I have been meeting up with my great-aunts and great-uncles over the last few months. It is an enriching experience two fold. First fold: I get to reintegrate parts of my family that have been long cut off from me (near on 18 years in all cases), and I get to meet family members that I’ve never met, or cannot remember meeting because I was a very young child when last we saw. Second fold: I get to learn more about my family history and it reawakens my long-standing interest in my family history. My family history has yielded some very interesting stories that I had no clue of before I spoke with my newly reintegrated family.
I learned more from meeting up with my two great-uncles for short period of time than I had known for the last 10-15 years about my family history. And I get clarification on some stories that I’ve been told as a child. I remember stories my grandma used to tell me about my old family on her side…some that I’m sure I conflated as a child hearing them, others I could only half-remember details of, and some that I have misremembered for not hearing them in fifteen plus years. This weekend I got to learn quite a bit about my family and I got some of those stories straightened out.
And I got to learn things about my grandma that I had never known before. That’s perhaps the most valuable thing for me. My grandma died in the middle of my sophomore year of college. I still had so many questions I wanted to ask her, things I wanted to know. And that ended when she died. At that time, I didn’t know her brothers (my great-uncles), so I couldn’t ask them any questions. I still don’t know one of them, but I’m glad that I met the other of my great-uncles and I learned a lot about my grandma that I didn’t know before. Perhaps soon I’ll get to meet my other great-uncle on her side, because he lives close enough now that it might be feasible to get together at some point. And I got to learn more of the family history that I know my grandma was deeply interested in, but didn’t have all the answers about. My grandma loved history as much as I do.
After having met up with my family I now know the following.
My mom’s side of the family is Polish, German and Irish/Scottish. From there I am 1/8 Polish, 1/4 German and 1/8 Irish/Scottish. (This is some facts I have known for the last 8 years. I know more about my mother’s family history than my father’s, and I’ve heard far more stories. My grammie and I used to talk about this all the time when I still lived with her.)
My father’s side I just learned. From my father’s dad I am Czech and Czech/Romanian. From my father’s mom I am Welsh, Irish/Scottish, and Czech/German. That is broken down into percentages I haven’t fully worked out.
But one possibility is that I’m at least 3/8 Czech/Romanian/German, and the Welsh, Irish/Scottish makes up the other 1/8 (most likely). I’ll have to figure out the exact logistics later. But that’s my rough estimate on the percentages of where my family comes from. — or the other possibility is that I am in total 1/4 German, 1/4 Irish/Scottish, 1/4 Czech and 1/8 each Polish and Welsh. (again, more research must be done first, but those are my two possibilities at the moment).
I never knew that the majority of my family came from Central Europe. I’m far more Czech by heritage than I ever knew, and my ancestors all came to the US (on my dad’s side), far later than I ever knew. The stories were that most of my family came over in the first half of the 1800s. That’s clearly not true, not with the paperwork I was able to read this weekend. My family were immigrants, and I’ve seen the naturalization paperwork (over a hundred and fifteen years old) from my great-great-grandfather. He moved to the US from Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland, in the late 1800s. My family is far more interesting than I ever knew.
And that makes me realize that I should do something to honor my ancestors. They were a strong bunch, hardy and hard workers that came to the US and settled (all parts on my dad’s mom’s side) in Illinois and made a good living there. My father’s father’s side of the family settled in Washington state, and I guess my great-uncle has even gone to the old homestead lands to see what remains (not much). My mother’s family settled down in Indiana and Wisconsin, which is a strange coincidence. How did all my family settle down in the same place, in the same section of the country? I know it must be coincidence, but it is a fascinating one.
Looking at my family history makes me feel proud. My family was a mixture, on both sides of the Protestant and Catholic fence in both sides. My mother’s family are mixed Catholic and Protestant. My father’s family are mostly Lutheran, though farther back we have Catholic faith there. It’s a strange thing…that my whole family was always so intertwined in what they believed.
I know that some people think that honoring ancestors of clearly a different faith is not appropriate. However, I think my family would appreciate being remembered. My family was close, and stayed together to thrive and work together. I cannot help but think that I would be honoring them by remembering them, honoring their lives, and welcoming what they did.
As of yet I am not sure what I want to do to honor my ancestors. First and foremost I know honoring them starts with honoring my grandma. She was a wonderful woman who told me so much, and always had a smile for me. No matter how difficult things were for my grandma, she always did her best for me. I know she was not perfect, but I would like to think some day I could be like her–strong and giving to her family. That is where I start, I know. But for my further ancestors, I need to figure out more. I am sure that given enough time I can begin to puzzle out exactly what I want to do, logistics and such.
Some day I’ll have definitive answers about my ideas on ancestor veneration. For now, I think it best to start small and thank my ancestors for what they have given me. I’m sure my personality, my ability to work, and certain quirks that have always existed–they must partially be a remnant of my heritage. Sure, I create them myself as well, but I know that my family’s history shapes a lot of what I am as well. I can thank my ancestors for that, both the good and not so good. My family makes me who I am, and for good or ill I need to thank my family for what they gave me. Because what they gave me is the start to my life, the start to figuring out who I am.∗