Broken Branches On The Family Tree

April 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm , by 

2 years, 5 months.

Dear Jack,

Two weeks ago we visited my grandma, Lola Mendez Metallo, in the assisted living complex. She told us a story I had never been made aware of.

When her own grandmother was only 15 years old, on the way home from church, she was kidnapped by a widowed man who already had 4 children; being forced to become his wife and have children with him.

One of those children born to her was my grandma’s father.

My grandma explained that sort of thing wasn’t uncommon in Michoacán, Mexico back in those days.

It’s a dark story, and a strange part of our family tree.

I also know that your great-grandmother on Mommy’s side came to America from Ireland, as an indentured servant.

That couldn’t have been too awesome.

However, the fact that our family tree contains “broken branches” is nothing unique to our family. Climb any family tree in America, and it won’t take long to find some less than perfect situations which eventually led to modern day.

You and I also share Native American blood. I’m sure there’s an interesting story somewhere with that too. By interesting, I mean less than desirable.

It seems most old movies about the Wild West conveniently portray “the Americans” as the good guys and “the Indians” as the bad guys. (Accidental racist?)

I think about this stuff. Our family tree consists of both oppressors and victims.

While it’s easy to be removed from the reality that our ancestors had to experience because it was so long ago, if it weren’t for their hardships, we wouldn’t be here today. Their lives were just as real as ours are now.

Even just to think: Mommy was born as the 9th child of her family. How few American households in 1981 had a 9th child born?

The fact that Mommy was ever born is a rare enough situation to try to grasp.

You’re not here by accident, son. You are part of this universe for a purpose.

 

Love,

Daddy

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Finding My Son Up in the Family Tree

August 5, 2011 at 12:51 am , by 

Eight months.

Coincidentally while here  in Sacramento, which is known as “The City of Trees,” I have been doing a little bit of “family tree climbing.”  We are staying at my mother-in-law’s house along with a couple more of my wife’s siblings and their families.  Many of the walls are as thoroughly decorated with family pictures as John Mayer’s arms are consumed with tattoos.

I have been closely inspecting these retro pictures for signs of my son’s looks.  The only time I really see myself in him is sometimes when he cries and laughs.  So knowing that it was my wife’s genes he mainly inherited, I decided to find out exactly where his features came from.

This first picture features my mother-in-law’s grandparents, as well as, her father who is featured far right.  His name was Waldo Tocchini- I definitely see some “Jackness” in his nose and the shape of his head.  I often think of Jack as a 1940′s wrestler.  Seeing Jack’s great-grandfather as a five year-old boy in 1920 only solidifies that old-timey wrestler idea in my head.

I have written before about how Jack reminds me of my wife’s dad- as an adult.  Here is a picture of him when he was a little boy.  We shall see if this is a hint of what Jack will look like.  Also, check out the picture in the far left botom- that’s my mother-in-law as a baby; her nose and mouth look a whole lot like Jack’s!

Here is a more recent picture of one of my wife’s nephew.  For a nanosecond, I had to ask myself if I had somehow teleported into the future and was looking at  a picture of Jack.  Several of the family members have also noted the resemblence between Jack and this first cousin of his.

This is my favorite picture in the house- it’s my wife’s family portrait from 1983.  She’s the two year-old sitting there in her mom’s lap.  This is just simply classicly awesome.

Then I look right next that photograph and see my own family’s portrait from St. Patrick’s Day.  Though my wife and son are related by blood to the Italian-French-Croatian-Norwegian people in all these pictures, I have been grafted into the vine, adding my Italian-Mexican-Scottish-German genes into this new branch of the tree.

So what if my son ends up never really looking much like me.  Chances are, his first child will be a splitting image of me.  Because that’s evidently how things work in this family tree of ours.  I say that, but the truth is, our next kid will probably look the opposite of Jack; like me.

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How Race and Religion are Connected and Why Isaac and Ishmael are behind It All

This is me in a video I made for you, which explains all this in a 5 and a half minute video, in case you prefer that over reading the 1378 word blog post below it, which I wrote 7 years ago.

Meet your great-grandfather Isaac.  Or Ishmael.  Or maybe even both…

How do you determine who ethnically is a “white person” and who is not?  Are Jews considered to be white?  What about Greeks and Italians?  And though Central and South Americans typically have tan skin, why is it there something about them still seems sort of white, as opposed to a person from India or China? These are some of the “side effect” questions that will be answered as I explain my theory on the origin of race and religion.

