I finally know something about most of the people and places that eventually produced me. I found a family, but only by skipping my parents’ generation.
I was the only member of my family interested in tracing genealogical history. My father kept his ancestry secret, except to say that he hated Germans; his mother was German, and he hated her. This was irrational: He was German. And why hate an entire nation of people just because you hate your mother?
My mother’s family were poor Welsh people who had come across the sea in stinking little ships like millions of other immigrants around 1890-1900, in order to escape the coal mines and British oppression. My grandfather found work pulling giant sheets of tin off rollers in a mill 12 hours a day. It wrecked his health and the family was still poor thanks to greedy and brutal factory owners who saw immigrants as cheap exploitable labor (like Americans see distant populations in poor and totalitarian countries today.) The old Welsh ladies couldn’t remember much of life in the ‘Old Country’ and didn’t seem interested in genealogy at all. Life began when they stepped off the boat in Baltimore.
My father’s mother’s ancestors weren’t difficult to find. A ship of Bavarians and other Germans arrived in Patterson, New Jersey in 1854. A young man and woman met on board and married. He worked for the Erie Railroad, then moved on to railroads in Ohio. She produced ten sons who all lived to adulthood and became railroaders. My father’s mother descended from this line of successful people. Why would my father be ashamed of his ancestors? His father’s family was another story; misinformation, wrong leads, veiled secrets, a blank page three generations back. Three males: a father and two sons “farmed out” as indentured servants to separate farm families. My father’s misrepresentation of his father’s line as suspicious and untraceable threw me off as he intended.
Our surname is not common, and only one distant family turned up as a possibility: Germans who helped establish Germantown, PA, but had Anglicized their name. This couldn’t be the bunch of riff-raff my father alluded to! I worked forward from that end and found that indeed, our line was connected, but apparently ‘we’ were less successful descendants that moved to Ohio from Pennsylvania; a common result of land division. But there was nothing to be ashamed of – these were hard-working pacifist farmers that typified the American story.
I’m currently tracing a sliver of ancestry that I had ignored: It turns out I’m partly Anglo-Saxon after all.