This is an excerpt from my manuscript, Why Sunday Mornings Always Come Down (and Other Hard Lessons My Father Taught Me). It's from part one, titled Footprints and Footsteps My Roots Have Sacrificed.
I have always been intrigued by a person’s roots, where they come from; who they come from. I don’t always believe that blood is thicker than water, but you can’t change the DNA you come from, who your relatives are. The first lesson my father taught me is that while you can’t change who you come from, you have to take the good and bad essence that makes up your roots and use it all to define who you want to be. This doesn’t mean you let the people who are your past define you, but rather, you separate the riches from the spoils to persevere and become the person YOU want to be. You can embrace your blood ties or you can disregard them, the choice is always yours. Past events that have happened in my family along my timeline have left scars and pain that will never be erased, and these events have left now an emptiness in my life because there are relatives I never even knew let alone speak to, to this day. Yet, I’m drawn to my family’s history, my heritage, and can’t help but think that it all, the good and the bad, has definitely shaped me into who I am today.
I’m one fourth Cherokee, Lithuanian, German, and Irish. What a mixed bag that is, hmmm?
I don’t know much about my mother’s side, truth be told. Her childhood and roots were not topics we discussed often, and any information about her parents and her ancestors were left mainly to my imagination, but I know that the German and Irish comes from her side. I never met her real father, who’s name was Tom. He and Grandma Dorothy, my mom’s mom, divorced when my mother was very young. Dorothy remarried to a man named Charlie who raised my mother. Grandma Dorothy’s father, whose name I can’t recall, was a man I met a few times when I was very young when we’d travel to Texas, where my mother was from, for Christmas and summer vacations. He fought in the Great War. I have the military flag from his funeral. My father used to hang it on the side of our house for holidays. Charlie was not the nicest of fathers from what my mother told me. My mother has a younger sister and a younger brother. Charlie had two daughters, then Charlie and Grandma had a son together, so it was Mom, Betty, Tom, then Pat, Kathy, and Ronnie. The only one in any recent years I’ve ever had any communication with was Mom's sister, Aunt Betty. Mom always seemed closer to her.
I believe there were many things about my mother’s family and her childhood that she kept to herself, bad things. Some things I became aware of when I was an adult, but I think there were literally things she took to her grave that I’ll never have a clue about. My father, over the years, has been more open about his childhood, his parents, and combining the things I know from both sides, it is safe and honest to say that my parents were two very tough, strong individuals.
My father’s side is the side I’ve taken the most interest in, having had more access to relatives and information than my mother’s side. My grandfather, Paul, dad’s real father, was full-bloodied Cherokee. I’ve tried tracing the Cherokee portion of our family tree, but it has proved to be a difficult task over the years. Based on Cherokee research I’ve done, I think it was my great-great-great grandparents who may have taken some part in the Cherokee Removal in 1853. I have reason to believe that my ancestors, whom obviously survived, possibly fled from their homeland to avoid removal, and made their way up north. From where they fled and where they actually ended up, I do not yet know, but Paul’s family has long standing ties to the Dayton area.
While my grandmother and Paul were married, they had six kids; Aunt Paulette, my father, then Chris, Tommi, Barb, and Nancy. Grandma eventually divorced Paul, and remarried to a man named Ray. I never knew Paul, and any information over the years that my father has been able to provide about him and his past has been sketchy at best. It’s a task to take history and try to trace how it to how it relates exactly to your blood line. My father thinks that our Cherokee ancestors lied about their Cherokee lineage when they migrated north to make it easier on them to start over. He thinks that they were ashamed they were Cherokee just because of the backlash that has served this country for far too long, if you ask me, about claiming to be a Native American of any kind. It has never been uncommon for any Native American to flee to avoid removal and to lie about who they really were. Our family last name, however, is supposedly linked directly to Cherokee ties.
The history of the Cherokee and my journey on exploring this part of my heritage could serve as a book on its own. I don’t specifically claim to be a Cherokee, but if I could ever trace our family to a Cherokee descendant, we could technically be considered tribal. According to Cherokee statutes, to be considered Cherokee, you can be up to 1/16 Cherokee, so long as you have official papers tracing who your ancestors or relatives are. If I’m ¼, that’s pretty close ties, so the proof is in the ongoing research and tracing, but if ancestors burned their papers or hid information, the dead ends I will meet or have met thus far will remain endless. If ever in conversation with someone about Indians or heritage, I will say that as far as I know, I’m Cherokee, but am not affiliated and can’t prove it.
Grandma Annette’s side is a bit easier to prove. She was Lithuanian. Her parents immigrated from Lithuania through Ellis Island. I have papers that a relative gave my father, who in turn gave to me. They are certificates with the names of my great-grandparents, showing that they are part of an immigration wall of honor proving that they did pass through Ellis Island. I don’t know what year they came over, so I have been working on tracking that information down. They changed their names to a more “Americanized” version and settled in Michigan.
My family history is rich, one that I don’t take lightly. Through the grandparents I knew and didn’t know, through the hardships I’ve seen or only heard about, I take great pride in where I come from, who I come from. It’s these people who created those who created me.