Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tell Your Story

  Who lives?
  Who dies?
  Who tells your story?
 But when you're gone, who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame, who tells your story?
The above are lyrics from Hamilton, but I have been recently made acutely aware of the depth of truth in these beautiful lyrics. (Have you heard Hamilton yet? No... then go listen to it, the musical is just amazing, join my obsession).

I first signed up for in 2013, to start working on my family tree. I had an interest in it, and more than that, my dad had mentioned how it was something that he would love to learn more about. Now, for anyone keeping track, you know that 2013 was the year our family grew... and then grew again, and before Remington was born, I had canceled my subscription because I knew if I didn't have time for ancestry with one little, I definitely wasn't going to make that happen with two.

In 2015, I signed back up again, as the kids have gotten older and I am better able to find time for hobbies like digging deep into the past of our family tree. Plus, I truly find it addicting, especially when I uncover something new, a new ancestor, or the best- a part of their story. Names are great, jobs are better, but to find someone who wrote about who they are, or a newspaper article on them, or finding an ancestor well known enough to have a story about them by an actual history is priceless.

So, it is without exaggeration that I can say that I was given a priceless treasure on Memorial Day this year. See, as I dig deeper, and deeper and ask questions, I started asking about the primary sources of our family. Wondering where are the documents that our family has saved? My dad took the time to go to my grandma's house, and found this amazing box filled with my great grandfather's writings.

This great grandfather was a preacher, and he clearly loved to write, and edit his writings, and write some more. One of the key items in this box was his life story, hand written, several times, I think I counted about six. His editions vary somewhat, including different details, but all of them recount his rather astounding story of leaving Germany, at the age of 15, following a friend, seeking a new life in America- where he knew no one,  and didn't speak the language. He managed to get a job at a farm, and later went to seminary and became a preacher. This alone would be amazing, but this box had more.

There are more life stories. He clearly was obsessed with life stories, and I am so grateful he was. He apparently convinced several family members to also write their stories, also hand written, allowing me glimpses into all of their lives that I wouldn't have otherwise had. For family members that were already passed, he, apparently wanting to be thorough, wrote those too. He wrote of an ancestor who lost out on a great job because he couldn't read English well enough to pass the new test required... though he had been doing well at the job before... just while speaking and reading German. This ancestor then lost his home, because he couldn't afford it anymore, bringing new light to the plight of immigrants. Another ancestor dreamed of having a farm and land to raise chickens, and he bought the land, but sadly died before he ever was able to build a house on it.Where could I have learned these things about people in my family tree without my great grandfather giving us this record?

Believe it or not, those aren't the best part either. My favorite item in this box are his yearly journals. For several years, we have his journals, starting in 1945. I truly feel like I am getting to meet this man who died long before I was born through these journals. He was most consistent with his brief report of the daily weather, making himself an almanac of sorts for a time before the internet kept track of the typical weather. He wrote about who he visited and this pastor was extremely reliant about recording the text that the weekly church sermon was on, as well as a few notes about the service.

But he also gave his thoughts on the current events. Like how he had a hard time believing the "German atrocities" (his words) that were being reported, and he questioned the validity of those news reports, thinking them American propaganda justifying bombing German women and children.

He was distraught over the reports of the treatment of the German prisoners of war, and said, "Oh tolerance, oh democracy, where art thou?"

I truly never looked at World War 2 through the eyes of people like my great grandfather, who had immigrated from Germany. He is clear in his dislike of Hitler... but at the same time defensive about the German people as a whole. Germans are not the enemies as a unit, they were also his parents, his siblings, his aunts and uncles. Real people who were kind, farmers far away from all of the craziness who likely didn't like what was going on in their nation any more than people in America did.

I loved being able to read his journal entry on the day we had victory in Europe. He was excited, they went to a special church in thanks of it ... and he also planted tomatoes that day. So very normal, life goes on in the midst of amazing historical events. He wrote every time my grandfather, who was in the armed forces, sent a letter during the war, and I teared up reading the entry on the date that "Willy came home today."

At the same time, there was so much normal drama too- a Pastor at church doing a secret baptism after he was let go, one of his sons having to go to the hospital, his somewhat snarky comment of "Baseball players on strike? Whoever heard of that?- Something new under the sun," and countless others that make me feel connected with him.

It has me more reflective on my story, my parents stories, and all of my relatives. This blog, when I write in it, is a legacy that I am leaving my kids someday. They will be able to look back in the archives and see what I was thinking about as we went through the adoption process, her first weeks at home, the last days of pregnancy. Every time I take the time to write, I am not just writing for an audience, though it is a public domain, I am also taking the opportunity to tell my story.

Most nights, I write a tiny bit in a journal about my kids. This too, is like my great grandfather, and it is another priceless item in my house. If there was a fire, it would be on my short list to save, and when I have written in it for five years (almost there), I intend to scan the whole thing, and save it digitally as well. The memories range from funny to sad, but it is fun to look back on the last several years, and even if I miss a few days, the days I do write are well worth the time it takes to do it.

I also take the time to sort through photos and make a physical book out of the best ones for the year. It is time consuming, and I get way behind on these yearbooks, but knowing that there is an easier way for the kids to see their photos as they grow up besides looking on my computer makes it worth it. As a bonus, it keeps those photos safe on the shutterfly website, in case of something catastrophic happening to my computer and digital copies.

I do have the best of intentions on this blog, perhaps I can do better... but I have said that before too. But I wanted to share all of this as my way to encourage you, whoever you are, find a way to tell your story. Type it out, make a scrapbook, write a journal, give your kids and future descendants a way to know you generations after you are gone. Who tells your story?

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