It’s the latest trend; you can tell by how many celebrities are lining up to do it. Droves of people are peering into their ancestry, clawing in the dirt to dig up their roots and embracing who they are within the context of their own personal history.

People clamoring to see where they came from has become so popular that there’s actually a television show about it. Famous people follow their stories as far back as they can, proud to have come from royalty or patriots, identifying personality traits literally running through their veins.

But mucking in that dirt is a bit like a gambling trip to Vegas. A big old crap shoot. Before you bumble into the ancestor casino, you may just want to be absolutely sure: do you really want to know who you are? Because while some of us are reveling in connecting with our ancestors, but there are others who have succeeded in exposing our families’ big, hairy backsides. Kind of like what happened to Ben Affleck. Jumping on the discovering-your-ancestry-on-tv bandwagon, he went off, cameras in tow, to ultimately find out that his ancestors owned slaves.

He wanted the show edited. 

Edited? Our histories? We can do that? Let me know how, because here I sit, trying to figure out how I rolled those dice and ended up with these snake eyes from my family tree: murder, bootlegging, and someone marrying a brother-in-law.

…some of us are reveling in connecting with our ancestors, but there are others who have succeeded in exposing our families’ big, hairy backsides.

For me, it all starts with Bobe. Bobe, what I called my great grandmother, had herself some balls. She said whatever, whenever. That woman was footloose and filter-free. I remember a time–and she was in her 90s at this point–when she was at my aunt’s house over an hour from where I lived. Many family members were there to spend the day with her and since I was at a boyfriend’s house nearby, we decided to stop by for a short visit.

Bobe had to be painstakingly prepared. Meaning begged, cajoled and threatened not to say anything that would embarrass me in front of Jon. The relationship was new and we were still in the hiding-the-crazy phase.

We all sat down around the table when, without so much as a cup of coffee or a civil pleasantry, Bobe looked at Jon and said “so when’s the wedding?” All the way around the table eyes rolled. You could hear it. Well, not all the way around the table, I’m pretty sure the guy sitting next to me peed his pants.

 That’s OK, who needs a guy that your great grandmother can intimidate anyway?

At about this time, two of my distant cousins decided to put together an extensive family history. No disrespect, but the end result was a thick tome filled with 70 bajillion names that meant absolutely nothing to me. But they did something else that did have enormous meaning. They sat Bobe down in front of a tape recorder and said “Talk. Start as far back as you can remember and tell family stories.” And out of the backsides of my ancestors came real nuggets of gold.

Bobe remembered the pogroms in Russia. She spoke of her father, his first wife, and their children. When that wife died, the obligation fell to the wife’s sister to marry the husband and raise the children. That gives me the heeby jeebies, but this was how it was done back then. If Bobe’s mother hadn’t married her dead sister’s husband, I would not be here. It’s not really something I’ll have embroidered onto a pillow, but it’s true.

She spoke of one of her brothers being accused of murder. I think it was after a bar fight, but you didn’t hear that part from me. He ended up fleeing the country, and little by little, as they could, the rest of the family joined him. Murder isn’t really what I had in mind for the legacy of my ancestors, but it’s how we all ended up in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Well, the brave, and those running from murder charges, apparently.

If Bobe’s mother hadn’t married her dead sister’s husband, I would not be here. It’s not really something I’ll have embroidered onto a pillow, but it’s true.

There were stories as well about being immigrants in this country. She married and had 5 children, but making ends meet was difficult. Bobe and her husband had a small store, but she decided to supplement their income. This was during the time of prohibition and she knew just what to do. I mean, it’s logical, right? Give the people what they want.

Bobe built a still and made booze in her bathtub, of course.

She did well, too. Until the day she came home and found my grandmother and her twin sister biting their nails and peeing their pants. The police had stopped by and would be back the next day to talk with Bobe and search the house.

Not willing to give up yet another country because of running from the law, Bobe got to work. She broke down the still and put the pieces into a baby carriage. Head held high she walked that baby right down Main Street, then a little more furtively through back alleys to a place she could safely dispose of it. Bobe didn’t just have balls, she had big brass ones.

So there they are: my roots. Slightly twisted but they run deep. Now it’s up to me to carry on the traits that have made this family what it is today. I don’t know about running from a murder charge, but I have teenagers so I wouldn’t rule it out. A still in the bathtub? Now that intrigues me. But I think I’ll start small. The next time one of my boys brings a new girlfriend home, I promise you Bobe, she is SO gonna wish she had worn a diaper.

