As suggested by the name of the television series Who Do You Think You Are?, researching your family history changes who you think you are.
I was born in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, and grew up thinking I was English and Roman Catholic, which I now realize is a bit of a contradiction.
"The secret recipe for all life is written in just four letters: A, C, G and T. Each of these letters stands for a chemical called a nucleotide: A for adenine, C for cytosine, G for guanine, and T for thymine. Like a single letter of the alphabet, each nucleotide means nothing all by itself. But like letters strung together in a word, the order in which they appear in the DNA molecule is what matters. The sequence of nucleotides in DNA gives the unique instructions for how to make each one of us."*
"All of us ... share similarities in our DNA. Your DNA code is most similar to those of other people in your family."*
Scientists believe that we all share a common human ancestor who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago (Mitochondrial Eve), so what explains our genetic diversity today?
"We're all different from one another because over time, DNA steadily changes, or mutates ... the longer two people have been separated from their common ancestor, the more mutations will have piled up ... By comparing the mutations of different DNA samples, ... (one) can tell how long ago different individuals ... shared a common ancestor."*
*Search for the Golden Moon Bear, Sy Montgomery
Incidentally, the title of the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca was derived from these four letters.
The brick wall
My mother was born in England and my father was born in
A breakthrough in the search for information about my father's family came about when my brother obtained a copy of our father's death notice signed by my mother. The death notice contains some information I already knew and something else quite unexpected, the name of a surviving spouse who was not my mother. This name eventually led me to a marriage record in England, the birth record of their first child, and his number in the UK telephone directory. I telephoned my half-brother and later met him and his family for the first time in 2005.
My half-brother, who was born in England, told me that he had travelled to South Africa with his parents in the early 1950s but soon after he and his mother had returned to England, where a second child was born. My half-sister passed away in 2001 before I had a chance to meet her.
"Reinhardt is a common German, Danish, and to a lesser extent Norwegian surname (from Germanic ragin, counsel, and hart, strong)."
"German and Jewish (Ashkenazic): from a Germanic personal name composed of the elements ragin 'counsel' + hard 'hardy', 'brave', 'strong'."
Reinhardt, Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press
I now know more than I knew before about my father's family, but still not enough to locate a birth record for my father or further details about his parents and their origins using conventional genealogy. The 1921 Census of Canada, the first taken after my father's birth, will be made public in 2013 and I hope to find my family in it.
UPDATE: [My father's family were not in the 1921 Census of Canada. On 2 November 2015, the 1939 Register taken in England on 29 September 1939, two weeks before my father enlisted in the British Army, was made public on the findmypast site. I found a record with date of birth for the person my father had listed as his father in his enlistment papers, which led me to an Ancestry family tree owned by the person's sister's granddaughter. The person my father listed as his father appears to be my grandfather. One of his surviving daughters agreed to submit a DNA sample to AncestryDNA to confirm our relationship.]
[Continued in Part 2.]
"I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can, to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language."
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Letters to a Young Poet
as translated by Joan M Burnham