Who Are You, Really?

Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder who you are?  Sometimes, heading out of my tiny powder room, after washing my hands, I catch a glimpse of my paternal grandmother in the mirror.

No, I’m not as old – nor do I look as old – as she was when I first met her, much less my first memories of her (which were of her being sixty three.)  And we’re not objectively that much alike.  Like most people, I went through life looking now more like one parent, now more like the other, depending on how I wear my hair and what weight I am.

But as I catch a brief, sidewise glimpse of my own face in the mirror, there’s that quirk in the lips, that expression in the eye, and my heart flip flops and I think “Grandma” before I check myself.

There is heredity, of course.  I stop short of believing our heredity programs us like little robots, that, beyond fate, we’re acting in some kabuki theater where every action was predetermined from the moment of birth and we only think we have free will.  Someone like me who kicked over the traces pretty hard, and whose initial elaborate “running away from home” as an exchange student hinged on seeing a particular poster at a particular time would have trouble believing that.  Besides, as I’ve explained before, even if it were true, I wouldn’t believe it.  To believe it would be to concede evil has won, that there is no choice and no such thing as an individual, and that we are like so many ants, following scent trails.

Besides, if that were true, the one nation that enshrined individual liberty would have done worst of all in prosperity and living conditions.

So unless it is proven at some point we really are living inside a computer simulation (!) I’ll continue believing that most of what we do is… well, not nurture so much (though that comes in) but self-will.

Which leaves me baffled by the things that aren’t, by those bits of actions/expressions/attitudes that seem to pass down the stream of DNA without our volition.

It is impossible, of course – Sarah says, channeling her inner Miss Marple – to live in a village and no know something about human nature.  And what I know about human nature is that to an extent “what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.”

My family was known in the village for “A gift of words” – despite some stunning sports we threw out now and then, like my inarticulate grandfather, whose words were likely to come out backwards and sideways, as did my older uncle’s and as do my younger kid’s (though that might be developmental, as it’s going away now, being replaced with family-normal fluency) a disability that seems to always coincide with some form of engineering ability.

If they needed a spokesman for the village, someone to write a poem, some sort of wordsmithing, they came to us, even when the current representatives of the family were manual laborers or craftspeople.

How much of that was bred in the bone?  How much was the conversations around the dinner table where philosophical questions would be unpinned and you learned your vocabulary at three from listening to dad and granddad argue about the differences between various methods of governance?

One of the things that indicates heredity is the resurgence of the same characteristics in the descendants of a “sport.”  My inarticulate grandfather, whom his parents, in despair, had apprenticed as a cabinet maker, produced – among his grandchildren – as many lawyers, psychologists, doctors and engineers as his far more articulate brothers who were in those professions.  This despite the fact that as the much poorer branch we were more or less isolated from that side of the family.

In fact, going back as far back as one can, in my paternal line, one finds reasonably well educated people (even when general literacy in Portugal was minimal, all of us knew how to read, the women included) who predominantly show a flair for wordsmithing which might or might not be coupled with other abilities.  Professions range from crafts to law, though the family has a strong tendency to engineering and doctoring.

How much is bred in the bone?  It shows as bred in the bone, but is it?  How much is the talk around the dinner table?  And how much is picking mates who understand that talk?  My articulate father married an articulate and casually brilliant woman whose scant education was dwarfed by an interest in … everything.  (Though mom, like my younger son is very suspicious of fiction.)

Perhaps it is that I’m getting older which causes me to worry when I catch a glimpse of grandma in the mirror.  Not because I’m afraid I’m looking older.  I have no illusions about the fallibility of the flesh.  But because I wonder about gifts received and what I’ve done with them.  I wonder if I am living as I’m predisposed to or if I’m truly choosing.  I wonder about things like the Almeida tendency to pick the most bassawkward political theories to follow.  (With me being small l libertarian and my brother being a communist, though, it leaves  one in a puzzle.  Maybe we’re headed to an era with no political theory at all?)

Perhaps it is because I’m raising kids away from all the relatives who could have reasonably influenced their expressions, their beliefs, their ways of being in the world. And yet, my younger son is so close to my dad we might as well have cloned dad.  He even follows the same developmental milestones.

Then there’s Robert who is a patchwork of both families and who startles me suddenly with a look like my grandfather Alvarim’s, or by sitting like my grandmother Carolina.

Bits and patches, and …  Who are we?

If we go back far enough, we’re all cousins, probably several times over.  As Older Son is fond of reminding me, human population has gone through extreme bottle necks at least three times, and there might have been less than a hundred individuals.  So, we’re all cousins.

