Monday, April 14, 2008

Giving Credit to Gene

The topic for the 46th edition of Carnival of Genealogy is: What traits run in your family? Which of them did you inherit? Do you have your mother's blue eyes? Your grandfather's stubbornness? Your aunt's skill with knitting needles? Is there a talent for music in your family? Or do you come from a long line of teachers? Have you ever looked at an old photo and recognized your nose on another family member's face?

I puzzled and puzzled over this Carnival of Genealogy topic, and put off writing about it until nearly the last minute. But, the voices of my usually modest and self-effacing ancestors began to tug at me: "How about giving some credit where credit is due?" I'm sure they didn't say anything about blame, but I promise I'll be kind.

I've often wondered if, given the time machine opportunity to go back into the past, I would hear my own voice in one of my female ancestor's, or while talking to another would suddenly realize that I was looking into my own eyes. One needs to keep in mind that it can be difficult to know where genetics leaves off and cultural/behavioral memory begins. Some tendencies are picked up only through the repetitive behavior of others. For example, the fact that "Geez Louise" sometimes drawls out of my mouth when I'm mildly frustrated has little to do with genetics, and everything to do with being around Dad enough to have his favorite phrases ingrained in my brain's catalog of useful responses.

Funnily enough (as my English friend would say), I can only address my mother's side of the family when it comes to genes, and don't think I haven't been tearing my hair out over that from time to time. But, here's what I know about 50% of me:


Central Norway, the home of my immigrant Norwegian ancestors, is one of the areas with the highest percentage of natural blonds in the world. Folks with light-colored hair have lived there since ancient times and circulated their recessive genes generally among themselves for a good, long while. There is an interesting, but questionable Blond Map of Europe on the internet. Please view it with a healthy dose of skepticism, as all statistics without background facts should be viewed. And the blond(e) joke? SO uncool!


Without the aid of modern science, I too, would probably have been the proud mother of ten children, just like my mother's maternal and paternal grandmothers. I called it quits after three. My maternal grandmother was a fraternal twin, so I knew the roulette wheel was spinning with short odds.


There is something about Norwegian females and shyness. I know that this has been handed down to me through genetics, because I have experienced it and heard about it in connection with just about every female ancestor within my family's extended knowledge. It must have come straight from the soil in Norway, or something. (Or, could it have been the herring?) Although shyness is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, a shy person's self confidence is usually in some stage of teeter-tottering, and this makes things difficult while trying to get stuff done. If my great grandmother was working around the farmhouse and a stranger came to the front door, she could take herself away to hide in the kitchen under the guise of having to cook from scratch. My kitchen is open to the living room, and there is no excuse whenever there's a frozen lasagne in the fridge.

I don't even want to talk about those oral reports in school. Acckkkk!


There were no weaklings among my mother's family, though there were a few unfortunates who suffered the ravages of fatal disease, like my grandmother who died from tuberculosis at a young age. When I don't allow myself to get lazy from all the amenities associated with modern life, or make bad food choices, I am capable of physical labor on the same level as a fjord horse. For that, I thank my "lucky genes."

Sense of Humor:

My grandfather and his nine brothers and sisters could sure play pranks on each other, and they were sometimes more painful than funny. It isn't as though they never showed anger, or even rage, but, I never knew any of them to talk without either a twinkle in the eye or a subtlety of humor. Humor took the edge off the more unpleasant things they had to do, and it was also a way of showing they could cope with whatever life threw at them.

Running the Information Underground:

There are many teachers and librarians among my Norwegian-American family, especially on my grandmother's side, the Berges. Had my mother and aunt been given the chance to attend high school, they, too, would have liked to have been teachers. Farming was a natural and necessary pursuit for 19th century Norwegian immigrants, so it does not come as a surprise that my family has included many farmers. But, there is also a complement of male ancestors who worked for the railroad in America and loved it.

Books, crops, and iron wheels: knowledge, growth, movement. It seems I am always running on a track to learn more and make use of it in some practical fashion. I suppose that is why I am working in a library, and writing about history and genealogy.


  1. What a lovely post this is! Just wonderful. I had trouble with this one too (I'd never have known that you did!)

  2. Chery,

    I loved your article, and also the Blonde Map. No jokes, I promise!


  3. You gals are wonderful. Isn't the Carnival the BEST???

  4. These carnivals are great because they stretch your thinking and writing. You did a fine job in analyzing your family's traits. And I loved your blond map, too.