Generations of Inconsistency

Studying ancestry is one of the things I’m truly passionate about.  I spent the day yesterday at an Ancestry Day workshop in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Ancestry.com.

Yeah, I know, I’m a dork.  I spent the day with hundreds, actually, I’d say at least over a thousand old people.  I mean ancestry enthusiasts.  And I say they were old, only to add to my point that I’m an old soul, because honestly, I got along with them swimmingly.  We laughed, we joked and discussed how young people just don’t get it.  They must see me as old too; I’m only 28 mind you.  It was a swell day.

(“Swell” by the way, is a fine word to use but apparently even though I’ve tried to revive its popularity, even Microsoft Word is unsure of how I’m using it.  I’m not letting them stop me or change it to “swelling”.  That just doesn’t make sense.)

The main point of this post however, is that I’ve realized the inconsistency of my ancestors and maybe that’s why I’ve lived such with such colorful stories so far myself.  When I look around though, I have friends who have done the same thing, gone to the same church, same school, same, same, same as their parents and their parents before.  I don’t mock this, because I honestly admire tradition and all it represents.  Instead, I come from people who never really seemed to know who they were or what they wanted.  Even if they did, what they relayed the family about themselves was untrue anyway.  Despite that, I’ve found so many pieces to our family’s ancestral puzzle, but they were not the type to play along and do as you’re supposed to.

The numerous speakers gave ideas on how to further genealogical research; where to search and what kind of odd records could be of assistance.  I realized how neither side of my family had ever consistently practiced religion, stayed in the same place and joined organizations for any extended period of time.   They really didn’t leave a paper trail of any kind unless it was required for the government every ten years in a census.  Even then, like most families, the data is screwy.  The most consistent thing about my family, as found through records, is that they were inconsistent.  I realize the times were different long ago, but for research sake, sometimes I do admire the people who had boring families.  But then again, when I find a truly fascinating puzzle piece, man am I glad the people in my past were interesting.  I wonder if they were inconsistent out of choice or out of circumstance.  Still, I hope one day I leave generations sifting through my records saying, “Wow, that Shannon was a swell character”.

That’s right; I’m bringing the word “swell” back.  One day, it’ll be “cool” again.

I’m Hungarian & Not for Wienerschnitzel

I recently discovered that Hungary is more than just a country east of Germany; it is part of my heritage.  I mean this in the least offensive way possible, but the country was always a joke to me.  Not because of the country itself, just its name.  Ever since I discovered the country of Hungary in my elementary school history lessons, one of my favorite things to tell my parents was, “I’m Hungarian” when I wanted food.  Ok, so I still say it.

Though I have strong ties to my primarily Irish roots, I was also raised with undertones of German ancestry.  My Great-Grandma emigrated from a Germany port in her mother’s womb.  With her, she brought what we thought to be traditional German customs and recipes.  Guess what?  They weren’t German.  After spending years trying to track down her family in German records, I recently joined forces with a distant cousin who had documents to prove that my stomach is not just Hungarian; the rest of me is too.  At least the part that I thought was German is.

Because the borders were altered by a bloody game of tug of war, I find the genealogy hunt increasing in intrigue and possibilities.  Their region, which may have once been German territory, had also been Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia and now Slovakia.  Never did I imagine that the strong stock came from Eastern European hardships as opposed to Hamburg bratwursts.  I realize these clichés are not realistic and likely inappropriate, but they simply provide an altering mental image of what I had imagined as a little girl and what is now more realistic.

I’ll never be able to ask those ancestors what life was actually like.  I’ll never get to ask if they yearned for their homeland and its customs.  Instead, I know that they came to America for safety amongst the turmoil in pre-World War I Europe.  They learned English and adapted to American ways, but privately maintained the nuances of their heritage.  They were bakers, potters and laborers.  We still are, even if laboring is the only one that pays the bills these days.  I never guessed that my little joke that got a giggle out of my Mom, had truth in it.

I Belong to Nowhere

I visited an old friend last weekend and she was asking what my husband and I were up to, and if we had any future plans.  I told her that depending on what happens with my career, we wouldn’t be opposed to moving to Europe or some authentically historic American town, but we’ll see what happens.  She said how she could never do that, just pick up and leave, but it’s something that we have grown accustom to and maybe it’s slightly hereditary.

I’m an avid ancestry enthusiast.  Every key member to my family tree, at least going back a few generations, had the same defining quality; the ability to be fearless and never look back.  This to me is a quality because I admire their courage and ambition, to pick up from their place of birth and independently find a new home in a new state, country, continent, etc.  And they did it alone.  They all did.

This is a blessing and a curse because combined; these adventurous ancestors gave me life.  Had they not, I don’t want to say “ran away”, but rather “looked for better opportunities”, I wouldn’t exist.  It’s a curse because, as a researcher, it’s very difficult to track them.  I run into possible distant connections and it appears my ancestor was always the black sheep who left and never wrote home.  There never seems to be hostility or a tragic story that I’m aware of based on family stories, they were just ok being independent.

That being said, I began frequently re-establishing myself early and being the “new kid” by changing schools throughout my youth.  Not by my choice, but my parents, due to transportation, tuition, educational factors and eventually a move just before high school.  I settled in well for the most part at each place and sought my own adventure to California after graduation.  I never truly felt like I fit in anywhere. Though I did find myself back in New Jersey a few years ago, close to family and old friends, I really don’t feel that I have a home.  The town I grew up in until I was 13 would probably be the closest thing to a “home” feeling but most of the people who lived there are gone or have passed away.  If you remember, I was friendly with the elderly people.  Sure I had friends that were my age, but they’ve since grown and moved too.

