I thought this would be a good way to start the year (and project!) off....by looking back at my roots. Family is important to me, and knowing where I come from gives me the base of identity that helps me face every day. However, I take a pretty broad view on Family and ancestry both.
Biologically, I am half Chinese, half Caucasian (a pretty good mix of European ancestry). My grandfather (on the Caucasian side) was interested in ancestry, and so I have seen some of the extensive family trees, and in fact wrote down what I thought were particularly interesting names when I went to visit him.
But I also lived for many years in Hawaii, where the idea of a Calabash family is common. Your Calabash family is people who are close to your heart, but not related to you in any way (by blood or marriage). I definitely have people who have become part of my family that aren't related in any traditional way.
A term I have heard used before, and that I love, is spiritual ancestry. I definitely feel a spiritual connection to places and cultures that I don't have strong blood ties to. I don't feel these connections are any less solid than the ones that I am blood tied to.
For me, ancestry is a map that leads us to our roots. We can follow it back, person by person, or influence by influence and see where our current attitudes and values trace back to. It can help us understand why certain things move us so powerfully or perhaps why we have a tendency to do particular things.
What I don't accept is using ancestry as an excuse for why you lack or fail in some way. Of course, there are physical limitations. If your whole family is under five foot tall, then sure, that is a reason why you might need a stool to get something off a top shelf (but not a reason why you should let the top shelf get the better of you!). However, saying that because I am part Chinese I can't drive well.....that is just prejudiced and lazy.
I also don't accept using ancestry as a way to exclude people. I definitely thing there are things that are much easier to understand if you were raised in a particular community. There are cultural qualities that may seem strange from an outside perspective. But this is very much an experience thing, and not a blood thing. Even though I am half Chinese, I wasn't raised in the Chinese culture, and much of my experiences with Chinese beliefs are from an outsiders perspective. I do understand that even if you grew up smack dab in the middle of a cultural hotspot, if you aren't a member of that culture, you may still be 'on the outside' when it comes to certain cultural concepts, but again, this is not a physical thing that is keeping you from it but a societal thing.
I get a bit cranky when people tell me that I can't develop a relationship with particular gods because my ancestors aren't directly linked to them (or even worse, because not enough of my ancestors are directly linked to them). I personally think that is between me and the gods. If they want to work with me, they will. If I want to work with them, I will work on building those relationships.
As far as practices go, I have seen horrible accusations made as well. People have flat out said that trying to take up a practice of a culture you are not a member of is the same as rape. I think this is completely out of line. I do think that you can take up practices in an disrespectful manner, and that some people do try to 'take advantage' of other cultures because they want to seem cooler or they think it will make them special in some way. But I think if the reasons in your heart are pure, and you honestly are drawn to a practice and you respect it and the peoples who created and practice it, then there is nothing wrong with looking for inspiration from outside your own blood. For me it's all about intent.
I pretty much let my heart lead me. I find myself drawn to explore my physical roots. I look into Chinese belief and practices. I look towards the European paths. My main practice is pretty heavily Norse influenced, and while I do have some roots in the area, they aren't the deepest ones, but that is where I am drawn most strongly. A part of my heart was stolen by Hawaii when I lived there, to me it bears a huge part of what I consider Home. I have never had a problem with the deities I work with, or my ancestors, feeling betrayed or lessened because I have interests in a variety of areas.
So, ultimately, I think that my conceptualization of ancestry is pretty broad. I have different kinds of ties to different places, and I do my best to honor them from my heart and soul. And I feel that if I keep that perspective, if I approach from a respectful mindset, then seeking to follow those threads that connect me will only make my practice stronger.