May 15, 2012

More Than a Gap and Knock-Knees

“I just love your gap!” A well-meaning person to whom I had just been introduced gushed the compliment. I was around twenty-three, and to tell you the truth, wasn’t even aware of this much-loved gap. A nervous giggle escaped as I politely said “thank you.” Later on after dinner, I pulled out my mirrored compact to reapply my lipstick, but that was a ruse. I was really checking to see if I indeed had a gap. I did. I do. In fact, just about everyone on mom’s side of the family has one. It’s hereditary.

Several years later, Jamie and I were a doting-dating-childless couple, strolling through the mall hand-in-hand. I tried on some jeans at a department store, and (quite uncharacteristically for me) did a little sexy model walk for him. I posed, expecting a wolf-whistle or a “how you doin?’” Instead I got: Are you knock-kneed?” Yes. Yes I am knock-kneed. First time I noticed it was in ballet class: the teacher told us to stand with our feet parallel, knees facing frontward – like headlights on a car. Well, my knees were like headlights but my toes were pointing at two opposite corners of the room. Yet another hereditary gift from mom.

Surely there’s got to be more to my ancestry than a diastema and messed up knees…right?

Well, lately, we’ve been watching Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots. Both series are about ancestry research, and they’ve often called to mind the (sometimes hushed) stories about relatives in my own family tree. I decided to pick up my research where I left off a few years ago: on ancestry.com, although this time, I’ve actually signed on for a membership (was too cheap to do it before). The membership is key because it allows you access to census records going back to the 1700’s, Social Security information, immigration documentation, birth certificates, draft cards and even slave manifests.

I’m early in this journey, but so far have discovered my paternal great-great grandfather, as well as my mom’s great grandparents from both her mom and dad. This is a pretty big deal considering that today, both of my parents would be upwards of 85 years-old, and more than likely, their great-grandparents were born into slavery, being listed only by sex and age on slave manifests. But these folks did show up on censuses after the Emancipation Proclamation, and that’s partially how I found them.

What I’m really excited about is the fact that I’m discovering how my maternal ancestors are showing up – by name -- in the country’s history with drama, intrigue and mystery that I never imagined. Once I uncover more, I’ll definitely be blogging about it.

As a history buff, this entire exercise is tailor-made for me; and as a mom, this part of my history is relatively (no pun intended) new to me and I’m excited I can pass it on to my daughter.

That way she’ll have more to thank me for than just the knock-knees.

(and by the way - she’s got Fritsch teeth, so there’s no gap)

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