Monday, February 09, 2009

Rambling thoughts about relatives and heritage...

I have no relatives outside of my immediate family here in Canada. All the other relatives from both parents' sides are in Germany. It's been a bit strange not to grow up with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents around, but we did visit Germany a few times, and some relatives also came over to visit with us. Naturally the ones that visited us we came to know a bit better than the others. I feel somewhat disconnected from my extended family and from my German heritage, which, incidentally, is far more than beer and bad polka music.

Yesterday I had a surprise phone call from a cousin I haven't spoken to since we last visited Germany in '86. Actually, I'm not sure if we even met up back then? We chatted a bit and it was interesting to hear that some of my cousins actually follow this blog. So here's a big "shout out" to all my relatives who lurk here! :)

Since my father died just over a year ago I feel the loss of a whole mountain of knowledge about his side of the family. I recently had a friend request from a person in Norway who shares my former last name. I know that my father's side is likely of Swedish or Norwegian background but I wasn't aware of any close relatives in Norway. It turns out that an uncle of my father's immigrated to Norway in 1910 and this FaceBook contact was a grandson and so we are in fact related after all. My father likely would have known more about that part of the family but he's not around to ask about it anymore. He was also the last of his 5 siblings so much historical knowlege has been lost. Unfortunately my contact with his side the family is even less than my mother's side.

On my mother's side I'm aware of 2 of her uncles that immigrated to New Jersey in the early 1900's as well. My mother had contact with them, but I don't think any of their families would know me, or even of me. I have a steamer trunk that is currently in Ben's room as a window seat. My mother brought it over when she arrived from Germany in Canada in '58. It has ocean liner decals on it from my great grandfather's visits in the 30's, as well as decals from my mother's trip, and since then several other labels from various moves in the US and Canada. Although it's just an old trunk that we store videos in, it's of great value to me.

I cling to the very few things I have from my Grandmother "Omi" - she was a saint and we have wonderful memories of the precious visits with her. Incidentally, the cousin that called yesterday morning now resides in Omi's house so it has stayed in the family. Omi was a seamstress and used her skills to create works of art out of items that we would have discarded today. Nothing was wasted, stitching was carefully undone and thread was reused. Worn bedsheets were turned into embroidered tablecloths and intricate doilies, parachute cloth was unravelled and knitted into delicate tableclothes. It amazes me that in such poverty and through the crisis and devastation of two wars (including the bombing & destruction of her house) she would create such beauty. From my father's side I have a costume jewerly brooch and a shred of fabric with my Grandmother's embroided initials - likely from a set of bedding. I know some of the stories of my grandparents but I also know that the physical distance has limited much of the familiarity and the flow of history and knowledge.

My husband's family has lived here for generations. His families were early settlers in the region, rich in history. Seems like he has relatives in just about every cemetary in the area. Such a contrast to my own family.

There is a sense of disconnectedness, a loss of heritage. As younger person I envied friends who knew where they came from and who they were. To say I was German was to be associated with the "bad guys" of war movies - always portrayed as ignornant and evil. Either that, or the local Oktoberfest - a mockery of German culture poured out in excess of beer and bad music.

In thinking about my true heritage, I have come to connect my love of water with my father's side - there were several navy men and the more ancient family history likely associated with the northern waters. I've learned that my Omi on my mother's side loved horses and would likely have enjoyed riding if she had been given the luxury to pursue it. In my younger years during visits, my Omi tried so hard and with great patience to teach me sewing, knitting, crocheting and other "Hardarbeiten" but I always would rather spend my time outside. When I finally discovered these crafts she wasn't around to teach me anymore. Now I think of her whenever I create. When I hunt I think of the ancient Viking and Norse blood running coursing my veins, that I'm being true to some genetic heritage, influences programmed into my DNA from far beyond grandparents and great-grandparents. Thinking of it this way makes it much more natural to accept my desire to be out in the woods with a bow. I don't have to make excuses for being "different". :)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We all grow up with the weight of history on us.
Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains
as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden
in every cell of our bodies.

~Shirley Abbott


  1. That's quite the pondering, Miss Mo. You might think of taking up a new hobby of tracing back ancestors. My uncle has made it into a full-time job, researching our family... it sounds like you've got a lot to go on already too. There are a lot of websites, etc. that can help you (for a few of course). Family heritage is so interesting to me too... thank goodness you are scrapping the present so that Ben will have documentation of life right now...

  2. Anonymous5:36 PM

    I am surprised how much you remember after so few and brief contacts!
    "Hardarbeiten"??? did you mean "Handarbeiten"?