It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: Family and the Ties That Bind 5/2/17

Sisters and probably my maternal 2x great aunts; one of those unsolved genealogical mysteries.

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.

Because I’m all ears.

Pretty please?

If you don’t have a story, it’s OK; we’re all still family here.

And always…Stronger Together!

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Good morning, Pond Dwellers! Thanks for the hangout, DoReMi. It’s supposed to hit 90 for the next three days before going back to the 70’s. Yuck.

    On my mothers side, I have relatives traced back to the Mayflower. I’ve had a relative in every war since the Revolutionary War and am, through all that, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. My great grandfather, on my fathers side, came over from Wales as a young man and I still have cousins there. I’d love to travel over there (my aunt has names and addresses) and meet a few.

    P.S. Loved the rambling rant. 😊

    • My daughter would qualify for the DAR on my husband’s side but gathering the required documentation is more work than any of us are interested in. My husband was surprised at how upset he was when it looked like some of his ancestors were slaveholders. He was so unnerved that I dug deep into his side and discovered some bad, poorly-sourced information that we had mistakenly built upon. Once I eliminated that information and basically started over, we found his family was not marked with that particular legacy. It’s possible he is distantly related to the NC-slaveholding branch, but if they are, it goes further back in German history than we’ve been able to trace.

      And you should definitely contact your Wales’ family! Even if it’s by snail mail to start, it really is fun to reach out. When I had hit a block with one branch of my family, I dug into current phone books and seriously considered making phone calls…to Germany, but my German just isn’t up to snuff anymore. I would have spent a lot of money on calls, with little ability to ask anything more than “Where is the bathroom?” and “Another beer, please”!

      • I am fortunate that my mom did her side (and we have the trunks of docs and photos to show for it) and my dad’s sister did their side. My mom did all the hard work when she joined the DAR and then provided me and my sister with a copy of her application. A much easier process.

        You know, we all need a bucket list. Perhaps I’ll put Wales on mine. Cardiff, Wales was his birthplace. I’m glad you could research your hubbies ancestry and remove the slave owners (although there’s probably quite a few of us whose ancestors had a slave or two).

        • My family has lots of its own sketchiness; my great-grandfather was always rumored to be a philanderer, and boy, did I find the documentation to back up the rumors. Marrying wife #2 two days after the divorce from my great-grandmother was finalized? I rather doubt he married a complete stranger. Living in Hawaii with Wife #2, but with frequent trips to the PNW, where “coincidentally” future Wife #3 lived? I’m so sure that was a coincidence! It reads like he was trying to give Henry VIII a run for his money (but he died while still married to Wife #4).

          On the other hand, sometimes learning that our family members were subject to the same human foibles as any of us is helpful. When my sister divorced, she was deeply ashamed for a long time, because she thought she was the first one in the family to ever divorce. Then I was finally able to show her that our family was divorcing long before it was “done.” That actually made her feel better about her choice. And when I pointed out that the census records show that our great-grandmother, who divorced the philanderer, listed herself as a widow, not a divorcee, she realized how fortunate she was to be able to dump her own philandering husband without having to resort to a lie.

        • I’ve never been to Cardiff, but my husband has. He was doing temporary duty at Gitmo (long before it was a prison camp) and had a chance to fly to Wales for a weekend. I got a postcard from him saying that he loved Wales even more than Scotland and wasn’t sure he’d could bring himself to leave. Fortunately, he was home by the time I received the postcard…

    • We went to Snowdonia, because I wanted to see where Evan Evans of Rhys Bowens’ Welsh mysteries lived. It was fantastic!

      I’m still in love with Shrewsbury, the town we stayed in before crossing into Wales, and with the Welsh village we called “Betsy Co-ed,” because we couldn’t pronounce the Welsh name. You’d love Carnarvon (where Anna of “The King and I” was born) and Portmeirion, the very odd place where the TV series “The Prisoner” was filmed.

      And when we took the little train up to the top of Mount Snowdon a cloud came down so we had to stay in the cafe drinking coffee until it lifted and the train could go down again.

  2. Good morning, DoReMI! My mom has been working off and on for the last 20 years to try and put together our family tree on her side. It’s rather painstaking but I think we’ve got to the level of her great-grandparents. There are so many cousins of hers!!