But you still see a continuity in a line, when you know the line.

And when you don’t?  I know adopted children who are more like their adopted parents than the parents’ natural kids.

I know that our pediatrician, when we talked about adopting and being afraid of getting a kid who’d be lost in our family, said “In your family?  Not a chance.  By the time they’re three, they’ll have the same vocabulary and fluency and they’ll test bright, anyway.”

Is it true?  I don’t know.  In the same way both kids often feel like total strangers, or like all too familiar, I suspect it would be the same.

Who are they?  Who are we?  What unknown/unremembered ancestor gave us that nose?  Where on Earth did those eyes gaze before?  That tendency to lead with the chin when arguing… where did it come from?  Was the last ancestor to do that some Phoenician merchant whose last remaining bit of DNA in the blood left me only that?

Thinking about this stuff brings about the same sort of vertigo that looking down on an endless abyss does.

And of course in the end the answer is always the same – you take your bits and pieces, patch them as best you can and carry on.  You mend what you can, you accept what you can’t (because even you aren’t endlessly changeable, no matter how much will power you have) and you carry on.

But sometimes you catch that glimpse and you can’t avoid thinking “Who am I really?  And what hidden depths have I failed to unlock?”

68 thoughts on “Who Are You, Really?

  1. There have been articles on twins raised by different parents and most of them still have traits in commons. Now most may be have raised in similar families but it’s still interesting.

    Going personal, I’ve noticed “bits” of me that are similar to Dad *and* other “bits” of me that are similar to Mom.

    Still we can see the “bits” and “pieces” are cards we’ve been given to play.

    Our lifes likely more depend on “how we play the cards” not just “what cards we got”. (Sounds like something Heinlein might have said).

  2. Who I am is more than the meat-sleeve you see in person. I, meaning my identity, is an standing holistic quantum wavefront…says Dan Simmons…or something…

  3. I have wondered from an early age if I was adopted. However, there are pictures and I do have some family resemblance. I don’t have anything in common with either of my parents. I do have a lot in common with my great-grandmother who died in the 80s. I don’t have much in common with my sisters. I do have something in common with my brothers, but I raised them.

    So it makes me wonder sometimes if I am a throwback. There is a stubbornness in me that would have been understood for new exploration. If only, I think sometimes, that space exploration had not been stalled. Before I became ill I would have been the first on a flight to colonize.

    1. Another difference – I am an avid reader and no one else in my family reads like I do. One of my brothers found the joys of reading Grisham and some adventure stories. But he was in his late thirties before he began to read for pleasure. (also a blond)

  4. When I ask myself the “Who am I, really?” question, the answers typically seem to lead into deep dark places that no sane person should want to go? Such as: what does “Real” mean, really? And: if I were given the answer, would I know it?

    And, of course, borrowing from Twain’s declension of adjectives, where you sit affects what you see. Those inclined to like me consider me witty, those less inclined deem me half-witty, and the rest think me a witlow.

  5. Well, if the mannerisms of your grandmother are familiar enough to recognize, they are familiar enough to have been picked up. I have a stepfather, mom says I’m just like him. I have a stepson, my mother and his say he is just like me. I don’t know how much is heredity and how much is environment. I do know you missed a factor. How much is opportunity. If you have a farming community like the old days, and I grew up in one, things go along just as they always have. Children grow to be farmers and farm wives. The professionals grow children to become professionals because they have the example before them. When there is opportunity to learn other ways of life, some children will quickly take the opportunity, others won’t. The odd thing is that it isn’t always the ones most suited to change that make the jump. I know a family, farm bred. The best and brightest is a farmer, he had the brains and drive to do anything. His younger brother is an attorney, and has a mind and personality more suited to being a peasant. People are just people, and to paraphrase a sage Crazy as uncle Pete’s pet coon

    1. It is hard to see from outside who is suited for change. Maybe the peasant outlook of the one brother and a stubbornness to make it through law school made him suited for change. I have been around brilliant people and they seem to be suited for caretakers. 😉

      1. There is a school of thought that what is truly required for success in Law is an “iron butt” — the ability and willingness to sit research precedents.

        1. the ability and willingness to sit research precedents

          A-way back when, my mother and father had me convinced I was a good debater/arguer and I, around jr high, thought that would make me a good lawyer. And then I interviewed a couple for a school career project. I found out exactly what RES is talking about and decided it t’wern’t fer me.

          I do enjoy the research I’ve been doing for my own fiction, but that’s pretty much the first research in my life I look forward to doing and go after with tenacity.

