Saturday, November 24, 2012

Personal History

In as much as I love history on the page, and I love history in general, it has developed a new lustre for me through my natural family. I have written before about Dad's family in Norway, and how cool they are, but how that's not my history. And how I love Mom's family in all their Ohio and Minnesota glory, red hair and all. But yet when they sit around with the family tree, it's not my family tree (even though I am penciled in--LOL, and I love people on it).

I have a new respect and love for U.S. history now I feel that I have a part in it. I have been told by various members of my natural family that they don't care about genealogy, and that everything I've told them has been news to them, from our being distant cousins of James McReynolds, the crotchety Supreme Court Justice who gave FDR such a rough time (yes, I am a liberal, so that's my read of it) to our having relatives who fought and died in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Not that they don't like learning about it, but they hadn't felt a huge inner drive to do much about it on their own. I was very glad to share the great work that my awesome friend Zack has done for me in the genealogy arena with them--love you, Zack!

All this to say that when I saw Steven Spielberg's new film Lincoln today, all I could think about were some documents that Zack had e-mailed me related to my great-great-great-grandfather Russel/Russell (?) Showers, who was killed fighting for the Union, in the 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, in 1864 in the Battle of Resaca, as part of Sherman's March to the Sea.

I was crying throughout the film, not only because the script was amazing and the story is fantastic; and the acting is some of the best I've seen in years; and the topic is pertinent to us today in how far (and how little) we have come in terms of human relations; but because I am incontrovertibly tied to real people who died in that war, a heartbreaking war that split families apart, quite literally. I can name someone from that war whose blood runs in my veins, just like my husband can name his grandfather when talking about WWI. It's part of that experience, as another adoptee said to me once, of becoming "a real girl."

I only wish I were as eloquent as Abraham Lincoln was. I wonder what my great-great-great-great grandfather sounded like, and if he ever had the chance to hear the President speak.


Unknown said...

That's my experience with my five adoptive kids. My history is not their history. My uncle discovered we were somehow related to Abraham Lincoln - I think through his mother's side. I got excited about that, but my excitement was quelled by my oldest daughter's comment, "Oh, but that's just you and not us."

Adoption, although necessary at times, is hard. In our family, because my children's histories are different from mine, we have delved into their ethnic heritage - Irish, German, Mexican, Blackfoot, Cherokee... For now, it's the best I can do for them.

I'm so glad you're able to find out about your own bloodline. It really does make you feel complete. I hope and pray, I can give that gift to my children someday as well.

Robin said...

This post was very moving for me. I am angry that my genetic ancestry was denied to me. If I had not searched and been accepted by my n-family, I would have no idea how my personal story connects to American history. I have always been very interested in the Civil War, reading whatever I could find about it. I sometimes wished that I had lived during those times. I pictured myself agitating with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Henry and Elizabeth Blackwell and all the other early women's rights pioneers and abolitionists. As it turns out, my ancestors were soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. I probably would have been tossed out of the family back then, too, given that my apple fell so far from the tree. Although at least I would have known my bloodlines.

Interesting that an English/Irish actor is playing Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal in whatever he does. I can't wait to see the movie.

ms. marginalia said...

I am a HUGE Daniel Day-Lewis fan, Robin, and have been since the mid-80's. He did a fantastic job, I thought. I hope he wins another Oscar for this performance. He just escapes into his roles. I do love him as his English self, though, and his being the son of the Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis is only the more enticing to me. He is talented AND handsome. ;-)