For the past few months, I’ve been doing some research into my family’s genealogy.
“Doing some research” translates into obsessing.
I thought having a unique last name would make it easy, but I’ve found that having a name that’s hard to say also means having a name that’s hard to spell. As a result, I’ve become very adept at the many, many different ways people have spelled my last name over the centuries.
My father always says we came to Georgia “with Oglethorpe and all the other horse thieves they could find.” He might be right about the horse thieves part because our last name, translated from Gaelic, does involve horses. Seems fitting because I grew up around horses — all of them legally acquired.
As for Oglethorpe ... well, that’s not quite how the story goes.
We got to Georgia via South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania, a relatively straight line with some pauses for a few wars and other skirmishes. Maybe even a little horse thieving ... who knows for sure.
As I’ve dug through whatever historic documents and misspellings of my last name I could find to trace the steps of my forefathers, I’ve come to realize something. You never really know where and who you came from unless you’ve got the paperwork to prove it.
When my wife and I drove to the hinterland of Davidson County to pick up our dog Sophie last year, we never really thought about what her life was like before we brought her home. We only thought about what her life was going to be with us. We were assured she had had all of her shots, was dewormed and all the other things you do for puppies because they can’t fend for themselves.
We never bothered to ask for the paperwork. Instead, we packed up the ball of fuzz with her crate, blanket and partly eaten bag of food and brought her home.
We knew she was adopted, and the family, which had a few mean cats, couldn’t take care of her anymore. We could and wanted to. We never thought what kind of dog she would grow to become. We weren’t really concerned about her breeding, but simply based her “lineage” on what her fur and aptitude was.
We were wrong. Turns out, she’s a border collie. Never saw that coming.
We found out we have one of the smartest dogs on Earth, and it’s taken us a year to figure it out. For good or ill, we now know why some training techniques that worked with our other dogs — our other slightly less smart dogs — have failed so miserably with her.
Now we know why taking her for a walk sometimes feel like walking through a toy store with a kid jacked up on Mountain Dew and Skittles. Everything she sees is a plaything or something to eat, and the only time slowing down is an option is when she’s so tired she just crashes into a nap. Even when she’s conked out under a table, she’s still chasing something.
It’s been a challenge to wrap my mind around this discovery. It’s on the same level as when I discovered the maternal side of the family includes the bastard son of a Scottish king who couldn’t keep his kilt down.
Regardless of her lineage, I know Sophie is in a better place than where she started. She’s loved, cared for, has plenty of tennis balls to fetch and doesn’t have to live with mean cats anymore.
About the only thing we’re missing are some sheep, but I think my horse-thieving ancestors wouldn’t like that. After all, they came a long way to get out of the sheep business.