How much do you know about your cultural roots? I knew virtually nothing about mine before my quest to find my heritage began. My parents told me I was part English, Irish, French, Welsh, German and a little bit of Native American, but my grandparents and great-grandparents were all born in America, so as far as I knew, none of their cultural customs or traditions were passed down to me. I was intrigued by friends who emigrated to America, or whose parents or grandparents came from some exotic faraway land.
Now, after years of following my family history backward through time, I know a lot more about my family's coming to America and I realized that the reason we didn't know much about our ancestors origins is because it was too long ago! The last immigrant ancestor in my family was my maternal 2nd great-grandfather, Harry Dickinson, who was a third-generation steel worker. He emigrated with his parents from Sheffield, England, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1880s during the steel boom that made Pittsburgh famous. His wife, Annie (Robinson), had immigrated from Manchester, England, with roots from Wales. Prior to that, my paternal 3rd great-grandfather, William McGinnis, had immigrated from Ireland to upstate New York, escaping the Great Irish Famine in the late 1840s, probably by offering himself as an indentured servant to whoever paid his passage. The next immigrant ancestor, going back in my ancestral history, was my paternal 7th great-grandfather, Elias Shevalier, who sailed from Jersey - the island, that is. He was born in Saint Helier, Jersey, in or before 1712 and immigrated to Connecticut as an indentured servant before 1735, after the death of his parents. Those are the four most recent arrivals of my immigrant ancestors and the only traces of them today is quite literally microscopic. It's a shame to think that within a couple hundred years, your descendants could know nothing about you!
Living in today's increasingly globalistic society, some people prefer to eradicate the cultural differences between us, while others stereotype, shame and vilify people for the deeds of people who are long gone and probably no relation. Consequently, we grow further and further from our roots and the cultures of our ancestors, who each played a vital role in our existence.
While we possess little to no heirlooms, scarcely any documented evidence, almost no portraits or photos, and absolutely no video footage of our ancient ancestors, we do carry copies of portions of each of them in our DNA. Every cell in our body carries traces of those who came before us, as inconceivable as it may seem. Not only do we inherit their dominant physical traits, but some of the habits, preferences, customs, and traditions we learn from our parents may have also been passed down for generations, too. As a "genealogy addict", I love to learn about the things my ancestors experienced and personal aspects of their lives, such as the kinds of foods they ate and the music they enjoyed. Traditional ethnic recipes and favorite old folk songs can help us feel a connection to our heritage and they're not too hard to find.
Of course, recorded music wasn't available in homes until the invention of the phonograph in 1877. Just think, for thousands of years, the only music that was heard was played or sang live. Surely minstrels were popular and a home with a musically inclined family member was an extra happy one. Since there are no recordings, however, the only songs that have survived are those that were written down or ones that were popular enough to be passed down from generation to generation as folk songs. Note, also, that the printing press wasn't invented until 1473, so printed sheet music wasn't even available until then. Prior to that, copies of music had to be reproduced by hand. On that note, it's probably safe to assume that many great songs died with people who never copied them down or passed them on.
While researching your family history, you might come across a note or a newspaper clipping with details about a song sang at a wedding or party, or perhaps a wedding invitation quoting a line of lyrics or the name of a song. When you do, try to find a copy of the song online and then find a way to preserve the memory of it. Print out the lyrics and/or sheet music and keep them in a scrapbook or frame, share it with family to keep the memory of alive.
Also, try a search for folk songs and see what you can find. Maybe a small part of you will find some comfort or enjoyment in a good old kansanlaulu (Finnish folksong), or a volkslied (Dutch folksong), or maybe a népdalt (Hungarian folksong). These are more than songs, these are connections to your people. These connections remind us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. We are part of a clan, a family - one with millions of people across the globe, who you probably would never guess are your relatives. It's a reminder to be kind and compassionate to all people regardless of race, creed or color.
Tip: Try searches for both "folksong" and "folk song", along with the language, ethnicity, or country. Translate "folksong" to whatever language you're looking for to find authentic songs and more accurate versions. Google Translate will come in handy!
My personal favorite is this cân werin (Welsh folk song) called, Dacw 'Nghariad (There is my sweetheart). Of course, I don't know if any of my ancestors knew it, but my DNA thoroughly enjoys it, so maybe!
A full playlist of Welsh folksongs can be found here, but first, listen to this song! Share your thoughts and comments below!
Dacw 'nghariad i lawr yn y berllan, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal O na bawn i yno fy hunan, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal Dacw'r tŷ, a dacw'r 'sgubor; Dacw ddrws y beudy'n agor. Ffaldi radl didl dal, ffaldi radl didl dal, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal.
Dacw’r dderwen wych ganghennog, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal Golwg arni sydd dra serchog. Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal Mi arhosaf yn ei chysgod Nes daw 'nghariad i 'ngyfarfod. Ffaldi radl didl dal, ffaldi radl didl dal, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal.
Dacw'r delyn, dacw'r tannau; Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal Beth wyf gwell, heb neb i'w chwarae? Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal Dacw'r feinwen hoenus fanwl; Beth wyf well heb gael ei meddwl? Ffaldi radl didl dal, ffaldi radl didl dal, Tw rym di ro rym di radl didl dal
English translation: There is my sweetheart down in the orchard, Oh how I wish I were there myself, There is the house and there is the barn; There is the door of the cow house open.
There is the gallant, branching oak, A vision, lovingly crowned. I will wait in her shade Until my love comes to meet me.
There is the harp, there are her strings; What better am I, without anyone to play her for? There’s the delicate fair one, exquisite and full of life; What nearer am I, without having her attention?
Share this blog with other lovers of folk music!