Over here, Quiet Reckoning responds thoughtfully and fully to a comment I made in my post about Rabid Scottish Nationalists. Amongst other things, he says:
Look at the numbers: Four and a half million Scots in Scotland, twenty million Scots in America, and twenty five million Scots spread across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a smattering of other former British Colonies. Only ten percent of Scottish people live in Scotland
Which I suppose is arguable, but relies on a pretty generous definition of ‘Scottish’ (far more generous, for example, than the definition of ‘Irish’ which Eire relies on for stuffing its team with mediocre English footballers.)
Genealogy, particularly as it exists for Britons and Americans, is a strange old business. I use the word ‘business’ advisedly, since selling tourists their family trees, tartans etc is a pretty sizeable industry. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘scam’ because by and large it is literally true that the average American tourist can trace a line back to some Jock or other. But it does depend on a very selective way of looking at things.
I’ve discussed this before on blogs somewhere: let’s call it the 'Multiplying Ancestor Problem'. People who are interested in their genealogy tend to think of their line of descent as being much narrower than is actually the case; they have no notion of just how ‘bushy’ family trees are. Consider the exponential multiplication of great-grandparents as you go back through the generations. You have four grandparents and 8 great-grandparents and 16 great-great-grandparents and so on. This doubling builds things up alarmingly: you only need to go back a couple of hundred years and there are 1,024 of your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents pottering about the four corners of the planet. All of them are equal genetic contributors to you (though some are the same person, which is why this growth doesn’t go back forever but instead all human beings share a Most Recent Common Ancestor), but of course when studying genealogy people tend to focus on just the one with the surname they happened to inherit (or, if something interesting like minor royalty can be readily found a few generations back, on that one instead), as if he or she was more ‘significant’ to the 'making of you' than were the others.
Given the sheer volume of ‘direct’ ancestors, it is no wonder that genealogy-sellers can always come up with an interesting/famous/Royal/Scottish person in your family history. They’re not lying: it’s just that every other Tom, Dick and Harry has him in their family history too. All humans are far more complicatedly interconnected than is generally realised (I remember some supremacist plonker on TV claiming that he ‘only had white Anglo-Saxon ancestors’. Of course it turned out on examination that just a couple of generations back there were all sorts of gypsies and other undesirables in his blood, and indeed, that if we were to expel from Britain everyone except those who ‘only had white Anglo-Saxon ancestors’ the population of these Isles would be reduced to precisely zero.)
I don’t dismiss identity-by-genealogy as complete nonsense. If being historically ‘Scottish’ is important to you and your sense of identity, sure, why not choose it? But it is a choice.
There’s a pertinent example of this in my own family. My paternal uncle and his wife, both English, moved to Edinburgh when my cousin was an infant. My cousin, now in his thirties, therefore has a strong Scottish accent, supports the Scottish rugby team, wore a kilt for his wedding etc. Despite being precisely as ‘English’ as me from an immediate genetic perspective, he feels patriotically Scottish. He wants to be, and is, Scottish. Which is fine. But it has led him deep into the confused web of wishful genealogy. He and I are Nixons, and there was, according to some old historical documents or other, a bunch of notorious Nixons back in the legendary/mythical clan-days (border-raiding cattle-thieves or some such). It has therefore become his life’s work to try and connect himself, via an unbroken ancestral line, with these notorious Nixons and therefore to prove that he is, by genetics as well as upbringing, a bona fide Scot.
He hasn’t managed to do it yet (which doesn’t stop him claiming them of course). But there is no doubt whatsoever that, if he followed any line in his hugely bushy ancestry, he could get to Scotland – perhaps a Campbell or McDonald or both – somehow and soonish. All of us Britons, Aussies and most Yanks could, since if you define it generously enough, we’re all ‘Scottish’. We’re also all English, Norman, Roman and ultimately (and this last applies to literally everyone on the planet, even Norwegians and the Welsh) we’re all ‘African’.
So anyway, going back to Quiet Reckoning: of course it’s his right to choose to identify himself as a particular kind of Jock, to feel pride in that and so on. No problem there at all, it’s a valid option. But, for myself, I can’t see the point in getting angry about any of this genealogical Anglo-Scottish stuff, when the ‘side’ you’re on is such an arbitrary matter.