Is there anything better than reading or listening to a well told story, especially to one on your own family? I doubt there is! And I am sure that it has always been the same, for every generation. I would think that many of you spent Christmas together with your loved ones and simply cuddled up in the sofa, talking, talking, talking….
And now imagine our ancestors sitting in the dark, their faces flared in the firelight. They tell stories on walking through the forest in the darkness, through the snow, listening to the wolves howling and coming closer and closer. Or about your great-aunt Freda who never smiled? Did you know that she was not allowed to marry the love of her life but forced into a marriage with a wealthy old man (thankfully she was widowed soon)? Or did you know that your Uncle Fredrick had to leave for America because he had an affair with a married women… but shush, don’t tell anyone…
It has been these stories that made us a Gemeinschaft that is somehow glued together not even by blood and gens but by who our ancestors were, what they experienced and what they passed on to us and what gave us our identity. That made us who we are, a family. But do we pass on these stories to those to come?
We all are genealogists, have hundreds of records in our files, thousands of names in our database, a lot of information about the place they lived in and their occupation. We have statistics on the number of children who were born and the number of children who died as infants. But do we have the stories about the mother’s grief? Or the father’s struggle to provide what was needed to keep his children healthy? And the disappointment of not being able to do so?
There are computer programs being able to write family stories for us, but are these stories the stories you would really like to listen to? Let me give you an example:
“Johannes Harder was born in Cossin, County of Pyritz, Pomerania, on 11 December 1901, baptized by his father, a Lutheran pastor, the next month. He was educated at home by his father, learned Latin and Greek. He worked as a land worker. In the summer of 1926 he was sent away by his father. On 02 Sep 1926 he boarded a ship in Hamburg and came to Quebec on 11 September 1926. He was allowed to return and visited his parents with his bride in 1929. He came back to Germany in 1969 and 1970. In his last years he lived in the Yukon. He died there in 1975 and is buried next to the church he had helped build.”
How about this one:
“John Harder had made up his mind: he would help build a Lutheran church in a town in the Yukon territory, now that he finally felt as if he had found the place to settle, after all these years of wondering around. Although it didn’t really look like the home he came from. Home, that was Germany, Pomerania, flat, no mountains in sight, wide fields of flax and grain. Not even mentioning the different climate (except for the cold winds!).
But although this land he had once called home, was wide it had always felt confining, there was something in him that always kept him on the move.
Maybe things would have been different, if his mother hadn’t died young, she had been ill for many years, had never really recovered after his little brother’s birth in 1910. He and his brothers had carried her around, upstairs and downstairs through the old cold drafty parsonage. They had always hoped that she would recover. But she did not and when he was 19, she died. He wondered if his father had ever really cared about her, she seemed to be useless for him as soon as she wasn’t able to do her job as a pastor’s wife. She had always been full of laughter. His father was so very quiet and intellectual, harsh and rigid, and demanding. John felt that he had disappointed him all the way, he was not the son his father had wanted him to be. He was everything his father disliked, not intellectual, always running around with the bad boys and, even worse, with the girls… And then, one day, after the scandal broke through, he was sent away, not to another part of Germany, no, across the ocean, as far away as possible from the small town he grew up. There were things a pastor could and would not accept!
And then he was free. But heartbroken and alone. He missed his 4 siblings, who were not allowed to get in touch which him (but did anyway). And he never lost the feeling of having to make it up to his father. In 1929 he was allowed to come back and visit his family, he even stayed for four weeks. And this time he brought something that he figured would make his father happy, his bride Gretha, who would soon become the second daughter in law. Hadn’t he done everything to show his father that he had learned and that he could now be proud of him? He grew older, became a father of four, enjoyed all that life had to give (and life had a lot to give), quit many, many, jobs and never seemed to be able to settle down. He didn’t even become a Canadian Citizen. And he never could get rid of the feeling of having disappointed his father; this feeling didn’t even stop when he learned that his father had died in a refugee camp after WWII. But in his late years he found something that would have made his father proud and would bring him inner peace. He would help build a Lutheran Church in the Yukon town he lived in. And so he did! And finally he had found the place to stay and settle down. He was buried next to the church he had built. In his new home that he loved, far from the small Pomerania village he was born.”
Now, which story would you keep in mind and tell to your grandchildren?
So, maybe it is time that we shut down the computer, take an old fashioned ink pen and start writing. And why not plan a family reunion? How about sitting together, all of you at the fireplace, in the dark, the faces flared in the firelight, telling the good old stories that made you who you are, a family?
Rootseekers would like to wish everyone
peaceful holidays with many unforgettable stories!
[and cookies and hot chocolate]