Joe College came home from Leiden last night, excited to show me “something cool” he’d found on the net. He’d discovered ancestry.com and was doing a little research into the distaff side. My husband’s family, being Dutch and originally (way back in the 1500s) German, has a detailed family tree and it holds few, if any mysteries. It is now digitalized and kept up-to-date by Cousin Ruud. My family, being that exotic species, descendants of American immigrants is, to my knowledge, more or less unrecorded. Joe College was intrigued by the challenge.
He’d made some progress on his own, but looking at some of the names and cities he’d added, I could see he’d barked up the wrong side of the wrong family tree on more than a few occasions. We sat at the kitchen table, clicking the mouse into the wee hours finding the right paths that lead ultimately to him.
One of the first things we uncovered was that my mother’s grandmother was not Austrian, as we’d always believed, but that she was born shortly after her parents arrived in the United States from Russia. “Well that explains a lot!” Vince boomed from the livingroom, “bet they were Cossaks.” Vince attributes our sons’ volatile temper and ruthlessness to my side of the family, because he contributed the calm and rational Dutch temperment to the mix.
Reading the names and places in the census documentation, often I could vividly call up an image, an occasion, sometimes a face, memories long buried and half-forgotten. Family names kept cropping up all over the pages. There was a liberal sprinkling of Oliver (Joe College’s real name) and Julius (aka Charlie Brown) as well as variations on their unusual middle names as well.
”Was I named for him?”
“Well in a way, you were named for your grandfather and he was named for his . I never knew the first Oliver.”
What’s in a name? Long ago, my mother told me stories about her great-uncle Julius being an enormous tease and prankster and this also seems to have carried over to the present Julius as well.
On my father’s side of the family, it is amazing how the Incornatas, Josefinas, Marias, Antonias have morphed into extremely Anglo names like Lauren, Addison and Julie over 3 generations. The Anthonys remain, however. One of my older “cousins”, who was family, but not a blood relative, is called “Anthony”. Then there’s my brother who’s called “Tony” to differentiate him from “Anthony”, another cousin came along and was dubbed “Antn’y”, there’s an “AJ” as well and the last one I heard about is “Tone-tone”. I’m assuming “Tone-tone” is a toddler, but you never know with my family: my brother was named Anthony because the family (everyone was consulted back then) thought Dominic was too “ethnic”.
I thank the powers that be every day that I was not called Incornata.
The ‘Burg is beautiful!!!! The old neighborhood.
We found the Amish connection (something I always thought was made up), and draft notices for family members from both World Wars. We laughed over “Uncle Adolf”–I had to explain that he was born before 1900, and that the name wasn’t taboo then. We marvelled at the various occupations listed on the census of a given decade, we looked at pictures of gravesites and family homesteads and we finally went to bed way past midnight.
My son is on such a wonderful adventure, discovering who he is, where he fits into the greater scheme of things. It was a treat to share part of the adventure with him in this way.
* Images from Google