Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dungeonspiration: Genealogy

Not Gunter.

Shortly after I moved to Hollywood, I met a German tourist named Gunter who had a penchant for wearing a green and purple track suit that made him look like Barney the Dinosuar.  We spend hours discussing the true meaning of "Fahrvergnügen" and the Hitler's involvement in the creation of Volkswagon.  But I'll never forget that the second we met, he locked eyes with me and said excitedly 'I know your people!'

Gunter had done a lot of travelling through East German after the Wall fell, and had just came from another such trip to the US.  He said that I looked just like the people around East Berlin.  He had seen my face reflected in the streets there.

I didn't know quite what to think of that, but I filed the bit of data away for future use.

Fast-forward two decades and a friend is helping me with my family's genealogy.  Research in the area has always been difficult since the family isn't one to remember back far or talk to relatives much.  But with my friend's help, we were suddenly getting a lot of hits on that helped to trace many branches back further than I had ever hoped.

Apparently they have water in Strausberg.
A lady named Margaret stood out.  I had never heard of her - my great-great-great-grandmother.  She had been born in Strausberg, Germany in 1811 and had come over to Texas at some point.  The name of the city sounded vaguely familiar, so I googled it.

Strausberg is a city 30 kilometers east of Berlin.

Wow.  Gunter was right.

It still boggles my mind.  I have 16 great-great-great-grandmothers, most from many places other than Germany.  The fact that Margaret's facial genetics have passed down to me - and held on so strongly - that some guy strolling down Santa Monica Boulevard could identify my genetic homeland - 200 years past - within a range of what - 18 miles - wow.

And here I thought I might look Irish, which is funny because so far, I can't find a lick of Irish in the family tree – despite what I had always been told by family members.

What I can find is Scots-Irish - something differently entirely.

Socks and sweaters anyone?
My patronym is contained in a group called the Little Scottish Cluster.  This is a group of families who share a recent Y-DNA genetic relationship.  The group centers on a common ancestor who existed around 900 -1100 AD and who lived in the vicinity of Stirlingshire, Scotland.  Moving forward to 1618, my ancestors are living in Argyllshire (which is apparently a mountain or two away from Stirlingshire.)  They decide - or are chosen - to be colonist.  Not in the New World - but Ireland.

I had thought that my family was of the oppressed Irish.  All I can find, however, is us being the oppressors.  Londonderry was the first planned English city in Ireland, and my ancestors were inhabitants.  Apparently, we were all good Protestants, but not the right kind of Protestants (Presbyterians,) and so logically, the best place for us was in to be in Ireland, setting an example to the godless Catholics on how to be proper subjects of the crown.

The Irish are still pissed off about the whole thing.
For 100 years the Irish tried to wipe Londonderry off the map.  Understandably so, of course.   The history gets very confusing, but at least one of my ancestors survived the countless wars and political upheavals - doing so well against the Irish that everyone in Londonderry was exempt from taxes (a legality which lasted apparently until the Revolutionary War.)

In 1718, my ancestors yet again decided to be colonist as the town Londonderry created it's own colony in the New World.  They built the unimaginatively named Londonderry in New Hampshire, and brought my patronym to this new continent on which I sit.  While the migration appeared to be economic in origin, it was probably more about religion and the anti-Puritan feelings going on at the time.  Supposedly, all of their neighbors thought the Londonderry colonist were Catholic Irish, which irritated the settlers to now end.  They were proper Puritan Scots, dammit.  A century in Ireland hadn't taken their kilts or haggis away!

So what the heck does all of that have to do with Dungeons and Dragons and inspiring gaming?

Well, what DOESN'T it have to do with it.  My little amateurish delve into genealogy and history has jump-started my brain something fierce.  There is so much I've learned that can go into world building.  It's taught me a few things (or merely reinforced them.)

1) Some families just plain don't move for hundreds or thousands of years, while others are vagabonds.
2) Oral history can be atrociously wrong.
3) Entire groups of people are often used as pawns and made to feel really good about it.
4) Mountain people can be a very mule-headed, stubborn bunch.
5) The amount of history I don't know about my own culture is staggering.
6) Reading histories written by Presbyterian ministers in 1850 can make your eyes bleed.
7) Dominant genetics are far more . . . dominant . . . than I thought.

So eventually, my patronymic family continued to migrate, with my great-great-great grandfather operating a ship out of New Orleans and running guns to the Anglo colonist during the Texas Revolution.  After the war he was apparently loaded and helped build a new town in Texas, then married the German genetic powerhouse of a woman - Margaret of Strausberg.

I swear - these people really inspire me.  I had no idea that my family could be such a great source of gaming idea.  Why not go peruse your own family history, and see how it inspires you?

- Ark

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