I’m not who I thought I was

January 4, 2015

Marseille, France

If you’re descended from Sicilians you can be part just-about-anything, because the island was constantly invaded. You can be a dark-skinned Sicilian descended from Moors or red-haired and descended from Vikings. My  mother was a redhead and we’d joke about it all the time.

I knew that my father’s father’s family came from Greece at some point, and I’ve always assumed it was pretty far back.  He told us that our surname originally began with a K and not a C and that sounded reasonable to me. But there was more:

“My mother was of French descent,” my father used to say.  Again, I’ve always assumed that went pretty far back, too.

And then, I visited with my last surviving uncle on my father’s side. He is now 92 years old. I can’t believe it!  We sat companionably on the sofa in his small apartment in a retirement home–a far cry from the million-dollar yacht he once lived on– and chatted about family history.  Yes, my dad my have been a doctor but that uncle was clearly the most “successful’ of the brothers. I never saw the yacht, but I saw magazine photographs and it was quite something.  But back to that small apartment and our conversation:

“My mother was French,” my uncle said.

“How far back did that go?” I asked, as I took a sip of coffee.

“She was born in Marseille,” he told me.  I practically spit out my brew.

She really was French. As in “born there.”

Now THAT was a surprise.  I am actually 1/4 French.  Whoa!

“She was the daughter of an ambassador,” he said, “and they moved to this little town in Sicily.”

How could that be? I wondered.  Why would an ambassador get posted to a tiny village? and why would his daughter marry a stonemason whose prospects seemed slim?

Of course, a few years ago my uncle told me that their family wasn’t quite as poor as my father had made them out to be in stories that he told us. That my grandfather was fairly prosperous.  My father is dead now and can’t clarify this for us, but the ambassador’s daughter born in France mystery is intriguing.

Uncle’s memory was pretty shot and there were no clear answers that day.  But it’s certainly started me on a new hunt for family history.

I’ve never been to Marseille, but I learned that it is the second largest city in France.

th-3If I were honest, I’d admit that I never liked France all that much.  I’ve been to Paris maybe six times and I didn’t love it. Of course, I never went to Paris with a man I was in love with. Maybe that counts. M. has been to Paris many times and he does love it.

And another thing.    My mouth doesn’t do French. Oh, it does a French kiss, just not the language. I can’t pucker in that certain Froggy way.  Not that I ever took French, because I didn’t. But M has his high school French, plus he played the trumpet as a kid and has a good embouchure. So he’s got the pucker down pat.

And what is the deal with French laundry? What is it exactly?

More research is necessary, I think, and maybe some kissing practice.

I see a trip to France in my future. Maybe Marseille, you think?

20 comments on “I’m not who I thought I was
  1. Toni McCloe says:

    I love your hunt for the past and for your ancestry and heritage. I’ve only been to France once and I didn’t like Paris either. But that’s a story for a blog post I may never get around to writing.

  2. Mary Burris says:

    Sounds like you’ve got yourself quite the adventure ahead for your. Best of luck in researching your ancestors.

  3. Laura Kennedy says:

    I LOVE it! You definitely have to go to Marseille. I suspect you’ll find it (and its people) more like the Italians than the Parisians. I’m looking forward to reading about that trip.

    My mother found out a few years ago that she had a Cherokee great-grandmother. She just recently did the genome test, and discovered we’re part Neanderthal & part Denisovan.

    Very interesting the things that fall out of the ol’ family tree when you start shaking it.

  4. Amberly Brewster says:

    I love the whole familk ancestry being a mystery thing. My dad just found out that his mother had another sister that nobody knew about. What’s crazy is that she was listed on the census taken when she was 2 or something, but then she just disappeared. She wasn’t a legitimage child either. But what’s also crazy is that after all these years of hearing nothing about her, my grandmother says she knows about her. You can uncover some crazy stuff

  5. One of the things we could never get out of my maternal grandfather was anything about his father. He would say things like, “He was a teacher, a doctor,” and sometimes other things, and that was it. None of his siblings would talk about their father.

    My mother thinks there was some sort of bigamy there, like maybe the man had two concurrent wives. We know that my great-grandmother was not his first wife, but…alas, all but two of that generation are gone (one in her late 90s, the other in his 80s), and neither of them will say a word about their father.

    My father’s side has been traced all the way back to our ancestral Scotland. 🙂

    • Oh, and my experience in Paris was brief, but I was not all that impressed. Mostly because I was 18 — the trip was a graduation gift from my parents — and the group I was with consisted of students and chaperones. Every time one of us opened our mouths to use our (admittedly very sketchy, and in most of our cases, Alabama- or Virginia-flavored) high school French, the Parisiennes would make a face and get someone who spoke English. It was much less obnoxious once we left Paris, though. Maybe they’re not that way outside of Paris. 🙂

  6. For sure a trip to France! I would think it exciting if I found out something different. Just some new part of life to ponder. Gives me a boost just thinking about it.

  7. How wonderful that you can have these conversations with your 92 yo uncle. And I think it’s so cool to have insights about family at midlife. Have fun exploring further–online or on the road!

  8. Kim Tackett says:

    Oh, I love this mystery. And I love that it’s taking you to wonderful places…and you’re taking us along with you.

  9. Becky Blades says:

    So happy for you! REALLY – every woman can improve her life by outing her inner French girl. And you’re the real deal. Go with it!

  10. Liv says:

    I have extensively researched my family tree. No huge surprises – but I’ve discovered that the farms my ancestors owned in England have long since been covered by homes…and the houses a few of them lived in are cottages that can be rented. It’s my plan for my next trip out.

    If you want to learn more about her – you can try Ancestry.com. It’s amazing how quickly you can pull it together and they’re adding more records all the time.

  11. Myke Todd says:

    We have been doing some serious digging, over the past year, in an effort to clarify the family tree. The best part, is getting my parents to open up and tell tales from past generations, handed down. Good stuff.

    And, still smiling at the thought of kissing practice. That was great.

  12. How funny that Joni Mitchell’s “In France They Kiss On Main Street” just came on!! Enjoy your new French ancestry. I love Paris but am really hoping to plan a trip to the French countryside. Meet you there?

  13. Carolann says:

    Wow that’s exciting info to find out! I’ve never been to France and don’t plan on going, but who knows that might change. Ooh lala you are french! 🙂

  14. Kathy says:

    I definitely think a trip to France is in order. I have never been to France but apparently my father had relatives in France. I think exploring the area and maybe discovering some more information regarding your ancestors would be exciting.

  15. When I first started reading this I said “Yay Carol is heading to France!” I know it won’t be long! Family history is something that I have been working on for years. My dad being an orphan there was a lot of mystery there. I’ve made some progress and have managed to find many more mysteries!

  16. Doree Weller says:

    Sounds fun, almost like a treasure hunt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.