A few weeks after Rick and I were married, we were told by one of the elderly women in the community that we are fourth cousins. HUH? There had been some joking around before our marriage regarding our relation to one another because his sister is married to my uncle, but we didn’t have any idea of an actual family connection. I tried to look through family books, spoke with my 91-year old grandmother, and tried to get to the bottom of this “relation.” I didn’t have the patience to make the connections through our family books, so I finally joined http://www.ancestry.com to see what I could discover.
Within a couple hours of getting on the website (the first hour was dedicated to figuring out what I was doing), I had discovered it was true. A few hours after that, I discovered that we’re also sixth cousins through another branch… I thought it was kind of funny. The ancestor who connected us had moved to another state to marry and only the oldest family member remembered the connection. If not for her, we probably would’ve never known.
In addition, I’ve also been told a little-known family secret that one of our ancestors was “a full-blooded Indian.” This information has fascinated me, imagining some ancestor who went against all societal norms and married a Native American. I was given this photo as proof of the ancestor.
Suddenly obsessed with our history, I began digging. I traced my father’s father back to 1498 before the information ran out. 1498! Isn’t that crazy? I discovered that our ancestors had to flee religious persecution because they were Anabaptists, which is how they eventually ended up in America, traveling via covered wagon. After weeks of searching, I have yet to encounter anyone Native American. We have a lot of German, French, and Swiss, and no explanation for the darker skin of the woman in this picture. I guess there’s only so much you can learn from reading…
But I’m not writing this blog to give you my personal family history. In digging through record after record after record, I’ve discovered a theme. Every single family all the way back (1498-about 1930ish) had an enormous amount of children by today’s standards. Each family easily had 10-15 children and in my family line, there are about 25-30 names that are used over and over. The same is true of my husband’s family as well. Every once in a while a new name will pop up, but it doesn’t happen often and the “new” name is often a biblical name like Moses or Deborah. Lastly, another theme I’ve observed is one that saddens my heart so much. After having babies every year or every other year for two decades, a wife often died, leaving many young children. Every time, the man remarried the very next year. And who could blame him? How is a man going to raise that many children alone?
I couldn’t help but think of the children that will someday look back at our records and wonder about us. If the Lord tarries, in five hundred years I think our ancestors will look back at THIS time in history and say – Whoa! What happened there???
Suddenly our families are much, much smaller. (I would feel very bad for any family I ran across in my search who had less than five children. I’d wonder what happened to them.) Our names are different – names we think sound nice rather than those that honor our ancestors or biblical characters. In the span of about 50 years, we have become drastically different people. Those who still remain from the oldest generation, like my previously mentioned grandmother and my 92-year old WWII vet grandfather, must feel completely lost in this new generation.
Obviously, I am excited about technology and the way we can now communicate to vast audiences from our living rooms. I’m excited about all the options available to me as a woman – job possibilities, travel, education, knowledge about health and fertility, and so much more. I breathe a huge sigh of relief to know that I am not now forced to be pregnant or nursing until my body no longer allows it. (Most of my ancestors were married by age 20 and had babies until their mid-40s.) When I do have children, I have access to thousands of names, their meanings, and their origins. I’m looking forward to choosing just the right name. It is hugely relieving to me to be able to marry for the first time in my mid-30s, having completed my education, had a career, and seen much of the world. I am healthy, well-rested, and capable of supporting myself. There are tremendous benefits to the world we live in today.
I guess I’m just wondering what we’ve lost with all this newness. Why is a family with six children stared at and questioned with things like, “You know how that happens, don’t you?” Why are families like the Duggars (“19 Kids and Counting”) criticized for having their older children help with the younger children? Isn’t that the way it was done for thousands of years?
We complain that “the kids these days” don’t have respect, they don’t follow through, they are spoiled, take things for granted. Well, why not? What real responsibility have they been given? We want our kids to be able to be kids and not have to grow up too fast, but when they break their latest toy, we go out and buy them something even better to replace it. How would “the kids these days” be different if they ever had some real responsibility – like the charge to make sure their little brother or sister is safe (a very important task when caring for a baby/toddler)? How would they be different if they had known the hard work that goes into growing food, harvesting or butchering it, and preparing it without a microwave? That the food that has been grown and processed must be shared with the fifteen other people in their family – and in order to get more, more must be grown and processed?
For the first twelve years of my life, I lived in the rural farming community I have returned to now. My parents had a huge garden and my mom based many of our meals off what we grew, canned, and froze. We didn’t buy steam-bag broccoli like I do today; we went down to the basement to get a jar of canned green beans; green beans that we had grown ourselves, canned ourselves. We woke up early in the morning in the heat of summer to pick strawberries and raspberries. I was regularly sent out to the garden to dig up some carrots and onions for dinner. My sister and I sat on the back porch to shuck corn and shell peas. We carried in fire wood for the stove that heated our house. Even so, our life was a breeze compared with the way my dad was raised.
The other day I called my mother-in-law because a recipe I was making called for one more onion than I had purchased at the store the week before. Rather than run out to the store, 10 miles away, for one onion, I checked with her first. Oh my goodness! She couldn’t believe I was BUYING onions. She still had a stash left over from the summer AND there were some still in the ground in her garden. She brought me a bag of them. Hmmm… I wondered if I could use summer onions in March? Sure thing – they worked great.
When my family left the country and moved to the city, I was so relieved. I promised myself that when I grew up I would NOT have a garden. I would buy my food and not get all hot and sweaty and bug-bitten trying to grow and harvest it. I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up and do exactly what I wanted. But here I am, back in the farming community, and I can’t help but think about how nice it would be to be able to go out back and dig up some potatoes and onions for supper. As for the sweating part, well, it’s amazing how well that burns calories, clears the pores, and keeps a person healthy. Maybe our ancestors knew something after all?
One last comment about all the information I’ve discovered regarding our ancestors… When I lived here as a child, I didn’t think we had any relatives in the area. I felt our isolation on holidays when others went down the road and had meals with huge, extended families. We tended to invite friends who also didn’t have families close by and made the best of it, which was fun. But doing this research has shown me that my great-grandmother was born in the town I live in today. I have many relatives in this area. For some reason, finding that out makes me feel even more like I’m where I belong.