        2. Not saying he wasn’t capable of being a good attorney (despite the the inherent oxymoron) I was simply saying that his brother who was brilliant and remained happily in a very labor intensive position. Which, one would think, the very brilliance of the older brother would have made him unsuited to farming. This is not to say that being a GOOD farmer doesn’t require intelligence. Anyone can plow, plant and reap. A good farmer knows what and when. A trait being lost in today’s agribusiness with it’s concentration on averages

          1. True Sanford about intelligent farming. Many of the farmers in the area I lived in as a teenager sent their sons and heirs to college to learn the “science” of farming. They were pretty smart, but were not interested in other areas of science. Sometimes it is what it is especially if the older son knew he would get the farm and wanted it. It takes a certain type of person who likes change. Most people imho don’t like change.

          2. There’s a comfort in manual labor – you can see real accomplishments immediately and you own your own thoughts. I hate working outside and am much happier behind a computer, but I can see the attraction in farming. (But it’s also being a small business person and there’s a lot of stress in that.)

            1. Yes, I like manual labor, it is generally straightforward and lowstress, also very satisfying to look at a days work and see what you have done with your own hands.

              yes a lot of people cannot handle finances, how many people do you know that live paycheck to paycheck? That doesn’t work so well when you get payed once or twice a year. It takes discipline and planning to stretch that money throughout the year and I am constantly surprised by the people that don’t plan ahead enough to have money to pay bills they should have known perfectly well were coming.

              1. I see that every month. I go in and pay the rent and the manager is complaining about the rest of the folks there. Many of them don’t budget for rent, food, electricity– you know– the necessities.

                1. I have a hard time budgeting money. It’s gotten a lot better since I got a job where I am paid once a month. I get paid, I pay all my bills, I have whatever’s left to survive till next month.

        3. For some reason RES I read what you said about iron butt and all I hear is “blah, blah, blah.” Can you give the layman’s meaning for that term?

          1. “Iron butt” means somebody who can sit down for long periods of time. It’s a very common phrase and its meanings always hinge on that, but the applications vary widely. E.G.:

            1) I had a Russian roommate when I was in college who told me that there were two kinds of good students: “strong butt and strong head.” To him that meant either you had a “strong head” (i.e. you were really smart) or you had a “strong butt” (i.e. you were willing to sit in your chair and study a lot.)

            2) I have a friend who’s a biker and who used to do “Iron Butt” rides, wihch are rides where you try to ride as far as you can without stopping. Hundreds of miles on a motorcycle in one day is hard on the sitting apparatus, hence the term “iron butt” for people who can do it.

        4. That depends on the field of law and the individual’s temperament. I was never much for research, but then I practice in a field of law which is less dependent on things like that. It also depends on the individual’s gifts: I didn’t have to spend a lot of time studying. (Should have, didn’t.) And I got by fine.

        5. “Iron butt” (aka “butt time”) applies to history at the graduate level as well as law. One part of the MA in history is to determine if the person has the patience, determination, and utter foolishness to be willing to do the research required for a PhD.

          1. And doing it right often means foregoing a lot of other worthwhile things. I’m a bit of a generalist, two m.a.’s, no doctorate (and don’t want one); it’s always amazed me just how incredibly *narrow* the people who went all the way up the ladder tended to be in the rest of their lives.

            A real case of “pay your money and make your choices.”

  6. I am a weasel-minded Determinist. I believe that the universe is basically a big machine whose operations were determined by its initial operating parameters. In that regard, I think that everything that happens, happens for a predetermined reason and can’t be changed.

    However, I also believe that those parameters and the resulting operations are far too complex to be comprehended by human beings (not “yet,” I mean I don’t think it will fit in our brains, period) and that they continue to evolve at a quantum level in ways which, while not truly random, are for all intents and purposes not predictable by mortal intelligence. Therefore, I act as though I had free will and I treat other people as if they did likewise. It’s how I was made. 🙂

    (The careful reader will note that Weasel-Minded Determinism does not rule out external causes and/or influences including entities which might, for want of a better term, be called Gods. I am not an atheist. I wont get mad if you call me one, but I’m not one.)

    On a personal level, let me tell you a story…

    My father had black hair, blue eyes, and a rather fiery temper. He was smart but wasn’t much for book learning.

    My mother has brown hair, brown eyes, and is quiet and rather angsty. She reads voraciously.

    I am the oldest of four children. I have brown hair and brown eyes, and I am quiet and rather angsty. I am hypereducated and I read constantly. I have degrees in physics and math (and other things) and I’m a patent lawyer.