No, this theory doesn’t start with Adam and Eve.  Nor does it start with Noah and his family repopulating the world after the Great Flood.  It starts 20 generations after Adam, and 10 generations after Noah, with Abraham (the father of the Jewish and the Arab people), being promised by God that he would have a son in his old age.  After waiting and having no sign of this coming true, Abraham’s wife Sarah convinced him to sleep with their Egyptian maidservant Hagar, in order to have a son to carry on the family lineage.  At age 86, Abraham goes with his wife’s plan (like the way Adam ate the fruit after Eve convinced him to) and has a son with his maidservant- the son is named Ishmael.  However, 13 years later Abraham’s wife Sarah gets pregnant with a son, as God promised, and this son is named Isaac.

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Abraham eventually sends away his maidservant Hagar and his son Ishmael into the wilderness (Genesis 21:14), and raises Isaac his as true first-born son.  Today, thousands of years later, it is through Ishmael that Arabs and Muslims link their heritage through.  Accordingly, Jews and Christians trace through heritage back to Isaac.  Now we are in the meat of my theory.

As generations passed and both families migrated from their Middle Eastern homelands, the descendants of Ishmael moved south and east- to Africa, Asia, and America (becoming the Native American Indians in North America and the Aztec Indians in Central and South America).  In fact, the angel of the Lord told Hagar that Ishmael “will live east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).  Meanwhile the descendants of Isaac moved north and west- to Europe, Russia, and eventually to America (killing off, running off, or marrying the Native American Indians).

Notice how today the countries that are represented by the descendants of Ishmael are generally practice religions that do not involve the Judeo-Christian God (worshipped by Christians, Catholics, and Jews) but instead are tied Hinduism, Animism, Taoism, Buddhism, Communism (Atheism) and Islam.  And of course the descendants of Isaac are matched to the Christianized nations: For example, Scotland is mainly Protestant, Ireland is mainly Catholic, and England is mainly Anglican (Presbyterian).

Almost 2,000 years ago thanks the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys to preach Christ where the Jews had already settled (in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean areas) and also the birth of Christianity as a whole, the countries that were already familiar with the Judeo-Christian God were basically the first to get introduced to Jesus as the Messiah.  As far as all the Ishmael-descended areas, like modern day Africa and Asia that were less familiar or not familiar at all with Christianity, they were not and have not typically been as generally open and accepting to “our God” as Isaac’s descendants.

The Ishmaelese Middle East

Ishmaelese Africa

Ishmaelese Asia

I do believe that whether or not a nation (or individual person) is a descendent of Isaac has much to do with their religion, race, and culture.  However, there are obviously exceptions.  One of them is Russia, which had been mainly Christian up until the point of its embrace of Communism.  Another exception is African-Americans, whom most identify with Christianity, as opposed to most Africans living in Africa.

And then there’s the “half breed” nations that make up Central and South America.  For the most part, their blood is mixed of Indigenous Americans (Native American, Aztec, etc.) who migrated from Asia through modern day Alaska, and European lineage from those who “discovered” America.  So in essence, the inhabitants of modern day Central and South America are half Isaackian, half-Ishmaelese; though they have accepted the religious beliefs of Isaac’s descendants (largely Catholic).  Read more about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

Yes, I did just now make up and use the words Isaackian (to describe the descendants of Isaac who are prone to believe in the Judeo-Christian God) and Ishmaelese (to describe the descendants of Ishmael who typically do not).  And now that you hopefully understand what those terms represent, I will begin using them frequently.

What started much of this thought process was when I recently began “Climbing the Family Tree” and realized that so many of my ancestors had last names that are Jewish (Schell, Klaar, Ullman, Wiseman, Vite) yet there is no solid proof that I actually am- only family rumors and tradition.  If I assume that none of the people in my family tree were Jewish, well, still, I have Jewish names in my family tree.  So that got me thinking, Jewish people and “white people” are essentially the same thing, coming from the same common ancestors.  Whereas someone who is Japanese (Ishmaelese) wouldn’t have last names in their family tree that would resemble a Jewish last name.

