Friday, November 27, 2020

Finding Family — A Thanksgiving Gift


I guess it is no surprise that the girl who grew up resenting the loneliness of Thanksgivings is now the mother of a woman who traveled over three thousand miles, just to spend her Thanksgiving week with cousins—second cousins, once removed, to be specific. With a family as small as ours, the reach for relationships can extend to unusual lengths.

Thanksgiving is for family, no matter how distant. And yet, when I didn't even know much about my own grandparents, the possible reach for relatives was limited. Until now.

With the opening, today, of the official winter holiday gift-buying season, perhaps your mind is now beyond the kitchen labors of cooking your turkey-for-two (as one of my relatives—a first cousin once removed, if you must know—put it). But having endured yet another Thanksgiving, it occurred to me that I won't have to wait until Christmas to open up my gift for this year. It was a Thanksgiving gift that bestowed this year's blessing.

Thanksgiving this year became the culmination of a year in which I connected with more family than ever before. With my father's line, my patriline, reaching back no farther than his own father and his false identity, I really didn't know much at all about his roots. 

DNA changed all that. I now can point to records from my paternal grandfather's homeland linking him with extended family from both sides of his family. Some of those collateral lines have descendants who also emigrated from their birthplace, and eventually took a DNA test. Others—perhaps some whom I'll soon find, still living in Poland—may represent DNA matches I've yet to connect to my family's story.

It wasn't until the eve of this Thanksgiving when, sitting at my computer and composing an email to one of the earliest of these DNA matches I had found, that I realized what a gift I had received. I had first corresponded with this match four years ago. Our conversation had gone something like this: "I don't know how we match, do you?" 

"No, I can't figure it out, either. But we must match somehow!"

It wasn't until this Thanksgiving when I could write back and tell her, yep, I know now! We're third cousins, twice removed. Talk about strong genes over long distances.

This year, it took Thanksgiving to help me realize I've connected with more family than ever before—an ironic twist to the life story of someone who grew up wistful about never celebrating Thanksgiving with family.

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