    My next-younger sister is two years younger than I am. She has blonde hair (n.b. blonde hair and black hair are part of the same recessive group in people of European descent) and blue eyes. She has a rather nasty temper and while she is smart she doesn’t like to read. She’s an accountant in a hospital.

    My next-next younger sister is ten years younger than I am. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She’s quiet and rather angsty and she reads constantly. She has degrees in biology and chemistry and she’s a veterinarian.

    My youngest sister is twelve years younger than I am. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s got a nasty temper and she doesn’t like to read. She’s smart but she just finished a bachelor’s degree. She’s a medical records administrator.

    (On the off chance my sisters ever read this, when I say that two of them have “nasty” tempers I mean when they get mad, they get really mad and quite demonstrative. They’re on the whole quite decent people in general.)

    What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh, indeed.

  7. My mother sometimes exclaims that it’s uncanny how many of my adult mannerisms match ones she remembers from my father…whom I didn’t see between the day she divorced him (I was 3) and three days after he died (when I found myself legal “next of kin” and possessed of a duty to arrange a funeral for a man who, despite looking like my time-travelling twin, I never actually knew). It could be argued that “nurture” stuck that stuff in my brain to lay dormant for a few decades, but I’m not really buying it. Of course, given that the only reason folks can tell the difference between a picture of me and a picture of him at the same age is the anachronistic clothing styles, it’s eminently plausible that she’s projecting, too.

    On the other hand, I’ve got a double-fistful of identifiable personality traits that can be traced directly to my childhood interactions with a couple of people who have no genetically-meaningful connection to me at all.

    Ultimately, I don’t suppose it matters too much. “Nature” vs “Nurture” is a bit of a fool’s game, given that anyone past “Third Cousin”, is no more genetically related to you than a random stranger off the street, and a large percentage of us are still raised by our genetic progenitors (hence our nature and our nurture mostly come from the same sources). Do smart parents tend to have smart kids because IQ is in the genes, or because smart parents are more likely to maintain an intellectually stimulating home environment out of pure habit?

    We’re all a product of countless sources of influence…some environmental (inside our homes), some genetic (inside our bodies), some psychological (inside our minds). Which is why no two of us are quite the same…because, as the old proverb goes, “you can’t step in the same river twice”.

  8. I feel wistful reading this – one of America’s ups is the relatively easy mobility, and my family moved to a different states when I was a kid, but there was a huge downside in that I pretty much lost my extended family, and that was a big loss, because we were all close, on both sides. It wouldn’t be so bad today, but that was back in the dark days before the internet when long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive.

    But, from a distance, I do see large trends. My dad’s side, all accountants and amateur engineers, the one brother so severly dyslexic that college wasn’t possible is still highly gifted mechanically (and has taken to computers). Mom’s side has a crazy streak – full of alcholics, drug addicts, manic depressives (and I suspect a lot of ADD), but also artists – a ballet dancer who danced in New York, a professional opera singer. The present generation is doing pretty well, and I wonder how much of the dysfunctionality of the older generations were a reaction to the limits of the times.

    1. I wonder how much of the dysfunctionality of the older generations were a reaction to the limits of the times.

      To ponder an unknowable? Heck writers of science fiction inhabit this space!

      I look at the streak of brilliant depressives in the family and think, ‘yes.’ More varied opportunities for careers, more developed treatments for the underlying problems, and a society that has a bit more acceptance of a diagnosis of depression might have helped them greatly, as well as eased the lives of their families. Yet, at the same time I wonder if some of what they achieved was a result of their particular struggles.

  9. I tend to think of Nature as a blueprint, and Nurture as a builder with strong style preferences and tendency to ignore mere blueprints.

    I dyed my hair red _once_. My resemblence to my paternal grandmother was frightening. Not that I didn’t love her, but I didn’t want to be her. “Family troublemaker” was much too mild a term for her. My oldest son looked just like my father, when he was born, and became an engineer like him. The younger one is the splitting image of my husband, an musical, like him. Where the language ability came from is a mystery. Lots of brains in the family, _wide_ scatter of talents.

    What really worries me is when I catch myself feeling like one of my characters, when I’m away from the computer and not writing.

    1. What really worries me is when I catch myself feeling like one of my characters, when I’m away from the computer and not writing.

      None of your characters are bell tower snipers are they?

    2. My husband’s grandson doesn’t look like him, but he has the eye problems (each eye can look in different directions) and the mechanical/engineering abilities. The grandson also has my hubby’s humor. The rest of his family were bewildered about the grandson’s humor and just didn’t know where it came from until the daughters spent sometime with their father in the last few years. It was amazing to me how alike they are (mostly mentally). Apparently my hubby had trouble in school because of his eyes. His grandson has the same problems.

