Heritage or Ancestry?

I’ve been working on my edits for Scarlet Moon lately and I have come across a particular section I really like – when the readers get to meet the hero’s parents. My hero’s father was a pirate who caroused around the Caribbean before falling in love and becoming respectable. Of course, is he really reformed? He certainly hasn’t lost his flair for dressing – think of a high fashion pirate with a dash of flamboyancy, but who will kill you in the blink of an eye and walk away without a care.  This is the hero’s father.
It got me thinking about heritage and ancestry.  When we think of heritage, what comes to mind? Usually we think of what we inherited from our parents. Sometimes it’s a way of acting or speaking. Sometimes it’s how we dress or how we decorate our homes. Sometimes it’s much deeper than that – it’s our political views or our religious beliefs.  In actuality, it’s all of those things.  According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, heritage is the property that descends to an heir (ah – heir – heritage!! Makes sense now doesn’t it?). It could also mean something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor, or something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.
What then is ancestry? This would be the line of descent – his lineage – who his ancestors are. 

So, what has my hero, Christoff, inherited from his father?
1.      His thirst for adventure.
2.      His fashionable flair to a point as he wears his hair long and flashes a golden hoop earring.
3.      His witty humor
4.      His devil-may-care attitude (which hides a deeper need to please others while having fun)
What has he inherited from his mother?
1.      His sense of honor as well as his calm reserve
2.      His strong ties to his family – real and surrogate – anchor him through all his adventures
3.      His sense of purpose and loyalty
As for the more materialistic side of his heritage
1.      The shipping company
2.      An extended family living in England from his mother
3.      A surrogate family from his father’s days as a pirate
4.      A healthy inheritance from his parents’ holdings in Charleston
Let’s take a look at his ancestors – on his father’s side there is only his father. If he includes the surrogate family – the Ramparts, then his ancestors are rich and long – going back hundreds of years in England. My hero’s father was orphaned at a young age and made his way on a pirate ship – meeting with Geoffrey Rampart (a hero from a different novel). They became like brothers and have been together ever since.  Their children consider each other cousins. This gives my hero – five cousins in the Rampart family, not to mention a slew of older ancestors in England.  On his mother’s side, his ancestors are traced back to an ancient line. His grandfather was one of the original settlers in the Carolinas, given the land by the king.

Through all of this, our hero has become his own man. He has made his way without the assistance of this ancient line and, while using his father’s shipping company to his advantage, he never uses his true ancestry to ease his way in society. He actually prefers everyone to think of him as a colonist with a slanted past because of his father’s history as a pirate. He much prefers the dashing and adventurous side of the family.

Don’t we all do this?

When we think of our own ancestors or our heritage – we pick and choose what we want to tell others. We may keep a scandalous past hidden, or if it’s notorious and can be used to our advantage, then we will share it with others.  For instance, in my history, apparently there was a horse thief, so the family name was shortened. It’s a story I heard, but I really don’t know how true is.  Another side of my family came over in 1914, landing in Ellis Island. My great grandparents met after they landed in the New World. Another set of relatives can be traced back to the first settlers in this country – 1654. They settled in New Jersey and one of them even signed the Declaration of Independence.  When I looked up this signer, I learned so much about his courage and determination back then. It’s a piece of my heritage that I want others to know because of his heroism.  Even further back, the family can be traced to Medieval England.

Think about your own heritage/ancestry.  How many of you have traced your family’s history back to its roots? We can now go online to sites like ancestry.com and others to do searches. We see it all the time on TV – celebrities who trace their family history to the Mayflower or even Jamestown. It becomes an integral part of our life. 

I guess it’s important we know about our hero’s and heroine’s heritage. It can shape who they are, what decisions they make, and can help us understand what motivates them throughout the story.  

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