I was asked recently about my quest to find my
ancestral roots. A friend, who is a psychologist with a local practice said, "I don't
understand the need that you have to discover something that has long since been dead. Why
are you so obsessive about this?". I thought about this statement for a long
time. I contemplated my answer. My friend, whom I respected a great deal, had confronted
me with a question I had asked myself on a number of occasions. My response, I thought,
would be simple. But it was not.
I thought about my reasons carefully. I'm doing this to give something to my children, my
nieces and nephews to have for their children. True, but that wasn't the main reason. I'm
doing this for mom and dad, they're getting old and they want to know. Sort of true. They
are getting old and mom wanted to know, dad wanted to deny. I'm doing this for my siblings
who are as curious as I am about history. True, partly, but they certainly don't have the
curiosity I do.
So I come to a wall. A wall of truth. I'm doing this for me. For my own curiosity, for my
own self-preservation. So that I may understand the why and what of who I am. So I told my
friend, 'Are you prepared for a long story' Because I need to start at the beginning.' And
Since I was a child, I had always felt a little different. I am the fourth of five
children. I am seven and a half years behind the youngest of my three older brothers,
which in essence, made me much like a first child. I was the first girl, which thrilled my
mother, for a short while. I was not what she had hoped for. I was not petite, I did not
have curly blond hair, and I did not like to play with dolls and have tea parties. What I
was not, became what she hated most and attempted to change. Instead of my mother's vision
of the perfect daughter, I was everything opposite. I was not petite, but muscular and
tall. I was not into dolls and frills and lace, I was in to sports, and reading, and the
sciences. I was not a curly-headed blonde, but rather a straight haired redhead. And,
perhaps my greatest sin, I was not compliant and soft-spoken, but rather vocal and
determined, and yes, stubborn. I was different.
Or at least, that is what I believed. There were no women in my family who behaved the way
I did. My brothers behaved a little like me, but they didn't count, they were boys. Right'
I became determined to succeed in my own way and leave my home as quickly as I could and I
did. I finished high school at 16, and entered college. I married at 18, had my first
child, and finished college when I was 19. I was succeeding in my own way and on my own
terms. Yet I still did not understand who I was.
By every man I met, I was told, you're not a typical woman are you' What did that mean'
Was it a compliment or a curse' What exactly is typical' And so, I set out to find out.
Though it had little to do with being a typical woman.
Through my many friends in the psychology world, I agreed to participate in several
personality and genetic studies. According to their findings, I was indeed unlike most
women, in that my personality characteristics fit more in line with the average American
male, not female. By the time I was 27, I knew I was indeed, not like other women. But
why' No one had an answer really. ' Just because,' they would say. 'Accept it,' another
said. But my friend who was an Anthropology professor said something else. 'DNA.' 'What''
says I. 'DNA,' says he. And the discussion turned the corner.
From that discussion, I came to realize I was who I was because of my DNA, because of my
ancestors, their traits, and their characteristics. Now this may seem pretty simple, but
for most of us the concept of DNA doesn't go much beyond our grandparents, and as far as I
could tell I was not like my grandparents. But, I was. You see, I had only known my
mother's parents. My father's parents died before he and my mother were married. So, I
picked up the phone and called my father's sisters, whom he had been estranged. According
to them, I was exactly like my grandmother and grandfather. A feeling washed over me of
belonging and I was greatly relieved. But there was still a longing for more. So I
pursued. I asked questions, I wanted pictures. And I got them . . . some of them.
But I still wanted more.
In 1995 my father's youngest sister, my namesake, Mary, sent all the family members a
wonderful cookbook/family history book for Christmas. She had collected recipes from all
of us and put them into a wonderful cookbook. In that book, she had also begun a family
history. She began with stories of my father's parents that I had never heard. How his
mother was an accomplished musician, his father a sailor and surgeon. She related stories
of their childhood Christmas' and birthdays. And she gave us a glimpse of the family
history that she had been able to put together from family Bibles. When I opened the book,
it was like a breath of wind that lifted my spirit and said, 'Here I am, come and find
me.' From the pages of that book were pictures of my ancestors that I had never seen and a
tree that repeatedly said 'Born: Scotland.'
There before me was Great Aunt Elva Anderson, and my forehead. Great-grandfather Dan
Anderson, and my lips. Great-great-grandmother Mary Clark, and my eyes. I was, to say the
least, over-whelmed. I had not seen these pictures before, and they made my heart stop. My
brothers bore such a strong resemblance to some of the men; it was as if they had taken
one of those old-time dress-up nostalgia pictures. My sister favored my great-aunt Blanche
so much, she thought the picture was computer generated. It was . . . DNA. Plain and
simple, facing us; staring us down.