So going back to one of the questions I asked in the beginning, are Jewish people considered to be white?  Yes.  Though their homeland is Israel and though they are a Middle Eastern people group, they blend in with us Americans so well.  And that’s part of my fascination with pointing out which celebrities are Jewish.  Half the casts of Friends and Seinfeld are Jewish (The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld) as well as The Wonder Years (The Ethnicity of the Cast of The Wonder Years), but the fact that most of us don’t know which ones are or aren’t shows that despite most of us being a mix of European blood, those Middle Eastern descended Jews are still our cousins.

Of course ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of us descended from Isaac or Ishmael or how much blood we have of either (I’m around 12.5% Ishmaelese); it just predicts the tone of our skin and our traditional religion, according to my theory.  By no means do I see the Isaackians as superior to Ishmaelese for the fact that I myself worship the Judeo-Christian God.  But what I do recognize is what God himself proclaimed to Abraham regarding Isaac and Ishmael:

But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish my everlasting covenant for his descendants after him,” (Genesis 17:19).

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly.  He shall become the father of 12 princes, and I will make him a great nation,” (Genesis 17:20).

What’s most important from those verses I just quoted is that God promised to establish his covenant through the line of Isaac.  In other words, the savior of the world would come in the form of a Jew.  Not to mention that the Isaackians coincidently would hold the responsibility of sharing their God with the Ismaelese- that’s why Christian missionaries exist.  That’s why Christianity is now the largest religion of the Ishmaelese country of South Korea, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korea#Religion

We all have the same great-grandparents at the tops of our family trees.  I try to imagine how different the world would be if Abraham wouldn’t have had a son with Hagar, if he just would have waited another 13 years for his own wife to become pregnant.  But he jumped the gun and changed the course of history (for him, it was the future) forever.  Though if he didn’t, I wouldn’t exist, being that my grandmother is Mexican.  Not only would I have not written this and you wouldn’t have read it, but there wouldn’t have been any of this to write about.

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Climbing the Family Tree

At some point, it starts to become irrelevant.  Which part of your family tree actually matters?

Fort Payne, AL in 1976- my mom (bottom), her Italian dad and Mexican mother above her

Every family’s got one- the “family tree enthusiast”.  It’s ultimately the person with the most natural motivation to find out where the family came from- not the people who simply say, “I’d love to know more about our heritage…” but instead, the one who actually gets to work on it.  And after I found myself spending hours sometimes researching the origins of last names I had heard of in our family, I soon realized I was appointed by destiny to be the “family tree enthusiast.”

Since last May, my grandmother on my dad’s side has been helping me with the research.  Her last name is Clowers; which last year when I looked it up was an English name and meant “people from the hills”.  But this weekend after sitting down with my grandmother again, I discovered that “Clowers” was changed from “Klauer”, and that was changed from “Clore”, which was changed from “Klaar”, which was not English at all, but instead Dutch.

Chattanooga, TN in 1946- my great-grandparents on my dad's side: Francis Clowers & Madelee Wiseman

The highest I could climb up my family tree was to a Dutch Lutheran named Hans Michael Klaar (born in 1630) who married a Greek woman named Ursula Sybella (born in 1635).  When I Googled the last name “Klaar”, I found more Jewish ties to it than anything else.  It’s possible that further up the family tree the Klaar’s were Dutch Jews, but that would be near impossible to confirm.

Climbing back down the family tree, the next woman being married into the family was another Greek woman, Anna Barbara Maria.  Then Dorothy Kaifer (German), then two more presumed German women (no last names given but I’m assuming they were German since the family had by that point moved to Germany), then surprisingly a Jewish woman named Nancy Ullman (it translates as “rich man”), then Mary Harris (English), then Emmaline Lunsford (English), then Polly Katherine Green (English, Jewish, or Irish), then finally, my great-grandmother Madelee Wiseman (typically a Jewish-German last name which translates “white man”).

same great-grandparents 37 years later

Then my grandmother (maiden name, Clowers) married my grandfather, John David Shell.  All I know so far about his family tree are of Scottish (Scrimsher and Johnston), Cherokee Indian (name unknown), and German (Miller) origin.  But the last name Shell has a potentially interesting origin:  The Jews living in Germany were often given their last names by the Germans, who would insult them with last names translating to things like “stinky” and “ugly”.  Shell used to be “Schell” and literally translates “loud, noisy, and clamorous”- which I would say is an insult.  Plus, by Googling “Schell”, it’s Jewish people that pop up.

