A popular topic of discussion among my friends is the DNA mail-in service that provides a snapshot of one’s ancestry. After sending a simple swab of saliva to a laboratory, they discovered with a high degree of certainty their ancestral origins.
For instance, my friend Erin found out she was not part American Indian. This was news to her as her father had told her otherwise.
I didn’t have to pay for a DNA test because I already know about my ancestors. When I was in second grade, I hinted to my mother that I didn’t think substitute teacher Miss MacDonald liked me. I don’t remember the circumstances, but my mother assured me that it was not my fault. I asked how she knew this.
“She’s a MacDonald,” my mother said matter-of-factly.
I must have looked puzzled, so she added, “You’re a Campbell,” as though that would clear things up.
Thus began my education into my ancestry. I was a Campbell. On my mother’s side.
Fortunately at that time in my life my mother spared me the gory details of the raid perpetrated by the Campbells on the MacDonald Clan one winter night in 1692. My take-away as a 7-year-old was only that due to circumstances beyond my control I would never be Miss MacDonald’s favorite.
Fast forward about 50 years to my friends’ revealing their DNA results. Not wanting to be left out yet also not wanting to spend a hundred bucks on a DNA test, I decided to read up a little more about the Campbells to perhaps find some interesting family history I could share with my friends.
Certainly the ambush on the MacDonalds was a low point in our family history. But to be fair trying to scrap out a living on the wind-swept, rocky Scottish highlands in the 1600s was exceedingly difficult. It could make anybody cranky, I thought.
Even Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller “Outliers” asserts that the blood feud between the Hatfields and McCoys was especially brutal because these individuals were descendants from herdsmen in Scotland and Ireland who were known for defending their sheep and cattle in “openly querulous and often violent ways.”
Violence aside, I had a much bigger concern when it came to being part Scottish. My mother had never shown any tendencies toward savagery, but she was without a doubt the embodiment of the Scot trait for thriftiness.
This manifested itself forcefully in the kitchen in the form of leftovers. Most dreaded was my mother’s “Fatigue” salad (pronounced fat’-ē-gā while using a cheesy French accent), which is basically yesterday’s tossed salad, complete with limp iceberg lettuce and soggy croutons.
So if my mother had indeed inherited the gene for thriftiness, what did this say about me? Would I become frugal as well?
My research to answer that question indicated that in general Scottish Americans are productive workers, earning a good wage. However, it is what happens after they bank their paycheck, as in not spending it, that differentiates them. If you’re a Scot, this is called thrifty or frugal. If you’re not, it’s just cheap or stingy.
As evidence, one article cites a study that found Scottish-Americans buy less expensive models of automobiles than others with the similar incomes.
I can’t relate to this because it has been a good while since I have had to buy a new car. My husband keeps my older model repaired and in good running order.
Then this sentence caught my eye: “Scottish Americans often live in self-designed environments of relative scarcity.”
I don’t actually know what this means, but it doesn’t sound flattering. In my mind I pictured a sparse mud hut I built myself with some sheep milling around.
I decided to abandon the thrifty Scot angle and go back to the warring Campbells, of which there is a plethora of information. That’s when I found the most interesting tidbit of all.
In the early 1300s, after fighting alongside Scotland’s King Robert the Bruce in the Battle of Bannockburn, my ancestor Neil Campbell married Bruce’s sister Mary.
“We may be related,” I excitedly emailed my friend Erin, whose mother’s last name is Bruce.
All that and without having to spend $100 on a DNA test.
Fatigue salad, anyone?
Laura Luckert lives in Prairie Village. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.