But where are you really from?
This is the question that I have faced many times when I, like Joe, proudly announce that I am Canadian.
One of the more memorable times I encountered this question was from a girl in grade 10 English class. When I told her that I was Canadian, she wouldn’t accept it. No matter how many times I said it, it was simply an unacceptable answer. It was like I was saying 2 plus 2 equalled five. No matter what I said, it was simply impossible. After resisting for a few minutes, I finally relented and told her that one of my grandmothers is a Dutch Mennonite from what is now the Ukraine.
“Yes” she said, finally satisfied that I had tossed the maple leaf aside. “You look Ukrainian.”
At that point, I’d run out of willpower and decided not to tell her that I didn’t have a drop of Ukrainian blood in me. But the encounter left me with an unsettled feeling. Why couldn’t I be Canadian?
A few years later when I was chatting with a few friends at university, our heritages came up. When asked where I was born, I responded honestly,
Of course, the questions didn’t end there.
“Where were your parents born?”
“Here,” I said again, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
“Wow. Where were your grandparents born?”
“Here,” I lied. But it was 75 per cent true, so I made the snap decision that I could get away with it.
What she said next I never could have predicted.
“Wow! That’s so exotic!”
Now, I have been called many things in my life, but never before had I been called exotic. And never since, for that matter. I’m not sure what my facial expression was at the time, but it was probably very strange. I had no idea what to say to that. We soon moved on to other things, but inside I was hurt, but not sure why I felt that way. I wondered how I could be called exotic by an international student in my own country. Why wasn’t Canadian a common identity?
It’s these experiences and many others that compelled me to research my family. I realized I needed more ammunition so that I could tell everyone that, yes, I am from here. I don’t have ties to England or any other European country that I could be from; Canada is my home and native land. So there.
I’m not sure if the “true” ancestry question is unique to Canada. Is it a “new world” thing? Anecdotally, I’m pretty sure if I asked an American where he or she was “really” from, I’d get as bizarre a look as I suspect I gave my university friend. Is it a commonwealth question, then? Do Australians and New Zealanders question each other’s heritage? When Canadians who live abroad meet new people and tell them that they are Canadian, do they get asked where they’re really from?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would like to one day.
In the mean time, I hope you enjoy my story through my family’s past. I plan to provide tips for searching along the way which I hope will help any fellow ancestry adventurers.
Thanks for reading – my next post will be about how I got started with strategically simple Google searches.