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.