Today we live in a town close by, which feels like a neighborhood that people grew up in, finished school, started to grow their own family and then moved back in.  There is a sense of community, but not for me.  I am friendly with people here, but my roots weren’t here.  I think it is why I find the idea of moving anywhere that feels comfortable, so appealing, because I don’t need to stay anywhere out of obligation.  No one else in my family has.

My husband and I are the same way.  Having grown up in Iowa, and then joined the military, it caused his zip code to change more than a few times.  We come from heritages that we didn’t technically belong to.  My family has strong Irish and German tradition, but I don’t necessarily belong there.  My family for generations lived in Philadelphia and I was even born there, but then became the first to be raised in the suburbs of New Jersey.  Although it’s only minutes away, I didn’t grow up in a row home with a corner candy store or play baseball on the asphalt, so I can’t claim that as home either.  I grew up in a house where people had their own space and minded their business.  They were people looking to remove themselves from city culture; maybe culture altogether.  I don’t want to come off as ungrateful, I’ve had a fortune life with loving parents, but the circumstances have just left me feeling a little lost as an adult.

We aren’t tied to anywhere and maybe we’re not quite sure where home is yet.  I suppose we’ll have to find it together and make it that way ourselves.  We can be the “new kids” together.

President Tyler’s Grandkids

10th President, John Tyler

When you have the opportunity, please read this article.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/72021.html

If you haven’t heard about this story in the news this week, it will blow your mind. President John Tyler’s grandchildren are alive. Yes, he was the 10th President of the United States of America. He was born in 1790 and became President in 1840. Somewhere, there are two elderly gentlemen who could affectionately call him Gramps. Though they never met, the idea that so much time spans between generations is fascinating.

Forget hearing about your grandparents talk about walking to school or the Great Depression. These guys can talk about how the grandfather was President 20 years before the first shot fired in the American Civil War.

Things these grandkids can say, just peak your interest:

  • “My grandfather was President 34 Presidents ago.”
  • “My Grandpa saw President George Washington’s wooden teeth….in person…in George’s mouth…while he was alive!”

“Good old Gramps was born before… (Enter outrageous option here):

  • 37 states came into existence.
  • The Bill of Rights was ratified.
  • The invention of the cotton gin.
  • The Whiskey Rebellion.
  • The Louisiana Purchase
  • President Washington was elected for his second term

“Grandpa was a full grown adult when… (Add historical event here, which you still find startling):

  • The War of 1812 began.
  • The Star Spangled Banner was written.
  • Tomatoes were discovered to be non-poisonous.
  • The census of 1820 showed 9.6 million people…total.
  • Ulysses S. Grant is born. (Grandpa is already 32 years old.)

Maybe it’s because I love history and ancestry, but if this doesn’t make you say “woah”, I’m not sure what will.

Irish Photo Moment

There will inevitably be moments in life that show us the power of sight, particularly of life captured in photography, that give us a feeling that words cannot often portray.  Sometimes it takes a personal and direct memory of the event, or sometimes it is captured in such a way that the beauty shines through.  Today is a visual and slightly dream scattered day.  I’ve opted to share captured moments that evoke the feeling of peace and happiness.  While to others it may evoke nothing, there must be some that can relate to the pristine and awe-inspiring views of Ireland.

If you think this will be the last of my mention of Ireland, you’re sorely mistaken.

Breathtaking Inlet in County Kerry

Tower Remains

The plot of my ancestors in Tuam

Though I began this post on January 4th, it will be published tardily tonight for the 365 Challenge.  Let’s not be too literal, shall we?

Mae

Mae might be my alter ego.  Or maybe she’s just a lot less shy and a lot more outgoing than life allows me to be, the true me.

Why Mae? I grew up in South Jersey, raised by my Philadelphian parents.  I moved to Southern California after I graduated high school and a couple of years later I met the man who would be my husband.  Until I met him, I never really knew I had an accent, besides the fact that waitresses could never get my water order right.  “Root beer? What did you say?”  “I said water.”  No, apparently I was saying “wudder”.  My in-laws still giggle at this.

Mae is one of my vocal imperfections.  That is apparently what I say instead of saying “me”.  As I got to know my future husband and his friends, we’d talk and share stories until eventually I got asked who Mae was and why I was talking about her.  Mae has stuck with me, and she’s got a devilish grin and a glimmer in her eye.  She sneaks backstage at concerts, debates passionately over a Guinness and plays in the rain.  She’s always with me and but comes out when I’m at my best, and I’m probably the luckiest girl in the world because she gets to visit pretty often, when responsibility doesn’t wear her down.

Mae loves history, ancestry, Ireland, Philadelphia sports, Superheroes, Red Hot Chili Peppers (even when Kiedis is trying to rock that porno ‘stach), dorky science, tea parties, whiskey, playing guitar, oil paintings, culture, debating, photography, Los Angeles after a rainstorm (no smog), U2 (for both music and humanitarianism) and hates that she hasn’t found a way to make a profitable career out of the passion she has for life…yet.  Mae and I co-exist, never straying too far from loving life but being responsible.  Oscar my pug begs to differ…he’d rather I take him on a walk then write you.

It is beautiful out tonight…Mae, you up for an adventure?  Oscar, grab your leash!