Lately there seems to be an increased popularity in family tree programmes. I don’t know what the technical term is for them so I’ll just stick with that.
Who Do You Think You Are has attracted a whole host of celebrities from J.K Rowling to Lisa Kudrow and Davina McCall can be found on Long Lost Families trying to reunite parents and their children or siblings who were separated.
But I’m not entirely sure I get the obsession. Almost everyone who takes part say ‘but I just want to know who I am’ which I guess is fair enough, but my point is you already know who you are. It’s the people you know that make you, not the people you don’t.
Even then, you don’t always need your family to be who you want to be. And I’m not just throwing out random words with the vague hope that they mean something.
I don’t know my dad, I know his name but I don’t know him. I know that he was in the navy, I know that he left my mum when she was pregnant with me and I know that he saw me once when I was a baby and never since. I also know that he got married a few years later and had children. Somewhere out there I have half brothers and sisters who might not even know that I exist.
He’s never bothered to make contact and while I’ve looked up his address I still haven’t written him a letter or contacted him. This is partly because he might not want anything to do with me but also partly because I’m not sure if I want anything to do with him.
I’m not sure if there’s anything I need from him and he sure a hell hasn’t got anything to do with who I am.
My point is, if the whole point of contacting long-lost relatives or tracing your family tree is all to find out who you are, then I think you’re looking in the wrong place.
Yes, it’s nice to know who your ancestors were, I wouldn’t mind tracing my family, but I want to know for the sake of knowing.
When I look at my family (the ones living and whom I know) it’s there that I find my identity. I look at my mum and see my humour, my values, my moral compass. I look at my Nan and I don’t see anything familiar, she is angry, she is mean, it is on rare occasion she shows a sense of humour. She is who I don’t want to be.
And I know it sounds harsh criticising my grandmother but I’m being honest. I lived with her for 11 years and almost every single day there was an argument, she has an awful temper and she was very quick to reach it, and I might not be innocent in everything that happened but I know for a fact that I didn’t always deserve to be shouted at or kicked out.
As much as we don’t get along and as much as I don’t like her she has still shaped my identity, she has given me an idea of the future I want to avoid, of the person I don’t want to become.
While there’s something romantic in discovering those who came before you it’s more realistic in looking at those who are around you now and perhaps at those who come after you since, in all likelihood, they’ll mirror the quality and traits that you have.