Writers delve into family history

Writers delve into family history

By Page H. Gifford

New people showed up at the monthly meeting of the genealogical memoir writing group, curious to learn more about what these researchers and writers were up to.

Group leader Warren Groeger, who has done extensive research on his family and written a memoir, asked others to begin with writing about a specific family member or memory.

He began with his lighthearted rendition of a child of the ’50s enduring a frightful but supposedly nutritious breakfast common among children of his day. He described the slimy soft-boiled egg sliding around in the egg cup accompanied by a large glass of milk – an unappetizing meal that made oatmeal look like a luxurious feast.

The breakfast was “a cold mucus-like horror,” he read. Though his piece ended with no more slimy eggs in the morning, they were replaced by the dreaded cod liver oil. Anyone who lived through those times sympathized with him.

Lucinda, another member, reminisced about her days donning used clothing she would find around the town in which she grew up, until she discovered the “treasure box lady.” This was the late ’60s or ’70s, before there were thrift shops in town. The “treasure box lady” had a chest full of old clothes that helped in the creation of her eclectic hippie looks. This woman and her chest were magical and helped to transform Lucinda in her youth at a time when everyone was trying to “find themselves.”

Sandy Urebe shook her family tree and focused on her Italian immigrant grandparents who were farmers in New York.

“She loved opera and played opera while she cleaned the house,” said Urebe. She described her grandmother as frugal, using cans for flower pots and making clothes for Sandy and her brother from sackcloth; her thriftiness was a product of the depression. But what they lacked in monetary value they made up with love. As she recalled memories of her grandmother, she choked up while reading, tears welling up in her eyes. Her grandmother’s presence is clearly still vivid and strong in her life.

Her husband Fernando was still researching his family tree. Originally from Mexico, he is also part Basque and is searching for more information on that branch of his family. In the meantime he found an uncle from his Mexican side to write about.

Peter Petzold was also still exploring his past. He discovered a book online, written in German, about a town originally in Germany known as Selesia. The town, which is now part of Poland, is where his parents came from. Groeger, who speaks some German, looked at the book and said it was written in Nazi Germany in 1938. Some discoveries about families can yield interesting stories, as Petzold is discovering in his search into the past.

Another member wrote a poignant story about her father, his death, and the discovery of who he was through letters and photos from other family members. By delving deep into a part of his life she never knew, she discovered more about who she is.

Angie Bergeron came with a large binder filled with her genealogical research.

“I wanted to do this for my children so they would know their family history,” she said. Some engage in this research for that very reason while others, who do not have children, search their past to understand themselves in the present.

Bergeron shared about her trip from Lithuania in 1948, in which she crossed the Atlantic with her family. Her father was a professor sponsored to come to America by a wealthy landowner in the Midwest and offered a job at Indiana University. She was five and her brother three when they came to America. She returned to Lithuania in 2007.

The collective gathering of information by the group spoke volumes about who their ancestors were and how the past had influenced and shaped who they are now. Historical tales and a glimpse into the past showed the present generation what it was like for ancestors living in their time, whether it involved surviving war, coming over as an indentured servant, living in slavery, or breaking free of societal norms.

Or like Groeger, it could simply be wonderful memories – or not so wonderful, when it comes to slimy eggs and cod liver oil.


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