Tantalizing Stranger Questions Makes Good Insight

What are they? Where do their ancestors come from? I wonder if their features &characteristics and their desires & interests depict everything their ancestors are and were.

These thoughts play through my mind when I meet people. Ever since I became interested in genealogy, I now seek to know the stories behind the people I meet. I find people’s family histories interesting. I find the stories fascinating and the ethnic mixing, often is refreshing.

When I meet people of European ancestry, I wonder whether or not they are pure European. Nowadays, is anyone a pure ethnic makeup consisting of one ethnic group? I don’t believe that. People have been migrating for centuries. People moved across lands because of food. People moved across lands because of opportunities. People moved across lands because of wars. People have been moving just because. We are a migrating group. Think of the Americas…

The indigenous people who came to live here and become native with the land, migrated from parts of Asia and Australia. In the determination to prove that Earth was round and disprove the notion that Earth was flat, Europeans began to come over and settle in the Americas. Unfortunately, these Europeans came over to create havoc. Native Americans underwent an atrocious genocide and Africans were kidnapped from Africa and forced into enslavement here in the Americas. Nonetheless, these groups of people were beginning to live amongst one another and create some form of a bond, whether that be negative or positive.

These relationships sometimes produced children of mixed decent, warranted or unwarranted. Over time, generations are added and until it is our time to stand to be the face of our ancestors. What I want to know, is who is hidden deep within the contents of that face. Aside from the individuality of the person, there are those who came before who hold on to that body for rejuvenation and restorations.

To me, I find my inquiries as a good conversation starter or point. Me being a genealogist with no filter, may bluntly ask one of my many questions swirling in my head. I’ll wait for a response. Majority of the time, people are unaware of the depth behind their family’s histories. I then explain who I am and why I’m interested. I bring up some stories of my own ancestors because I am proud of them. I bring up data from taking DNA tests. These types of topics, lead people to ask questions and even question their own genealogy. Many of us are told a family lore or two, but how true are they? What if you took the time to find the proof?

I was told that I have ancestors who purchased their own freedoms. I am on a mission to find purchase receipts or manumission papers for these ancestors. Conversations such as these, allow me to get to know a person beyond small talk, and also brings to insight to new cultures or mindsets. I want to reach the youth and engage them in their genealogy. Not everyone has to research centuries back, but it important to know and respect those you come from.

I am adopted, so I don’t hold back. My adoptive family’s ancestors are mine. Without them I would not have mom who loves me as if she gave birth to me herself. Family is who you choose to call family and those are the ancestors you need to represent. In all family’s there is a wacky nut or bad apple. In my trees I have several I am not too fond of, but I respect them for getting me here.

So, next time you meet a person, don’t hesitate or be afraid to ask questions such as: What are they? Where do their ancestors come from? I wonder if their features &characteristics and their desires & interests depict everything their ancestors are and were. You never know what fascinating story you might here or what insights you may be educated into.

Hypocritical Black Love

Image result for free woman of color and slave ownerLouisiana was a place known to have an abundance of creoles of color, free or enslaved. This ethnic grouping of people, became a historic symbolism. Based on my own research, I believe that Louisiana, being where there was such a large group of creoles of color, was one of the first places in the United States that depicts true interracial love.

My infamous 6th great-grandfather is Donato Bello. He was one of the modestly wealthy and ambitious men who migrated and settled in New Orleans due to the ordinance of 1770 by Governor  Alejandro O’Reilly. His ordinance provided renewed  impetus for settlement along western Louisiana. Donato Bello moved to the Opelousas post with his dual families. This duality was common in Louisiana and established the notion of Creoles of Color.

Related imageDonato Bello was born in Corand , Naples, Italy and was an infantry officer. He married my 6th great-grandmother, Suzanne Moreau, in New Orleans on 15 January 1765. Suzanne was from Alabama and the daughter of Joseph Valientin Moreau and Marie Jean Lafleur. Together, Donato and Suzanne had roughly 6 children. Simultaneously, Donato Bello maintained a relationship with Marie Jeanne Talliaferro, a New Orleans-born mulatto and free. Based on records, Marie bore Donato at least 3 children. In a previous blog post I wrote about one of the children born to Donato Bello and Marie Jeanne Talliaferro, Martin Donato-Bello who later dropped “Bello” and was known as Martin Donato. Martin would go on to be one of the wealthiest men in southeast Louisiana, especially a free man of color.

