Page 27 - Senior Times South Central Michigan - August 2019 - 26-08
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Senior Times - August 2019 Making Sense of
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Family Memories
By: Julie Seifke
Visiting the Statue of Liberty is on my bucket list. There my great-grand- parents entered “America.” Their last name was changed then, perhaps due to foreign-accented pronunciation.
As I sift through the large amount
of online records, I see handwritten documents where penmanship leaves room for interpretation. So Gems may have been Gemz or Genis or something else I haven't confirmed yet. The 1910 Census document was exciting because the names were reported with their European spelling. My grandmother Marie was Marya. The last name spell- ing led to a marriage certificate with parents listed. Hello, next generation. Previously they only had the title of Great-Great Grandparent. Now they have names! Assorted documents show a different country of origin.
wedlock were shared in hushed tones. Now genealogy forms have tidy spaces for such details. Relatives shared family stories of tragedy quietly. His injury was treated by medical standards of
the time and life was a challenge while crippled. She was a victim of abuse
so she went to live with relatives. He succumbed to substance abuse and died way too young. She struggled with mental illness, was hospitalized, and lived in poverty. These are contrast-
ed with lives considered notable; 3rd great-grandfather who served in the state legislature, 9th cousin-five times removed who was a state Supreme Court justice, or a leader amongst those on the Mayflower.
I want to know these people. I
want to understand them. I remember standing on the porch of the home of another of my 3rd great-grandfathers who had been the conductor of a stop of the Underground Railroad. Then I pondered what might have led to his grandson becoming the leader of the local KuKluxKlan organization promot- ing racial intimidation.
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I've always done better with American history rather than world history. But now I tell other family members about the German Empire and changes in Poland's and Germany's borders only because when Great- grandfather was born it was named dif- ferently than when Great-grandmother was born. Then the region's name changed again before they immigrated and again by the time I look at a mod- ern map. No wonder it did not make sense at first glance. Now I know that what I was told was German heritage really is consistent with the Polish farmer that founded Hamtramck.
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Inheriting my loved ones belongings has come with surprises. Because my widowed grandmother lived in poverty for decades I wonder about their young- er years where Grandpa wore his top hat accompanied by Grandma in her mink wrap and pearls. While in poverty she served as a Foster Grandparent, working with students but still strug- gled with pronouncing the letter f due to the Polish-German language spoken in her childhood home.
One grandmother would only dole out secrets of family history as I aged. First I was told that my great-grand- father was French-Canadian, then multi-racial with a Native American spouse, but the greater truth came out later. He was a business owner. But he was harassed as a “half-breed” in his community after a scandal occurred at his establishment, a bar. To distance himself from these events, he changed his name and that of his children. That makes piecing together family history a real challenge.
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I'm intrigued by the life events of my ancestors. What impact did they play in future generations? Sure, many women became teachers. It seemed natural for me to become a teacher.
But when I look at the calendar dates when these women obtained Bachelors or Masters degrees, I remind myself that at the time, it was not a common experience. What support was given
to these women working toward their goals? How did these strong and capa- ble women treat family members? What took place in the life of the next gen- eration due to their legacy? Will I find more clues?
From further back in family records, I can only pronounce the English-added names of a famous Mohawk ancestor. When I recently read the historical records, I found myself for the first time reading this history from a pro- foundly different perspective. Before I had read these accounts as part of my American history. During this read-
ing, I read through layers of intrigue struggling to absorb cultural differ- ences, which influenced his decisions as a leader. Years ago when I visited Niagara Falls, I was not aware of public memorials to him. Perhaps, I will visit there again and pay my respects.
Standards changed over time. Details about divorce and children born out of
Family history gives me questions about our world then and now and about what the future might hold. It
has gone beyond names, dates, and events. Stories give me questions about the background behind choices and the value of a life. I am grateful for those in my family who shared memories and kept history alive for me.
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On Sunday, August 18 they will be performing a “Lakeside Concert” on the lawn of the Gull Lake Kellogg Manor House, 3700 East Gull Lake Dr, Hickory Corners, starting at 3pm. Music will include big band, patriotic marches, and other crowd favorites.
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The band will also be performing on the Fantasy Forest Rustic Stage at Leila Arboretum, 928 W. Michigan Ave, Battle Creek on Thursday, August 22, at 7pm. This new stage is set amongst all the beautiful Fantasy Forest carved sculptures.
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