Oral tradition in our family held that my 2x great grandfather Henry Diercks and six of his seven siblings emigrated to American from a town called Süderwalsede in Germany. We never could find the town on a map and eventually it took on the mythical quality of Brigadoon. We had one faded photo of a family standing in front of a half timbered farmhouse, but were not even sure if it they were related or not. Through research we not only found the town on the map, but found it in real life too! The photo shows me and my genealogy sidekick, my mother Christi at our first reunion with our "long lost" German family. We journeyed to the very real town of Süderwalsede just south of Bremen and found Aunts, Uncles and cousins living in that same family homestead in 2015!
Connecting with family has been the best part of tracing our family lineage. Through the wonders of the internet and social media, we have not only researched and met cousins from around the country, but also around the world. To connect with extended family promotes the strangely paradoxical feelings of both being a part of something bigger, and something small, special and intimate at the same time. We are able to share stories and experiences that are different but still have an eerie familiar feel to them. Our connections to each other is what makes life so special and unique to every relationship.
My mother Christi is the tallest of four siblings at 5'3". This picture was taken when my grandfather Vernon Diercks made his confirmation at the age of 12 in 1932 at St. Paul’s Church in Monee, Illinois. As you might have guessed, he is the last one on the right in the front row. He looks so morose because all the other boys got their long pants before the big day and as he was not yet quite 13 years old, he had to wait to trade in his knickerbockers for another month.
Heritage can be passed down in many forms. From physical characteristics like eye color or height to intangible things like beliefs and customs. My grandfather certainly passed down his height, but he also passed down so much more. His strong work ethic has been inherited by all four of his daughters, as did the importance of family and relationships. Heritage is precious and priceless. As genealogists, we are doing a real service to future generations by not only researching and preserving family trees, but the personal stories and narratives that will provide context and meaning to future generations.
Belonging to a family is a beautiful thing. My 90 year old Grandmother still attends college one day a week and has never stopped learning and experiencing life! Last year she and my mom and three Aunts drove to Carbondale, IL to witness the eclipse. They are already planning what future adventures and what they can experience next. Our shared experiences help create memories and strengthen family bonds.
A sense of belonging, whether to a family, a group of friends or a larger community is part of the human experience. Regardless of what brings us together, the bonds we form help us in times of trouble and remind us that we are never completely alone. Humans have been seeking each other out for thousands of years, and though we may gather for different reasons, our core motivations are the same - we all want to Belong.
My 3x great Aunt Louise Leseberg was an elderly spinster as my mom remembers her from childhood. She was sweet, but mom didn't know her long enough to discover her personality before she passed away. Louise spent her life in service to others, first as a governess and then as traveling companion to a wealthy banker's daughter in Chicago. This picture of her in her youth with her charge speaks volumes about the kind of wonderful woman she must have been!
I believe families come in all varieties and are made up of all types of relationships. Too often, even in the world of genealogy, the men and women who don't have children aren't given as much attention and their stories aren't as well documented as those who have children to record them. I try to honor and and document the maiden aunts and confirmed bachelor uncles as best I can, as they are just as much a part of my family and heritage as anyone.