 Genealogical Responsibilities

?  Run from a murder charge
?  Bootleg some kick-ass hooch
X  Marry a brother-in-law
✔  Embarrass the crap out of a guest

 

Want to know how this post came about? Check it out on Karen’s own blog: How Not to Get On BluntMoms 

Karen is a former Director of Social Service, Retail Buyer, and SAHM to two boys now adjusting to a semi-empty nest. She blogs and shares recipes at BakingInATornado.com and developed and administers five multi-blogger monthly writing challenges. Karen is a Huffington Post Contributor and a contributor to Felicity Huffman’s website What the Flicka. She’s been featured on multiple websites including BlogHer, The Daily Meal, Mamapedia, Scary Mommy, GenerationFabulous, Foodies Network, Wellnez TV, Better After 50, Midlife Boulevard, The Daily Meal and Treat a Day. She’s affiliated with the Culinary Content Network and is a BlogHer Influencer, She’s been published in the Life Well Blogged series and in the book The Mother of all Meltdowns.

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38 Comments

  1. Karen,
    Once again I am in awe of your talent and laughing so hard my face hurts.

  2. I can always count on you to make me think, or laugh! I know what my relatives are like, why in the world would I want to find more like them?

  3. WOW!!!!!! So funny!!!!! Y’know… I sort have some similar things in my background… One great-great-grandfather had to escape Ireland in the dead of night, and my grandfather was a moonshiner. 😉

  4. Everyone wants to think they came awing stock. Truth is most of us have embarrassing, yet awe-inspiring families. I mean, my great-grandfather ran away during a labor strike. He thought he might have killed someone. His wife set off for the New World with five kids in tow, because she got tired of waiting for her husband to get everything “set.” Brave, righteous, strong-willed, adventurous. That’s what I tell myself.

  5. Mary Beth

    Love, love, love this! We all have crazy in our closets. Down here in the South, we just sit them on the front porch. We don’t hide them, we parade them out for all to see.

  6. I’m laughing with you, not at you. Honest.

    Right? Good.

    I’d probably have worse tales to tell, just based on the ancestors I actually know.

  7. Karen, somehow you always manage to make me giggle. Always. I am willing to bet my lineage is closer to yours than it is to any royalty. Great story!!

  8. I know about a few of my ancestors, but I really don’t care to delve deeper into it…you never know what you’ll find!

    And if anyone could make a homemade still work for a great recipe, it’s you, lol!

  9. I would rather a juicy history than something terribly bland. As always Karen, very enjoyable read.

  10. Love this. You made me laugh. Makes me wonder a bit more about some of the half stories I’ve heard and what the real story is!!!!

  11. Nothing like a bit of colour to brighten up the family history – Love this Karen, it just shows that you never know what’s lurking in the past 🙂

  12. I love digging up the mess my ancestors got into. Apparently my great grandmother was a good time girl who knew a family of famous outlaws whose names are synonymous with Australia’s history. She may have also dated a gangster in the 1920’s, but we’ve been unable to prove it so far. Those are big shoes to fill.

  13. Your Bobe sounds awesome! I can only imagine the other stories she could have told!

  14. I loved this Karen! A still in the bathtub being moved in a baby carriage what a terrific lady. I bet those stories mean so much to you now! I’ve got a few crazies in my family to and funny that is my theme for May. It’s the 30th anniversary of my father’s death so I am going to concentrate on his side of the family. I really enjoyed these stories.

  15. As always Karen, some great writing. I am not really sure I would like to find out about my ancestry. I just know there would be some weirdos lurking around in my past generations. Who needs to have that kind of knowledge hanging above their head.

    Then again, I might be royalty and have a castle waiting for me. And pigs will fly!

  16. See, I think I’d be more embarrassed about my progeny than about my ancestors. Of course I won’t be around to see too many future generations and how much they mess up. Maybe that’s a good thing…

  17. I wish I could remember the family stories my grand daddy used to tell. I do have my paternal family history dating back to the 1500’s, we had some interesting characters too!

  18. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that my cousins put my Bobe in front of that tape recorder and told her to talk. That tape is a treasure.

  19. Love this piece and the laugh lines it gave me ❤

    Your bobe sounds amazing.

    The thought of digging up our history always is intriguing but what little I’ve done leaves me hungry for more information.

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