English, Danish, Irish, French, Italian

Travel insurance company WorldNomads has paired up with Ancestry.com and a slew of other partners to provide one winner and a guest with a trip anywhere in the world to explore their genealogical heritage. I entered.

My entry got me thinking about the role that travel plays in my life and my identity, and the reason I want to experience the world and its people. In light of the Relative Distance contest, I’m sharing a series of my reflections on the magic located at the little intersection of family and travel.

It’s complicated, see, and that’s why it’s necessary. I’m a Zocco, but hail from the sac of a Johnson who’s really a Brumbaugh, to start.

I’m an illegitimate child, who came from an illegitimate child, who came from a mother whose father was an illegally adopted immigrant.

Whoa. That’s charged!

But in all that complication there’s buried treasure. When you think about it, how can we not link travel to who we are? We are, because we traveled.

According to Mom’s Ancestry.com research, our story starts in 160 C.E. when King Fornjotsson of Kvenland (Finland) made a move on a woman. At some point down the line, kin scurried about and by the mid 800s we were earls and dukes in France. A hop, skip and a jump later in time, we were British folk.

But that’s just one part of the journey, and I’m still missing a piece of the other half of the map.


“I have a daughter, don’t I?” Chuck knew.

I was born Marisa Zocco to a married pair of Zoccos and was raised thinking I was that combination of heritage you’re given as a kid. Mut, sure. That’s the easy way to put it. But, I’ve always been a lister.

English, Danish, Irish, French, Italian, I’d say.

I was 11 when I found out why my “dad”, Chris, decided to cut me out as a 9-year-old. There had been a possibility I wasn’t his, and, paired with the fact I looked absolutely nothing like my two new half siblings, well…it made sense even as a kid. I’d always felt adopted and to my young mind, now I knew why.

Two years later, I was an awkward 13-year-old who had just moved across the country from Colorado to Wisconsin, when Chris told me flat out that I couldn’t be his daughter anymore. I can still feel the tears and anger I let out in the wooden attic storage space while looking at the porcelain dolls I no longer displayed in my bedroom.

OK, so, English, Danish, Iris, French, alone.

By the time Mom got our first response from Chuck, I was 21 and we were already planning our first Thanksgiving trip up the Pacific Northwest, and staying just a few hours of a drive away from where he and his family would be for Thanksgiving. It felt meant to be.

We’d be passing through Tigard, Oregon, where he grew up. We would surpass Wilsonville where he, his wife and two sons lived. At some point during our respective holiday drives, we’d likely pass one another on the same highway before their car ventured north-east toward his parents’ house in Idaho, and we kept on due north.

The memory of the whole drive up remains fragmented with portions of the road fractured by a text conversation I was scared to have, or a doubtful thought while walking to look out from a vista point. I feel like I have more recollection of my internal landscape during that trip than I do the terrain:

The ocean; A rush order on a paternity test; Black Butte volcano; He might not be it. There’s still one more possibility; Blue Star Rest Area; the discomfort in talking to someone who wanted me, because if I got attached it might hurt again; Tsunami evacuation zones; Will they even like me?

Our saliva samples traveled on their own, flying (by mistake) to Tennessee where I’d spent summers with Chris; they bounced into the Texas lab on Kirby Street—the stretch of pavement that shared my mom’s maiden name, which belonged to a father she had never met. And, finally, despite the re-routing, something for which to be grateful on the day of thanks: a phone call.

Chuck was 99.9999 percent positively my father.

English, Danish, Irish, French, half German.

I cried the most cleansing sobs of my life that night. When I gained my father and his family, I lost the girl who was unloved, not enough, and alone, and, sitting in the basement of non-biological family, I gained everything I hadn’t seen in front of me, and more. I cried for the loss of “me” and the birth of a new beginning.

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