In a new book by Michael Nolden Henderson, he tells his family history of his 4th great-grandmother, Agnes. Agnes happened to be born during the French period of Louisiana’s history, which occurred between 1699 to 1783. She was estimated to be born around 1758 in St. Charles Parish, which is about 30 miles north of New Orleans. Over time, she fell into a relationship with a Frenchman who was born in Marseille, France and then immigrated to Spanish Louisiana bewteen 1765 and 1770. Together, they formed a biracial relationship in New Orleans, and surprisingly, he assisted her Agnes with gaining her freedom for she had been born into slavery. By 16 December 1779, Agnes was manumitted after having gone through a year long court battle with her former owner. Due to the lack of an agreement, the Spanish colonial Governor Bernardo Galvez had to sign her manumission document, which he eventually did. Spain was one of few countries who permitted enslaved individuals to self-purchase themselves.

The history presented by Michael Henderson is a common one of creole families within Louisiana. Ironically, my own ancestor had his own platonic relationship with Governor Bernardo Galvez. In a previous post, I explained the involvement of the Spanish during the American Revolution. Donato Bello is my connection to joining the Daughters of the American revolution. He assisted the colonies’ side. In 1779, the Spanish drew off the British army to the south, then crushed them. Galvez and his menn first tackled the British in Louisiana and Alabama, and finally with a combined naval and land assault at the Battle of Pensacola in 1781. A detailed description was written as follows: “Through the sweltering heat of Louisiana in the autumn of 1779 marched one of the most diverse military forces ever assembled in North America to challenge the British Army’s stranglehold in the southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. Led by a young rising star of the Spanish military, Col. Bernardo de Galvez, the force included recruits from Mexico, free blacks, experienced Spanish soldiers in the Louisiana Regiment, volunteers from the American colonies and from Louisiana’s German and Acadian communities, and American Indians.”

While, Donato Bello survived the American Revolution, he still had to survive the financial responsibility of having two families. Fortunately, poll tax records and sale documents, indicate that Donato Bello was financially successful. He owned several slaves and ensured that his families were well taken care of. While he was alive, he was witness to his many of his children’s marriages. When he passed away, he made sure his wives, for all intents and purposes, and children were financially and independently taken care of.

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It is slightly confusing to me though that this white man would go and fall in love and have children with a woman of color, but also continue to own slaves. It is just as confusing to me that these people of color, even within my own family, would own slaves. If the Spanish government can, in part, see them as individuals, why were they ever slaves. Animals cannot purchase themselves from their farmers. Yet, enslaved individuals had the legal right to purchase themselves. Creoles within Louisiana came about because of the interracial connection between European settlers and African Americans. In another family history I read, a woman left her family to engage in a courtship with a black man. Her husband filed divorce and full custody of their children. Apparently, this was not that uncommon.

I’m trying to find solace in the double standards that existed during slavery, but mainly within my own family history. Donato Bello was a contributor to the growing population of creoles of color, but also a large slaveholder. Did he ever question his own actions or was there some sort of difference? For my creole uncles and aunts, was there ever a questioning? Did they not compare their own skin colors to the skin of those they owned?

I am filled with many perplexing questions. I just don’t understand. I know that I may never understand. Stories like this intrigue me. When I have these types of on going relationships occurring in my own direct line, I question who I am because I descend from those people. At what point does economic love become genuine and purified love? Was there ever really love or was it all about self gain? These unsolvable mysteries lead me to more discoveries as I journey to try and find truths and answers.

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The story of my family and other creoles of color are detailed in Carl A. Brasseaux’ book Creoles of Color in the Bayou Country.

I Am African More Than The Country

Being an African American, I never fully grasped its true meaning. Fortunately, I missed the eras of slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up having, for the most part, equal rights and my freedom to be me. When I began researching the family history of my biological family, I began to see how real black history is, and how much I am really connected to it.

I come from a group of people who were enslaved and a part of the slavery rape culture. However, I also come from people who were strong and determined. The fact that my ancestors over came the obstacles of slavery and segregation, say a lot about their strength and desire to be liberated.