      Even though the grandson is extremely smart in mechanical things. Plus my hubby’s side of the family made wheels for wagons in the 1800s. At the time you had to be engineering minded to be able to do it. Plus the hubby’s grandfather was involved in trains in the early 1900s. So yes, sometimes you can see the family traits at least in my hubby’s side.

      In my side it makes me wonder. The only thing we share is blue eyes. Half are blond and light skinned while the other half have dark hard and dark skin. Plus the personalities are split along those lines too.

  10. Every so often my mother or one of our maternal-line family history hobby folks announces, “Your g-g-grandfather Josef did that/would have done that/ was good at that.” He died in the early 1870s, after surviving the Siege of Richmond (yet another family member in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’d been impressed into Confederate government non-military service when the war broke out). He spoke several languages, was detail oriented (to use the modern term), and left descendents who had a knack for skilled hand work (blacksmith, ship-building, fine carpentry) and a tendency to verbosity. Note that that is the respectable, Franco-German-Cajun side of Mom’s family, not the Scots-Irish side. I’d lean towards nurture over nature, say 60% – 40%; at least in the Red family, in part because there was (and is) a lot of out-crossing.

  11. I grew up quite convinced that I looked most like my father’s side of the family. I had his profile and his skin coloring including the freckling. My build was far more like his or his mother’s than anyone else in the family. The only thing I had not gotten from my father’s side was some shade of red hair.

    Then came the day, when The Daughter was about two that I visited my mother’s family in south Georgia for the first time. (It was arranged so my grandmother could meet her and so I could meet my mother’s cousins, family I had never known.) The house we were staying in had a wall of pictures of family going back as far as photos went. In the midst was one that looked like someone had dressed me in period costume and put my hair up. I was the spitting image of the long forgotten Annie Cameron Taylor, who had died in childbirth when her eldest daughter, my grandmother, was barely six. (All that is known about her background is that Dr. Taylor had brought Annie home with him from the mountains.)

    1. Dr. Hendry, his mother was the Taylor. I learned at a time that I was severely sleep deprived due to a very active toddler. Sorry

  12. Even people who claim to believe that there is no free will, don’t. You can tell because they argue with people who do believe it and blame them for believing, both of which are preposterous on a deterministic view, because their belief would be predetermined.

  13. I’ve had people tell me I should curl my hair to look just like my paternal grandmother.

    How like? Well, it took five or six years of attending SF cons before I went to one where I wasn’t called “Ann” three or four times, because people took me for my sister. Nevertheless, relatives who hadn’t seen me, or that sister, or other sister or mother, looked at the four of us and said, “You must be Mary, you look like your grandmother.”

  14. As a geneologist, I know exactly who I am, in the sense that I know my family history and who came from where. From my ancestors on the Mayflower (yes I am one of those folks) to my ancestors who were here to meet them (related to Pocahantas via her son with John Rolfe.) I have a varied and somewhat crazy background.

    I look like my great grandmother on my mom’s side of the family. I don’t mean sort of, I mean a nearly exact copy. (We have a family photo taken when she was about my age now.) But I am nothing like her in personality. She was not at all curious about the world, all she wanted to do was stay at home and take care of her kids. She never learned to read and write beyond some basics.

    I have nothing in common with most of my family, hence, we rarely see each other (thank goodness) and I live a very different lifestyle. I was the first to leave home and marry (at 16), the first to go to university, the only one to get an advanced degree, and the only one to live abroad once my father retired from the military. We may be related, but we sure are different. All five of us live in different states, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Michigan, Iowa, and Wyoming. All of us have different kinds of jobs and three of us are of the same religion.

    Who am I, really? My parent’s daughter, my husband’s wife, my children’s mother, a grandmother, great grandmother, but mostly myself.

    1. Howdy relative! That is if The Daughter is correct, she informed me recently that one ancestor that all decendents of the FFVs have in common is Pocahontas.

      1. Yep. Pocahantas and John Rolfe only had one son, Thomas. We are all related to her via his children. For my family it was via the Bolling family line. Oh, I could go on for ages. Hal and I are related via the Bolling’s too. Only I come from the first marriage, and he comes from the second wife. Too funny.

      2. FFV?

        Don’t think it applies. Dan’s family came here shortly after the Mayflower (the joke is “on the second boat, because we’re NOT showoffs” That shortly after, truly) but they landed in Norwalk CT and his branch of the family stayed there till his dad moved away after Dan’s birth.

