The Fergusons were children of Scottish immigrants in Canada before one of their sons — my great-grandfather — crossed the border into the United States.
Discovering my Swedes and Scots
Swen and Ingegorg met sometime in the early 1600s, perhaps not too far from Aspeboda, Sweden, where they were born.
Ancestry.com tells me they are my 10th-great-grandparents.
Stay with me, through a brief history of my non-Cuban-ness. It’s quick-ish. It leads to questions about identity, often discussed here.
So, Swen and Ingegorg’s union produced a long line of people who created a man named Johannes Magnusson, who left the family farm in Urasa parish, Sweden in 1866 to cross the oceans, settle in Minnesota and change his name to John. John married a Swedish immigrant named Ellen.
John and Ellen’s son, Andrew, married a girl named Clara, whose parents were Norwegian immigrants settled first in Wisconsin. Andrew and Clara (my great-grandparents) had Mabel, my paternal grandmother, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde who in old age looked like Mrs. Claus.
Mabel married Peter, whose Scottish grandfathers immigrated to Ontario, Canada in 1849 and whose father, Alexander, crossed the border into North Dakota around 1879.
So, ancestry.com tells me I am descended from Pioneers to the Americas who were Swedish, Norwegian, and Scottish, with one Yorkshire, England-born great-great-grandpa thrown in, too. Mostly, they were farmers.
I have, thanks to a Cuban relative, long known about the last 300 years of my Spanish and Cuban roots, but I knew very little of my paternal side before I started the research.
In these last few weeks, as I have lived with the ancestral ghosts who are anything but Latin, it has left me with a near-constant inner-conversation about my identity, which has always been firmly rooted in the pica-pica side.
“I’m so freaking Swedish!” I told my husband, showing him my extensive family tree.
“You’re not Swedish,” my husband answered.
“I am sooooo Swedish!”
“Mom, you’re Swedish?” the 9-year-old asked.
“Ay,’’ the husband said, walking away.
What Creates Identity?
What creates identity? Genetic soup? Passed-down traditions? Language? Place of birth? Where you were raised?
Ask me what I am and I say: “My parents are Cuban,” which refers to my mom and the step-father who raised me. Ask me to explain my “Ferguson” and I say “Scottish on the biological father’s side.”
But these extra ancestors — the Swedes, Norwegians, Scots, English — are like an added spice that doesn’t add flavor to a dish. They’re in there, but not really.
But, here is what learning of them has given me: A more firm identity as an American, as “just American.” (If you’ve ever had to answer the question “But, what really are you?” you know what I’m talking about.)
Spend time inside those records and you will be reminded in full force that most of us 313 million Americans come from somewhere else. Some of us got here last week and some 300 years ago, but the records shout out this one fact: We are all children of immigrants. It is our shared story as Americans.
We’re all American
Set aside the wretchedness of slavery and the cruelty done to Native Americans, and the thing that ties us together as Americans is that someone in our line got on a boat, or an airplane, or walked across a border to get here. (And some of us got here on a raft, let’s not forget…)
At work, I encounter young undocumented Mexican kids. They came with their families as little children. Some know casi nada of Mexico and they have thick Southern accents, which is, I admit, a little freaky. But, they’re American. Like my Swedes, Scots, Norwegians and Cubans, their gente came for something better. They are New Americans.
We get here, we plant roots, we meld. Our identity shifts. Our offspring gain new accents. We go from Immigrant to American just.like.that. Our descendants forget. Whatever my Swedish/Norwegian grandmother learned from her own “old country” grandparents, I didn’t get. Traditions lost in four short generations…that’s so very American, right? What will my own grandchildren never know of my Cuban traditions?
People who scream shit about New Immigrants really need to spend time researching their own family’s arrival dates.
The Gringo is Spanish
So, one Sunday morning as I was over-dosing on ancestry.com, I asked my gringo Scottish-Irish husband to hand over his family names so I could begin a research tree for him.
A few hours later, high on coffee and ancient Census records, I called him into the room and announced:
“Dude! You are Spanish!”
Turns out the WASPy gringo husband had a Spanish ancestor in New York’s Hudson Valley in the 1600s when it was a Dutch colony. That Spanish guy had a son, also born in Spain, who married a woman of Dutch descent in 1691.
So, I have an ancestor named Ingegorg and my husband has a couple of them named Manuel Gonzalez.
Suddenly, I’m Swedish and my husband is Spanish.
Seriously, I’ve never felt so American.
p.s. on the research: I got lucky on ancestry.com and online. A woman who generously posted a public tree used a researcher in Sweden to photograph ancient documents and Swedish records of my grandmother’s family line. There also are photographs of what is believed to be the old family farm. On the Scottish side, there are several public trees online that detail my Ferguson ancestors, photos and all, like the one above. (I think I have my great-great grandmother’s brow…) Through this, I have happily discovered relatives in the midwest, Canada and Sweden, which reminds me that we’re all just one big, giant human family. All of us.