Wolraich: Obama at the Gates of... Gates
Dr. C: In Praise of Writing Binges
Maiello: Gatsby Doesn't Grate
I've been doing a lot of research into my family history lately, for this little project I'm working on. I'm following lines back into the past, trying to figure out who came over, when they came over, etc. It's interesting stuff. So interesting that I stayed up all night on Saturday, compulsively searching for more and more information. I finally fell asleep somewhere around 6 am, and when my dog woke me at 10 to go out, I got up and started searching some more. (Which is why I was so (apparently) mean to our new guest blogger Prophet on Sunday. I need my sleep for my filter to prevent me from blurting out bitchy thoughts.)
This little project of mine is taking shape. It's fun imagining what life must have been like in the mid to late 1800s, which is the period I'm particularly interested in. It was a hard life for my ancestors. They were farmers and laborers for the most part. The women worked just as hard, if not harder, than the men. Many babies died before they got a real shot at living and the women were pregnant all the damn time.
More people were more devout back then too, I think. There are two people in my family tree that I'm focusing on. One of them came from a Mennonite family near what is now Stuttgart, Germany. The other was a reformed Lutheran from a Germany family near Bern, Switzerland. These are my great grandparents, who met in central Illinois at the end of the 19th century. We're talking hard core, no hair cutting, no colored clothes wearing, no music, no joy kind of stuff. My grandfather, their son, is the only one of his siblings who left the Mennonite faith, to the undying gratitude of his three granddaughters.
My great-grandmother came to the U.S. with her mother and siblings in 1885. Pretty standard stuff, right? Except her father stayed in Switzerland--alone. He didn't die until 1893. I've been turning over all sorts of ideas for why this may have happened and I wasn't coming up with any satisfactory theories.
I've romanticized people from the past to the point that they aren't real. They are selfless men and women, very much in love, who worked hard, prayed hard, and waited for their reward on the other side. Except they weren't.
Today, in what can only be described as hitting paydirt, I came upon information much more illuminating than the mere names, dates, and places that I've been pouring over. Today, I discovered that my great-great-grandfather--devoted son, loving husband, and father of twelve children--took up with a barmaid.
A barmaid? Are you effing kidding me?
Apparently, my great-great-grandmother had had enough. She grabbed her kids and headed for a new life. See ya later, you big jerk. Pretty cool, when you think about it--probably not the first, and definitely not the last, in a long line of headstrong, independent women who don't put up with a lot of crap.
My point here is that the past isn't as idyllic as we might like to think. People have been remarkably consistent in their shortcomings since the dawn of time. Abstinence-only advocates might want to pay attention to that.
So now, I've got a juicy family scandal to share with everybody as we gather around the Christmas tree. Anybody has have any historical family baggage to share? (Only dead people, please.)