Losing One’s Roots
Where do you come from ? Who are your people, your family ?
How else do we find an anchor to place ourselves within the turbulent streams of time ?
Understanding where I come from has become more important over the last few years and goes hand in glove with understanding who melody is. Similar sets of questions with different time spans.
There’s a truth most people choose to ignore in the name of being modern and proud to be ‘civilised’. It’s that all of us here are the descendants of those who performed the most barbaric and depraved acts possible in order to survive. Some may even be descendants of the those who endured the most barbaric acts such as cannibalism, though most of those potential ancestors won’t have survived. However, the chances are that mine and your ancestors murdered, raped, enslaved and performed genocide over the last hundred millennia or so and probably several times across the many generations.
In our modern world that thought is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable.
I often wonder at what my ancestors did or endured to result in me being here.
This question is only of quite recent importance and there’s a poignant gap in exploring the family roots that makes finding any answer impossible. The idea of family lore being passed down from generation to generation is something of a social, even a racial memory. It’s part of our mythology that goes back to tribal roots. There’s a break in this link between my father and grandfather.
My father was only 15 when his father died. Exploring and learning family history was not on my father’s priority list at that time. From what I can gather there never was a father/son dialogue between the two of them. Much has been lost.
The event that puts these questions in contrast is an evening meal around the dining table sometime in 1947. My grandfather was reading a letter that had arrived that day and it sent him in to a fit of rage such that it stood out in the mind of the young boy my father was at the time.
We know that a branch of the family came to England in the early 1700’s from East Germany or possibly Poland. And it seems that a level of contact between the branches was maintained over the generations.
Yes, the family was Jewish. We believe that my grandfather was raised in the Jewish faith. There’s no sign of religion in his later life nor in the upbringing of my father – WWI did strange things to a lot of people and their belief systems.
That dinner time letter that my father remembers was telling my grandfather that not a single member of the european family branch had survived the war and the camps.
I first heard this tale some 40 years ago just a few years older than my father was when that letter was read. I had about the same interest in it as he did at the time – growing boys have much more important things on their minds.
This family hinterland has assumed much more significance as I’ve got older and I’ve pumped my father for anything he can remember, which is minimal and mostly conjecture.
It’s quite frustrating to consider so many unknown and unknowable family roots lost to history in so recent a time.
Written for the #WickedWednesday meme of “Roots”. Why not go check out the other posts by clicking on the button.
December 2, 2018 @ 10:43 pm
September 20, 2018 @ 8:20 am
My mum’s mum was the historian of the family and told us lots of stories about their large family. She wrote much of it down, and I have those memoirs in my possession. But without the person who wrote them around to fill the gaps they have less meaning. Your post really has me thinking Melody xx
September 20, 2018 @ 8:30 am
Thank you for the lovely comment.
Given the various comments, I think I see one of the things I was trying to say – if you have the resources available to learn about who you are, use and cherish them. They’re in your safe-keeping for the next generations.
September 19, 2018 @ 7:07 pm
A very thought provoking piece melody, as yours so often are. My mother died 14 years ago and since then my father has done his best to give me oral history of his side of the tree and her side of the tree – it is fascinating when he tells it, when I try to tell it forward to my kids I find it gets a bit patchy, I’m not good at remembering the details! Even more frustrating to you and your father, who hadn’t the family to ask.
I like the family legend your aunt handed down, that is a tasty morsel indeed! Thank you for sharing.
September 19, 2018 @ 7:31 pm
It was an odd meme word that seems to have made people think, both those who wrote and those who have been reading and commenting. If I have one takeaway message it’s that eventually knowing who we are and where we came from is a powerful need that affects most of us.
Relish the details from your father and enjoy passing on to the kids. At some point it will become important to them.
September 19, 2018 @ 5:11 pm
I know quite a bit of my family history over the last century but not much before that, although my Mother’s Father’s family have lived in a small village in rural Sussex since the Norman conquest. However you have prompted me to ask them more questions next time I see them.
September 19, 2018 @ 5:17 pm
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Do ask them. Even if I’d thought of asking these questions many years ago, there was no one to answer them. There’s some regret about that but not nearly as much as there would be if I could have got answers and didn’t.
September 19, 2018 @ 2:48 pm
“I often wonder at what my ancestors did or endured to result in me being here.”
My husband constantly emphasizes the importance of history, not only your own, but all history, as we cannot know where we are going if we don’t know where we’re coming from. I, thankfully, know a lot about my history and where I come from, but still more about my mom’s than my dad’s side. All of this because my dad was sent to an orphanage when his mother married for a second time, and even though she was alive until well into my teens, I have only seen her once.
September 19, 2018 @ 2:56 pm
The knowledge of my mother’s side is just as sparse, for different reasons. The grandparents on both sides were gone long before I was born.
Though I will take the unverifiable romantic family legend that my aunt told me after my mother died – that the features seen in some on that side of the family were the result of a Spanish sailor making it ashore in Cornwall after being shipwrecked when the storms hit the Spanish Armada.