Monday, April 14, 2008

Family Traits

A couple months ago I had a lot of fun with MyHeritage's Face Recognition software, trying to see which members of my family looked more/less like their parents and grandparents. I was reminded of this by the topic for the latest Genealogy Carnival: traits.

Physical traits are the easiest to see. Hair color, eye color, the size of one's ears, the shape of the nose, amount of body hair. When young my hair color was blonde, almost white, unlike either my mother or father. However, the children of my mother's sister all had similar hair color, as did my aunt. So there was probably a recessive blonde gene from my mother that combined with a recessive blonde gene from my father. However, over the years, my hair has grown darker, and most people would say it is now brown, and whether it turns grey, or disappears first is a race that should be interesting to watch.

Though the non-physical traits in some ways are more interesting to me.

My paternal grandfather attempted to solve the NYTimes Crossword Puzzle daily. My paternal great-grandfather was a 'self-taught' man and a tailor, but I am told he read voraciously. My love for words and language might come from my father's side. However, when in the mid-90s I became obsessed with the French author, Victor Hugo, and his novel Les Miserables, my mother mentioned, regretfully, that her father had had an old copy of Les Miserables on his bookshelf before he moved to a retirement home, and his library had to be trimmed. (I reassure myself that my grandfather, born in 1907, wouldn't have had a copy older than himself, and I have one from the late 1890s, but the possibility that he might have underlined passages of interest, or left comments in the margin, makes me wish I had read the novel a decade earlier.)

Where does my interest in religion come from? My mother's tree has been traced back the furthest with ancestors in the US as early as the 1600s. I have several Reverends for direct ancestors. My maternal great-grandfather, Melvin Van Every, was clearly very passionate about religion from letters he wrote to my grandmother. I don't know of any Rabbis in my family tree, but my paternal great-great grandmother, Minnie Mosjabovsky Cruvant's tombstone says she was the daughter of a "Tzaddik" (a righteous/learned man.) My mother has a first cousin, and my father has a second cousin, who both converted to Catholicism and became a nun. So while the particulars may vary, there seems to be an overabundance of individuals who are passionate about their beliefs in my family tree. (This can be seen also by several members who are passionate about their secular beliefs, which isn't all that different.) The one thing my family doesn't have a lot of is ambivalence. We all have opinions, and we aren't scared to share them.

Which of my traits are genetic, and which are 'learned'? Scientific studies of twins who were raised apart have shown that there are a lot more traits that appear genetic than one might think. Who knows, maybe at some point in the undefined future, I will be able to tell through DNA analysis which side of the family the 'procrastination' gene came from that caused me to delay doing my taxes once again this year. (They will be mailed tomorrow morning, so I won't have to sit in my car, in line, at the one area post office that remains open until midnight tomorrow. I did that only once about ten years ago.)

1 comment:

Lidian said...

Fascinating post - I am really enjoying this COG though I found it hard to write. I wish I had known my paternal side a bit better, there is a tradition of a ha-Kohanim descent in one line but the research is slow going. On my mother's side are all manner of Protestant types and one Catholic gg grandmother.