    Very little info about my father’s side and no one is particularly interested in doing the research.

    • no one is particularly interested in doing the research

      No one in my family was particularly interested either, so I stepped in to fill the void. Once I did, I started discovering other branches of the family generally had one person checking things out. Mostly that’s meant connecting with paternal first cousins 1x removed and second cousins. But a few weeks ago, I was able to have a brief, basic online conversation with a maternal fourth cousin in Germany (it was brief and basic because my German is beyond rusty, and his English is only a bit better). My 3xgreat uncle married the sister of his 3xgreat grandmother, and our branch was the only one that left Germany. I’d hit a huge roadblock with that branch, but with his help, I was able to make enormous headway. Part of the problem was the ever-changing boundaries of their home…east Prussia, which became part of Poland, which is now Ukraine. With every change, there was also a change of spelling of their homes AND their last name; even my 3xgreat uncle’s name changed once he immigrated.

      Anyway, I don’t think I would have ever started until my aunt died. Suddenly, I was looking around and realized I was now one of the Elders of the family. I wanted to preserve some of the information and stories for our kids, even if most of them are decidedly uninterested at the moment.

      • It’s a bit odd because most of my father’s family were never really that close to my mom (even when she was married to my father), so she didn’t feel like it was worth the trouble to ask them. Plus all the records are in Sri Lanka, if they even still exist (record keeping during colonial days was rather hit or miss, with people often times registering under slightly different names/spellings or with intentionally/unintentionally inaccurate details) and we haven’t lived there for over 20 years now.

        But I think I would like to try and find out more if I can. I’m going to “blame” you for the genealogy bug that I’ve picked up in addition to the cleaning bug. :P

        • Just be aware…the genealogy bug is part of the reason my recent cleaning bug became necessary. The two tend to be mutually exclusive. ;)

  3. Hi DoReMI and fellow Village Meese!

    DoReMI, I love your post and you musings about your family and history and what it all means. I know you asked for us to share in the comments but as usual I find myself on Tuesday casting around for some inspiration for my Wednesday post and also per usual, I think I will piggyback off your inspiration. So, probably, my family or something similar or vaguely related or unrelated, tomorrow.

    Yall, Master Wufei is sleeping peacefully in the livingroom in view of me, lying on his smashed brown paper bag that he loves. He is 16 years old (or 14, there is some confusion) and has always been my Buster Brown cat, and if you aren’t old enough to remember Buster Brown (he lives in your shoe) just think cat version of one of the Little Rascals, or maybe Dennis the Menace – wonderfully tough and tumble, but sweet and adorable at the same time. Some years ago he developed the thyroid thing some cats get. The vet told us that one “cure” would be surgery to remove his thyroid gland, which cost more than we could afford. The other solution was to give him a pill every day forever. I asked if we could try the then very new option of feeding him the special food for that condition, that starves the thyroid of raw material to make adrenaline or whatever the thyroid does that causes kitties to run too hot and basically burn their bodies up. Forgive my unscientific characterization and don’t get your info from me about it.

    That worked for a while but some years later, the vet decided we should keep him on the food, but also add a pill. Never had much problem with that, we use the pill pockets and to him it’s just his special treat in the morning.

    Like some cats, he’s always had the tendency to eat things that could kill him, like plastic bags, basically anything thin and plastic, electrical cords etc. We are as careful as possible but once in a while he eats something and then eventually throws it up, and there is much anxiety in the process.

    This past year he has started having periods when he refuses to eat his prescription food. He wants anything else. We talked to the vet and he said it was okay to give him some other cat food that he would eat and then eventually get him back on his diet. I try very hard to get him to eat the prescription food, but sometimes “prime” it with a little of something else – cat treats, a spoonful of other cat food… Normally he has a robust, Buster Brown appetite but when he gets finicky, he will refuse his food, then walk around the house actively seeking cords, licking plastic boxes, all signals that he is hungry but just refusing his food in favor of something better. His will is usually stronger than mine. Also, I spend all day sitting at my desk with a desktop computer, a laptop computer, and behind me a printer… lot of tasty cords…. right where Mom (me) can see him trying to eat them and get the message – bring out the good stuff.