        1. My hubby’s family were the ones that got the money together for the Mayflower journey and the other ships. They came in the last ship. lol

      1. What line are you from? We have several connections with the families from the Mayflower. Lathrop, Samuel Fuller, Howell, and four or five others. They all intermarried. Our Lathrop daugher married George Bonham, from my mother’s family line. I love genealogy.

    2. I went for the easier route of having relatives who do that family tree stuff. On my mother’s side of the family, none of my great-grandparents were born out of the country, but we can trace them all back to the boat — Ireland. (In fact, we knew it was Ireland before we knew all the names of the immigrants. 19th-century Connecticut marriages licenses had slots for the birthplaces of the bride and groom’s parents, but not their names.)

      On my father’s side, all four great-grandparents were born out of the country. OTOH, three of them were born in Canada. Where I can trace my ancestry back to the filles du roi and the soldiers of the company. On the Acadian branch — one ancestor was among those deported to New England, not Louisana, and vanished for a decade only to reappear in Quebec — there are even a few women who, as far as records go, could have materialized on their wedding days. So possibly even farther. But not from Pocahantes.

      1. there are even a few women who, as far as records go, could have materialized on their wedding days

        As far as the southern family, who was into genealogies, was concerned that is pretty much what explained Annie Cameron. She must have materialized out of the thin air of the Appalachian mountains where her husband had found her.

  15. I’m pretty much the “black sheep” of the family, having left home at 17 with absolutely NO INTENTION to return except for short visits. Contrast that with my father, who, as soon as he gets somewhere, starts talking about “going back home”. Both families, up through my generation, are most likely to be found within the boundaries of the state of Louisiana.

    Appearance-wise, I’m an amalgam of both my parents’ families. The brown hair (it was originally, trust me) and blue eyes came from Dad’s side of the family, along with square palms, short fingers, and a tendency to get involved in anything and everything imaginable. My stubbornness comes from my mother’s side of the family (Irish – Powell). We know that our family was brought to the United States by James Oglethorpe (the founder of Georgia) in 1735. Before that, we tended to be craftsmen and herders in Scotland and the Hebrides. There is a goodly amount of Norse (Viking) mixed in, but it’s primary Celt and Pict. In the United States, we quickly added a healthy dose of native American blood. I have the high, wide cheekbones of that ancestry.

    Both Mom and Dad exhibited a higher than average intelligence, as well as the ability to adjust to just about anything. I’ve inherited quite a bit of that. Both were avid readers, as I and my brother are, and as my children are. Anything else is speculation.

  16. I’m firmly convinced personality is pretty much innate. Oh, no doubt really intense experiences or horrible abuse might change a kid’s personality, but the core stays the same.

    One thing which I find interesting is how I can see elements of my wife’s and my own personalities in our kids, but they’re shuffled. My son has my wife’s enthusiastic confidence plus my own tendency to ignore things which don’t interest me. My daughter has my verbal facility and my wife’s attention to detail.

    Looking back the other direction, I can see in myself elements of my own parents.

    It is rather humbling to realize how much a product of our genes we are. But there is a saving grace to that: it means people can’t be “molded” nearly as much as Utopians would like.

  17. Heredity has always been very interesting to me. Not so much my own as how it works and the whole Nature vs. Nurture thing. Much of this is because I have been interested in breeding dogs since I was very young, and the more you know, the better success you have. Of course I have a tendency to wander off down rabbit trails, so I learn all sorts of interesting tidbits that are of very limited use. One of the confusing aspects of Nature vs. Nurture is that an aptitude for training or learning something may be hereditary (nature) but most can learn something adequately if they put enough effort into it, while others who have the aptitude, have no interest and never learn at all.

  18. Oh, there’s genes — the kid has her dad’s Asperger’s, and a certain amount of facility with math. But she’s got my personality/character-oriented imagination. And her grandmother’s organizational deficit issues, it’s becoming apparent…

    And yet she’s got bits that are distinctly her, and possibly her alone… Maybe? Not sure. Maybe I would’ve been more like her if I hadn’t had to deal with some of the crud I had to deal with.

    Of course, my beliefs include reincarnation, just to throw a few random wrenches into the whole thing. Genetics, nurture, forgotten experiences… Put it all in the blender and hit “puree” and see what comes out!

