Finding Your History

I recently started piecing together my family tree on ancestry dot com, and so far I’ve found a lot. There have been frustrations, like knowing nothing at all about my mom’s paternal family or the relative roadblock I’ve run into on my dad’s side when I get a generation or so back into the old country, but that’s relatively minor comparable to what I’ve found. My tree now has 137 people, and ties back to several countries in Europe.

I’ve always known about my father’s maternal family, in part because my off-the-boat great-grandmother was alive until I was nine. Among the things I’ve found out though in the past year or two was that she was on one of the final boats into Ellis Island in 1923, just before the Johnson-Reed Act passed (Immigration Act of 1924), choking off most immigration into the country. It also had never occurred to me that she was naturalized as an American citizen in 1942, at the height of patriotic fever during World War II. It started to make more sense though when I realized that our village of Udol (formerly known as Ujak), in present day Slovakia, was a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire when she was born in 1903, and my great-grandfather had fought for them in World War I, on the side of the Axis. Between the “communist hysteria” that Eastern Europeans faced at that time, and his having fought on the other side of the First World War, getting naturalized probably felt very important for them to show they were Americans. On the bright side of that, my father could get Italian citizenship because of my great-grandfather.

Despite the road block that sat on my mother’s paternal side, her mother’s side of the family turned up a mountain of information. I was able to turn up deep roots in New York and New Jersey, including really deep family roots in the Woodstock area of Ulster County. I could trace family ties back to Colonial America, including in the Revolution period. What I found on the American side wasn’t the shocking part. I was not surprised by my ties back to “old country” Germany, just that they went back into the 1600’s. I was surprised to learn I have relatives from the Netherlands, specifically from Holland and Amsterdam, although that made sense with my New York City roots. I also seem to have heritage in Switzerland too, which surprised me. I even found one distantly great-grandmother from France.

The part that blew my mind though was my British blood. I seem to have a lot of relatives from the Yorkshire and Derbyshire areas on my mom’s side. I was even more shocked when I was able to tie them as far back as the 1400’s. In digging through, I was able to find my English ancestors petitioning the crown on grievances, both in America and Great Britain. Reading back through the history astounded me. I also came to realize that not all of my ancestors were members of the Church of England- meaning some of them likely came here for the “religious freedom” that is such a part of our American history.

I’ve always known I was a bit of a Euro-mutt, but I still learned a lot in all of this. To my knowledge, my father’s paternal side is still 50% Polish/Lithuanian and 50% Hungarian. My father’s maternal side traces back to present day Slovakia, but that region is Carpathian-Ruthenian, meaning most people there are mixed Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and Hungarian. My mom’s paternal side is mostly a mystery to me, but I’ve always been told it’s German and Italian. I now know my mother’s maternal side is heavily British and German, with a bit of Dutch, Swiss, and French mixed in. I almost can claim enough flags to guarantee myself being happy at the end of the Euro every time.

I guess I’m as old American as it gets.

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