Sunday, 11 February 2018

Music of our ancestors

Genealogy isn't just about the dry and dusty work of gathering names and dates and piecing together lineages. It also has a more important deeper level, which is all about cultivating a sense of connectedness with your ancestors (and, of course, your living relatives) as human beings, and with the lives they led and the joys and sorrows they experienced.

One of my favourite ways of connecting with my ancestral past is through music. Interestingly, I genuinely like the traditional (and sometimes modern) forms of music associated with many of my ancestral ethnicities. In fact, they include some of my favourite genres.

Quite a few of these are genres that I actually loved before I knew I had any ancestral connection to the cultures in question. For example, I grew up with Irish and Sámi music, listening to Mari Boine and The Dubliners long before I even began dabbling in genealogy, and I've loved Breton music since I was in my teens, many years before I even suspected that some of my own ancestors might have come from Brittany.

Here is a list of the music genres that (a) I truly enjoy, and (b) are connected to me through my ancestors:

Norwegian folk music. Example: Geitungen - Den drøymde.

Swedish folk music. Example: Garmarna - Sorgsen ton. My closest Swedish ancestors immigrated to Norway in the mid-1800s.

Sámi joik. Example: Johan Anders Bær - Laila Stien. My closest (likely) Sámi ancestor is my 6th great-grandmother Elen Olsdatter (born 1769) from Stod in Nord-Trøndelag.

Romani music. Example: Kanizsa Csillagai - Naj Laso Mange. My Romani link is my 5th great-grandfather Johannes Nilsson (1780-1852); however, it is likely that his granddaughter, my 3rd great-grandmother Mina Augusta Andersdatter (born 1865) considered herself ethnically/culturally Romani even though she was of mixed ancestry.

Finnish and Karelian folk music. Example: Myllärit - Eta Pravda. My Finnish ancestors were Forest Finns who emigrated from their homes Eastern Finland to Sweden and Norway in the 1500s and 1600s.

Frisian music. Example: Die Twa - Fûgels. I have several Frisian ancestors born in the 1500s, including my 11th great-grandfather Hans Addesen (1592-1634) from Nordstrand island, and my 12th great-grandmother Etta.

English folk music. Example: The Watersons - Country Life. My closest English ancestor is, allegedly, Joseph Lister (1827-1912). I also descend, through a separate line, from Henry Sommerscales (1584-1664) from the village of Settle in West Yorkshire.

Irish music. Example: Cran - Seán Bán. My Irish link is my 5th great-grandmother Isabella Bull who was born in Dublin in 1757 and died in 1832 in North Shields, England. There is an element of uncertainty here, since the line is via Joseph Lister.

Scottish Gaelic music. Example: The Cottars - Goodnight To You (Oidhche Mhath Leibh). I have many Scottish ancestors, the closest ones being Jacob Fredrik Matheson (1639-1724) from Dundee; Robert Jamieson (born c. 1600) from Kirkcaldy in Fife; and Alexander Keith (1642-1704) whose exact place of origin in Scotland is unknown.

Breton folk music. Example: Pilpazig - Dans kef. My Breton ancestors, Jacques Lévêque and Jacquette Dubois, were born in the village of Saint-Eloy in the late 1640s and emigrated to Saint-Domingue.

Haitian music. Example: Tiga Jean Baptiste - E sil pavle vini. My Haitian link is my 5th great-grandfather Pierre Dérival Lévêque (1788-1852).

Malagasy pop music. Example: Arnaah - Magneva. I do not know the exact identities of my Malagasy ancestors, but from DNA analysis I know I probably have distant Malagasy roots on both my father's and my mother's side. On my father's side, they were probably Bara tribesmen who were brought to Saint-Domingue as slaves in the 1700s.

Do you have any ancestral musical connections that you enjoy?


  1. Wow! I love all your folk music. Years ago I taught myself how to play the fiddle and really got into Cajun and Irish folk music. Sadly, since my grandkids were born, I didn't stick with it. Too busy babysitting and enjoying them. :)

    Here's something you might like. A group from Ukraine called DakhaBrakha. They have several albums out and I just love their hats. (Ukrainian comes up in GEDmatch for me and I do feel an affinity to it because of my Finnish/Russian

  2. Here's another one that knocks me out. Natalie McMaster, the consummate Cape Breton fiddler. I am in awe of her talent.

  3. Correction: that should be MacMaster. My bad.

  4. Thank you! And thank you for the tip about DakhaBrakha, I didn't know about them.

    Ah, I also love Cajun music! I'm not an expert, but at least I know the Balfa Brothers and Cleoma Falcon :)

    And Natalie MacMaster is one of my favourite fiddlers as well!