Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Playing catch up: my 16 g-greats

In belated answer to a somewhat recently posted genealogy game, over on Randy Seaver's fantastic 'Genea Musings' blog:

1) List your 16 great-grandparents in pedigree chart order. List their birth and death years and places.
2) Figure out the dominant ethnicity or nationality of each of them.
3) Calculate your ancestral ethnicity or nationality by adding them up for the 16 - 6.25% for each (obviously, this is approximate).
4) If you don't know all 16 of your great-grandparents, then do it for the last full generation you have.
5) Write your own blog post, or make a comment on Facebook or in this post.

OK, this one's a lot of fun, although it really does expose just how much work I have ahead of me!

01. John PATTEN: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, is likely to be ENGLISH

02. Maggie SIMMS: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, likely to be ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

03. George MIDDLETON: b. circa 1840 Woperana NSW, Australia, d. 1925 Barham, VIC Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

04. TOOLANYAGAN / Maggie TOODLES: b. circa 1849 Moira District, VIC/NSW Australia, d. 1899 Moama NSW, Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

05. James AVERY: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, either ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN or ENGLISH

06. Sarah MORGAN: b. unknown, d. unknown - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

07. "Charlie" CHARLES: b. date unknown, Northern Rivers, NSW Australia, d. date unknown, Baryulgil NSW, Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

08. Mariah LITTLE: b. circa 1855 Baryulgil NSW, Australia, d. 1930 Baryulgil, NSW Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

09. Samuel Hallett FISHER: b. circa 1846 Dorset, England, d. 1932 Sydney, NSW Australia - ENGLISH

10. Emma Jane DEMPSEY: b. 1850 Camden NSW, Australia, d. 1909 Sydney, NSW Australia - IRISH

11. James Andrew MARSHALL: b. circa 1856 Chippendale NSW, d. 1906 Grafton, NSWAustralia - ENGLISH

12. Elizabeth Caroline TATHAM: b. 1867 Middlesbrough, England, d. 1943 Rockdale, NSWAustralia - ENGLISH

13. John Alfred MCNAMARA: b. 1853 Dubbo NSW, Australia, d. 1916 Surry Hills, NSWAustralia - IRISH

14. Maria MORRIS: b. 1853 Wellington NSW, Australia, d. 1928 Surry Hills, NSW Australia - ENGLISH

15. John SMITH: b. circa 1846 Stockholm, Sweden, d. 1928 Walgett, NSW Australia - SWEDISH

16. Ruth GAUNT: b. 1856 Chewton, VIC Australia, d. 1933 Marrickville, NSW Australia - ENGLISH


An enjoyable exercise and one that gave me another way to look at my ancestry, which itself is always a positive thing. Being able to see matters from a new perspective can help to break down the walls that one might normally see as too great an obstacle.

You'll note however, that in this exercise I didn't include my "ancestral ethnicity percentage." The reason for its exclusion is that for most Aboriginal Australians, like myself, being asked to attach a percentage to our Indigenous heritage has become a sore point and for a variety of reasons, as I will endeavour to explain. Before I do go on though, I'll also hastily point out that I did not take any offense to the question of ethnicity as offered on the Genea Musings blog.

The Australian Government has had a long history of wanting to classify Aboriginal people in one way or another, via the White Australia policy (this is the model that South Africa's apartheid policy was based on), assimilationist policies and preparing for an imagined extinction. All of these and more were a series of methodologies that was very quickly and easilyadopted by the general population in this country.

People in some cases really can't help but want to try and put Aboriginal people with mixed ancestry (me included) into a category that fits with their own particular world view. Racist terms were invented in the 1800's to help satisfy that urge. Halfcaste, Quadroon and a myriad others were used to not only classify, but to dehumanize Indigenous Australians and those of mixed heritage in many other parts of the world, irrespective of their particular cultural and ethnic makeup. This was done in order to separate those with non-Indigenous ancestry from our darker skinned families, to exploit us as lowly paid and non-paid servants (slavery) and to control all other facets of our lives; a policy which only really fell by the wayside in Australia during the mid 1970's, the decade in which I was born.

Today, when occasionally asked if I'm Aboriginal, or what percentage Aboriginal I am, I will reply politely that such questions are offensive to most who find themselves being asked that question, but I don't hold it against the person for asking. On the surface it's a reasonable enough question, but in this country it ignores historical usage, and sidelines current issues as well. "You don't look Aboriginal" however is an entirely different matter, which is offensive no matter which way it is said, despite usually being said innocently enough. To me, that would be like suggesting that General Colin Powell doesn't look very Irish, despite his having an Irish ancestral line as pronounced as that of his African side. Why should anyone be prejudged, or categorised to fit into the narrow views of the ill informed?

Yes, I'm Aboriginal, yes I am of English descent, and yes I have Irish and Swedish ancestry. But I am not part of an impossible to formulate, mathematical equation. How can anyone be a quarter or an eighth of anything?


blauger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
blauger said...


I happened by here via Randy's blog and found your post very interesting.

I'm American whose ancestry is as follows: 1/2 Finnish, 3/8 German, and 1/8 English. In the English part there may well be 1/32nd that is Irish but I don't know for sure.

For me, there's no hint of a repressed colonial past, although my gr gr gr gr gr grandfather emigrated from New York State to Canada in 1798. So, I trot out the percentages all the time without having to feel the wrath of history come down on me.

I certainly do understand why you don't like percentages, one of my above mentioned grandfather's sons married a woman who was half African American.

Governor Lord Simcoe abolished most forms of slavery in Canada in 1791 so the family was able to live without the burden of the past that they would have had they been in the US.

I've been in contact with a woman who is a descendant and she's had DNA tests done to confirm the rumors. It's one of those hush hush subjects for most of her family which is a shame because I've found that such "skeletons" invariable taint much of the rest of the family history if not faced with head on.

My question is, do you adhere to your non-percentage approach when talking to other genealogists?

One of my German gr gr grandmothers was a prostitute and it's one of the facts that I mostly share only with people interested in family history. It's understandable in context, both her parents died young, and in the chaos leading up to 1871 Germany. However, many non genealogists and some family members are simply scandalized.


John Patten said...

Hi Lyle, thanks for your comment and question. The question is certainly an interesting one, and not one that I've ever really given a great deal of though to. I suppose that's because ethnic percentages have never really been entered into as a subject in any discussion I've had with other genealogists before.

I suppose that if asked, I really couldn't give an answer that would satisfy one's curiosity, as I'd be too concerned with technicalities to provide a sufficient answer if inclined to enter into the subject in the first place. What I mean is that I define myself via my culture and the background in which I was immersed in as I was growing up in my tribe, and diminishing that connection to my tribe via statistics doesn't quite make a lot of sense to me.

I would also look at the statistics, and if I may use your example, I would question myself to say: "Am I 1/2 Finnish, or do I go further back and say that half is further punctuated by unknown percentages in the generations I'm as yet unable to map.

Yes, I probably over complicating a very simple question, but that's just my way of looking at things genealogy wise and in general.

In stark contrast however, whilst I am uneasy about percentages, I don't feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable about discussing any aspect of my varying ancestral ethnic bonds, or even the skeleton's in the closet. I'm not sure if any of my ancestor's were prostitutes, but I do have a female convict ancestor whose reputation was considerably worse! She had slept with half the ship that brought her to Australia in 1788, got into many fights, and was lucky to be transported rather than hung in the first place!

Kind Regards!