What’s the story you tell when you’re asked where you’re from? And do you know what it is about you that makes it obvious to the person asking the question that you’re clearly not from “here,” wherever “here” is? Is it race or culture, accent or attitude, nature or nurture?
Is where you’re from the place where you were born? Is that home? Is home the place you went to school? The place you’ve lived the past few years? Is it the camp on a dirt road that your family has owned for 50 years, the one that might make you believe, even feel like, you’re a “local” but, in the locals’ minds, doesn’t really? Why is that? The locals, however they define themselves, had to come from somewhere else, too, at some point, albeit generations ago for some of them. Where would you go if someone told you to go back to where you came from?
Earlier this summer I attended a talk at the Green Free Library given by a distant cousin. Stephanie West, who does genealogical research, shared with me and other family members her findings on a common ancestor, George Washington West, and the methods she used to confirm who his father was, to verify the service by other family members in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War, and to note with certainty something my sister had discovered through her own research — that one of our great, greats, a man named George Soule, was on the Mayflower.
We don’t know what the people who were already living here might have thought when our ancestor stepped off the boat. In hindsight, it probably would have been much better for them if he and the others on the Mayflower had gone back to where they came from.
My sisters and my cousins and I are fortunate that a great deal of our shared West and Ludington family histories have always been known to us — that is, our parents knew who their parents were, and who their parents’ parents were, who those grandparents’ parents were, where those people came from, the names of the assorted siblings of those folks and where in this country, over the past few hundred years, they may have gone, and so on.
On the Morrow/Munson side, my sisters and I don’t have quite as much information. We know there were two brothers, James and Charles Morrow, who came to this country from Ireland around 1860-ish and found their way to Tioga County. We don’t know what sort of welcome they received. The Irish have, at various times in history, not been greeted with open arms. Maybe someone, at some point, told them to go back to where they came from.
We know we have a Munson great-grandfather who was in the Civil War, so I guess we have patriots on both sides, if being a patriot means you were willing to take up arms when the government told you to. My sisters and I and our girl cousins could be in the DAR. We couldn’t be any more WASP if we tried, but does that make us more American than someone who has been here only a few years?
What does make an American, anyway? White Americans don’t like to talk about race, but, race is part of this discussion about who gets to come here, who gets welcomed, and who is told to go back to where they came from. We’re all from somewhere. Maybe what we should be asking ourselves at this point is where are we going?