Most Americans I know have a family origin myth. It’s not uncommon for us to say I’m Italian and Irish, even though we know we’re Americans. It’s really no surprise because, unless you are fully Native American, your family originally came from some other country, whether taken under duress, shipped with a prison colony, or looking for a new start.
At this point in time, most white, and I dare say African Americans, are a complete mutt and mixture of countries, ethnicities, and even races. I don’t come across too many people that claim to be to be from of just one country origin.
My dad was one of them. His famous claim was that he was all Dutch.
But, there was a little blip on his family tree where he couldn’t be sure if he was honestly all Dutch. His grandmother was adopted. The family lore suggested that his grandmother’s biological mother may have either been Irish or Mexican. She was certainly Catholic and from Texas, but that’s all we knew for sure. Her name was either Mary or Maria. My dad has a nice dark, olive skin tone, and thick black hair – like his mother – and therefore we suspected that her name was Maria and she was Mexican. Or perhaps the biological mother was Black Irish, and therefore my dad had some Jewish blood in him. Otherwise, he was fully Dutch.
I grew up learning all about Dutch culture because I was Dutch: All Dutch on my dad’s side, half on my Mom’s. I was, even accounting for the adopted great-grandmother, at least 50% ethically Dutch.
But as with many of those now taking DNA tests, this narrative came crashing down.
My family knew that not all our ancestors where ethnically Dutch. Before the discovery and eventual rush to The Americas, many refugees sought asylum in the Netherlands. The Pilgrims did this before they came to America. And we knew that my family did the same, it just took them an additional 300 years to immigrate to the US.
The furthest I can track my patrilineal heritage is to France in the early part of the 16th century, when my family was called De Tringham. Side note: My maiden name is eerily similar to my married name, so if you’re seeing Ingraham in De Tringham wait a minute and you’ll see where I’m going.
Peter De Tringham was a French Huguenot and after his village was burned down by the Catholic church, he and his family escaped to the Netherlands, where he changed his name to Tringham. Somehow in the immigration to the US, an “S” was added and we get my maiden Stringham. During this time, a lot of Huguenots immigrated to the Netherlands instead of Germany, or other Protestant leaning nations, because Huguenots followed a more Reformed theology as opposed to a Lutheran theology espoused by Germany.
I also knew that some of my ancestors were from England or general British Isles. They left for similar reasons as the Pilgrims. They were similar to what we call Quakers. Their religious practices were Reformed, simple, personal, austere, and quiet. Huguenots and Quaker/Separatists were welcomed with open arms in the Netherlands, as long as these families became Dutch. You could practice your religion with similar Dutch enclaves as Dutch.
The Pilgrims, unlike my family, didn’t want to become Dutch in culture, so they eventually made the treacherous trip across the Atlantic. My family stayed and became part of the Dutch culture. We became proud of that Dutch culture, but due to famine 300 years after the Pilgrims, were forced to make a new way in the United states.
While my Dutch heritage has started to fade, my family’s loyalty to the same faith that has caused it to move to Holland in the first place, has continued. Being Quaker is so deep within my DNA, that my offspring could mix with extra-terrestrial DNA and we’d still be Quaker.
Back to my dad, and his DNA test: We knew that originally, some of my dad’s DNA was not Dutch, or as the DNA test would lump it together, Western European. But France was still in that broad Western European category, so I assumed he would be at least 50% Western European. And perhaps quite a bit from the British Isles.
There was of course, the possibility that my dad would be part South of the Border, or Jewish. I assumed he would be mostly Western European and British, with a touch of Mexican or Jewish blood in him.
But, we were all wrong. And DNA doesn’t lie.
My dad is just an inexplicably dark, mostly Scandinavian man. I can’t remember the exact break down, but it was something like 40% Scandinavian, 35% British Isles, 18% Eastern European, and only 14% Western European.
