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this conversation is going to be awkward

i've been greatly enjoying my test run with an ancestry account, perhaps more than i should, given the other demands on my time. however, i'm looking at having to have a conversation that i really, really, am not going to enjoy. it's one of those things that can occasionally come up when one is researching ancestry, something that is more likely to come up when one's family comes entirely from the crowded little nation that is the united kingdom, and that is even more likely to come up when one is descended from long lines of people who weren't that eager to venture outside their cushy manor homes in lancashire and northern cheshire. let me give you a little primer [and also probably convince you never to try looking into your own genealogy ever]:


those lovely people are the savages: john and katherine. [i have no idea who the little guy creeping up around katherine's head is.] they lived in the fifteenth century, and it seems likely that they lived very well. both were born in the 1420s and lived until the 1490s, which wasn't terribly common at the time, even for landowners and the wealthy, because the country was embroiled for much of their lives in the wars of the roses. john fought with both king edward iv and richard iii, kings from the house of york, however, he was a pretty canny fellow and switched sides to fight with henry tudor [later henry vii] before the battle of bosworth.

when john wasn't fighting in civil wars or playing politics, he was at home with his lovely wife katherine [née stanley] making babies. seriously, i'm not clear on exactly how many children they had, because no one seems clear on how many children they had, possibly not even them. even the wikipedia page of their best-known child lists him as "one of the many" of their spawn. [that child was archbishop of york and built the chapel that now hosts the lovely memorial you see above. the archbishop is buried in the cathedral of st. peter in york, aka york minster. at least, most of him is. he had his heart cut out, post mortem, i believe, and buried in the chapel with his parents. i'm sure they appreciated that.]

among the many other babies at the savage infant factory was a boy named robert, who grew up to marry a woman named helen dethick. they married their daughter sheela [or cecilia, because no one seemed to keep track of this stuff then] to a landowning family named macdonell from invernesshire in scotland. the macdonells could have used some of the savages' political smarts, because, before the turn of the century, most of the men had been hung for high treason.

happily, though, that wasn't before young sheela/ cecilia savage macdonell got knocked up by her late husband and gave birth to the next in a line of folks who changed from macdonell to macdonall to macdonald [they weren't any more specific about the last names than they were about the first names, apparently] and who eventually produced my father and therefore me.

john and elizabeth savage also had a daughter named margaret. she was a few years younger than her brother robert and inherited her parents' healthy genetics [and possibly their political smarts, given the times], living until the ripe old age of seventy-five. she married a man named sir edmund trafford and, within a couple of generations, her children had married into another established landowning family named radcliffe.

over the centuries, hard times befell the radcliffes, who became a family of labourers, taking on all sorts of jobs: coal miner, collier, carter... interestingly, though, the radcliffes didn't want to take their chances moving to, say, london. or the colonies. as far as they were concerned, there was plenty to do and see in lancashire. and they would know, because census records tell me that this family lived everywhere in lancashire. sometimes, they would slip across the border and live in cheshire for a while, i assume when they were feeling crazy and bold, but that was as far as it went.

the funniest part of that is that they never stopped moving. they're not only at another address in every census i've found, but in an entirely different area. it is entirely possible that the radcliffe family lived in every house in the county, but never saw birmingham.

of course, that sort of thing can't be maintained forever and eventually a radcliffe daughter married a young man who pointed out that life in early twentieth century lancashire kind of sucked for the poor and that maybe they should take their chances in the far-flung wilds of canada. and so they did.

a generation after moving to the new world, that family had produced my mother and therefore me.

have i lost you yet? here's the short version: that couple in the photo above are the progenitors of both my father and my mother.

i'm trying to be rational about this: it's a six hundred year old connection, people used to marry family members closer than that all the time. in fact, there are other distant cousins in my family tree, but they've always been confined to either my father's or my mother's side. this feels like crossing the streams. but there's really not much to it, right? it shouldn't feel weird, right? please tell me i'm not a mutant.

what worries me more about this is that my mother has shown a great interest in the ancestry work that i'm doing and she likes it when i tell her what i've discovered. now i'm going to have to avoid mentioning it for the rest of our lives and if she brings it up, my answer will be something like "yes, it's going very well, but i think we should never speak about it again." if you think holiday dinners with family are awkward now, how do you think they'd be if the conversation included the line "so, mom, did you know that you and my father are actually distant cousins?" no amount of wine is going to wash that out.

but what's really on my mind now, is how this is going to affect my life. i was planning on printing out a giant family tree for myself at one point, but i'm guessing that idea is shot, unless i want to have it take the form of a circle, or pretend that a lot of my ancestors happen to have the exact same names.

more difficult is that i've now got to call the ancestry help office and have a rather humiliating conversation. because, i was able to make the savage family collection a lot earlier with my father's side of the family than with my mother's. that means i've already entered a lot of information on that part of the tree, and i would like to not have to enter the same information for the same people all over again on my mother's side. ancestry.com normally lets you identify when someone is already in your tree, but today i found out that's only if it agrees that the person could be your relative. and if the person is entered in a sufficiently contradictory part of the tree, it won't agree to the link.

thanks a lot you judgmental algorithm. remind me that the paternal and maternal sides aren't supposed to connect. because i wasn't aware of that already.

there is a way to merge duplicate records, but what i've discovered is that only works for the individual record. you can't just import the entire tree to that point. that doesn't especially help me, since it would involve having to enter all the information again and then merge it, one inbred person at a time, which is more work than just entering everything a second time.

i'm expecting a conversation something like this?

me: hello, i've discovered a large section of my family tree that's the same in two different branches.

customer service: sure, would you like to merge the records or delete the duplicates?

me: neither. i want to keep them, but i don't want to have to enter all the information again.

customer service: i'm sorry, do you mean that you want the information to show up twice?

me: yes, once on my mother's side and once on my father's side.

customer service: but your mother and your father would have to have different ancestry

me: in an ideal world, yes, but a large part of it is the same for my family.

customer service: ma'am that can't be right.

me: look, i'm not the one who had 800 children and encouraged them all to stay close to home.

customer service: pardon?

me: look, if you have a problem with what i'm trying to do, you need to go see the savages. they're in st. michael's and all angels churchyard in macclesfield with their famous dead son's heart.

customer service: i think i need to refer you to a supervisor...

me: i just need to be able to copy the parts of my father's family tree over to my mother's, so that i can show how they're related.

customer service: are you sure that's something you want archived on the internet ma'am?

me: fine. i'll just enter every single family record again, one at a time and then i'll drown myself in my own little shame pool. would that make you happy??

customer service: all right then, is there anything else i can help you with today?

remember that when you're thinking about how much your monday sucks: i'm going to be arguing with someone about my right to prove that my parents are related to one another.

someday, i'm going to visit the tomb of my however many-great grandparents [and my great-uncle's heart] and i will ask them if it's possible that some of their kids were adopted. 

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