Friday, June 29, 2007

Independent Thinking

I leave town early tomorrow morning so I am posting this a little earlier than I normally would.

July 1st is Canadian Independence Day, July 4th is US Independence Day. My great-grandfather Barney, when he entered the US for the first time in 1907, wrote down that his nationality was Canadian. He had likely been living there for 3 years. My suspicion is that he misunderstood the question, but it’s possible that he had officially become a Canadian citizen. This may not have been a complicated process since he was already a British citizen, and Canada wasn’t completely independent yet. On my mother’s side I have several relatives who discovered a need to leave the US and enter Canada in the late 1700s. So there is cause for me to celebrate July 1 as well as July 4.

My ancestral lines have never been shy from taking a stand — but we have often stood separately, from each other, and in some cases, from ourselves.

I am a Son of the Confederacy and of The Union. The Civil War was a war between brothers, and it was common that families split down the middle. (Especially in a border state like Missouri, though my ancestors who wore either blue or grey weren’t living here at the time.) I also have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War - loyalists and revolutionaries (link to a poem I wrote several years ago). One ancestor first went to a revolutionary camp, and after a few weeks, bolted, and joined the loyalist Butler’s Rangers. It’s not clear if it was a change of heart/mind, or if he discovered like the lost student he was in the wrong classroom.

Naturally, the Loyalists are those I mentioned above who found the need to speed over to Canada when the war was over.

We weren’t of divided mind during WWII. Both grandfathers and multiple great-uncles fought with the Allied Powers in various theaters. My father lost an uncle in France, and several relatives of my mother, who had remained in Romania, died in the concentration camps. I expect more relatives died there than we know, it’s just that much of our family genealogy stops on the border of the US, and we don’t know who remained. In my mom’s case, there were two survivors who migrated to Israel and started doing the research themselves to find us.

This first through fourth of July myself, my siblings, my parents, uncles, aunts and first-cousins will all be together, celebrating, in Costa Rica. We may not like the current administration, but this is no protest. We gather every few years for a reunion, in different locales, and we sought an extended-holiday weekend to plan around.

At these reunions, my parents’ generation always leads a discussion of family history. Passing on the stories they’ve been told, or have witnessed. I’m going to be expected to speak this year on my recent research. I shouldn’t be nervous; it’s my family. I’ve recited poetry in front of strangers. But then again — strangers are more forgiving (or at least more forgetful) than family.

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