I’m going to assume that my great-grandmother’s biological mother was just plain old Irish. I have no idea why my dad’s coloring matches my Hispanic sister. It’s an American mystery. That 14% Western European accounts for 95% of what I know about my family, and the stories that we’ve been told, and we’ve continued to tell, but only account for 14% of the DNA.
I’ve got plenty of stories on my mother’s side too. I’m interested to get DNA tests done on myself, and my mother, to see if the stories we’ve been passed on match our DNA. Was my matrilineal grandmother a gypsy as I’ve been told?
I know lots of Americans have been told stories that aren’t matching their DNA tests. A common story among many Americans is the Indian Princess Narrative. Many families tell a story about a white settler falling in love with and marrying a chief’s daughter. While I know there were lots of tribes scattered throughout America, I kind of doubt 75% of the white population had a Native American princess ancestor. I don’t know why we tell ourselves these stories. Perhaps, to assuage our guilt? If we are part of them, part of that terrible genocide, then maybe we aren’t responsible for what the white part of us did?
While I grapple with not being as ethnically Dutch as I thought, and as I prepare to go back to my ancestral lands, which maybe aren’t so ancestral, have you had an upset to a story your family told? Did you think you were Italian to find out you’re were Russian? How are you dealing with it and how will it change the narrative you tell your kids?
As I’ve gotten older, especially since I haven’t been in school, I’ve delved more and more into reading nonfiction. I’m sure this has to do with my intense need to learn. I want to learn how to do things better, faster, neater, weirder. I want to learn what keeps the sun a fiery hot mess year in and year out. I had to understand why my kid was screaming in the middle of the night, not just so I could quiet him, but out of sheer curiosity. I had to know why 12 ordinary men from a repressed people would spread one of the most virulent religions ever.
Some of my favorite books are cookbooks. I don’t just cook the recipes; I read the whole cookbook. I want to hear the funny stories, learn the reasoning behind why one did things, and if there are any alternate ways of making a recipe. Every year of my adult life, my grandma Jeannie buys me a cookbook. The first one was Julia Child’s treatise on French cooking.
In retrospect, I believe it was Julia Childs who hooked me on nonfiction.
My taste in cookbooks has progressed over time. Today, I have an enviable collection of classics from around the world. I can just as easily cook you an authentic borscht as a Midwest meatloaf. Joop claims my pea soup is as good as any Dutch grandma’s. And I can cook a Thai dish so hot it pleases my “I eat pure capsaicin for breakfast” husband.
My reading progressed as much as my cooking repertoire. I was as comfortable reading Stephen Covey as I was Charles Darwin. Currently on my night stand are Inklings of Reality by Donald T. Williams—a leading expert on C.S Lewis--I am Malala, Walden by Thoreau, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonagall, and A Good Housekeeping manual from the 1980s on how to get stains out of everything. On my phone, I am reading an ebook by my friend and editor Deborah Natelson, which is the only fiction, other than for my job, I have read in nearly a year.
One of my favorite subgenres of nonfiction is books on habits, and I have fallen in love with the writings of Gretchen Rubin and Charles Duhigg. My mom discovered Rubin for me, and I found myself reading everything Duhigg had to offer after hearing him speak at the Atlanta Catalyst a couple of years ago.
But, as my life and cooking skills progressed, my writing did not. I kept writing the same young adult fantasy I had been writing as a child. Literally. The same exact story.
Recently, I bought Duhigg’s latest book and haven’t been able to put it down. The reason I’m writing now that something he said stuck out to me. He talks in one of his chapters about the movie Frozen. Whether you like the movie or not, you have to admit the pop culture storm surrounding it was nothing short of amazing. I’ve watched it a dozen or more times because of my son Drake and listened to the sound track in Dutch 40 million times because of Joop. Duhigg gives us a glimpse into the creative process that created the animated giant. And I was surprised to learn that they got stuck creatively on the end. I wasn’t surprised that coming up with the plot was hard, or that making both sisters likable and unidentifiable while creating tension had its difficulties.