    Then there are the bugs that get into the house under the front door jamb… crunch crunch… puke…

    Late last week he started refusing to eat his prescription food again. I resisted, then indulged. He started throwing up. He began having diarrhea as well, which is very unusual for him. He ate and kept some down, then the next feeding, no go. By yesterday he was throwing up food, then bile, then water, and more diarrhea. He became very lethargic, mostly sleeping.

    I planned to take him to the vet today, which, forgive me, I can’t really afford. But we let him fast for about 14 hours, then offered him his prescription food, which he refused, while still indicating clearly that he wanted something to eat. So I gave him a half spoonful of regular store canned cat food. This was… about 11pm last night. He didn’t throw it up. At 3am, I gave him another spoonful. At 6am, he was active, awake, even perky. Another spoonful. At 8am, another. He is napping now, which is pretty standard for this time of day. No puking and nothing has come out the other end either, which if he is improving, would make sense.

    I’m holding my breath and watching him sleep. If he throws up again, I am to call VonsterTX who will leave work (we have 1 car) and we will get him to the vet.

    Sorry for the TMI. Thanks for being here to listen.

    Today my Resistance is resisting panic.

    • {{{Hugs}}} Grace. Do what you need to do for Master Wufei, and that includes not worrying about the vet bills. I’m sure the Village will come together to help you out if needed…and if it can’t, DM me on Twitter with your vet’s information, and I’ll call him/her with my credit card information. I absolutely mean this…years ago, someone helped me out when my deerhound was quite ill, and I’ve committed to paying it forward ever since.

      As far as post topics go…if you only knew how long I stared at the blank computer screen last night! I found myself opening a new window and tooling around on Chronicling America, a Library of Congress website with archives of old newspapers (and it’s FREE!). I found a bunch of old German-American newspapers in which family members were mentioned, which was a new find for me. At that point, it hit me that I should just write what interested me in the moment…et voila, today’s post.

      • Thank you DoReMI, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I would go (further) into debt to save him, of course, and I promise would ask for help if needed to save his life, as long as he still had quality life to enjoy.

        He’s had another two spoonfulls, spaced apart, seems quite himself when awake and still sleeping otherwise, which is cat normal. I will know for sure if/when he makes a litterbox deposit.

        No further retching since yesterday. Not assuming but feeling lots less panicky.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your kitteh. The most important thing is what makes him feel better and worry about paying for it later. I have a Care Credit card for unexpected emergencies for me and kitteh. Just in case. {{{HUGS}}}

      • Yes, the worst feeling is not being able to help when he feels bad or in pain. Today things seem to be improving. I’m relieved but so watchful…

  4. ok logged out and back in…we’ll see if I can post now…
    Hiya meeses suddenly we are to have summer…very interesting post…my cousin and I have attempted to trace my Dad’s side of the family back to Bohemia now the Czech Republic…the trail goes back to Chicago where they were married but then disappears…there is a story that my grandparents met on the boat coming over but we can find no records of such passage…I’m not very good at it and haven’t continued but I would like to find out…My Mom’s Dad is from Sweden and was quite the rascal…ran away to join the circus as an acrobat and later made his living gambling…as such he wasn’t the best husband material and my Grandmother divorced when it wasn’t very accepted…I know even less about her except her parents were also from Czech Republic…I think you are right on that if people were aware of the own immigrant history it would make all the difference in the world…I have seen very Republican people prove that theory….
    OK that worked….

    • Do you know your family’s entry point? This might help you search:

      In the early days of the internet, I spent countless hours searching the Ellis Island records, with every spelling variation of family names I could think of. I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall…because I was. Most of my family came in through Baltimore!

      • Do you know your family’s entry point?