Following the paper trail, I was able to document migration patterns mainly within the United States. My 6th great-grandfather came from Italy to Louisiana. Various ancestors were born in one state and were either enslaved or moved due to Emancipation to another state. I knew much of where my Caucasian ancestors came from, I knew their migration patterns, and I understood their histories that ventured deep into the early 1500s. Even my Native American ancestry was well documented and traceable. I like many other African Americans was stumped by the walls of enslavement for my African ancestors. Where specifically in Africa? I knew states and specific towns in specific countries for my my Caucasian and Native ancestors, but for my African ancestors I had only an entire continent, containing 54 countries to guess from.

As science and genealogy has evolved, DNA has become a go to factor in helping me identify and narrow down my African origins. At first, DNA gave me regions. I am predominantly West African. Now, thanks to GPS Origins, I understand some more of my DNA results due to the migration patterns estimated, and I can say I am Nigerian and Cameroonian from my kidnapped African ancestors.

In my own DNA, I supposedly had a small percentage of Caucasus region. I believe this stems from my ancestors migrating from Egypt and Israel & Palestine to Western Africa. More specifically, Nigeria and Cameroon. While I understand that I cannot take these result verbatim, I do value these results. These are the closest I have come to identifying origin countries within Africa for my African ancestors. I knew I was of African descent, but because I could accurately state where in Europe my Caucasian ancestors descended, I somehow felt a bit more connected to them. I have traveled to some of my ancestral regions in Europe, but I have not yet visited Africa because I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where I should go. I want to go to the countries that my ancestors lived and roam the lands they roamed. I want to feel a connection to them that I cannot explain to anyone else. I want to try to relive their fondest memories, and see their last sights before they were taken from the place they called home.

The image are my personal results from GPS Origins. It shows my possible migration patterns from my ancestors. The blue set begins in Egypt and then stopping in Chad and ending in  Nigeria. The red set begins in Israel & Palestine stopping in Libya before settling in Cameroon. Of course my DNA expressed other countries, but this patter reigned heaviest within my ancestral DNA.

I feel whole and connected. I feel connected to the people whom I share my skin color with. I feel whole because I can now complete my understanding of who I come from. I recommend people of African descent take this DNA test or at least transfer over their raw data from DNA tests taken elsewhere. I have had my adoptive mom’s results transferred over. The results explained possible migration patterns from the Middle East to Greece and Italy. We already had an assumption, but it was nice seeing everything in context and explained.

I am African like my man. He knows he is Nigerian because his dad is Nigerian. He knows he is Kenyan because he was born in Kenya and his mom is Kenyan. I am African, but now I know I am more than just a continent. I am African from Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Black Slaver








The images depict the outside and a section inside the Donato estate. This was the former home/plantation of my uncle. The other image is a document of the life of Martin Donato. He did marry and have children. The document also places numbers of the number of slaves he owned and the value of his estate.

For those who saw my short clip on season 3 of Genealogy Roadshow (Boston), I was told about a distant relative of mine, my 6th great-uncle Martin Donato Bello – later dropped Bello and became Martin Donato, who was a free man of color and owned slaves. I had heard of African Americans owning slaves, but I had never imagined that I would have free people of color within my own family who would perpetuate the unjust and hypocritical nature of slavery. I was shocked when I was presented with the information. I was speechless at what i had heard. They presented me with a few documents that showed slave purchases and records indicating the number of slaves my uncle had owned. I saw a number over a hundred, of slaves he had owned at one time. I continue to ask myself why.

Why did he, who was a black man, enslave other black individuals? Perhaps we owned so many slaves to establish economic status and credibility. Perhaps he owned so many slaves because this was the life that he grew to see as “normal”. His father, my 6th great-grandfather (Donato Bello), was a European who had come to Louisiana with his European wife, my 6th great-grandmother, and owned slaves and had a family. Donato Bello later fell in love with a free woman of color and had several children with her. I am aware that she owned slaves, but not nearly as many as her son. The Creole culture came to be because of European men falling in love with free or enslaved women of color. Michael Nolden Henderson details this culture well in his novel, Got Proof: My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation.