Duhigg crosses over into the world of biology to explain what happened. The crew had gotten so wrapped up in the way things were in the film world that new, necessary ideas were getting crowded out. Joseph Connel was a biologist studying biodiversity in the 1950s. He was fascinated with the fact that one area could be teaming with life and diversity, but that another only a mile or two away would be dominated by maybe only one or two types of life. Connel’s studies eventually led him to the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, which says that diversity in biology is caused by intermittent, moderate upheaval. Too much and stuff dies and not enough and diversity fails.
I’d been stuck in a large, non-diverse universe of my own making. We all get in this rut sometimes and need an intermediate disturbance to wake us up.
For me, I needed one in my writing, my personal writing.
It’s easy for us to live in a biosphere of dominated by what makes us comfortable, what is just like us. Whether we are a white middle-class Americans living in the white suburbs, attending white churches—Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American culture—or liberal city dwellers hanging out in coffee shops discussing the fall of intellectualism, it’s a good idea to shake things up. Talk to a person from a different background or one who holds more conservative or liberal views.
Or you could take things to an extreme and host an exchange student. There’s nothing quite like having a foreigner in your midst to throw a wrench in your cozy, unexamined life.
In the case of Frozen, the team decided to introduce new people to the group, people with different expertise. And it worked. Of course, there were still some issues with the ending, but that was to be expected: Frozen was the first Disney princess movie to feature true love of the non-romantic type. And it was revolutionary.
I’ve often sought out upheaval. I grew up with it and I saw the benefit of it, but I couldn’t see some of my deepest areas of stagnation. Even though I had written quite a few non-fiction books in my ghostwriting career, in my personal writing, I had never written anything other than fiction, specifically young adult fantasy. I was getting pretty bored with it, but it was all I knew.
As I close out this chapter, I challenge you to find areas of languish and torpor in your life and introduce, on purpose, an intermediate, moderate upheaval. Is Tuesday always Taco Tuesday? The bland ground meat, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa? Why not have a friend from an actual taco-eating country come over and show you their family recipe? Or maybe throw a complete wrench in your plans and have spaghetti?
Whatever your own area is, mix it up. And if you ever see me around, let me know what you did. I’d love to hear about it.
Today is my birthday! I’d say I’m 29, but I just published a book that says I was 31 years of age 3 years ago… My dad told me to change the book because I’m only 24. My mom is not old enough to have a 34 year old, apparently. Someone should tell her that my older sister turns 40 in a month.
I think it’s appropriate that today is the day that Amazon has approved my book for publication. Unfortunately, though, CreateSpace, who I am using to publish the paperback, does not offer pre-orders, which is stupid, if you ask me.
What am I going to do? Let it derail my plans? Scream at customer service agents? No. I’m not. I’m publishing it…today. Surprise! Well, you won’t be able to order from Amazon for another couple weeks unless you are a wholesale retailer. I have at least that much control.
So, I’m going to offer the pre-order myself. Since I have an exclusivity contract with Amazon, I can’t offer the book through my website, and anyway my website isn’t set up to accept payment. So if you ant to pre-order the paperback, please go to my Gofundme page. It will ask you for your address so I can send it out to you on the day it comes out, which coincidentally is my sister’s birthday. The payment through Godfundme is secure.
Just put in the comments on your Gofundme donation that you are pre-ordering the book. The cost is 12.99, which includes shipping within the United States. If you are in the Netherlands and want the paperback, you will get it from Joop or me when I am there starting on the 20th of April.
So if you want to support me for my birthday, here are the links to pre-order both the ebook and/or the paperback. I’m currently at 10 ebooks sold, which means I need 40 more to hit my goal. If you could help me reach my birthday goal of 15 paperback pre-orders, and 10 more ebooks, I would appreciate it. And any books pre-ordered through my Gofundme will also go to my goal there too, which means more funny videos. We’re $200 short of me and Joop redo the Rickrolling video he love so much.
I live in Athens, Georgia, with my son, my husband, and an ever-revolving list of exchange students, who are a never-ending source of entertainment and writing material.