So what am I on my dad’s side of the family?  Dutch-Greek-German-Jewish-Cherokee-Scottish-English.  But I’m starting to come to the conclusion; what does really it matter anyway?  At the top of both sides of my dad’s family tree are Dutch, Greek, and German.  In the middle are Jewish and Cherokee.  At the bottom of the trees are English and Scottish.

The Clowers-Wiseman family in 1953- my great-grandparents in the middle, my grandmother on the far right in the black dress

Which is more relevant?  Am I more English and Scottish because those are the most recent?  Am I less Dutch and Greek because those are at the top?  Am I equally all of those things?

And that’s not to mention my mom’s side- she’s half Mexican and half Italian.  But because of the rumors that my great-grandmother Mary Vite was Jewish (there are Jews with the last name Vite), I may not be ¼ Italian after all, but instead 1/8.  Or what if she wasn’t half Jewish, but instead half Greek?

I will always be fascinated by ethnic backgrounds of people, but in a way, I am satisfied with what I know now about my own mysterious ancestors.  Because what is most relevant in a family tree is not found by looking up, but instead by looking down and all around; it’s the people that still influence you, that love you, that care for you, and vice versa.  That’s the part of your family tree that matters.  And to be honest with you, I’m pretty dizzy after spending all that time so high up the family tree.  It’s good to be back on the ground, with family members who are just as alive as I am.

Under the family tree: my Italian (and possibly Greek or Jewish?) grandfather Metallo; my mom's dad

dad from day one: The Minor Details

What will be his or her heritage?  How tall will he or she be as an adult?  Boy or girl?  I’m answering the tough questions today, based on educated theories.

This series isn’t a “baby blog”.  Instead, it’s a documented journey of what a first time dad thinks about, starting from when I first found out and started sharing the news with everyone.  Because this info is coming from a man, who processes things in black and white, it’s possible that the tone will be a mix of both practical and abstract.  No goo-goo gah-gah.  But maybe a little nanu-nanu.

In fraction form, here are the proportions of my coming child’s ethnicity:

1/4 Italian (my wife and I are both this)

1/8 Croatian (from my wife; Croatia is the country we know today as “Transylvania”, The Count from Sesame Street speaks with a Croatian accent)

1/8 Mexican (from me, my mom’s mom’s family moved to Buffalo from Mexico)

1/8 Norwegian (my wife’s grandfather on her dad’s side was from Norway, but was adopted by an English couple in Iowa)

1/8 German (from me, where the Shell name comes from, as well as a little bit from my wife’s Norwegian side)

1/8 Irish (my wife’s grandmother on her dad’s side came to America as an indentured servant from Ireland)

1/8 English (from me, where the pale skin and light freckles come from)

*Greek (higher up on my dad’s family tree, there were two separate Greek ancestors; family tradition tell us that a Greek ended up on the Italian side as well)

*French (in my wife’s Italian lineage, family tradition tells us that a Frenchman got thrown in the mix)

*Jewish (my Mexican grandmother swears that my late Italian grandfather was part Jewish, and based on the family’s speech patterns, uses of random Hebrew words, and quirky behavior, I’m convinced it’s true)

Virtually, on both my wife’s side and my side of the gene pool, there is no man 6 feet tall or more, nor is there a woman 5’ 8” or more.  Combined with the fact that I am 5’ 9” (the average height of the American man) and my wife is 5’ 6” (two inches taller than the average height of the American woman), here are the most likely height ranges for our child once they become full grown:

Boy: between 5’ 8” and 5’ 11”

Girl: between 5’ 3” and 5’ 7”

Hair color on both sides generally ranges from medium brown to jet black, therefore it’s most likely the child will have semi-wavy, dark brown hairThough I do have two blonde-haired, blue-eyed aunts and also a red-headed, green-eyed aunt as well.

In one of my Mexican grandma’s dreams, the baby was a girl.  But based on a Vietnamese co-worker who correctly predicted the gender of my boss’s kid based on a Chinese calendar, he told me that there is a 70% change it is a boy.  My wife’s mom gave birth to 10 kids, and only 3 were girls.

My instinct tells me it’s a girl.  We’ll know in eight weeks if I’m wrong.

All this baby guesswork makes me think of those commercials for Puppy Surprise from 1992:  “Puppy, puppy, puppy surprise…  How many puppies are there inside?  There could be three, or four, or five…”

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com