And so, my quest began. I started asking questions; looking through old family bibles,
photos, and birth records. My parents, ironically, were no help whatsoever. I turned to
aunts, uncles, and cemetery plots. For 4 years I searched on and off, giving up my search
for one year during a particularly trying time in my life. But when I picked it up again,
I picked it up with such fortitude and energy, even I surprised myself.
The invention of the Internet has brought great victories for my search and me. I have
found generations of people I thought lost by using this wondrous tool. About six months
ago I sat back and looked at my 3-inch 3-ring binder, full of information on the family
and sighed. It was fairly
complete. At least, as complete as it would be until I made my pilgrimage to Scotland.
Yet, I wasn't satisfied.
I saw the names. I saw the dates. I saw the marriages. I saw the children. I saw the
birthplaces. Places I had only seen on maps and read about in stories. But that's all they
were; names, places, dates. They had no faces, no stories, and no history for me. It still
did not answer my question, 'why am I the way I am'' So I decided my search was just
beginning and I picked up my mouse and my keyboard and began anew.
I have found information that some people are never able to find. The women at the Office
of the Registrar in Scotland know me by my first name now. I think they like me. Although,
why shouldn't they. I have to pay them for the information they send me. But it has been
worth it. I know the names: Anderson, Mills, Murray, Stewart, and Ross. I even know some
of the faces. But now, now I know some of the stories too.
I have had much help along the way. Friends on an Internet site called Electric Scotland,
who have given advice, ideas, and direction freely and with good cheer. Strangers that I
have met at Highland Festivals, with the same passion for their history as I have.
You see, now I know who I am. I have a sense of why I have the personality that I do. Why
I am so strong-willed, and often hot-tempered; I know this because I know something of my
I know that Dan Anderson was a tall man, nearly six-feet seven inches. He was 'a hulking
mass of muscle and a head full of sandy blonde hair.' My great-grandmother wrote that in
her diary. I know now, why I'm not petite.
I know that prior to Dan, the Anderson families were deeply religious and had no less than
12 children in each family as far back as 1513.
I know, thanks to a hint from one of my Electric Scotland friends, that Alexander Murray
married his love, Christian Munro, in a hurry in 1813 because his brigade was being sent
to protect England while they battled the Americans in the war of 1812. And I know that
Alexander came back weakened, injured and dying and that Christian nursed him back to
health, delaying their first child for 10 years.
I know that Peter Clark Mills was from a family of 4 sons, all of whom were skilled
surgeons, none of whom practiced, because they refused to operate for the crown. They left
their country, Scotland, to find their destinies in new worlds.
I know that Thomas Mills and Elizabeth Hodgart were married when he was but ten because
his father had been fool enough to steal from Elizabeth's father. Their marriage was
forced and unwanted, but I also know that they loved one another deeply after time and had
six children together.
I know that there was a first born son, named Thomas, for 5 generations beginning in 1664,
until my great-great-grandfather.
I know that they were not royalty, in anyone's mind but mine. I know that they were
'workers.' They were soldiers and sailors, farmers and mill workers. They were weavers and
doctors, engineers and sheepherders. They were hard working, and fun loving.
I know much now. More than I ever thought possible. And still, I am searching for more.
But I have found an answer for my friend and myself.
For my friend: 'I do this because it is my calling. I do this because I feel complete, I
feel triumphant, and I feel successful, when I have found what I am looking for. I do this
because it is a challenge and with every challenge met, I have learned. I do this because
if I do not, I would be lost.'
For myself: 'I know who I am and why I am what I am. I am strong and I am free-willed. I
am proud and I am stubborn. I am beautiful and I love my body. I am my ancestors and they
are in me in everything I do. I am Mary Lou Anderson Mills Kennedy. I am an American
descendant of Scottish immigrants who is finding her way home.'
When I finished my friend just looked at me, open mouthed and stared. She did not believe
that I had spit so much out in such a short period of time. Funny, it had felt like a
lifetime for me. She asked me if I would write this story for her so that she could
present to her psychology residents at the local hospital. She wanted their reports on
what would possess someone to go to such lengths for a piece of history.
I think, my friend will be surprised when she gets her papers back. I think my friend will
be calling me. I think my friend will want to know my research secrets.
I think my research is calling.