Digging Into Your Past

There’s a new show on TV called “Who Do You Think You Are?”  The genealogists are all abuzz over it.  Apparently, it is quite well-done with some interesting insights into ways to trace your ancestors.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that the Commander is quite the amateur genealogist.  We’ve got the first show in the series saved and plan to view it and I’m excited to watch the stars featured on the show as they get a glimpse into their past.  The picture above is a glimpse into my past.  It’s the town of Stein-am-Rhein, where my maternal great-grandfather came from.  It’s located in Switzerland, a country that I’ve visited often.  And when I first saw pictures of this town, I felt an almost mystical tug.  How to explain that?  I felt like part of me was looking at “home.”

When you were growing up, did you ever have fantasies of finding out that you were related to some famous person from history?  Aw, come on….admit it.  Or was I the only child who dreamed of past ancestors?  I didn’t know anything about genealogy back then but I spent many a day sitting around farm tables listening to the elders tell family tales.  I heard stories of ancestors being smuggled out of countries so they wouldn’t have to fight in Prussian wars and stories of my great-grandfather trekking up the Mississippi River all the way from the Gulf Coast to Minnesota as a boy, to settle along the St. Croix River.

I heard how he later fought in the Civil War, came back with a new bride, helped establish a small prairie town in Minnesota and later the town bank, became a councilman, and eventually retired to Florida when the cold of those Northern winters got to be too much for his aches and pains.  I daydreamed that I’d find out someday that his Florida home still belonged to our family.  How wonderful would it be to walk around on that veranda and imagine the relatives that had walked those same planks before me?

I wondered how many other ancestors loved animals and the country like I do.   My grandfather certainly loved his farm and that love was passed down to me.  I also inherited his love of solitude and open spaces and his reluctance to socialize.  But Grandpa would be one of the last to leave when you could finally pry him off the farm and to a gathering and I’ve inherited that tendency, too.  How fascinating it would be to find documents and first-hand accounts of other ancestors to find out what types of personalities they had and what other quirks they exhibited.

As a kid in school, if I couldn’t come up with an interesting ancestor, I’d make up a connection.  I once told my 4th grade teacher that I was related to Daniel Boone and brought an old red satin nightgown to class for “show and tell” which must have belonged to my mother when she was young, telling the class that it had belonged to Daniel’s wife.  I think that was the year that I also told the class that I was descended from the Wolf clan of the Vikings because we had “Wolfgrams” in our family tree.  Well, in my defense, my dad’s people DID come from northern Germany and I think we probably DO have some Viking blood in there somewhere.  In fact, I suspect we have a few “beserkers” in our ancestry since both my dad and I seemed to possess that trait when REALLY angry.

And that brings me back to “Who Do You Think You Are?”  Wouldn’t it be something to really find out who those elusive ancestors were in our past?  What made them tick?  What were their personalities like?  What were they passionate about?  After all, if to know the past helps us to understand the future, then to know our ancestors “just might” help us to understand ourselves a bit better.

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