What’s in a Family Tree? What Ancestry.com Revealed About my Heritage

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, Latina.com staffers have taken to ancestry.com for more insight into their families and heritage – while blogging about their findings. Here’s one staffer’s experience.

Ever since I was old enough to wonder about by bi-cultural lineage, I was fascinated by my family’s history and experiences. No wonder when we began thinking about coverage for Hispanic Heritage Month, I pitched the idea to explore my family tree on ancestry.com. It was a bit of a selfish move, I confess, that came after obsessive daily visits to the digital database and handwritten journal entries about my ancestors.

Ever since I could remember, I was taught to be proud of my family background. My Cuban mother (and aunt who raised me) taught us the value of keeping our word and using good diction to spread infectious laughter, while my Argentinean dad instilled in me the value of good work ethic. But after two generations of living in the U.S., one can’t help but wonder how our grandparents and great-grandparents lives have influenced and shaped who we are today.

Besides, we can’t all have Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. from PBS at our doorstep ready to investigate our DNA.

As a light-skinned Latina with freckles and dark brown, wavy hair, I’m often mistaken for everything but what I actually am. In a world that thrives off labels, frankly, I confuse people. Thankfully, ancestry.com doesn’t discriminate or make rash judgments – so I was excited to start. 

After signing up, I started to put together the jigsaw puzzle that is my family tree. I first discovered my maternal grandmother’s death certificate. She was born in Guantanamo, Cuba and passed away in Brooklyn, New York back in 1984 due to cancer. She was a seamstress and homemaker while my grandfather was a mechanic for the U.S. Naval Base. My grandmother’s father emigrated from Salamanca, Spain while my great-grandmother was a Cuban native of Taino decent. The couple owned their own local butcher shop in town.

I wish I could say I discovered a lot more from my paternal side, but my findings were slim. This may be because my dad is the only one from his family that immigrated to the United States; so American public records on his side are scarce. However, from asking my dad about his family lineage, I was able to discover that my great grandfather survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Argentina around the 1930s.

The ancestry leaves may not have revealed as much as I thought, but it did spark more conversations about my family history at the Sunday dinner table. One thing that my investigation confirmed was that we come from a long line of survivors with dreams of freedom and survival. I admire that DNA, which has survived revolutions, recessions and wars. I may not have all the answers about my family history just yet, but I’m inspired more than ever to continue exploring the warrior and survivor in me