        No my cousin was doing that part of the research and he said he checked every port of entry he could find…even one down south some place …GA I think…my Dad told me that their name was much longer and was shorten…at Elias Island I believe he said…could be true as I understand the name Vlcek is like Smith in English…we can trace them back to their wedding certificate in Chicago but nothing before that…he also tried searching some Czech records but I never heard that anything became of that…unfortunately my Dad was the youngest of 9 children and he’s been dead for over 10 years so there is no one left of that generation who might help…I do have their wedding picture which I understand was quite unusual back then because of the cost but again the picture leads us back to Chicago but no further…my Aunt who I got the picture from when she past had written information on the back but most of it has proven to be wrong except my Grandmother’s maiden name…Moulik…I’ve been told I should ask the LDS church for help and maybe one of these days I will…

        • It was the LDS church that helped my aunt with her search. They have an EXTENSIVE database. You really should get their help.

          • Well I sort of had since one of my Mom’s cousins works in that area for the church…last time I saw him he took the info I had and took a snap of the wedding picture which he seemed quite excited about but I never heard back from him…that was over a year ago…I just recently met Mom side of the family when we moved to Utah so I don’t know them very well if at all…may be I will FB him and ask him about it…

        • The name changes are the hardest part. Vlcek sounds like it needs a “evic” added to it; sometimes guesses are the only way to start. I have entire “alternate universe” trees set up for branches of my family that I use to trace information that looks promising, but is not yet verified.

          My paternal grandmother was a Winter; not quite as bad as Smith, but almost. OTOH, one of my husband’s early ancestors was named Valentine von Popov…if only they all had such distinctive names!

          • Hmmm maybe I will tell that to my cousin because I think he might be still working at it…maybe if he ever comes out to visit we both could to the LDS church and see what that can find for us…maybe meet up with my Mom’s cousin there…

        • The main problem with asking the LDS church for help is they’ll retroactively baptize all your relatives into the LDS church. Which is either infuriating or hysterically funny, depending on your point of view. :)

  5. Afternoon meese and Sher…Very interesting tread…Thanks…

    My cousin on my mothers side was in a movie…Goes by the name of ET…lol

    I really have no idea and am not really into looking into it…My mother divorced my father when I was 3 and “it” was not something discussed as I got older. Never knew my father until around 14 years ago when my ex-wife found him on the internet and contacted him without me knowing…We actually met once after that but it didn’t all turn out well as his wife more or less labeled me as an embarrassment in her hoity toity world. I let it go and haven’t talked to him since.

    I do know that my ancestors came from England and Germany though I have never researched my lineage…

    • Hi Batch, your story not unlike mine except the hoity toity part. My sis went looking for dad and finally found him. An independent son of a bitch, much like me. We were in touch for a few years then he headed off again, no idea if he’s alive or dead. He told us once that the way he wanted to go was to sail a one man sailboat (he says he built one in a basement once, or was that Agent Gibbs?) out into the Gulf (of Mexico) in the middle of a hurricane and never be heard from again. Yeah. Crazy bastard. If I believed in such things I’d say that’s where I get some of it.

      • …the way he wanted to go was to sail a one man sailboat (he says he built one in a basement once, or was that Agent Gibbs?) out into the Gulf (of Mexico) in the middle of a hurricane and never be heard from again.

        Sounds like the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

        A month of nights, a week of days
        Octobers drifting into Mays
        I set my sail when the tide comes in
        And I just cast my fate to the wind.

        There never was, there couldn’t be
        A place and time for men like me
        Who’d drink the dark and laugh at day
        And let their wildest dreams float away…

        I’ve always wondered about that song. What was the guy trying to escape? It intrigues me.

  6. {{{DoReMI}}} – you do lovely work :) – someone in my family traced one line back to something like 1774. One Robert Small returning from Scotland (so how he got here in the first place to be “returning” we don’t know) landed in Philadelphia. He fought in the American Revolution and was given land in the Carolinas in lieu of pay. His son Nicholas Small, 1801, married and migrated to the “Old Northwest” with his wife’s family. Nick’s grandson Edwin Rufus Small was my great-grandfather. Just about everything else I know about family is apocryphal. Mebbe so, mebbe no stuff. Sometimes I think about delving deeper but i’ve never gotten around to it. heh. {{{Moose Villagers}}}

  7. This was a lovely post, DoReMI! Most interesting. Sorry I couldn’t read it yesterday, but I was kinda tied up with child-minding.

    Going to have a think about the ancestors. I don’t think we know very much, although I’ve always hoped the rumor about the Cherokee great-grandmother was true. :)

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