Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Did You Inherit Besides The Obvious?

When we think about what we inherited from our ancestors we might immediately think of our eye or hair color. Family medical conditions and their impact on the current generation (like I found to explain my cousin's vein problem in Medical History Revelation) might also spring to mind. But have you thought about other traits or affinities (musical talent, mechanical inclination or dance skills, for example)? While we don't “know” how much of these sorts of abilities can be ascribed to genetics it's not unreasonable to believe there may be some contribution, especially when these things have not been taught.

Here are a few examples from my family.

Ever since I've lived away from home I've had houseplants. I now enjoy gardening, especially my flower garden that keeps expanding every year. My grandmother did as well. There were plants and terrariums all over her house, she mixed her own dirt and pored over seed catalogs with her sister. When she was alive and active I don't remember participating in her hobby so I didn't pick it up that way. My grandma's father (who died when my grandma was only five) loved planting flowers and his father (who died long before my grandma was born) worked as a gardener for a number of years. My mom jokes about going to the garden center with her mom decades ago and now in recent years with me.

My cousin really enjoys mechanics. While in the military and now as a civilian he repairs vehicle engines. No one else in the current generation has this propensity, but our grandfather worked for Fuller Manufacturing and actually made some of his own parts for his Fiat.  Also our gg-grandfather's uncle was a carriage maker and served with the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics during the Civil War. When my cousin learned of this he felt more connected to the family than he had before.

I discovered in graduate school that I love ballroom dancing and am pretty good at it. I actually ran the school's ballroom dancing club for several years. It just so happens that my grandfather taught ballroom dancing (we still have some of the records he used to play for classes) and participated in square dancing for many years. Though I did actually dance with him once, as a child it meant nothing to me.

It's possible that these are merely coincidences, but even if they are I think it is a useful exercise to think about our similarities with our relatives. After all, anything that makes us think more about our ancestors' lives is a good thing because I believe it helps us to view them as real people who had the same emotions as we do.

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