While I do not know why Martin chose to own slaves, I find the owning of slaves by other people of color hypocritical. I understand the economic value and nature of slavery, but that does not mean that I condone it. I understand the confusion that free people of color may have had. In some states for free people color to remain, they had to own slaves. This notion is detailed in The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

I am sure I have other relatives, and possible direct ancestors who may have owned slaves. This particular relative of mine just caught my attention and blew my mind out of the waters with the numbers. Not to mention, his story is detailed, so I was able to find a lot of information about him and his family. He had a son, who fought for the confederate army during the Civil War. This, I am not surprised, and I can find other relatives, both distant and direct, who fought in the Civil War all of whom sided with the Confederates. I am confused as to why they – they being free blacks – agreed with the enslaved of the black people. In the will of Martin Donato, he freed about 12 of his enslaved people, but why? Why didn’t he free all of them. What was the purpose of owning them? What was the purpose of only freeing a small portion of his 90 slaves at the time of his death? I have a lot “why” questions that may never find whole answers, but I am curious to understand the life of Martin to try to paint a picture of the nature of this man and why he chose the path he did.

While I am appalled by the disgusting nature of slavery, I cannot hide from my own family’s truths. This is a part of my family history and I must own that. The house of Martin Donato Bello is located today at 8342 U.S. Highway 182 in Opelousas. It is one of the places marked by the National Register of Historic Places.  The architectural style is considered to be a French Creole Cottage. House sat along side the first Simien’s in St. Landry Parish.

A Personal Connection Through DNA

Genealogy is more than just names and dates. Genealogy is more than just a diagram of a family, whether biological or adoptive. Genealogy is about understanding one’s own self and building connections. With this knowledge, DNA has become an important element of genealogy in my family. I was adopted six weeks post-birth. I was adopted to a single, Italian American woman. Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. My adoptive mom, who I call mom, was very open with me about my adoption, though it was closed.

Growing up, I was indirectly taught about genealogy. Family tree projects were common and in science class, we did projects using Punnett squares. I never thought that the knowledge I learned from my early days of education, would then be used to help enhance my understanding of genealogy and further my career in the field of genealogy. I was truly blessed to have gone through such an educational experience that promoted learning about the generations. While during my education, I learned about my adoptive family, I was fortunate enough to reconcile with my biological family during my senior year of high school.

Finding my biological family had to do with genealogy, but indirectly. I wanted to find my biological family because I wanted to know where I came from and who I came from. After a trip abroad with my mom, I went looking in the safe for my wallet, but instead found information that named my biological parents. I took this information and applied it to Google. Unfortunately for me, nothing appeared for my biological father. However, luckily, my birth mother had started a public family tree. I knew I had an older full-brother who fit the age of the son she had listed. He also had the same last name as my biological father. Knowing this, I tried to friend request him on both Facebook and Twitter. This all took place toward the end of August. In early September, I felt brave enough to reach out. I “tweeted” my biological brother and he responded. We began private messaging going back and forth. I did use somewhat of an alias in case he was not aware of an adopted sister or if I may have found the wrong family. Fortunately, we were able to confirm our relation. For a month, we kept it between the two of us. After that month, I began talking to my birth mother and various members of my biological family. I was also put in touch with my biological father.

My birth mother was very open and honest. She answered my questions, but also shared with me stories of my biological ancestors. She shared with me stories of an ancestor, Adelaide Jackson, who attended Tuskegee Institute, while Booker T. Washington was president, and was taught by George Washington Carver. She also shared with me that we had formerly enslaved ancestors who bought their own freedom. These stories made me want to know more. She helped build my own personal family tree, and I fell in love with the research in the process.

After watching Roots and the genealogy-related shows produced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I decided to reach out to him. He responded and suggested DNA. By that time, I had already tested with AncestryDNA. His suggestion was with 23andMe. I decided to have my brother take the DNA test because of his Y-chromosome. DNA has evolved into an important element to help build connections with my family. Confirming my relationship to my biological family, while also finding new relatives. DNA has also revolutionized the way in which I see myself. I discovered new ways in how I connect to the world. I knew I was of African descent, but now I know approximate locations in Africa that my ancestors originated. I knew about slavery and I knew that slaves were powerless to the advances of the slave owners/masters. Seeing my DNA and the high percentage of European, forced me to confront the reality of the situation. The reality being that in my own biological ancestry, I have the blood of a slave owner.

