Thanks to his daughter’s school project, a cousin of
mine has been looking though records and family history to determine our
“roots”. On thing that has struck me as I travel in and out of the
Untied States is how obsessed we Americans are with our personal family
histories. My Korean wife metaphorically shrugs her shoulders when I ask
questions about the past. Ironic given how much respect is paid to the long
One of the artifacts uncovered, and collaborated by my
cousin is an old “family history” given by a great-great-great(?)-grandfather
on my father’s side. He gives his story of being born in Germany in
around 1820, and his move and travel around America starting in 1840. I do not
know if it is genetic, or just how people were back then, but he seems to carry
the family trait of an unsentimental view of life.
Or perhaps it is better to say, based on personal experience
with the family, a very deeply hidden sentimentality are romanticism that is
hidden deep in the soul. One would have to be hopeless romantic in someway to
take off from Europe at 17, and go to a land far away. Either that, or be
really stubborn (another family trait). Whatever the reasons, I (and quite a
few of us expat Americans here) can sympathize with voyage. Perhaps the choice
of immigration, passed down through generations, is the reason for
America’s almost limitless optimism.
A disappointing admission in the diary to me is how he felt
about the events of the day. Most notably, what did he think of the Civil War?
Or rather what was it that much of an issue where he was in Wisconsin at the
time? What about the grange movement? Free silver? Rutherford Hayes’s
Conversely, will my decedents care what it was like living
through the major events of my life (almost 30 years and counting)? What was it
like when the Berlin Wall fell? The Internet just starting out? The election of
2000? 9/11 and the War on Terror?
That does make me think, and appreciate what I have gone
through in my life. I am among the last to live under the threat of a nuclear holocaust
(knock on wood). Will it be of interest to my decedents that I used to see blue
Air Force vans from Ellsworth AFB shuttling men to and from missile silos? Will
they understand that the LA riots were in a limited area, or will they think I
spent it in my house barricaded fearing for my life? (Maybe they will think I
went out and got a new TV instead).
Perhaps they would want to know some event that would be
important in the future, but unimportant today. The opening of Japan in 1854,
when the issue of slavery was beginning to boil over in the US probably seemed
like a worthless footnote in history at the time. Just think how trivial it was
at the time for say, the founding of the American Federation of Labor in the
1880’s? Or for example, who knew that the unification of Germany in 1889(?)
would have such a profound impact on the 20th Century?
A few family tidbits I found out that seem interesting to
me, but unimportant to the family members involved revolve around famous
people. My Grandmother grew up with Ronald Reagan spinning records in a dance
hall in Des Moines, Iowa. She did not like him then, did not like his movies,
and defiantly did not like him as President (which drove my grandfather a
little crazy). My father apparently was in the crowd for the last performance
of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper. The musicians boarded a
plane later that snowy Iowa night and crashed into a cornfield. While he did
not say it, I could tell none of them put on a good show that night. Anyway,
have there been any interesting tidbits so far in my life that I think
Granted some of
this is merely conjecture on what may happen in the future. As I think of this,
I noticed how much ones view of the world affects this thought. Moreover, I
think of the past more than the future. I think, “Will I be the
last…” Which is strange given the optimism that marks Americans.
Perhaps I should think “I will be the first…” but then that
is so much mentally in the future that it’s tough to guess. Perhaps, the
first to go to space (as a tourist).