Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Non-Irish Family Story

As far as I know, I don't have any Irish in me. Red hair and freckles run in my mother's family, but given where it comes from--my mother's maternal grandmother--I suspect that it is Dutch in origin, from my ancestors who immigrated to what was then known as New Amsterdam. In fact, with exception of the odd Swede here and there, I have hardly any ancestors on either side of my family who did not emigrate from either England or the Netherlands before the American Revolution, and most of them in the seventeenth-century. I say that not to brag, but as an ambivalent testimony to the power of racial politics in this country over the last three centuries. The fact that really none of my ancestors married into the various great waves of immigration over the years tells you something rather dark about the history of the U.S.


I do have a funny story about Irish ancestry though. I have some cousins who are themselves members of another family--so, to which I myself am not related--that is kind of fancy. I probably shouldn't say it by name, but suffice to say there is are some important institutions in NYC named after them. It's the kind of family that has a corporation to manage the family assets and charitable giving and whatnot, and has developed a complex system of classification to sort themselves out. I can never remember the details, but basically, each of the many children of the original patriarch was assigned a letter, and then each generation thereafter a number, so that if you are like the fourth grandchild of Robber Baron X's third daughter, you are C-2-4. I'm getting it wrong, but it something like that. When they have family reunions, each branch gets a color, and people wear badges with their numbers.

Anyways, so the name of this family is generically WASP, maybe with a hint of Scottish to it, everyone had always assumed. For whatever reason, nobody had ever done a proper genealogy on the family founder, so for an upcoming family reunion the board of directors of the family trust decided to hire someone to make one. They hired a young genealogist to do the research, and she presented the preliminary results at a board meeting.

The young women was excited to report that she had discovered that the patriarch's ancestors were....Irish!

Dead silence in the boardroom.

She was politely thanked, and as soon as she had left, one of the more elderly members of the board turned to the room, scowled, and said "Pay her, and get rid of her!"

No presentation was made at the family reunion. And yes, this was just a few years ago.


sushipjs said...

Ouch! I have nothing so dark in my family... Maybe that's because we haven't had much money in the U.S. and both sides of my family belonged to those "avoidable" immigrant classes. ::shrugs::

Kelsey said...

Damn, that story is....magical. Nothing is funnier than imagining the look on that poor geneaologist's face when she saw everyone glowering at her.

PS: I'm not Irish either.