The East Armuchee farm where I grew up, 1996
Bales of hay in the bottom field of Earl Jordan’s farm, East Armuchee Valley, Walker County, Georgia, 1996

Growing up in the rural south, people never ask, “Where are you from?” (unless you have an unfamiliar accent that automatically marks you as an outsider). It’s assumed that you are American and, more precisely, Southern. There’s no ethnic or national identity beyond that.

But living all my adult life in New York City–a virtual stew of world culture–people always ask you, “Where are you from?”

In the early years, I always said, “Oh, I’m American.”

“No, I mean, where is your family from.”

This is where I always fumbled. “Ummm… well, I grew up in Georgia.”

“Noooo… where do you come from? What country is your family from?”

“Like I said, we’re American.”

“But everybody comes from somewhere else.”

“Well, I have no idea really.”

And it was true. No matter how many people would tell me they were German, Italian, Greek, Israeli, or any other number of countries, I had no clue where I came from. It’s not that New Yorkers are astute ancestry researchers. The question has nothing to do with genealogy. The fact is that most people you meet in New York have relatively shallow roots in this country. Even for those born here, there is a strong cultural identity to their motherland, and they quite clearly think of themselves as German (or whatever else).

Even today, I’m still unclear about how to answer the question in a way that doesn’t confuse people. Through genealogy, I’ve learned that while I’m about as Southern as you can get, I’m simultaneously more Yankee than many seasoned New Englanders. I have ancestors who served the Union in the Civil War and many more who served the Confederacy. With at least two distinct family lines originating (in this country) in the Pennsylvania Colony and the most recent immigration in my direct lineage being the early 19th century, I’m a tried and true American. There’s just no other way to put it. All lines of my family have been here so long that any different identity was lost generations ago.

But if you really want to know… I’m mostly British, with a fair amount of Irish and a bit of German, Swedish, and Swiss. It’s a pretty cool discovery, and I’m still learning about it. Take a trip into the past with me as I explore this and more on Jordan’s Journey.

How do you answer the question: “Where are you from?”

Take a trip into the past

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