Finding My Roots (Part II)
Now (if you’ve read the first entry in this series) you know a bit about my mother’s family and the difficulty in finding out more about my maternal Greek ancestry. Invasion, massacre and civil war can wreak havoc on public records. There may come a time when I just have to accept one of the prime rules of genealogy: sometimes you can go no further.
My father’s line is a different story. In this case, I have almost too much information. Despite the fact that my dad believed that I was bored with his “stories”, most of the time I was listening and did soak up a lot, even if it became a bit difficult after the twentieth or thirtieth time hearing them. My dad was mostly concerned that I learned about where he grew up, his parents and immediate relatives (many of whom I knew), and the circumstances he (and they) grew up in.
I won’t lie. While we were far from rich while I was growing up, we were more than comfortable. That was due mainly to my dad (though much credit goes to my mom for convincing a naive country boy he had what it took to go to college). My father’s idea of a good dad was that a father provided for his family, and not to take material goods for granted. They were both children of the Depression. For my father (and his brother, sister, and half-siblings), the Depression lasted much longer than it did for most.
My dad grew up poor. Desperately poor. A story he told me, during my time as a young boy, that when he was around my age, he was eating an onion like one would eat an apple on the way to school. He told me this story as a way of telling me to always be my own person, no matter what others said or thought. You can imagine that kids were not exactly flocking around a poor kid with onion breath at 8am, so my dad had made this a strength in his mind. It was only when I was old enough to hear some hard truths did he tell me that times were so tough that he stole that onion from the cupboard. It was going to be fried – for dinner, for three kids. He paid a very heavy price for stealing that onion.
Virtually every person in my dad’s immediate family for at least three generations was an alcoholic or heavy drinker. I myself have been sober for nearly thirty years. Everyone else died of it, or of complications arising from that addiction. As some of you might know, that means a lot of seriously bad stuff happened. Some of this was hidden from me, only to be revealed decades later. Some things I am still finding out. All of that to say that I knew a lot about my dad, his siblings, his father, and my father’s grandmother who, along with a very kind man (more about that later) raised my dad when my grandfather was too destitute, mean, drunk…or all three.
Needless to say, when my dad passed away two years ago, I was 53 years old and had heard most of his stories many, many times. At least the ones he was willing to share. I had enough of drunken rages and bar fight stories years ago, I know those stories and have lived some. I wanted to find out what I didn’t know.
For a variety of reasons, I was not able to escort my father’s remains to southern New Jersey where he now lies, next to his dad, brother, grandmother and other relatives. It was not until last month (this being May 2018) that I was able to visit the cemetery and begin what I feel is going to be a long path of discovery.
This much I knew. I have traced my direct paternal line back to the 1500’s to a town north of Liverpool, England. I know of some relatives before that, but there are large gaps in my knowledge. I know from extensive (and expensive) DNA testing that the first person in my father’s direct line originated in the borderlands of southern Norway/western Sweden. They then traveled to England between the 9th and 11th centuries, did some serious damage, then settled down.
By the time they were ready to come to the United States, they were shipwrights. Three brothers came to Massachusetts. As a matter of fact, they came to Salem, where there are printed accounts of one of my ancestors defending and housing one of the accused “witches”.
Fast forward to the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. My dad’s family had been in southern New Jersey since the beginning of the 1700’s. They had helped found a town, Mount Holly, owned much land, and were leading citizens of the town. Then something happened. I still don’t know exactly what. That is part of my journey and part of the reason I not only visited my dad’s grave but began some serious, in-person/on-site research into South Jersey and Philadelphia last month.
In the next entry to this series, I will tell how the journey itself all began…