If you met me and walked around my house looking at family portraits you might remark on the size of my family. You might then be surprised to discover that the family in the photos are not really family. Oh sure we share some genetic links and have names for each other like “cousin” or “aunt”, but the closeness that I feel should define a family does not define ours. Instead things like grudges and conflicting politics and distance and hurt feelings have damaged most of the shiny veneer that glosses over the biggest portrait from the early 80’s. We are a family, but instead of being grounded by roots we are like a series of clippings from one plant, scattered across the nation in various murky glass jars.
My particular “jar” shoot contains my Grandmother, my Mother, myself and now my Son. But rather than isolate ourselves alone on a shelf, we have tried to inch closer to other jars, other families. Because even though our genetic family is not close, we still crave the closeness of like-minded people.
Within our group of collected friends are people that are so close, so tight, so comforting that they feel like family. This notion has been a part of my life since the beginning as most of the women that I grew up calling “Aunt” are in no way related.
I also grew up with an interesting knowledge of ancestry and celebrities. Well certainly not all celebrities, but if someone in the movies had a surname that was also in our family tree we began to identify with them as a relative. Not in a show up at their door way, but more in a, “So and So is in a movie this weekend. Let’s go see our cousin!”
Ready for another family quirk? My Grandmother’s last name is Smith and whenever we see another Smith, whether it is at a doctor’s office or playing in the super bowl we nudge each other saying, “we are probably related”. Think of it as a home game version of the classic chorus of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
One of my giant fantasies about being part of the extended 23andMe “family” is that one day I discover someone on-line that really is family. In my mind it would be a simple “click here to find out if you are related to someone”. And then there would be like a pool of people all waiting to get to know you, all fresh starts, all distant cousins.
I also hope that by understanding the information revealed in my genetic analysis by 23andMe that I might some day find out what really links a family- because it certainly isn’t just in the DNA. Right?