My parents couldn't be more different if they tried...

Perhaps one of the reasons I'm so passionate about genealogy is that it's my attempt to understand how I came to be. It perplexes me because my parents couldn't be more different if they tried. It’s mind boggling to me that their paths even crossed, let alone that they chose to have a child together. As a result, their romance was fleeting. They were no longer even together by the time I made my appearance in this world.

Aside from the most startling and noticeable differences... different ethnicities, a 23 year gap in age, and close to a foot and a half difference in height. There were the less obvious differences that impeded a long-term relationship. By the time they met, my father had two children who were as old as my mother. Due to the age difference, my parents were from two different generations. My father was part of the silent generation, was born the same year that the television was invented, and through his childhood he lived through the great depression and subsequent recessions. My father is the grandson of a formerly enslaved couple on his father’s line and the great grandson of enslaved people on both his mother and father’s lines. He was born at home, delivered into this world by his maternal grandmother who was a midwife. The home he was born and raised in never had electricity or indoor plumbing. Not even in the years after he was born when electricity was being installed in the rural area where he lived (around 1934 when the TVA co-op was established). His maternal grandmother didn't trust new fangled inventions such as electricity. In fact, she sent the electrician away when he came to hook her house up to the newly installed power lines. She was content with her kerosene lantern and wood burning stove. I have cousins alive today who recall that her house was never connected to the grid. Click photo to enlarge. I know from conversations with him that his family was poor. But I also know that they cultivated most of what they needed from the land they lived on. One thing he would repeat to me over the years was that the only thing they needed to purchase in town was coffee and sugar (and I assume kerosene too). They grew crops and had a garden. They hunted and fished or butchered livestock for meat. They harvested roots and plants for medicine from the surrounding woods. They had a well on the back porch for their water needs. I even slightly envy the fact that they weren’t as reliant as I am today on others for their basic needs such as water and sources of fuel. It’s also not lost on me that I’m only one generation removed from that level of self sufficiency.      In contrast, by the time my mother (a baby boomer) was born, 12 million American households had T.V. sets. She was born in a hospital and brought home to a house that had both indoor plumbing and electricity. My mother was born during an unprecedented time of economic recovery which followed the infrastructure and social service programs rolled out with The New Deal as well as the post-war economic boom. My mother's father was former Navy and worked for the local electric company. Her mother was college educated and a teacher at one of the local elementary schools. I’m certain her household had a T.V. set, likely shortly after she was born. Her parents always went out and bought the latest appliances and electronics. The household that she grew up in may have lacked love (that’s a story for another day) but it did not lack material possessions. Even though her parents were not rich, they were very comfortable. My parents hailed from vastly different cultural and social worlds as well. My father grew up in the segregated South, below the Mason-Dixon line. He knew white people but only through certain interactions; situations in which he had to always carefully navigate and could never fully be himself. Most of Mississippi was forcefully desegregated by the federal government (and in some instances with the support of federal troops) throughout the 1960’s. This was approximately a decade after my father had already moved to the Midwest. (The last school in Mississippi wasn’t desegregated until as recently as 2016).

My mother grew up just North of Chicago, in a small town that wasn't considered 'segregated' as the south was. But we now know how inaccurate that was. Throughout the Midwest and other areas above the Mason Dixon line, many neighborhoods, entire towns, and even schools were segregated through what we now know as common practices such as redlining or just basic discrimination in real estate and hiring practices.

My mother attended high school in the 1960's (after desegregation had already begun in the South) but the only Black people she remembers in town or in her school were 2 or 3 Black students who resided at the local orphan home who also attended high school with them. What she learned of Black people was through the television while watching the Civil Rights Movement unfold. The things my parents did have in common weren't visible either, or even something either readily admitted. They both had traumatic childhoods and they had both gravitated away from their immediate families, perhaps to begin life anew or simply just to distance themselves from their immediate families. This is how they each found their way to the small town in Southern Illinois where I was born. They met by chance one night and began their short-lived romance.

I'm glad they met. I am truly a mix of both of them.

My father is no longer living. He passed away in 2015, just 5 short years after I started really researching his family lines. While he was living he wasn't able to provide much information on his ancestors. In hindsight, perhaps he did know more than he let on. I recall one conversation between us where I called him to share something I had discovered about his great uncle. I thought I was sharing brand new information with him and was quickly deflated when he responded that he remembered hearing about that same uncle when he was younger. It was then that he admitted to me that he didn't like talking about his past because there were too many painful memories. After his admission, I no longer bothered him with any new discoveries that I made. In contrast with my father's ancestors, there is really only one branch on my mom's lines where we really didn't have much information. That is her maternal line that immigrated to the U.S. from Austria in the early 1900's. Even with less information on that line, we still know 2 to 4 generations further back than we know on my dad's lines. Sadly, it's yet another example of the disparity between my parents' lives. In my future posts I'll be sharing information about several of my ancestors and collateral relatives. I'll even share information on my in-laws and unrelated people that I've met along this journey. I'll likely have a heavier focus on my father's side of the family or the stories of other enslaved ancestors, solely because those stories have never been told or documented at all. Despite how my father may have felt, I feel that it is important to document these stories before they are lost forever. No matter how painful the stories may be. Since I never really spent time around most of my extended biological family as I was growing up (aside from a few visits here and there), I've taken to calling my journey ‘Collecting Kin’. Because of family estrangement, because of physical distance (as well as distance in ages), I’ve only really begun meeting and getting to know much of my extended family over the past 11 years or so.

Thank you for visiting and reading about my journey.