Don’t Know Where I’m Going if I Don’t Know Where I’ve Been

photoHappy Birthday to me! With age comes the lifting of pressure that birthdays must be the Best Day Ever, to be celebrated until you throw up, or pass out on the front lawn, or any number of unsavoury things that seemed like a good idea at the time. But I do find that as a get older, I’ve had a much stronger desire to understand where I’ve come from, my family history. From a culinary historical standpoint, as well as a genealogical one–what are my roots? And do they have any bearing on taste?
My father came from a large family that was scattered to the wind when his mother died; his father unable to care for so many young children. It’s a sad tale, but one that always held a fascination for me. I tried over the years to do research myself, but was never able to find a record of my grandfather in the provincial archives, and pre-Confederation Newfoundland vital statistics were not readily available online (no help for me!) Born a McIsaac, I knew my paternal line was from Scotland, and that was that. And even that was a bit odd, as while the “Mc” prefix is Scottish, the “Isaac” is Hebrew. Nothing about this line would be easily tracked.
This year, for many reasons, I determined that this would be the year I was going to find out where he came from, and maybe that would help me understand who I was. I enlisted the services of a genealogist in my hometown, St. John’s NL, and he began to peel back the layers of my ancestors, one generation after another.
Newfoundland saw many original settlers from the England, Ireland and Scotland, so I imagined my ancestors traced straight from NL to the UK. But this turned out not to be so.
Great-great grandfather came from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland’s West Coast. One of his sons, my great grandfather, married a woman whose lineage traces directly back to the original French colony at Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, scattered during the Acadian expulsion. My grandfather, son of a Scotsman and Acadian, married a Mi’kmaw. This was not surprising, considering the Nova Scotian Mi’kmaw had a long history of hunting and fishing during summers on Newfoundland’s West Coast. Communities like Clam Bake Cove and Black Duck Brook were largely aboriginal. European men were involved in West Coast logging, and it wasn’t as though “find me a missus online” was an option, so there was a lot of intermarrying. In fact, along with my grandmother, there are several native bloodlines in my tree.
And so, there I had it–after years of wondering, I had some idea of where I came from. And while it didn’t tell me where I was going, it sure became fodder for my culinary imagination.
Mi’kmaw cuisine? Raised on rabbits, grouse, trout and moose, I certainly felt some connection there, although I’m sure many Newfoundlanders, regardless of ancestry, enjoyed same.
Acadian cuisine? Does Cajun count? I love Cajun food. And I do find Acadian food delightful, as I wrote about in this post.
Scottish cuisine? Finding out about my ancestry certainly didn’t bring a newfound love of haggis, but I shall now make it my mission to find something Scottish that I like. And as soon as I do, I’ll let you know all about it. 


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