There’s that scene in the movie Titanic where Jack is dining with the first-class passengers. He gives his last name and the white-bearded gentleman asks, “of the Boston Dawsons?” and Jack, not missing a beat, clarifies he is of the Chippewa Falls Dawsons.
I always wanted to say I was Marisa of the somewhere somenames.
Travel insurance company WorldNomads and Ancestry.com along with a slew of other sponsors have teamed up to send one person and a guest on an ancestral quest with their Relative Distance competition. My past few posts have been inspired by my entry to the contest, and have served as written explorations of my own identity and the places (both emotional and geographical) that my own search for unknown kin has taken me.
Mom never met her father. She shared his last name for a minute (Kirby), and knew his first (Robert), but that’s where the connection stopped, and with my grandmother Diane gone, there was little additional knowledge to gain.
We’d found my own Dad and I’d met him in November 2006 after 21 years not knowing him, and around that time, Mom decided to pick up her own paternal search again. She went to Ancestry.com and lo and behold, she found a brother of her father. She put in a call to that uncle (my great-uncle), who almost immediately called her back, and the rest is history.
A month or two into conversations, in April 2008, Mom and I hopped on a plane to meet my uncles Mark and Todd and their mom, Irene. And it wasn’t just them. Uncle Mark hosted a block party complete with all their relatives—the Colorado Kellys and Johnsons—as well as some of his closest neighbors and friends.
I called in some of mine, too. Mom and I had lived, it turns out, just 40 minutes away from her brothers for seven years during our residence in Colorado. For two of them, she worked just 15 minutes away from her father’s grave and my Uncle Mark’s house. So while my mom met her brothers, I got to have the closest thing to a sibling I’d ever known right by my side—my best friend and childhood next-door neighbor, Stephanie. All of these people are the reason that Colorado will always feel like home.
By May 2008, we’d head with Uncle Mark, Todd and their mom Irene, to meet the Ohio Kirbys for my cousin Kim’s wedding. There, we’d be united with the uncle who’d connected mom with her brothers and me with more cousins and second cousins and great aunts and uncles than I can count. The family resemblance in some cases is undeniable.
We traveled into Kentucky and walked along the river and down to the area where my grandfather and his siblings grew up in a humble little house where there were apparently no shortage of struggles, but also a fair amount of shenanigans and joy. All of which still survive in the spritely grins and sparkly eyes of all the Kirby kids.
Between the pool party, baseball game and the time shared circled round a backyard bonfire, I found that the Kirbys are perhaps where I get my “freaky gene” as mom calls it. The gene that apparently skipped a generation. The one where physical flexibility and a love for exercise is built in, or at least easily installed by like-minded individuals.
The Kirby family line is also where, I’m pretty sure, my mom got her extroverted social-activity-loving demeanor. I never saw my grandma Diane in a party environment to my memory, but I imagine that she’d be a bit of a wallflower like myself, and it would make sense to me that because of that, she would be drawn to an outgoing guy like Robert, who eventually married the feisty and playful Irene.
As someone who grew up thinking it was just me and mom against the world, it’s impossible to know who I could have been if I’d have grown up connected to the Kirbys or to my own Father’s side of the family. My disposition is what it is.
The biggest takeaway from the soil of my still-living Kirby ancestors, however, is the example of who I can be and what I can create. With just a little work—a little more reaching out, and a few more regular trips to Ohio, I could be a family oriented woman with strong ties to anyone perched on a branch of my own or even a neighboring family tree much like the Kelly, Johnson or especially the Kirby women.
Yeah. I like that. I’ll just be over here, swinging on my family tree. And if anyone asks, I’m Marisa Zocco of the Ohio Kirbys.