. One of my schoolmates is related to Thomas Jefferson, he was her great-great something. It's moot, anyway; since there's no corroboration on the James II connection, and if I was going to pick a James to be related to, it might as well be Gandolfini.

My father's side of the aisle gusted up a tornado of rumors throughout the years. One blew around the family claiming we were descendants of Alexander Hamilton. This made sense; several men in the family have the middle name Hamilton and I LOVE musicals. I looked him up and immediately felt proud. He was a colonial overachiever; created the treasury system, wrote the Federalist Papers and still found time to get shot by Aaron Burr.

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"He wrote the Federalist Papers; I write dick jokes," I also said on stage. "Our family is definitely breeding down."

This rumor erupted after my father and his father were gone, but I got curious and went to Texas to ask Dad's sister, Aunt Janet. "No, that's not true," she said and laughed, disappointing everyone. I felt sick. Then we all started pointing fingers at each other—who started this rumor? No one knew. We couldn't even trace hearsay back.

The Kaspers (Dad and Janet's family) came from Western Europe. Germany, I was told, but not the Germany of today, but from Bohemia, the part that couldn't hold onto its borders. It used to be Czechoslovakia, then Hungary and even Poland for a week. The borders over there changed more often than my hairdos.

It gets more mysterious because the name "Kasper" is always Jewish, except for my Dad's family, who were Presbyterians. My Dad, however, was atheist. "Religion is for weak people, it's a crutch!" he'd say while glugging back his whiskey.

Mom's maternal side got involved with a little start-up religion called Mormonism and headed west. "The women gave birth on the rocky trails," Mom said. "The kids weren't born—they just kind of fell out!"

"Really?" I asked riveted.

"Maybe," she replied. "I could've read that in a book." My mother's parents were excommunicated from the LDS, deciding they'd rather have cocktails. Then Mom became an atheist too. I was brought up with no religion and lots of alcohol.

But here's the strange part: On her deathbed, my father's Aunt Alice, my grandfather's sister, pulled my half-sister Susan aside. "The Kaspers are really Jews!!!" she said. And then she dropped dead. True story.

That made perfect sense to me because I've always wanted to be a Jew. My friends are all Jewish, and I love kreplach. On that same trip to Dallas, visiting Aunt Janet (the last gatekeeper of Kasper family bullshit), I asked again about our origins.

"Of course we're Jews!" she said, in front of her extended family of Presbyterians. I was relieved, but her kids and kid's kids were a tad confused. I said "shalom" and left. Within a week, my aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, so who knows?

I think it may be time to join a website that clears this all up. I hear that Mormons keep immaculate genealogy records, but we're on their shit list. Maybe I'm really a Cherokee princess, or did I dream that? Soon I will find out. Maybe.

Tags: family