DEAR MISS MANNERS: Since moving to a new area, I've found that people ask where my family is from and react oddly when I confess that I don't know.
We are white, and we have lived in the rural South for generations. Growing up, it never seemed strange to me that we had no other explanation for our presence there. My great-grandparents were all born in the American South, and they never mentioned any ancestry from anywhere else.
Since moving to a large city in the North, the topic of heritage has come up a few times in conversation. When people ask, I say the name of my home state. They then elaborate, asking where we come from, and I have to explain that I don't know where my family is "from." I know, of course, that we must have immigrated at some point, but I don't know from where.
People here seem to find this very strange. Several have recommended I take a DNA test or investigate my genealogy, with some going so far as to ask, shocked, why I haven't done this already.
I don't have a good answer; it's just that it isn't important to me.
I have, however, taken offense on more than one occasion when people have said that we "must have something to hide," such as slave ownership, connections to the Nazi party or other such historical horrors.
Given my lack of information, I can't in good faith deny anything outright, but when did this become an acceptable thing to accuse someone of? Why is it so strange to people that I don't know where we are from? How can I politely respond to their questions and occasional accusations?
GENTLE READER: Said once, to a newcomer, "Where are you from?" may be a harmless conversation opener. Said repeatedly, even after receiving an answer, is not.
A lady-in-waiting to the late Queen Elizabeth found that out the hard way. At a charitable function in Buckingham Palace, she kept pressing a Black guest to tell where she was "really from," despite that lady's having repeatedly said that she was British-born. She also touched the guest's hair, brushing it aside to see her name tag.
After her behavior was denounced by the palace, and she resigned from the royal household under pressure, the offender apologized to that British guest.
The racial element may have been lacking in your case, but it is nonetheless rude to press people to disclose their supposed origins, and atrociously rude to suggest that only shame could prevent them from answering nosy questions.
Miss Manners is aware that this intrusiveness has become common in these identity-conscious days. But there is an essential difference between wanting to know about one's own family and demanding an accounting from others.
Just repeat, as did the guest at Buckingham Palace, "I told you where I was from." And cut off insults by walking away.