Thursday, July 19, 2007


It has always been a passion of mine to sift through my families heritage. While exploring the files of census records from the 1800's, or climbing the family tree branches to it's root, I connect with my families through envisioning each moment. I enter into their world from the moment the census recorder knocks on the door to the whistling tea pot on the stove my great-great-great grandmother was preparing for her temporary guest. I have accompanied said census recorder walking down the dusty country lane from one farm house to the next with the handwritten pages in hand and have traveled down those lanes, present day, once trod upon in hopes of recovering more information than what was recorded so many decades past. I have held my own private funeral procession over abandoned and forgotten cemeteries in whom my forefathers are buried without even a sign to acknowledge their presence except for a notation on a 19th century map. I feel the loss of life when, from one decade to the next, a child disappears from the census records and I feel the grief the mother must have felt to answer the question with a number when the census recorder asked if any of her children died since his last visit.

When I started with this obsession some 8 years ago I had envisioned many hours to spare on long, intensive research projects resulting in the discovery of many ancient ancestors, but shortly after I had just compiled the records my various distant family members had already collected I discovered we were expecting the beginning of a new family branch. As do many things during this period of a families growth, my project was put on hold with only short bursts of energy put into possible leads here and there. My Irish side of the family had started an online genealogy website that enabled me to put in my few hours of research into that side of my history easily, leaving the rest of my family gathering dust in a few thin files.

I cannot remember the question in which I was seeking an answer for now, for the discovery I made while trying to find it seems to have diminished its value to nothing. Just weeks ago I started digging through emails sent to me by a great aunt, sent to me at the time I started my projects 8 years ago, looking for this now insignificant question, when I pulled up a file on my grandfather. Even now I hesitate to mention this particular man.

I never met my paternal grandfather. His life was ended tragically while my father was not yet out of high school, and the discovery of his existence was shrouded in mystery for me. My aunt would only give me his vitals and hinted, with a voice mingled in fear and guilt, that if I ever wanted to know more about him I'd have to look through the local paper around the time of his death as the family never opened their mouth about him after his life ended. I treated the "case" just as a young researcher would without much thought into the impact of looking up information on my deceased grandfather would have on my family. I only mentioned my queries to my step-mother who assured me, as my aunt had done, that I would get nowhere by questioning even my father, let alone the rest of his family. She told me all that she knew from picking up on broken bits of conversations or hints cut short when the individual realized what they were discussing, which was just enough to put in me a resolve into finding any articles related to him.

Upon my next visit home I found the article I was looking for which told me more than I already knew, but was not such a shocking story as to justify the families reaction. I still had questions, but withheld them after my grandmother, his widow, learned of my limited research and has stopped talking to my father and I since. The turmoil it brought up was senseless enough that I determined to leave that side of the family well alone. For years I have not touched, let alone thought of, any file related to my paternal side of the family until just weeks ago.

Again, I cannot imagine what insignificant information lured me into these branches again, but what I discovered there surprised me. Resting underneath my grandfathers name with the rest of his vitals was listed his lineage, among which was Dutch. Seemingly insignificant upon my initial perusal years ago, it was now information which made my heart give a little leap. I am sitting in the very land in which my grandfather's blood had once parted from. Questions began to form in my mind; which relative came from the Netherlands, from what generation, which region, which dialect, could there be any passed on lingual traits which may help me master this language any better, what ship did they travel from their home country in and when, did they part their home country, are my cousins still living in the same village?

I may never find those answers, but it has surprisingly formed in me my own personal bond with the grandfather I never knew, never heard mentioned of fondly in stories recalled around the campfire, and only know of through an impersonal email and microfiche replica of an old newspaper. Suddenly we understand each other now, I have a piece of my heritage living in me through an experience shared in a country I never dreamed I'd be able to relate to on this level. And this country has now smiled upon me as one of it's own and I feel a connection I had not expected. What a surprise to find myself suddenly existing as a living ancestor of this familiar culture and heritage. Now, as I ride my bike through the streets I feel as if I really do somehow belong or share a particular right to travel within it's borders without having to consciously lift my chin.

Thank you, Grandpa. Your existence may have been short and probably painful, but it has made a difference of good.

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