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The Nuts on my Family Tree

Over the years I’ve worked on our family tree project. Each fall, I bring out the boxes and try to add a little more to our story. A large paper tree is tacked up on the wall and it has names spreading out through generations.

Although the names are on leaves, I can tell you which ones should be nuts.

It’s a fascinating hobby and a grounding experience to see the comings, goings, and doings of strangers who once in a while, jump out of the pages as yourSELF.

It explains a lot.

My kids already have an idea of which side of the family tree to blame for big feet, lack of musical ability or the tendency to sleep walk.

It’s real handy to have a great great great pirate-y grandfather to blame when you’re caught stealing cookies.

Can you help it if you’re just following your genetic code?

On the other hand, it can be encouraging to know that your artistic talents flowed down an entire family tree branch and passed the painting baton to you.

“Make us proud,” the ancestors whisper, “now it’s your turn.”

We have a beautiful pedigree: we’re mutts.

Makes for a complex and healthy physique.

On any given day we can claim to be Irish, German, Native American, or our all time favorite: Viking. Our Norwegian roots go deep on my dad’s side and he loves to remind us so.

When he was ten, my father was forced to take accordion lessons to please his grandparents. They taught him words in the “old language” that he has since forgotten, to his regret.

I have census documents, bent photos, faded letters, report cards, navy records.

We can follow one tree root all the way to the Mayflower. Yep, John Alden and Peter Browne are on our list, right there on Plymouth Rock.

One root goes back to 1903 and stops where my great grandmother was adopted. She and her little brother were picked up on the streets of New York, somehow separated from their parents. She’s fairly certain about her name, but there were so many immigrants pouring into Ellis Island in that decade that reuniting the family was impossible.

Someday, I would like to find them for her.

Like most Americans, our forefathers were the pioneering sort who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or try Plan B. Sometimes they went as far as Plan G.

Whatever it took.

But the ones I most shake my head over are the illusive millionaires.

The ones who could have made our family fortunes.

Take my relatives on my mother’s side. Please.

If my great great grandfather had owned up to having married a beautiful yet authentic Cherokee woman in the great state of Oklahoma, the oil rights handed out shortly thereafter would have made us oil tycoons.

One man’s scandal could have been our making. If he had owned up to it.

If my great great great and so forth ancestors on my father’s side had only stashed away some of that Viking loot they went around pillaging…and left us a treasure map…we could have done some pillaging of our own and had great rejoicing in the land.

Those lousy pirates kept it all for themselves and spent it on akevitt, don’t you know.

Hubby’s mother’s great to the power of three grandfather had acres of wild and windblown California property. If it had not ended up in the hands of land developers and tax collectors, we could all have beachfront mansions today.

I encourage you to shake your own family tree and see who falls out of it.

You may be related to former Presidents or arctic explorers.

Perhaps your son takes after his great-uncle who was a real live rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. Or a cattle rustler. Or the sheriff. Possibly the new dentist in town.

Perhaps your daughter takes after her great great alligator wrestling grandma down in Louisiana. It would explain her taste for gumbo.

But if you suddenly discover that you’re a millionaire, drop me a line.

I’m pretty sure we’re related.

Published in"Holidays"


  1. Pat Tunnell

    I love this blog. My grandfather also came over from Norway. My sister and I have spend many hours/days/months doing genealogy.

  2. Anonymous

    Classic Jolie! My only claim to fame….I am related to Daniel Boone…and we think we can trace one branch back to the Mayflower…maybe we are related! I think if we shook the nuts off of our family tree, there would be nothing left on the tree 🙂

  3. Rebekah

    all alligator wrestlers and cattle rustlers in your family and mine…we can’t deny it. First step is admitting 🙂

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