My daughter posted on Facebook yesterday that she’d seen an ancestry.com commercial, signed up and was hooked. Over the course of twenty-four hours, she’s sent me several texts and emails telling me things I never knew and wouldn’t have imagined about our ancestors including her discovery that two many-times great grandfathers had served in the Revolutionary War. She followed that with news tracing relatives to the 1600’s in New York. A former reporter, my girl knows how to get the details of a story in minutes. By morning, she will have everyone’s roots traced back to the minute they landed in America. I’m in awe. But it’s not the first time that she has made the complex simple. She is, after all, the mother of twins.
What amazes me even more than her practically instantaneous tracking of our origins is that no one ever said boo about any of this before.
Seriously, did my father not know that his many-times great grandfathers had taken aim at the British Army? There wasn’t anyone in his family who mentioned it to him? At what point in the transfer of info from generation to generation did it become superfluous to mention service in the Revolutionary War?
This has given me a lot to think about. My ancestors, I know, are English, Dutch, and now German (I learned today). By nature, it seems to me just from observation of the relatives, a taciturn bunch of folk. Conversation at family gatherings centered on how well people’s cars were running and how people thought the Lions were doing. Sometimes there was a family project like a plumbing issue or a stubborn garage door opener that would rivet dialogue on the really important issues. Nobody, ever, talked about anything in the past except in the most fleeting of terms.
The past? What was the past? It was yesterday.
I don’t get it. Where was the oral history? Why did it become unimportant to relay what happened before? How did the past become so submerged that there wasn’t even a bastardized shred of information passed from generation to generation? I’m not looking for a sword or a sketch of Washington crossing the Delaware River, I’m thinking just a casual remark like ‘it was tense out there waiting for Paul Revere to ride by.’ Something. Anything.
It isn’t the first thing about my family that baffles me, believe me. Was it their natural proclivity not to talk about anything, much less about the past? Or had the knowledge fallen away, an appendix of history not needed for day to day life? Of course, my parents aren’t here for questioning. They would just shrug anyway.
And ask me how my car is running.