If you could invite an ancestor to have a meal with you, and discuss their/your life, who and why would it be?
This question popped up on /r/genealogy the other day, and it got me thinking.
This question isn’t really answered as easily as I first thought.
My gut reaction was to say my paternal great-grandfather JC Mueller, because I know so little about him. He died in 1894 when my grandfather Robert was just thirteen years old. My dad apparently didn’t know much about him, either. I recall that when Dad got deep into his genealogical research, he seemed especially focused on JC. I suspect my grandfather didn’t talk much about his father, because Dad didn’t have much to go on in the beginning. Then again, my grandfather Robert died when my dad was just seven, so he didn’t know much about his father and probably didn’t ever really think to talk to his dad about Grandfather JC.Which ancestor would you invite to dinner? What would you talk about? Click To Tweet
I’ve run into a similar thing, as both of my grandfathers died long before my parents even met each other.
JC Mueller’s history and especially his immigration information became quite the genealogical project for my dad. He spent the better part of 20 years trying to track this information down. He had a lot of difficulty in uncovering much useful information because JC had come from Germany, and Mueller/Müller/Miller is fairly common. All Dad had to start with was a family legend that JC and his wife had arrived separately in 1867 in New York, then been married in 1872. By 1875, they were in Texas and probably had been for a couple of years.
Dad started working on this as early as the 1960s, so he’d have to write the letter in German, mail it to Germany, wait for it to come back, then translate it back to English only find out that “Our office doesn’t have those records. Contact this other office in this other town.” That one exchange might take three or more weeks, as compared to the minutes for an email these days. Then he’d repeat the process to this other office in this other town and hear that, “Nope, you need to contact someone else.” He did a ton of work that way, all pre-internet, so snail-mail, paper and microfiche records, and so forth. Request a microfiche, wait for it to arrive, view it, then send it back and get the next one.
At any rate, as I mention in this post, I eventually figured out when and where my great-grandfather arrived in the U. S., even if the discovery was something of a letdown at how easy it was for me. I ended up with not only his citizenship info but a letter on his store’s stationery in his handwriting, all in the space of about three days. It was just so anti-climactic and emotional all at the same time because it was so easy, and my dad wasn’t around to share it with.
What would I ask JC Mueller? I’d want to know why he came to this country. My dad mentioned some family speculation, but no one ever said for certain; Dad’s grandmother died six years before he was born. So why did he come to the U. S.? How did he and Louisa meet? Why did they choose Texas? That last possibly isn’t all that mysterious, because plenty of German immigrants headed south in those days. But did he just follow them, or did he and Louisa have their own reasons?
I’d love to have a similar discussion with Louisa. She may have been descended from the Schirmer music publishing family, but we never found out. She may have been living with her sister Johanna near Hyde Park, which isn’t far from Coxsackie, where JC and Louisa married. I’d ask her many of the same questions: Why America? Why New York? Why Texas? I’d love to hear her perspective on coming to America, meeting her husband, and moving to Texas, all in just a few years.
I’m curious about how long that trip was and how they traveled. I’d guess in the mid-1870s it was a combination of rail and river, which fascinates me here in the 21st century. But was it just another Tuesday for them? JC hailed from Ingelheim am Rhein, so he’d have been familiar with riverboats, I’d guess. Ditto Louisa, who came from Wünschensuhl, along the Suhl River.
After that kind of stuff, the data, the information about how they got over here and why they chose to go where and when they did? I’d just want to sit and talk with them, letting the conversation flow wherever it wanted. They had six children, and having been there and done that, I’d be curious to compare their experiences to mine. Louisa had six brothers and sisters; JC had seven siblings, though one died at a young age. I’d love to hear about coming from a large family. I’ve never really talked to my kids about their experiences, and I’ve only got the one brother, in theory.
We could talk for hours, I’m certain. I can only wish.
Your turn: If you could invite an ancestor to have dinner with you, who would it be and why?
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