Blood Of My Blood: My Obsession with Ancestry.com

I had to start this post off with a Game Of Thrones reference. ‘Blood of my blood’, if you’re familiar with the show, is a reference to the Dothraki saying between a Khal and his blood-riders. (6 seasons later, I’m still mourning Khal Drogo. RIP.) It’s a term used to symbolize complete and utter loyalty. In other words, ‘blood of my blood’ means family.

Let’s face it. We all want to feel a connection with the people that came before us. What was their life like? What did they do for a living? When did they get married? How many children did they have? Where did they live? How did they cope with what was going on in the world at the time? I could go on and on. For me, and I’m guessing for most of us, the question really is: how are we alike? 

In this article by Dierdre Foley Mendelsson, Why are Americans Mad about Geneology?, she explores the phenomenon. Behind gardening, researching genealogy has become one of the top American at-home hobbies. Why? “We’re a massive, mobile nation, a nation of immigrants and assimilants, still lacking a robust sense of history, and if nothing else the surprise of six degrees of separation makes us feel less alone.” Her explanation does make sense.

Researching our genealogical line is a modern privilege. Technology like Ancestry.com makes it SO much easier than ever before to find our ancestors through real, true evidence. The site offers hints and these hints can be added to your family tree if found accurate. Hints can be documents like birth records, death records, newspaper clippings, censuses, pictures, and links to other member’s trees that have similar information that can help solidify that hunch that you are, in fact, related to a certain individual and even resemble them in a certain way.

Hints aren’t the only way you can find your blood-riders on the site. Ancestry.com offers DNA tests. I know this is old news (I’ve seen the commercials, too), but as someone who’s had the opportunity to test three of my close family members DNA (my Dad and both of my grandparents on my Mom’s side), I can attest to the reliability of the tests. The DNA also links you to others (distant relatives) on the site that have made their results visible, which allows you to confirm or deny any assumptions you could have about your biological link to some of the ancestors in your tree.

Most recently, my Dad’s DNA was updated as a result of a mass influx of more samples due to the site’s success. More samples = more accuracy. His DNA report changed dramatically as a result, and oui oui, he was more French than we originally thought! This DNA aligned with the research we’d done up his family tree, so I knew I could trust its accuracy.

Even the names we choose to name our children may hold more significance than thought previously. For instance, I was named after my great-grandmother Amelia on my Mom’s side. After doing some research on my Dad’s, I discovered another Amelia, my great-great-grandmother Sarah’s sister.

I also indulge in the PBS show Finding Your Roots (with Henry Louis Gates Jr.). I told you I was obsessed. The show follows well-known celebrities as they unearth their familial histories and even debunk some of their long-held beliefs about their heritage. The host Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University professor, accomplished filmmaker and journalist, and his web of connections within the historical academic community analyze DNA and historical records of ancestors of notable names like Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey, Larry David, and my favorite lawmaker of the great state of Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others.

It’s good TV. If you’re anything like me, a ride-or-die fan of Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files48 Hours Mystery, (or just good ol’ Snapped on Oxygen), you love a mystery. I love the drama of it all. Incredible lineage is discovered, long-held secrets are unearthed, and even seemingly bad revelations in the series are given new light which somehow leads each episode ending on an uplifting note.

If I’ve learned anything from my own research and this show, it’s this. Researching heritage can be a lot to emotionally process. It’s important to remember that these people (your people) were just that: people. They were dealt their cards just like we were dealt ours. And we may be blood-related, but we are not our ancestors. We have the chance to not be like the worst of ’em, but be like the best of ’em.

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Date Night: Sackets Harbor, NY

Since this summer I interned in Watertown, NY, I made it a mission of mine to explore the area. I’d previously been to Sackets Harbor, about a 10 minute drive from Watertown, when I was 13 or 14 (when nothing was cool) so it’d been a while since I was there.

My friend Meghan and I decided to take the day, or rather evening, to grab some dinner and walk around historic Sackets Harbor. Our first stop (after finally finding parking – this is the only bad thing about Sackets) was Goodfellos Brick Oven Pizza & Wine bar. Mostly all restaurants and little shops are located on Main Street. So is the harbor, Centennial Park, and the Battlefield path. We had dinner, sat by the lake, and took in the sunset. It was a perfect summer night – and I’m glad I had company but Meghan’s not really my type. Sorry Meg.

I’ve eaten at both The Boathouse and Goodfellos and each meal was deliciously prepared. They both offer outdoor seating, but if you want the view of the harbor, go with The Boathouse. The back of the restaurant gives me a modern Krusty Krab vibe, too.

On the 4th of July (the hottest day of this summer thus far), my friends and I decided to get dinner in Sackets at The Boathouse, soft-serve ice cream at Saturdays, Sundaes & More, and sit in the battlefield (along with a million other people) to enjoy the fireworks. It was brutally hot, but the environment (and food) made the day worth it. The sunset along the lake/river was incredible and we got some really great snaps, too. I don’t know which I enjoyed more – this sunset or the fireworks. Both were incredible. Both were worth the trip.

Sackets Harbor, NY is not only picturesque and lively, but also has a rich history. Founded in 1801 by Augustus Sackett, the land speculator from New York City had high hopes for trade. During the War of 1812, Sackets Harbor became the center of American naval and military activity for Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence Valley. Within a short period, military personnel numbers rose rapidly and the village’s population rivaled those of Albany and New York City.

Two battles were fought in Sackets Harbor, in 1812 and 1813, but luckily in 1814 the Treaty of Ghent was signed that ended the 3 year war.

After the war, much of the naval base was dissipated. Today, though, historic Sackets Harbor lives on. In 1913, Centennial Park, a portion of the battlefield was recognized and set aside to honor the military personnel that fought and died in the War of 1812. The battlefield, park, and historic buildings like the Sackets Harbor Visitor Center or Augustus Sacket’s mansion are available to tour. Find out more about the history and visiting Sackets Harbor here.

And by god, VISIT. Bring a friend, bring a date, bring the fam. Even just for the day, or a night, it’s worth it.