Be forewarned; rambling, stream-of-consciousness post ahead…
The most recent pronouncement by 45* (about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War) once again illustrates his complete lack of historical knowledge, and coming as it did on the heels of an unexpected interaction in my own life, it has me again thinking about grand themes like, “What is history?” and “What is family?” On Saturday, I received a Facebook friend request from someone I’ve never met; I did, however, recognize the name, because he shares the name of the husband of a great aunt (both of whom I also never met). Before accepting his request, I perused his FB page (why on earth do people not keep their pages locked down?) and was able to immediately discern that he is a full-blown Republican and Hillary hater. I’m not certain he is a T***p supporter, but he certainly isn’t shy about broadcasting his disdain for Dems. Given that I’ve limited my interaction with my own sister because of her vote for the Orange Shitgibbon, I had to think awhile on whether to accept this friend request. I finally did and don’t regret it; he’s a second cousin who searched for me on the recommendation of another recently-discovered second cousin. We had an amiable and lengthy chat, and signed off with the promise to stay in touch.
So what does this have to do with history and family? It’s clear that a shared heritage (in this case, grandparents who were siblings) is not enough to define who we are. Somehow, I became a raging liberal, and he became the opposite. This second cousin is FINO…family in name only. And yet, that tenuous bond was enough for us to have a conversation. It was enough to share details about our lives. It was enough to prompt the desire for future contact.
It also was very clear to me that this cousin had little knowledge of our family’s history. I’ve become the de facto family historian because of my genealogical research, and he had little information beyond the names of his grandparents. I can pinpoint on a map the neighborhood in Germany from which our great-grandparents emigrated; he couldn’t name the city. I’m not pointing this out to toot my own horn; a few years ago, I would have been in the same position as my cousin. But at some point, the storyteller in me wanted to know more about my own history, and the opportunity to ask questions of the previous generations was long past. Genealogy is far more than tracing a family tree as far back as you possible can. It’s about trying to understand the lives, the motivations, the stories of those who are gone. Sometimes it’s fairly obvious, and sometimes it’s like assembling a puzzle or solving a mystery from the available clues. (Those unidentified sisters in the opening photo? There are no identifying marks on the picture, but I know my three 2xgreat aunts were in the family millinery business. I also know that one of them never lived independently but was described as “lovely and kind, despite her affliction” in a family letter. I also know from the attire that the photo was taken at about the same time as my 2xgreat uncle opened a studio for lithography, photography, and daguerreotypes. Tantalizing clues…)
I do wonder if my cousin would be as anti-immigrant if he knew our immigration story. I wonder if would be so readily posting anti-Hillary screeds if he knew how essential the women in our family were (including his own grandmother) to ensuring the struggling, newly-arrived family had food on the table. I wonder if he would be so quick to proclaim his “American-ness” if he realized our great-grandparents took years to learn English, took longer to become citizens, for many, many years got their news from a German-language newspaper, and attended a German-language church. That is our American-ness, and those are the stories we must tell. What’s your story?
I’m not trying to be nosy, but please do tell your story.
— Boop My Nose ™ (@boopmynose) April 26, 2017
Because I’m all ears.
Basset Hound puppies pic.twitter.com/2bZW4rz44S
— Yasemen Destiny (@destinyruiz1988) April 28, 2017
— Basset Hound Network (@BassetHounds_) April 19, 2017
If you don’t have a story, it’s OK; we’re all still family here.
— Jolee (@JoleeMockler) April 30, 2017
And always…Stronger Together!
— Basset Hound Network (@BassetHounds_) December 31, 2016