A bit of an identity crisis

Researching my family tree answered the question of who I am…or did it?

Dana Ross
4 min readDec 24, 2015

This is a lot more personal than my usual posts about tech.

My mom and I started researching her family’s history twenty years ago when I was still in high school. After my Grandpa Bill’s death, we wanted a connection to the past and to capture the oral history about those who came before us. We come from Czech Jews and Poles. My great-great grandmother came here from Bohemia with a (likely illegitimate) newborn. I’m descended from Albert Pick, who once owned a chain of hotels all over the US and a supply business that kept all the rest stocked.

Ever seen the Congress Hotel in Chicago? Yeah, used to be the Pick Congress. I remind my wife about that every time we see it.

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:IvoShandor CC BY-SA 3.0

My Dad’s maternal side celebrates their Luxembourg ancestry and I guess is still active in Chicago’s Luxembourg heritage community. But he knew nothing about his father’s side beyond his grandparents’ names and some whispers. How did he get here? What is a Ross?

Dad’s Aunt Shirley got in touch with him out of the blue a couple years ago and gave him a little more info, including his Uncle George’s obituary. I asked Mom for copies this summer so I could see what Ancestry.com could pull up. I was already digging into her side of the family pretty furiously and was curious what I could find about the Rosses.

They were waiting.

I had the dates Uncle George lived. He was George, Jr. so I also had a middle name for Dad’s paternal grandfather. That helped link together census records and birth dates. One day, I woke up to a “hint” on my Ancestry tree from the Crick family. My Great-Great Grandfather’s brother’s descendants already had my Great-Grandfather in their family tree. All I needed to do was match up the names & dates.

That kicked off a crazy couple months as now I was tied into LDS records and the work of genealogists before me. Today, my Dad will unwrap the first part of that, with a custom book outlining the story from Johann Georg Hout coming to America from Rhineland to his father’s birth and a well-researched book from the 1950s outlining generations of Hout descendants and their stories.

But I had another dead end with the Rosses. Every reference to Thomas Frazier Ross had him as a footnote to his wife’s life. Seems he wasn’t entirely sure where he came from, either. He was born in Ohio. On one census form, he said his parents were from Rhode Island. Later, he said he didn’t know.

Last weekend, I got the idea to work backwards from Rosses living in Rhode Island at the time. I found someone who moved from Rhode Island to the exact town Thomas Frazier was from. He brought his ten year old son, who grew up to have a son named Thomas F. Ross the same year Thomas Frazier was born. Even better, the son’s first name was the same as the middle name Thomas gave his own son and Frazier was a maiden name another generation back. Eureka!

Now, I had a connection to the Rosses of Westerly, Rhode Island, who genealogists before me knew all about. My family tree now goes back to William Ross, born 1660, who came to the US from Barbados when he was 18, where he was likely one of the Irish & Scottish children kidnapped by the English and shipped off to work on sugar plantations in the days before the black slave trade.

I guess I’m Scottish

I can now add Scottish and English to the list of nationalities that make up my background. And maybe a little French centuries ago. And as much as I want to poke holes in the research I’ve done, everything keeps checking out: names, dates, places.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Flogging Molly, The Pogues, and AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top this week. I’ve loved Celtic music for years, even bagpipes! And punk with Celtic influences really gets me going. I had a lot of Flogging Molly in my playlist when I ran that half marathon last year. But now they’re my music and can find a place next to klezmer and Socalled in my playlists.

Amy has always said she’d like to see me in a kilt, but it always felt like cultural appropriation. Now it’s not. And now I wish I could have worn the Ross tartan to my friend’s Celtic wedding years ago instead of being one of the only guys in a suit.

It’s exciting, but it feels kind of overwhelming to me. I’m almost 40. I don’t know how to be Scottish. There’s a whole culture for me to learn about and experience. Is there vegetarian haggis? Is the caber toss really a thing, or did they just make that up for World Games?

Does it change anything about me? Not really. But now I’m part of a bigger history. I’m the next chapter in a very, very long story. But not for long, because there’s a new chapter on the way in a couple months, and we get to figure out what it means to be Scottish/Polish/Luxembourger/Czech together. I’m pretty sure it involves a lot of food and dancing. I can’t wait.



Dana Ross

Building the web since 1996. Full-stack developer, but love front-end tech. I also socialize feral and abused cats.