I’m Scottish, German, English, a little bit Irish, and probably a mix of some other things as well. At some point the side conversation at the gala or event is brought to heritage. Small talk is a universal attempt to connect to strangers. As an American we tend to bring up our heritage, which is both fascinating and identifies a point to connect to others in this melting pot of a country.
I’d argue that one shouldn’t just talk about the heritage of one’s past, but discover it instead. I’ve had this heritage conversation with hundreds of people and most of the time they casually mention a Polish grandmother, or how they think they are Irish because some cousin has red hair, or occasionally they pull the cool card of being distantly related to some former president.
Most of the stories of our heritage are passed down to us through relatives. However, many people go through life hardly thinking anything of it or secretly cursing the relative who passed down the uni-brow genetics. Instead of just accepting the historical past of my ancestors, I decided to dive in and discover who they were as a way to honor their memory.
Using ancestry.com, my grandfather’s DNA sample, and following threads of last names I was able to discover some cool things about my Scottish family heritage, which led to international travel. I am related to Clan Drummond and Clan Munro. After digging through the internet I was able to trace back to relatives in each of these clans including Margaret Drummond who is believed to have had a secret marriage to King James IV! After my research and finding out about our family castles, I planned a trip abroad with my mom to walk on the continent of my Highland ancestors.
Touring Scotland was a whirlwind peppered with activities revolving around history. We stopped at the famed Culloden Battlefield (Any Outlander fans out there?) and I learned that both of my family clans supported different sides during the Jacobite uprisings. I was also able to get in contact with the Munro Clan Mother who is currently a 90-year old woman and my several times great aunt. She gave us a private tour of Foulis Castle and it was incredible! I was able to walk in the hallways, hear stories of our history, and see portraits of my ancestors on the walls.
I would have never had these experiences if I didn’t care about my roots and where I came from. Tracing ancestry is tedious work and it doesn’t always lead to a discovery of being related to someone famous. However, I believe that researching one’s ancestors and learning about their past can change ones view about ourselves. After leaving Scotland and learning about my heritage I feel more connected to that part of history and the people who live there today. Instead of meaningless small talk, I can now share stories of adventure and how it relates to history, the world, and myself. I encourage everyone to talk to family members, learn about family history, and dive in!
Author: Katie Billing
Author Bio: Katie Billing is a zoologist, adventurer, photographer, and theatre nerd. She is often found on a stage somewhere making people laugh or is surrounded by animals (Sometimes both).
Link to social media or website: https://www.instagram.com/wildlifekatie/