I have done genealogy research long enough to realize that this passion of mine is viewed by some folks as quite boring. But, I have always had a preoccupation and interest in where I came from and who my ancestors were. I am born to be a story teller and so I wanted to know the stories of my own roots and my own family history. These stories showed me a pathway to the social and cultural history of my ancestors. They were stories that I memorized and retold.
At a very early age, I begged my mother to tell me the stories of our family. She related the stories of her childhood during the Great Depression and how her grandmother immigrated to America from Germany. OK, I decided, I am of a clear German heritage.
Well, this made sense. After all, all our Christmas cookies were from our German recipes … lebkuchen and springle’s are still my favorite. My Grandmother used German words for household items. Well, correction, I thought she was using all German words. For instance, when she wanted us to get our bumbershoots and we understood that to mean we were to bring our umbrellas, it turns out that the word bumbershoot is from the USA. The first known use of the word was not even until 1876.
One of our family favorite side dishes were German kniffles. Yes, that is a true variation of the word spatzen. Our family was Sud Deutsch. Southern Germany. So, there were some words common to that region that were not generally used elsewhere.
Ann Arbor was settled in part by a large German community. My family was a part of that settlement. Bethlehem Church, where we attended worship, continued sermons in German into the mid-60’s.
Our family sang together. I learned a special yodeling song from my mother. We often sang songs in German. On a family car ride we might sing,”Du, du, liegest mir am Herzen, du, du, liegest mir im Zinn”. At Christmas, our Ann Arbor church on 4th Avenue sang some German carols.
“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!“
Growing up, it was not uncommon to be asked about my heritage. “German”, I would clearly state. “I am such a German girl”.
wait for it. wait for it. wait for it.
This was literally less than a half truth.
Although my father loved to tell stories, they were really never about his family. I do remember that he had told us we had American patriots in our family. He said that my sisters and I qualified to be Daughters of the American Revolution. We never joined. I was incurious about his family stories because he seemed to be.
Fast forward, in 2016, I spit into a small container to send away to Ancestry.com for my DNA results. Also, by this time, I had done enough research to know what the results would say. During my entire childhood and early to mid adult years, I believed it to be true that I was of 100% German ancestry. Turns out this is actually only 47% true.
47% true? How did we disregard that other 53% of our heritage? That 53% that is represented by primarily English and some Irish roots. This was not represented in our family customs, diets, music, clothing, church, and more. I have now read many historical facts and stories about my English ancestors. You could say, that I am getting to know them.
I guess I am somewhat sad that I can no longer ask my father the millions of questions I have. The good news is that as an adult I have started connecting with my first cousins. They have provided me with stories that my father’s brother (my uncle) knew about the family. The story that I like best is about my ancestors being captured by pirates. Clearly, that rates among my favorites.