This type of information will be good to teach my children. This is their history too. DNA is a great way to bond with family and learn more about one’s own self. I have personally taken three ancestral DNA tests with the three major DNA testing companies and recently had my DNA uploaded to GPS Origins, which has truly helped bring my families together. GPS Origins has put our ancestral origins in a whole new perspective. I can say that my ancestors came from Nigeria and Cameroon. The significance of this information is that I know where my enslaved ancestors came from. I know my ancestral home. I am African, but Africa is a continent. I know countries in Africa, which is beyond words of importance.

My mom has taken a test. As for my biological family, my full brother and my birth mother have also taken a test. This has helped me build our trees and learn more about who we all are. In the past year, I discovered I have another brother, half, who was adopted. Ironically, he was adopted to a family in the same state as me, and only lives about an hour away. I have been writing about my journey to self-discovery by using genealogy and had published it through Lulu. An excerpt of various pages existed online through Google books. He and his adoptive mother saw this while trying to research his birth mother. They then contacted me and I tried to connect him to our birth mother who instantly denied ever giving birth to him. I then told him to take the ancestral DNA test, the same one that my birth mother and brother and I took. When the results came back, I was shocked. He was in fact my half -brother and the son our birth mother. I informed her of the data, and she, to this day, continues to deny ever giving birth to him. It’s sad and has put a strain on all of our relationships, but I continue to keep in contact with my biological family and my new-found brother.

In addition to my biological family and my adoptive family partaking in the ancestral DNA testing, recently, I had my spouse and son, who is not even two yet, take an ancestral DNA test. I am doing this to get the conversations flowing. I plan on buying a map and charting the different ancestral locations that our ancestors took, based on where both the DNA and paper trail claim our ancestors may have came from. Maybe we will travel to these locations. Either way, I am opening up a dialogue between family members and people who may come to my house and see this map. I can then encourage them to do the same. At the same time, I can advise them to make a family tree so that when matches see them, they are not stumbling over the “who are you connected to?” or “how are we connected?” questions.

My goal is to unite the generations. In this day and age, genealogy is advancing. Ancestral DNA is the newest innovation and craze within the genealogy world. We see commercials and through our matches that people care about ancestral DNA for the purpose of wanting to know their ancestral origins, rather than to connect with relatives and figure out who their ancestors. I am engaging various generations of my own family in the DNA testing and creating a space for open dialogue to encourage others to ask questions about my own genealogy, while also questioning their own.

Understanding Who I Am

As we grow up, our identity becomes uniquely ours. Many go through life experiences to understand who they are, while others seek knowledge from the past. Genealogy is that bridge. Genealogy, or family history, is the research to find the stories that make us human. Through genealogical research, we can help our future selves understand who we once were, but also discover who our ancestors were through the documents that they left behind.

Being a genealogist, I have documented my own life in various ways so that those trying to research me in the future will be able to understand who I am and who I am becoming. I learned to do this, after attempting to research my own families. There are times when I run into road blocks because information was not preserved or captured well. However, identity is more than just the stories. I took a journey through self-discovery by finding the ancestral origins of my ancestors. I wanted to know the people from whom I descended, but I also wanted to know the locations.

In doing such research, I was able to trace both my biological family and my adoptive family back to various origins. I have ancestors in my biological family whom are Native American, French, Italian, Spanish, African, and I’m sure more that I have yet to discover. I was able to follow the paper trail to determine these origins and then reverted to ancestry DNA to discover more about my ethnic percentages. I was shocked, but also elated to see who I really was. I was born than the definition that society placed over me based on my skin complexion. I am proud to be an African American. In my eyes, African American is more than just being “Black.” I understand the confusion. There are people who are born in Africa and then come to live here and they have children here. They too are African Americans; however there is a historical difference. I am an African American who is a product of the history of the making of the United States. I have ancestors who were enslaved here. They poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the soils of the earth in order to help me become who I am today. I am a product of slave rape, because I do not doubt that some of my ancestors are children of a slave master and his enslaved concubine. I am an African American with mixed-racial heritage because of being part of that historical story that puts a dent on the façade that the United States tries to front.

