Monday, September 7, 2009

Genetically Predisposed to Wander

My dad is not a great believer in genealogy. The statistical likelihood that you can really trace your ancestors back to Eleanor of Aquitaine or Robert the Bruce... well, the odds aren't so great. Records just weren't kept and, for most of us, tracing our ancestral lineage is a series of dead ends and best guesses. Even if you're relatively sure you're making a good guess, the odds stack against you pretty quickly.

But I'm still fascinated by the possibilities. I'm probably descended from Pilgrims. I'm possibly related to Swedish nobility. On my mother's side there is a dramatic father-died-in-the-Civil-War-while-mother-was-pregnant-with story and my father's side has the tragic father-died-in-railroad-accident-while-mother-was-pregnant-with story. (As well as the story of the distant uncle who got drunk, yelled charge, fell off his horse and was trampled by his own men.) They may just be family legend, but they are fun.

And then there are the things which we can actually prove.

I'm a nomad. The travel bug bit me early and never let go. Could that be a genetic predisposition? In my ancestry are pilgrims and pioneers. A Swedish great-great-grandmother left home at fourteen to travel to America. My ancestors moved to Hawaii, Alaska, & Hong Kong, before it was easy to do so. I am by no means the first in my family to travel to far-flung places. Is it in the blood?

Ah, but see, there's a problem with that. Those pilgrims? They found their way to Ohio and settled there for three hundred years. Those pioneers? They just spent over a hundred years in the same spot in Oregon. For every adventurer in my bloodstream, there seem to be five who stood still so long they took root and became trees.

Is adventure a recessive trait? Or is the idea of a genetic predisposition toward travel just a fanciful fiction? Are we only as bound by the tradition of our ancestors as we wish to be? Picking the genetic precursors that suit us? Or is this itch I get in my feet before I take off a genetic condition?

Either way, I'm driving up the Alaska-Canadian highway right now...

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