I had this little myth that most of my ancestors were draft-dodgers, and that they were rather recent comers to this country. Parts of this are true: Schurmans left the colonies because they were loyal to King George. Several of my ancestors left Europe because they lived in areas repeatedly war-torn. I have a couple of great and great-great grandparents who were immigrants.
After another five or six hours on the internet last weekend, I know better. I had some French ancestors who left France because they were Protestants. I’m trying to be thrilled that they are French and shrug off the Protestant part. How could they not love all those gorgeous old French churches? It doesn’t look like they would have smashed any. More likely, they saw their church get smashed.
I had ancestors around St. Joseph, Missouri, which in my mind is the armpit of the world. Mostly this attitude comes from my brief visits there, where I saw an equal number of laundromats and bars on every corner, the unlikely combination of which depressed me, although individually, I’m completely in favor of both institutions. These Buchanan County folks were probably not draft dodgers, and they had been in the United States quite a while.
One of my Buchanan County relatives won a state fair prize for sweet potatoes. I have no mythological emotional connection to this information, although I loved that he was “a restless fellow astride a yellow pony.” I love yellow, and I am frequently restless.
Falling completely outside my comfort zone, I had ancestors who came from Zurich. Switzerland is a terrible place where conflict avoidance mixes with being a hardass about people who are fifteen minutes late and hiding evil rich people’s money is fine but a little colorful trash in the street is evil and some of the worst excesses of Protestant virtue nonsense were perpetrated. The scenery is apparently quite lovely, if you care about that sort of thing. The Swiss ancestors have been in the United States a long time, too.
Finally, I seem to have a great-times-eight grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War, and was foolish enough to die. He’s buried near West Point. I just hate the idea of being one of those people.
Then, to be proud about who your ancestors were makes about as much sense as being proud that you are tall or you have curly hair.
There are so many Elizabeths back in my family tree, it is alarming. I’ve been the only Elizabeth many places. From kindergarten through 8th grade, I was the Elizabeth. I was the only one who got to fill in a “z” on a standardized test form. Start snooping around in the past, though, and I’m one Elizabeth among many.
Start following your roots, and it turns out you are related to a ton of people. Family trees double, double, double, double…. I am a Schurman, yes, but also a Dittemoore, a Craswell, a Nehs, a Zirkle, a Parcot, a Shuth, a Floren. Just as much those things as a Schurman, my accidental moniker by the randomness of gender over the generations.
I’ve spent the first month of summer avoiding calling my grandmother so I can avoid seeing her. It wasn’t easy. I feel like I ought to go see her every day, but then, I don’t ever want to see her, so I have come up with a compromise that doesn’t work for me at all. Maybe it will work for her, though.
It’s not that we don’t have things to talk about, although her mind is so fuzzy, it can be hard to find topics that work. She’s not enjoying her life much. She is frequently surrounded by people who love her and work hard to keep her healthy and happy and comfortable, but she doesn’t seem to know that. She’s worried or frightened or angry a lot.
My first name is her middle name. Family is a way of saying, I have more obligation to you than to others. And of trying to make sure everybody has somebody who’s looking after them, even if the person is a giant pain in the ass. Names, having the same names, is a way of sharing strength in words. Both of us are Elizabeth for St. Mary’s cousin. Elizabeth with the adorable nutcase husband, Zachariah, Elizabeth who in the grand Jewish tradition was going to have a baby even though she was way too old, Elizabeth who didn’t need to say much, but apparently was the kind of person who you would go to if you found yourself unmarried and pregnant in a culture quite unaccomodating of such things. It’s a good name.