My identity is not clearly defined. I am also an adoptee. My adoptive family is a part of me. Everything I have learned about life and how I view life is become of them. I am a product of the values and teachings of my adoptive family. My biological family gave me physical traits and characteristics. I may have acquired a few mannerisms from them, but those mainly stem from my adoptive family. My interests may run parallel to some of my biological ancestors, but the way I approach those interests may be different due to how I was raised and how I was taught by my adoptive family.

I was adopted to a single woman, and I was an only child. She is of Italian American ancestry, whose ancestors mainly originate from Sicily, Italy. Her ancestors likely boarded the passenger ships to America hoping for a better future. Life in Sicily was rough. The Italian War of Unification was more detrimental than aiding for the Sicilian people. As a result, the Padrone took full advantage. People became enslaved to their own brethren. People were left sick and hungry, dying painful deaths. My adoptive ancestors wanted to provide a safer and more secure life style for their own children. Yet, life in the United States was no easy adjustment. The Padrone was here too. Not only were the Padrone an obstacle, but so was society. Society was prejudice towards Southern Italians. The largest recorded lynching was that of twelve Southern Italians who were accused of assaulting an officer in Louisiana.

My identity is a combination of the ancestors who gave me blood and those who gave me value. I value family as a whole. I also see that to have a family and care for that family, it takes hard work, determination, and dedication. Life is not easy. My ancestors have been through far worse than I, so I can only continue to live up to the life that both sets of ancestors paved a way for me to live.

Struggles with Adoption

While trying to find new things to watch on Netflix, I happened upon a documentary called “Closures”. I’ve been watching and am still watching it. It is the story of a young adult, African American woman who was adopted to a white couple and her journey to finding and understanding her birth family. Now this is not the first documentary to touch me. “Off and Running” was the first, also about an a young adult, African American woman adopted by a white woman trying to find her birth mother. These films touch me because that was once my life and still is. Adopted is part of my forever identity. The woman I call “mom” is not the same woman who biologically shares DNA with me, but is the woman who raised me and loved me as her own. These films touch me because this is also my brother’s current life situation. I recently found out I had another half-sibling which was confirmed through DNA testing. Despite a name on his birth certificate and DNA confirmations, his biological mother continues to deny him. In the film “Off and Running,” the young woman was able to have communication with her biological mother, but then all of a sudden, her birth mom decided to halt that communication, sending this poor girl through so much inner turmoil that not even her adoptive family could help her get out of. In the film “Closure,” the young woman was able to locate her birth father and flew to introduce herself to him. He was so welcoming and excited to find out he even had a child because all his life he had been told that he was sterile. He had also been diagnosed with cancer. He knew who her birth mother was and took her over to the woman’s house. When the young women introduced herself and said that she thought the she was this woman’s biological daughter, the woman quickly denied her. DNA did prove that she and the man were in fact biologically father and daughter. What touches me and hurts me, being that I am a mother, is to see mothers deny their children. I can certainly understand not wanting to have a relationship. There are many circumstances that can cause a woman to become pregnant and then after so many years passing, the thought of having a relationship with a child you felt you had to give up can be unbearable. But how can a woman deny giving birth to a human being? That’s the lowest form of kindness and that belittles a person to less than human qualities. In my situation, it is strange that my birth mother is willing to acknowledge me, but not my half sibling. I have looked at the whole situation from various points of views. I have accepted it for what it is. I don’t understand it. But it’s not for me to understand. I just hope that other adopted individuals understand that the denial of their biological parents does not define them. I am all about ancestry and genealogy. But those two terms are associated with family, and family is not having to be biologically related. My adoptive family is my family, and those ancestors are my ancestors because without them I wouldn’t have been able to have my mom who raised me. I may not have any of their genetics or physical attributes, but I have the disciplines that they instilled in their descendants and I am one of those descendants and so is my son. I am aware that I am fortunate to know and be accepted by both of my biological parents. I know my biological ancestors. However, I only inherited certain characteristics and physical features. Any lessons they instilled in heir descendants, did not get taught to me. I am how both of my families connect and where my ancestors all come together. I just want people to remember that identity is not just biological, it’s familial. I started Discovering You because I struggled with my identity. Through my journey I learned that my identity has multiple components. All of my ancestors have made me who I am. I’m grateful to know who all of them are. I also know that my brother may never know some of his, but he has enough to help him define who he is and who he wants to be.