As individuals we have become so isolated from our ancestors. Many of us don’t live close to any family anymore. Many of us, due to divorce or whatever, have too many parents and grandparents to keep up with. In most cases we’re all too busy to spend time with the older generations.
On Tuesday this week I drove down to Maryland to visit with my grandmother’s brother: my great-uncle Amos and his wife Hannah. He is 71 and a real family historian.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into his living room was a framed piece of canvas with the names of a family embroidered on it – beside each name was the person’s year of birth: the first was 1860, then 1861, 1865 and so on for each of the children. My great-great-great grandmother’s name was on that piece of canvas, stitched almost 125 years ago.
Amos told me all kinds of wonderful stories, and as he told each one it was like a puzzle was being put together in my mind. So many of the character traits of my ancestors are in me! I felt a sense of connection, this idea that even though they have come and gone, a part of them lives on in me, and my children. It’s a comforting feeling.
My great-great grandfather Amos was a writer – he took time out of his extremely busy days as a farmer to write on the walls of his barn. We have a journal of his from 1893 – 1896 (a portion of which looks like it may have been written on the banks of the Panama Canal as the canal was being completed and the first ships moved through the locks). He hated the heat and loved the snow. He had bushy eyebrows and loved telling stories to his kids.
I feel like I know him, because he is me.
Amos’s son-in-law, my great-grandfather, was a kind man, let his wife do most of the disciplining (so that’s where it comes from Maile!), and was willing to stand up for the things he felt were important. He even spent a night in prison when the government tried to force the Amish to send their kids to public school, in some small way leading to the rights of US citizens to create private schools, or home school.
I’m beginning to think there’s something to be found in the lives of our ancestors that we cannot find anywhere else. I get a feeling inside of me that I’ve never experienced before, as I discover more about these men and women.
Sometimes I wonder, if 150 years from now, my great-great-great grandson tries to find out more about me…what would he discover? What kind of heritage will I have left behind?
I’m working on a book about these things that I’m going to self-publish for the family: both the process of searching through the lives of my Amish ancestors, and their lives themselves. Some of the stories are just fascinating. Perhaps I’ll start posting some of them, as I get into it.
Have you learned any lessons or heard fascinating stories about your relatives who are no longer here?