  19. Now I get to be nasty. I have been watching the family tree stuff and sitting quietly. My ancestors can be traced to Ireland where they were pirates and smugglers. In fact the generations seem to alternate between horse thieves and lawyers. in other words, mostly crooks of some sort. 😀 I don’t let it bother me for one simple reason, other lines trace back collaterally to Washington and obliquely various royal houses. I don’t care because I keep one thing in mind. I know who my female ancestors are going back severalo generations. I am reasonably sure who my father was. The rest of my male ancestors…I wouldn’t hazard a bet. Until the last few years no one, i repeat, no one knew who their male ancestors were. I mentioned earlier that Iam much like my stepfather. This includes a bit of apperance, enough that strangers assued i was his natural son, and my half brother (his natural son) was the step. If you claim decendence from anyone more than a generation or two ago you are very possibly wrong. You may qualify for the DAR but, nobody knows. Fooling around outside marriage is NOT a new concept

    1. Ok, you got nasty, feel better now? In doing genealogy, one does not just have records any longer, they have DNA. As for unwed mothers, or children born from an affair, of course that goes on, however, with the scientific advances, it is easy enough to show what your blood line is, and DNA can pretty much pin it down to which man and which woman are your direct ancestors.

      I not only have ancestors who settled with the Mayflower company, I have relatives in Jamestown too. But, I also have ancestors from all over the world, from England to Africa, to American Indians, to near-do-well and downright theives. No one has a perfect record of ancestry only marked by the occasional carpet bagger or scallywag. Most of us come from a mixed stock who have all sorts of backgrounds.

      I have spent over 30 years doing research, I never put down anything as fact unless I can prove the provenance by more than one documented source. And now that we have science to back up claims, there is even less of a chance of getting away with making stuff up.

      Sounds to me like you are just a bit uncomfortable with your background or you wouldn’t be so nasty about it.

      1. Actually, I was saying that I was going to be nasty because I kinew i would get at least one reply like yours. I don’t have any real issues with my family tree because I never cared. What is important is who you are not who you are related to. Unless of course you are nothing and have nothing to be proud of except your family name. That, by the way was not directed at you or anyone else. It is just a general truism of the way I see it. As far as being able to “prove” the provenance of your ancestry going back %00 years or 300 or whatever. Meh, very little of that has been done. For one thing I don’t have any blood or tissue of, oh say John Hunt Morgan. Most geneologies are exactly as accurate as public records, meaning not at all. Let’s use my maternal great grand father as an example. Walker Albert Portwood. We have a picture of him, my grandfather resembles him. No one in my generation does. one uncle did. Was he my Great grandfather like It says in the family bible, and various tax and census rolls ? Maybe. It has not been uncommon historically for People to fool around. It is also not uncommon historically for a family to adopt and claim as their own an infant that is actually the child of a sister or other relative. Or a child that is thought to be the result of an affair of the man of the house. Records mean very little against the reality of people. Of course everyone in a give family may have been totally honest at all times but, I wouldn’t bet on it

    2. Yes, of course. I’m fairly sure Dan’s ancestors are who they say they are, because… five families, one city. Sooner or later, they were all related. Also, it’s impossible to follow EVERY line.

      One thing is certain. Judging from Robert’s health issues my MIL’s family line has WAY more Amerindian than they found in ANY genealogy. (Where supposedly there aren’t any.) So… meh.

      1. I suspect that there are many lines in the US who have both Ameridian and Black lines in them. A friend of mine found out recently that her family ran away from their owners and got away from it because they had more white than black in their bloodline by that time. They settled in Ohio and about 100 years later look as white as any other family. They even were pretty upset when my friend married a Hispanic male.

        We started our DNA, which is unusual (in the male line) and also puts the matrimonial line in a pretty interesting group. Have you heard of the Cheddar Man in England? My mtDNA matches his. Anyway, with the DNA testing it is getting easier to disentangle certain lines. For instance, a cousin of my husband was able to find the Tune line through having members of each brother take DNA testing (ptDNA). Through that she was able to prove that they had a recent common ancestor, which she found (by testing other lines) in Kentucky and then Virginia. So it is a very useful too.

  20. –useful tool 😉 However, it is hard sometimes to use it because it shows migration patterns from thousands of years ago (depending on mt or pt).

    1. Plus – to Begley- the reason many of us do genealogy is the need for roots. My hubby was a foster child– there is abandonment issues (rootless so to speak) for individuals who are not connected to a family. He did genealogy to find his cousins.

  21. All I know for sure about my bloodline is: My parents should have stopped at one kid. (I’m #2 of 2.)

  22. I’m told I’m quite like my dad’s great aunt. If I ever met the lady, it would have been when I was very, very young. I’ve been told that she was a voracious reader and traveled a great deal. I forget what else we’re meant to have in common, but I feel such a kinship with her that after she passed, I agreed to “take possession” of her ashes. Specifically, her request was to have her ashes scattered. I thought she might like to have it done in a foreign country and am pretty set on scattering them in Australia. IIRC, my dad said he thought she’d like that because she’d never been there in life. So the next time I go, I’ll make sure to properly research the transport of human remains there.

