Last week I attended our local version of the Scottish Highland Games. Once each year our county fair ground is invaded by haggis, bagpipes, tartan kilts and large men throwing things and for the first time I joined in. I have Scottish blood on my mother’s side and this was something I had long meant do.
My cousin wanted us to go. A family day at the Highland Games was her idea. Her ancestry is indisputably Scottish. She lost her father Al, last October and wanted to get in touch with some of Al’s distant family members who had reached out to her. My expectations for the fair were not high. I just wanted a day out with loved ones. I promised to try haggis and go along with the program.
I tried to get out of the house on time but I couldn’t find the right outfit. I am usually decisive and can get out the door fast but not on this day. I dug through the back of my closet and struggled to put together an unusual outfit made up of exotic pieces I had not worn in years. My ensemble ended up looking vaguely regimental I even topped it off with a military cap and pins. I arrived in the parking lot of the fair and was shocked to see another woman dressed identical to me in every detail. It was my cousin who had also struggled to put this exact outfit together at the last moment. She too was compelled by unseen forces to do it. We laughed and said, what’s going on?
We entered the fair and the tiny hairs on the back on my neck stood up. I can’t describe the oddly familiar feeling that washed over me when I walked down the mall and saw dozens of families proudly displaying their tartans. My mind registered certain tartan patterns as “right” and some as “indifferent”. The sound of bagpipes left tears trembling in my eyes. The diversity of the crowd was amazing- Scottish blood had been mixed with everyone. I saw “Al” look a likes everywhere.
Without prompting or prior knowledge I walked past dozens of family tents, straight toward a group of handsome men who’s tartans looked “right”, I saw my family name listed with them. By now the fair was becoming a very interesting experience for me.
After talking with my new cousins I found out the family history and where our family had served around the world in various regiments. My eclectic outfit suddenly made sense. My next thought was “Who got dressed this morning, me or my ancestor? I wondered if I should be even making a distinction -am I just the latest model of the same old thing?
What the hell is DNA anyway? Aside from being a string of proteins capable of replicating life is it doing something else? Can it wake up when it hears its name called and dress accordingly? Can it lead you back to the people you once knew?
Another interesting highlight of the fair was a visit to a DNA testing booth sponsored by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (www.isogg.org)
As a Christmas gift to our fathers, who are impossible to shop for, my husband and I are considering registering our dads with the National Geographic Family Tree project. This exciting DNA collection database is interested in the entire human family and will no doubt change existing ideas about human migration and culture.
Have you ever felt an instant connection to a stranger and later discovered they were family?
XXOO Katalina Leon
PS. Haggis -it isn’t good but it ain’t half bad!