Where Did You Get Those Eyes?

by Bob Brooke

Some people believe in reincarnation. And well they should, for many people look and act like their ancestors. For some people it's the color of their eyes. For others it's their smile or their penchant for music. For still others it's their build--fat, skinny, or in between. Often there's a mysterious characteristic in a person that can only be explained through genealogy.

Discovering which ancestor possessed a particular feature or trait is an exciting process. With the aid of photography--in general use since the mid-19th century -- it's possible to dig up old photographs of ancestors and compare looks on a one-to-one basis. The amateur genealogist may even find that looks aren't the only thing he or she has in common with a distant ancestor.

Who a person is -- from their appearance to their talents, interests, habits and values -- depends a lot on their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Someone with a special ability, such as the ability to solve difficult math problems or play music by ear, most likely got the gift from an ancestor.

Johann Sebastian Bach, for instance, had a grandfather and great-grandfather who were musicians. Bach had 20 children (When did he find time to write such beautiful music?). All had musical talent. And three became well known for it.

Another trait that seems to be passed down from one generation to another is the ability to be a leader of government. In recent years, several Kennedy's have held high office, as have the sons of President George Bush. Several U.S. presidents were related. John Adams, the second president, was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. William H. Taft and Herbert Hoover were distant cousins of Richard Nixon. Zachary Taylor was a second cousin of James Madison. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were fifth cousins. Ulysses S. Grant was also a fourth cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as a distant cousin of Grover Cleveland. And George Washington was a cousin of Elizabeth I of England.

An eighth of the blood flowing through a person's veins comes from their great-grandmother and possibly a much larger portion of his or her individual traits -- his irascible disposition or her sweet winning ways. Despite talk about the importance of heredity, each person does take after someone.

For example, a woman from a small town in Pennsylvania during the early 19th century was noted for her temper and strong will. By her first marriage, she had a son, who married and fathered a large family. Two of his sons fell into a dispute over some property and lived in that same town for 25 years afterward without speaking a word to each other. Two of the sisters got mad over something and refused to recognize each other again. When one of them died, 35 years later, the other deliberately swept her own front porch while the deceased sister's funeral procession passed by. The same orneriness turned up in two of that same woman's grandchildren -- brothers again -- by her second husband. Sound familiar?

People inherit not only the bad traits but the good ones, too. Mother Nature isn't selective. A average working class couple raises three children, all geniuses, in an average home. Where did the children get such high IQs? While some may attribute the development of intelligence to the environment in which a child grows, this example shows that the home environment plays only a small part in intellectual development. Often superior intelligence will skip several generations. And while an ancestor may have had a superior intelligence, his or her environment may not have stimulated it as much as our technological environment today.

Heredity plays a much larger part in people's lives than most think.

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