    Otherwise, I think it’s taken as a given that though I get my coloring from my mother’s side of the family and my personality from my dad’s side. Both grandfathers were military, so I’m a second-generation military brat and my extended family is fairly scattered. I’m not sure I’ve even met all of my mother’s siblings and certainly haven’t met all of my cousins. But as far as I know, other than my dad’s great aunt and my own dad, I’m not really “like” any of the rest of my family. Not enough for anyone to comment on it.

    My dad has a habit of commenting on our surname and saying that the profession(s – since I think it could reference two types of jobs, scribes and sheriffs) it references tend to show up a lot in the family. I’m not quite sure that’s true since I haven’t looked over the genealogy that my mom researched, but he may be referring to more modern terms rather than historical terms. In modern terms, that seems about right, though. A lot of our family work as sort of “stewards” or “records keeping” related jobs.

  23. Actually, genealogy has always embraced the unofficial as well as the official ancestry of people, which is part of why gossips do actually have a social function — you don’t want to marry and procreate with somebody rumored to be a close relative, any more than you want to marry a known close relative.

    Mostly, though, genealogy is popular in almost all cultures because it is a big story, culminating in its latest protagonist/s.

  24. I don’t know about this whole question. The men in my family seem to be very good at math. My great (maybe great-great) grandfather wrote a math textbook (by hand, only the one copy, and we can’t find it), my uncle was able to solve at least one problem in his school’s math text that the teacher could not, and I soak up math like a sponge, as long as I have someone to present it.

    On the other hand, I’m not as determined or motivated as other men in my family, though I have this back-burner kind of determination, where I may give up on something for a while, but always come back until it’s done; I’m a comparative giant in terms of size (I don’t think anyone but me, my brother, and our respective sons are over 5’9″ at family reunions), and I don’t really look like any of them. Unlike my father and brother, who are pretty outgoing, I was always the one who sat quietly and listened (and I REALLY wish my sons were more like I was).

    From my mother’s side, there is some slight resemblance to her father, but not much. I got her touchiness when it comes to being made fun of, though I finally got mostly over that at the end of high school, but thankfully I did not get her sensitive digestive tract. Or maybe I bludgeoned it into submission with regular doses of spicy and/or unusual food.

    As for ways of thinking, no one in my family, except maybe my brother, but I never really talked with him much because of our age difference, could really ever understand what I wanted to do with my life, nor could they understand why I wouldn’t be content with any number of jobs that can be summed up as “Oh. My. G-d. how boring. I would go insane.” So, while I can see some things from my families, where did that part come from? Nature, or something else?

  25. I am more apt to be thought of (when the extended family is seen together) as my maternal uncle’s daughter (although the age difference isn’t really right) simply because we use many of the same gestures and have almost identical walks. But I too have caught glimpses of my paternal grandmother in my face.

    I would like to submit that these may have nothing to do with genetic psychology, however, and everything to do with genetic physiology. My facial bone structure – genetic – is mostly inherited from my father’s side of the family, with some contributions by my mother’s’ side, notably in the width of cheekbones and the shape of individual teeth. But overall the bone structure seems to be that of my grandmother. Muscle attachments and layout will follow bone structure, and so I am seeing the same shapes develop over time in my face as I saw in hers. Some of this is good and some is not; nevertheless.

    Likewise the same genetics that formed my uncle’s gait formed mine, in terms of bone structure of the legs and hips, and hence the overlying muscle. He does not appear to have developed malformed knees, yet his feet still move in the same way, the legs in similar fashion, and the overall shapes are still there. This is physiological genetics in action.

    Gestures like raking the hand through the hair are harder to explain; then again I do recall my favorite uncle making that gesture when I was very small, so it is likely that particular one was indeed nurture. My giggle used to sound just like his, a rapid machine-gun-fire sound. But somewhere along the way I developed a full, robust laugh and the machine gun giggle gradually dropped into a single (sometimes loud and unladylike) snort. (Or in some cases, a spit-take, as was more than adequately demonstrated at Con*Stellation this past weekend.)

    So, Sarah, I would submit to you that there is much less psychological genetics involved than simple inheritance of bone structure, combined with subconscious nurture effects. (And yeah, I’ve thought about this a LOT, given my personal characteristics, the knees, the teeth, and the comparisons with my uncle.)

  26. the thing that amazes me is my propensity to adopt the aspects of my father’s make-up that I want to avoiod, yet struggle to grasp the elements that I admire so much.

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