Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thanks for the Memories

From time to time, readers of this blog have been kind enough to comment that they think I am a good writer.  Some have even encouraged me to write a book, and of those, most suggest a memoir.  While I am flattered, I am of the school, like Neil Genzlinger in NY Times Book Review this past weekend, that the prerequisite for a memoir is that you have done something memorable.  There is a glut of memoirs about topics such as illness, addiction, and dysfunctional families.  I do not think any experiences I have had with any of those topics, or anything else for that matter, makes me so unique that I am entitled to put those experiences in memoir form. Perhaps our view of uniqueness has been skewed by our need to individuate in the ever growing population which is itself increasingly connected by electronic devices.  And just as we now know that each snowflake is not necessarily unique (and a lot of snowflakes makes you miserable as my friends on the East Coast are experiencing with this year's snowpocolapse), very few people's lives, and certainly not mine, are unique enough to warrant a memoir.  Indeed I believe that we all need to stop trying to view ourselves as unique and instead think of ourselves in context, culturally and historically.That way we may see what our own lives teach us as being part of  the wave of the present, past and the future.

So, while thinking about memoirs and trying to figure out recently which generation American I am (3rd), I have become fascinated with my family tree and how events in my life seem unconsciously to mirror that history.  I have not been interested in these issues since I was a child, doing genealogy or genetics projects for school.  But having stared in the face of the great beyond, I think a lot about my legacy now, particularly what I will leave for my children and my grandchildren.  The desire for legacy appears to be strong, although it is clearly the springboard for economic invention in the genealogy biz, i.e those who would make money off of our need to connect with our bloodlines, remember and be remembered.  I suspect this desire may be universal, given that family lines are important in most cultures.

For me, there have been a few "aha" moments in looking at the research some of my cousins and siblings have done into our genealogy.  Here are some of those moments:
  • I knew I had an aunt named Kate, but until I saw the 1920 census listing her as "Kathyrn" and later records showing her as "Kathryn", I had no idea that I had chosen the same, not as typical, spelling for my daughter's name as that of my aunt's. 
  • My daughter's middle name is a variant of another aunt's name, Elizabeth, who I believe lived a block away from us when I was growing up but with whom we never really interacted.  My vague memory was that there was some scandal or mystery about her.  She got divorced at a time when divorce was considered a serious transgression, particularly among Roman Catholics such as my family.  She lived to be almost 95, reportedly "liked the men", and dated someone 30 years her junior when she was 80 because men her own age "could not keep up" with her.  She also had a problem repaying debts which seems to ring true for what I vaguely remember about why we did not see her much.  Perhaps she owed my dad some money or he was afraid she would want more money.
  • I recall being told that my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Weber, presumably by my father or someone of that generation.  However, the family tree report shows that her name was Weaver.  Interestingly, weber is the German word for weaver.  So there is still a mystery.  Did her father's family change the name at Ellis Island?  The 1920 census shows that her mother (my great grandmother)  was born in the United States in New York although other records suggest my grandmother's mother was born in Germany.  If my great grandmother were born in the US, did her relationship with my great grandfather have something to do with the name change? Or was there some other reason related to being German living in the US in the mid to late 1800s?
  • Here are some pictures of my parents at their wedding in 1939 and my paternal grandparents at dates unknown, although presumably in the early part of the 20th century, given how old (or young) they look.  

Mom and Dad's wedding 1939

Poppy Scoobydoobeach
Nanny Scoobydoobeach

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