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my family history


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The Poet will publish my poem, “My Mother’s History” in an upcoming anthology on Cultural Identity.  My ethnic background is a bit complicated.  Depending upon how I look at it, I have 18 to 20 nationalities in my tangled family DNA. 


From my father’s side of the family, I inherited a German family name, Scandinavian blue eyes, with ancestors coming from France, Germany,  Finland, Denmark, Lapland, Norway, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and somehow the Basque region.  I also have some Jewish ancestry and a trace of Mongolian ancestry as do most people of Eastern European background.  And my DNA test also claims that there is some Italian ancestry somewhere and perhaps Spanish ancestry.

From my mother’s side of the family, I am part Scot, part Irish, part French, part Dutch, part Cherokee and part Nigerian.  Since she was part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee Indians, her story is particularly complicated as her ancestors fled before being enrolled in a tribe and lived in the Ozarks intermarrying with other Indian tribes, Scot and Irish settlers, and escaped slaves.  In any event, there are so few people in her ethnic group -perhaps 25,000 that they don’t show in DNA tests.  Since her parents show Cherokee that means I am anywhere from 1/8 to 1/8 Cherokee.  I met my uncle once and he looked Cherokee to me.


The following are my poems exploring my ethnic history.  Enjoy.


My Mother’s History


One day many a year ago

My mother spoke to me

About her family’s tangled history,


She spoke to me

Of lies, half-truths, and myths

Some of which may have been true

And throughout the evening

Her history came alive.


She was born in the hills

of North Little Rock

The 10th of 11 children

Of an ancient dying race.


The Cherokees

who had run away


Refugees who fled in the hills.


Part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee nation

Part Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole

and African Americans

Who fled to the mountains

To avoid the trail of tears.


Rather than join the rest

In the promised land

Of Oklahoma.


They did not exist

I did not exist.


The BIA told us

No Indian scholarship

For you


Since you can’t prove

You are in fact

Of Native American ancestry,


I asked my mother

What does this mean?

She said


No BIA money for you,

My non-Indian son.


Her family and Bill Clinton family

Were related

Bill Clinton and I are distant cousins


When I met him

I related my family history

He concluded that we were indeed cousins

Said I could call him Cousin Bill

And he would call me Cousin Jake


And he too was part Cherokee

Irish, Scotch, French 

And African American

Part of the lost tribe

Of the Cherokee nation


I told my mom

This story

She said

It was true


She was a distant cousin

Of Bill Clinton

Still did not like

The lying SOB


Her people disappeared

From history’s eyes

And DNA data banks



My history was over

As was hers


And so,

 I learned at last

The painful truth


That due to the genocidal crimes

of politicians so long ago

My mother’s people


Lost their land, their culture,

and their hope

And became

downtrodden forgotten people


Hillbillies they were called

Living in the hills and mountain dales

Clinging to the dim fading memories

Of their once glorious past

As proud Cherokees


Now no one knew their name

The old ways were forgotten

And the new world never forgave them


And they never forgave the new world

As they lived on

In the margins of society

Forgotten people


And I vowed that as long as I lived

Their history would not die

As I knew the truth


And I would become a proud


And make my mother proud of me

And my accomplishments


When I am down and out

I recall her stories and her warnings

And realize it is up to me


To live my life

To let the Cherokee in me

Live his life


And in so doing

My mother’s history does not die


It lives on in me

Until the day I die


Long live the Cherokee nation

Long live my mother




DNA Does Not Like or Does it? 


I sent way  

For one of those DNA tests 

That promises to reveal 

Your ethnic heritage 


The only problem is that claim 

Is not yet true 

The results were surprising  

To say the least 


Family lore would have it 

That I have 18 nationalities  

In my tangled family history 

Mostly Northern European  


Part German, Norwegian, Swedish, Finish, Danish, Dutch, Laplander, Russian, Scottish, Basque, Mongolian, Jewish, Spanish, and French from my father 

Part Cherokee, Dutch, Irish, Scottish, English, Italian, Nigerian, and French from my mother 

100 percent born and raised in Berkeley 


The DNA results showed  

that I am 68% northern European  

with trace elements of Jewish, Basque. Italian

Mongolian and Nigerian stock, 


No native American at all 

And my Germanic last name 

For some reason  

Did not register at all 


Go figure I said 

And I read the fine print 

The state of the art is such 

That claims that they can tell  


Your ethnic background  

Are exaggerated 

The fine print read 

Explaining why it is often inaccurate 


The Cherokee background  


Because my branch of the Cherokees 

Disappeared into the mist of time  


Part of the lost tribe of the Cherokee nation

Part Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole

and African Americans

Who fled to the mountains

To avoid the trail of trees


The German background  

Got swept up into the northern European thing 

And at the end of the day 

I remained as much a mongrel 

the breed as anything else


Typical American 

I suppose  

All in all 

A fascinating experiment  




Family History Revealed



The DNA results 

Revealed some aspects 

Of whom I am 

Where I am from 


But not everything 

Was revealed 

And much of my history 

Remains hidden 


My father was from Yakima 

Ran away to the Bay Area 

Where he became a college professor 

Taught the dismal science economics 


Along the way  

He met my mother 

And after a whirlwind romance 

had four children 


My older brother, 


Younger brother 

And sister 


She was a refugee 

From the dust bowl 

Fled Arkansas 

In the late ’30s  


Never looked back 

Settled down  

In the Bay Area 

Yet the south lingered on  


She trained herself  

To speak without an accent 

The only time the southern came out 

Was when she was talking to her sisters 


She was the 10th of 11th children 

Father was a moonshiner 

A Cherokee medicine man to boot 

Lived life in the Ozark mountains 


She had two sons 

From a prior relationship 

That went south 

We never really knew them  


My father was an atheist 

And a morning person 

And a man with a  plan 

For everything 


My mother 

More make it up 

As she went along 

And a night owl 


How and why 

They met and stayed together 

Is beyond me 

They had a stormy relationship 


My mother always said 

Germans and Irish 

Don’t mix  

And never should marry 


She also said 

The world is divided into morning people 

And night owls 

And they are doomed to marry each other 


Yet I suppose 

There was real love 

Beneath all the drama 

And bluster 





 Thoughts on Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC 


Sam Adams  

Had never been  

To the Holocaust Museum,  


Despite the fact  

He had lived  

And worked in DC for decades  


One day after he retired 

He said to himself 

It was long past time  

To finally see the holocaust museum 


He went the week  

After Charleston,  

When the mob had chanted, 

 Jews will not replace us.  


The museum affected him deeply 

He had just confirmed  

Through DNA  


That he had at least 10 percent 

Jewish ancestry 

Among the 18 other nationalities 

Swirling among these bloodlines 


Sam Adams was concerned  

Those elements of antisemitism  

We’re emerging among  

The MAGA crowd. 


But he dismissed 

 The fears that Trump  

Was another Hitler  

As liberal hyperbole 


It could not happen here 

A new holocaust  

Would never happen 

But now he was not so sure 






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Ethnicity/ancestry/heritage in general is fascinating, as is your analysis of your own. I was born in Massachusetts, but I'm first generation American; my parents are both from Estonia. I speak the language fluently.

I've read about the origin of the Estonian people, and it's very much a mystery; there are several theories, but no concrete evidence. Estonian, along with Finnish and Hungarian, is one of the few languages in Europe that is not Proto-European. I'm white, but I'm not Caucasian. Then again, I could have some of that. After all, throughout history, Estonia was occupied by numerous European and other peoples (Germans, Danes, Swedes, and Russians to name a few).


Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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