By: Staci Stallings
I’ve now been through this at least three times–finding ancestors, putting names to people–some I’ve met, some I’ve only heard of. Some are easy, that’s my side of the family, because I grew up with them. I knew most of them. I remember both great grandmothers on my mother’s side, and one vaguely on my father’s. The great grandpas I know from pictures.
The great-greats are a little more fuzzy, but I know most of those names and many of the stories as well. That’s why this assignment–for my second grader–came as such a shock. Never before have I ever been asked to tell WHEN each family arrived here. Where did they come from? Germany on three sides and Czechoslovakia on one. But WHEN?
So I had to start digging. I knew all but one name on my husband’s side, and that name was easily found. But dates?
Digging and digging, I got to wondering some very basic information. Sure, they were from Germany, but where in Germany? So I pulled up a map site and started plotting. That’s when I figured out that lo and behold! My ancestral families lived only about 25 miles from one another in Germany. Okay, in the mid-1800’s, that was a long way, but still…. 25 miles? And it took another two generations and thousands of miles for my two parents to meet? I mean, what are the odds?
And then it got even crazier.
I found out that one family moved here when the couple was first married–both 21, no kids. The year was 1864. The other side I have only one account of the father, who moved here at the age of 13, coming alone on a ship, in 1870. Then those two families trekked across the United States to both end up in a little Texas town.
On my husband’s side, one family came when the father was 49. He brought a wife and 7 kids in 1848. Can you imagine?! “Honey, I want to move.” “Oh? Where do you have in mind, dear?”
I wonder if she freaked out. I would have!
And then there’s that fourth family. My husband’s family. This is the one that really did me in. If I knew this story before, I don’t remember it. The father, with a wife and two kids, decided to leave Czechoslovakia in 1914. Now none of the family books point this out, but I know from my history books that World War I started around 1917. So the father moves to America–and leaves his wife and two kids in Czechoslovakia… for SIX YEARS! During a World War!
I don’t know about you, but I complain when I have to drive kids across town to gymnastics or choir and it’s inconvenient. Wow!
THEN, six years later, he sends for his wife and two children. This is where the map got really scary to me. For some reason, I always thought, they hopped a carriage and rode maybe a few miles, got on a boat, and wa-la! America.
But there are a LOT of miles between the Slovakian area and the ocean. In fact, to be honest, I’m not even sure how I would GET to the ocean from there. Did she go through Germany? Or France? Did she ride a train or some other form of transportation? What and how did they eat? I mean, there weren’t McDonalds to stop at along the way.
And can you IMAGINE the whining? Or maybe they didn’t whine. Maybe they were scared or fascinated. But they traveled and traveled and traveled, and then they got to the ocean. I can’t even imagine that. I would be sending a cable, “Dear, Honey. Thanks but no thanks!”
However, this strong woman got on that boat with two kids and sailed across the world to start a new life. When she got here, they lived in a tiny little house. I’ve seen it. It would make an efficiency apartment look big. And then they had five more kids. Seven in all.
Then their youngest daughter left Pennsylvania and struck out on her own, finally ending up in a little town in Texas married to a good man who farmed. They had eight kids. The sixth was my husband.
And in that little town where the lives of all of those people came together, we met and fell in love.
My mind likes to play things backward and forward. Backward, I wonder at how many little decisions and big decisions each of those people made so that I’m even here today, that this is my life, that I have the things I have, the husband I have, the children I have. And then I wonder forward into my children’s future. When their kids are in second grade, will I get calls saying, “Now, what was great grandma’s last name before she married?”
Will they appreciate even to a small degree how many miles their ancestors traveled? And what will the stories from the other side be?
Life is such a vast mystery. Sometimes it feels so real, you can almost touch it, and other times it feels like we’re just somehow here, criss-crossing through time and space. Someday, I hope to ask God about all of this. To meet these amazing people and sit with them and ask them how they had the courage to do what they did. Someday…
For now, I’m recording these things for the next time this assignment comes up. It will, you know. Now or in a few years when my grandkids hit second grade.