The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy

Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I’ve had an interest in genealogy since the fifth grade when my grandfather helped me make a family tree of my Scottish ancestry for a school project. I learned the tendency of the Scots to exaggerate: my grandfather claimed a relation to Warren Beatty (we do have cousins who married into Beattys, just not Warren’s family) and said we were descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie (highly unlikely).

However, my determination to continue tracing my roots persists to this day as I map my relatives on and make visits to cemeteries seeking lost tombstones.

The Influence of Family |

Family Stories

I don’t know if my daughter Sofie will one day take up my interest in genealogy, but she does love a good story. And so I share with her some of my family stories. It’s these anecdotes I heard in childhood that stick with me today, such as:

  • My father’s one trip to Italy as a boy when all he remembers is being chased by a pig on the ship;
  • My mom and her sisters feeding caramels to their dog so they could laugh when his jaw got stuck;
  • My Scottish grandfather who claimed his missing left thumb was the result of a fat man stepping on it during the war. As a young man, this same grandfather also walked in on his mother during an attempted suicide;
  • My other grandfather’s plane making an emergency landing in the Alps during World War II, which led to him meeting my grandmother at a Milanese piazza. She broke off her engagement with an Italian and came to America as a war bride less than a year later.

These stories might make us laugh or cry, and they also give glimpses into a relative’s character and life choices. More so than the records and censuses that provide only the facts about my ancestors: elementary educations; blue-collar workers; lots of children birthed and many buried; extended families crammed into city apartments. Stories provide depth to the shape of our family.


A Cappiella wedding

What makes our family our family?

  • Our cultural history? That’s diverse: Irish, Scottish, Italian, Filipino, and possibly German.
  • Our religious heritage? My husband and I both come from a long line of Catholics — at least I had assumed it was a long line until I discovered Irish Protestants on my maternal grandmother’s side. And while it may speak to the lack of divorce in our family trees, Catholicism does not define us, especially since we’re not raising Sofie in that religion.
  • Shared names? In tracing my tree, there are many common names as children were named for parents or grandparents. Yet, not only did we not choose any of those baby names, but my husband and I created a genealogical nightmare when we made our own last name after getting married to symbolize our new family. (“De” from his surname of DeGuzman,  “Forbes” is the Scottish clan on my mother’s side.)

With our obvious diversion from the familial norm, I don’t believe family is merely about a shared name. There are many threads woven into the fabric of what makes a family: love, genetics, personality quirks, special talents, recipes, heirlooms and, perhaps most of all, a shared sense of place and history. Since researching my roots, I’ve connected on Facebook with relatives I’ve never met simply because we share a common ancestry. Through this, the shape of our family expands, and there’s something pretty cool about that.

As my daughter grows, I can’t help but notice how the threads of our family reveal themselves in her. When unhappy, Sofie will make the exact facial expression of her Filipino grandmother. She shares our creative abilities, the hearty Cappiella appetite, the DeGuzman flair for drama, and my mother’s penchant for multiple Yahtzees in a game. Yet she also exhibits a unique sense of goofiness, tenacious physical affection and an ability to adapt to almost anything — qualities that she may one day pass on to her children.


Four generations of women.

I have my Italian grandmother’s recipes, my Scottish grandfather’s school records, my memories from childhood. But I would love to know more about the generations that preceded them. I’ve uncovered many new facts from my genealogical research… yet that kind of research always brings up more questions.

How did the mothers feel about parenting broods of five, six, even nine children? What was it like working in the Philadelphia textile mills during the 1870s? Did any of my ancestors share my environmental interests? If they lived today, which ones would be most likely to blog about it?

What questions would you ask your ancestors?



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • They Come Through You — Aspen at Aspen Mama shares what her late-discovery adoption means to her and her family.
  • The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy — Donna at Eco-Mothering delves into her genealogy and family stories, observing how the threads of family reveal themselves in her daughter.
  • Hand family stories down to the next generation — Lauren at Hobo Mama asked her father to help her son learn to read — never expecting that Papa’s string of richly storytelling emails would bring a treasure trove of family history into their lives.
  • Saving Family Stories — Holly at Leaves of Lavender talks about why she thinks it’s important to preserve fun and interesting family stories for future generations.
  • Serenading Grandma — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama started playing violin in the fifth grade, her grandma and mother were the biggest part of her musical cheering section. Her grandma urged her to keep playing and reminded her that someday she’d be thankful for her talent. As was so often the case, her grandma was right.
  • Family legacy ambivalence — With a family history of depression and suicide, Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama frets about her children’s emotional health.
  • Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New — As an Episcopalian whose children’s ancestry is five-eighths Jewish, Becca at The Earthling’s Handbook values the annual Passover seder that connects her and the kids to family traditions.

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6 Responses to The Shape of Our Family: Musings on Genealogy

  1. Jessica says:

    Those are all such fascinating questions that you would ask! My son has been asking lately about “what he is” and I think we ought to spend some time working it all out.
    I do love the shared name. We gave my kids my last name because there were more grandchildren passing on with my husband’s and none with mine. And because I’m the one who does most stuff with them! But sometimes I wish we’d done something else. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I have very little knowledge of my ancestors, though much of it could be at my fingertips. We have maternal roots in the RLDS church, and they are big into ancestry. I also have a cousin who has researched the paternal side of my family tree. What would I ask my ancestors? I think I’d talk to them about their passions, what made them choose their work, where they lived, etc.

  3. The question I want to ask many of my ancestors is, “Why did you give your children terrible names like Hepzibah Fortitude?! And then when she died of diphtheria at age 3, why did you give your next-born daughter the same name–wasn’t once enough, and didn’t it bring up sad memories?”

    My grandfather researched our genealogy in the 1980s, typing letters on a typewriter to request paper copies of records. I used to love poring over his binders! My dad has now computerized it and collected a lot more info. It’s really interesting to me.

    I like your blended last name!

  4. I love your family stories — what a great way to meet a bride, emergency landing a plane! I’ve been on these past couple years, too, and I have the same longing to know the stories behind all those facts. I can guess at some, such as when I see some pretty tragic birth-followed-by-death dates, or see baby’s names being recycled until finally one lives longer than a year or two (sigh). But it would just be so precious to meet those relatives face to face, give the grieving ones a hug, and listen to their stories.

  5. megz says:

    what an amazing thing to have so much to pass down! One day I will probably meet siblings that were given up for adoption, I will have so many questions, and be interested in seeing if we have facial expressions in common too 😀
    My url was wrong – this should work

  6. Holly S says:

    That’s actually a really great question. I wish I knew more about my ancestors, so that I could have good questions for them! I do have many things I wish I could ask my grandparents; I only have one living grandfather, and I do have every intention of getting some of his stories recorded soon (he was in the Navy during WWII, and he hardly talks about it, but I would love to know more about that experience especially, since my own husband is in the Navy!). My father’s parents were, I believe, both first generation Americans, and I would love to know more about what life was like for them growing up. My paternal grandfather grew up in Chicago, and there is a family legend that he once was an errand runner for Al Capone!

    Also, genealogy is pretty fascinating. One of these days, I could easily see myself getting lost in mapping our our family trees.

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