Genealogy has been an interest to people on both sides of my family for as long as I remember. One of mom’s aunts involved herself in extensive research about her family’s German roots. She published a thick book about her heritage and that of the surrounding vicinity of South Dakota where they eventually settled. Her results included my contemporary aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and me on that side of the family.
Meanwhile, one of dad’s cousins has been involved in ongoing research by travelling to Sweden on numerous field trips to look into her family’s complex history. Dad was involved to a limited degree. One of my cousins is carrying on the studies for both branches of her family tree, which includes my Swedish ancestry. I have not been meaningfully involved in this research because it has been mostly completed. The remaining work is verifying a few loose ends and some official Norwegian and Swedish census records.
I’m thankful to those relatives who spent so much intense effort on researching the families’ histories. Knowing about one’s roots has a very grounding effect. I realize that I carry the genetics and spirit of those ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago in Northern Europe and Scandinavia.
There is a certain primal elegance about our ancestors, whether they were industrial laborers in Germanic countries, warriors in Africa, or farmers in Asia. There are at least some traces of each of these lineages in various branches of my family tree. Tracing the numerous branches and offshoots of these trees, I try to imagine the traditions, trials, tribulations, and successes of the hundreds of people who built our families’ legacies.
In many important ways, we are the sum totals of our ancestors’ genetics, virtues, faults, strengths, weaknesses, occupations, and decisions. In this way their lives remain intertwined to some extent with ours. At the most basic level, we are the products of their biological processes.
Although I have been fascinated by the ancient histories of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and Japan; I feel closer to the cultures of pre-unification Germanic lands and Scandinavia. At various times the struggles and hardships of the farming families who were born and raised in both of those regions work their ways into my imagination. Those struggles were the reasons they immigrated to North America long ago.
After their arrivals, these ancestors settled in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and California. From those outposts, their descendants moved to other territories and states in the U.S. In at least two instances, they have returned to northern Sweden to reestablish their place of origin. They were members of a branch of my paternal family who regretted their parents’ decisions to leave Scandinavia. They were among the few who retained their native language and ties to those family members who never moved across the Atlantic Ocean. One of these distant relatives is heavily invested in studying genealogy, as well.
If I should ever have the opportunity to swim in the Rhine River in Germany, or the Tome River in Sweden, I hope to do so with the implicit encouragement of my ancestors to immerse myself in their cultures. This is nostalgia writ large.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes former President of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun. “Let us make future generations remember us as proud ancestors just as, today, we remember our forefathers.”