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Do You Know the Nationality of Your Ancestors?

Updated on June 24, 2017



Interesting Origins

Searching ones genealogy can be a fun activity, but the real pleasure comes when something unexpected comes out of the search. Knowing names and significant dates can be interesting, but just a name has little real significance. What is the real advantage in knowing an ancestor’s name was John as opposed to James? Not much. Especially if there is nothing noteworthy associated with either name. So, after I found a number of ancestors’ names, and even birth and death dates, I realized I was simply accumulating a long string of names with no meaning. But then things started to happen. And as things came to light, more significant information was revealed. And the information quickly dashed much of what I had thought to be the nationality of my ancestors.

What I Was Told

As a child the curiosity of where did my ancestors live came up. I was told I was a fourth German, a fourth Irish, three-eighths English, one-eighth French, and one fourth French Cajun. My mother’s side was fairly accurate, German, English, and French. But my father’s side was so far off I had to work slowly to avoid errors.

The Cajun Branch

The Cajun branch is not a pure line back to France through Canada. Indeed, some of my ancestors came from France to present day Canada, then onward. Some came through Nova Scotia, and others came through Quebec. But, when they came to the United States there was no country called Canada yet. So, were they Canadians because they came from what would become Canada, or not? There is also one person who came from Italy, but this was before there was an Italy. So, was he Italian or not? I also ran across numerous Spanish names, and found they were easily traced back to ships that came to Louisiana, then a Spanish possession, in 1778. But, they came from the Canary Islands, owned by Spain, to defend the Mississippi River from the British who had an army and navy operating during the American Revolution. Actually, entire families came over in an effort to help colonize Louisiana for Spain, in addition to defending it. I had no idea my roots went to the Canary Islands.

Even more interesting is I learned much about the origin of Canada, and how one province split in two and merged with two others. The name Canada comes from the province that split, yielding its name to the new confederation. So, as I searched for my origins, I learned much history along the journey. And the journey continues.

The Irish Disconnection

My father thought he was half Irish, but tracing the name Smith back it also could be an English name. And the connections to England was there, and not connections to Ireland. The name had transformed from Smyth several hundred years back. And the line was easy to trace, but often only one or two branches per generation. Soon came names with Roman numerals following them, then titles like Lady. My ancestors along the Smyth line seemed to be minor title holders, and have married title holders. But, many of the wives were from Bavaria. And going back the titles got more impressive, until I got back to Charlemagne, who was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The route back took me through much of Europe, but I should not consider myself descended from Germany, Belgium, Italy, and so on, because these countries did not exist. Yes, there was an Italy, but it was a much smaller territory. So, I have trouble associating with present day countries when I can go to the time before they existed.

Charlemagne Book from Amazon

Ancestry Pride

Ancestry pride is important to many people, and I suppose I am one of them, but I recognize that some of the areas from which my family originated had other names when my family was there. My ancestry predates many modern nations. So, my nationalities are English, Pre-Canadian, German, Pre-German, Pre-Italian, French, Pre-French, Norwegian, Dutch, and Pre- just about any other part of western Europe, or should I say I am English and a descendant of the Holy Roman Empire, or more exactly Western Holy Roman Empire.

What Did I Learn in My Search?

I learned a lot of history, and I learned a lot about the transformation of Europe to its present geography. I also learned much about the formation of Canada. Unfortunately, I also learned that despite the significance of some of my ancestors, I did not inherit any of their castles.


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    • amazmerizing profile image

      amazmerizing 2 years ago from PACIFIC NORTHWEST, USA

      Hey this is awesome! If you have a good knowledge of the names and families and dates which you seem to have then there is no reason you cant get info from the local churches... especially in Italy I am positive they have excellent archival records... if you have the chance to travel at all... and remember the saying goes we were all created from one single man and woman... Namaste!

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 2 years ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

      What a very interesting family background. I know so little of my heritage. Your article has given me food for thought. I am amazed at how much you have discovered about your family. Voting you up.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      My father has traced our family back to the 1600s and before. He tries to educate my other and husband about their people, but he might as well be singing to himself.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I know a little about my ancestors on my father's side of the family but not as much about those on my mother's side. You've certainly discovered a lot about your ancestors!