On “Identifying” with Our Ancestors

I want to share what my dear wife, Kay, posted on Facebook this morning, and my further response to it (the sharing here of which is her idea—ostensibly in the interests of posterity.)

Here’s her post:

Considering “identity”. With which ancestry is one to identify? Am I my European invaders? or my Cherokee victims? Do I have to identify with all Europeans that came to America, or may I identify with my particular Europeans that, as far as I know, came here and settled and farmed unoccupied land. As far as I know, I don’t have any conquistadors nor even any revolutionaries in my ancestry. Pretty boring, I guess.

#justastudyinWhoAmIanyways #partofmebeenherelongtime #partofmeheardaboutbetterplacetoliveandcomeonover #thebattlewithinme #notreally

And now, my reply:

You have excellently highlighted the arbitrariness of picking and choosing that with which one will “identify” regarding his or her ancestors.

I think it says a great deal about us, what traits we choose. Suppose we take a shine to the violence of one, or to the brilliance of another—or to the plight of the one, or the dominance of another.

It’s also pretty interesting that anyone should feel compelled to identify with an ancestor as opposed to identifying with anyone ELSE that they never met. Hmmm. It is indeed an arbitrary practice, and far from a rational exercise.

But I digress.

Peter Pelham brought the first pipe organ (so I have read) to the New World. Shall I revel in that, and insist that it has relevance in the fact that I am also an ̶o̶r̶g̶a̶n̶i̶s̶t̶ singer? Alternately, some of the Pelhams were brought to the New World to be residents in the penal colony of Georgia. Shall I then “identify” with them regarding my avocation as a proponent of ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶i̶f̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶c̶r̶i̶m̶e̶ the rule of law?

John Pelham, on the other hand, was a mighty-fine cannoneer in the War for Southern Independence. He was killed in action, posthumously promoted from Major to Colonel, and honored by having a city named for him in 23 states–including some in that region that fought against him. And his strategy (now called “Shoot and Scoot”) is still studied at West Point to this very day. I identify strongly with him, based on his love for peanut butter and banana sandwiches—which fact, although not supported by any extant account of his preferences, is firmly established in my mind on the unassailable basis that he being so good a strategist, he simply MUST have loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

That’s all I have to say about that.

On further discussion, I decided that the best way to celebrate the abritariness of it all would be for us each to take a year to “identify” with someone else’s ancestors! Starting today, therefore, I am now identifying with the Egyptians–and more specifically, with Amhenhotep IV, affectionately known to those of us in his family as Akhenaten, and to King Tut, of course, as Uncle Dad.

Pa Akhenaten, as I like to call him, really shook things up, moving the capitol city 11 miles down the Nile and making significant changes to their religious practices.  After his death, his reforms were promptly eradicated and his new palace and temple torn down and their stones used to build cisterns and bathrooms and such.  It’s this last part in particular that I choose to identify with.  I’m not sure how, exactly, but I’ll think of  away.  After all, I have a year to work on it!

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