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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Thankful

I’d like to think I’m a thankful person, but the truth is that I take a lot of things in my life for granted. I’ve been blessed with many great things in life, whether it be my family, a comfortable middle-class life, intellectual and athletic abilities, decent health, a solid education, friends, second (and third) chances, or even just the chance to be alive. When you live every day in relative peace and tranquility, it becomes your norm, and you take it for granted. It’s not to say I haven’t had trials and tribulations, it’s to say I’ve lived my life free of oppression and despair. I should be thankful for that, every day.

This Christmas though, I am happy for my career in politics. Since I was 19, I’ve lived around political campaigns, and the people in them. Many, many of those people are not like me. I’m not calling them better or worse, but they’re there for very different reasons and motivations, and their different perspectives have enriched my understanding of life. Learning from their experiences, I think I’ve grown to be a better man than I might have grown up to be, as I was as a 19 year old intern on my first campaign.

I’ve had so many wonderful opportunities, and some not wonderful ones, to see the world through different eyes. I’ve worked with people who had undocumented relatives they desperately wanted to save from deportation. I’ve worked with people struggling to speak their own truth, and come out as who they are. I’ve worked with war refugees, who’s entire families were on “kill lists,” forcing them to leave their countries and seek asylum here. I’ve worked with people who grew up in poverty in southeast Washington, New Jersey, Appalachia, and Philadelphia. I’ve worked with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. I’ve worked with a Latin American member of his nation’s Congress who was assassinated when he went home. I’ve worked under some of the most accomplished members of our Congress in my lifetime. I’ve worked for career teachers. I’ve worked for Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and Protestant Christians. I’ve worked for Midwesterners, Northeasterners, and Southerners. I worked for the first African-American Congresswoman in New Jersey history. I’ve worked for prosecutors, and alongside ex-felons. I’ve worked for Latinos, African-Americans, and white people. I’ve worked for winners and losers. I’ve worked for incompetent people, evil people who left their jobs in shame, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I’ve worked for Senators, Governors, Congress people, cabinet secretaries, state legislators, local officials, unions, and even a President. I’ve probably worked for or on a lot of cool things I’m forgetting right now.

Politics hasn’t made me rich, God knows that, but I’d like to think it’s enriched me as a person ten fold. I’d like to think the people I’ve met professionally, in addition to the people in my personal and private life, have all left an impression on me in some way. I’d like to believe the pathway I’ve chosen in life has made me better than perhaps I would have been otherwise. Lord knows I’m not a perfect person, that my vices and flaws would leave me unacceptable to some. Nevertheless, I’d like to think those of you who have gifted me with your presence have made me a better person than I would have been, and that this better person has helped make the world a better place than it would have been otherwise. We’ll all die, and we’ll all make mistakes on the way there, I’m not really worried about that. I’m just thankful that my pathway has forced me to take stock of different positions in life than my own, and maybe changed my view of the world for the better.

I think my time out in the field will come to an end soon. Probably after 2020. I’m on the old end of the pool at this point, so I need to be in an office or headquarters, and maybe have a little life stability. At 35, that’s not too much to ask.

Thank you to you all. Merry Christmas.

Summer’s End

I leaned against a tree for about 15 minutes, watching the sky light up over Bethlehem, as I’ve done virtually every Summer since I was in Middle School. It was the final night of Musikfest, the ten day, outdoor music festival in the city where I went to college, the night that ArtsQuest puts on a free fireworks show for the locals. Unlike years past, I chose to not watch these fireworks among the crowds, opting instead to watch them a mile or so down the river, where I could get out of town in a hurry when they were done. Today is, after all, a work day.

I’ve always called the end of Musikfest the end of the Summer in the Lehigh Valley, which usually is quite exciting for me. I am not a huge Summer person, other than the beach and baseball games part. I’m a Fall person. The Fall is for pennant race baseball, which my Phillies will play in this season. The Fall is election season, which usually is exciting for me, and really should be this year with Democrats poised for great victories. Fall is the return of football, which could mean the NFL, college, or my beloved Easton Red Rovers high school ball for me. Fall is Oktoberfest season. Fall is hoodies’ season. Fall is pumpkin everything season, especially my coffee. Fall is for bonfires. Fall is a great time for new music, buying new clothes, and at least for me, meeting new people. The Fall is edgy. The Fall is cooler, both in temperatures and in feelings. I’m a Fall person.

I’m not as excited as usual though, and I’m not sure why. My Phillies are good, but haven’t captured my imagination like the 2008 team of ten Summers ago did, yet. The Eagles won the Super Bowl, and I’m far too content with them. I plan on seeing Notre Dame and Penn State play live this Fall, but I’m not fully dialed in on college football, yet. Pumpkin spice? It’ll get here. Oktoberfest? Still a little bit away. The wardrobe changeover to Fall will wait until the heat goes away. It’s cool and rainy today, but it doesn’t feel like the Fall is here, yet.

Perhaps my discontent with politics, my profession, is over-shadowing the rest of the cool things about Fall. The 2018 election feels like a necessary evil to me, a must-win to stop the country from becoming a mirror image of Donald Trump, who disgusts me. The problem though, is that I’m as unexcited by the Democratic Party as I have been since I registered to join it in 2001. I want the Democrats to win Congress, in fact I see a need for them to, but I find myself mostly voting for them because the alternative are the white nationalists marching outside of the White House yesterday. It’s easy to oppose this Administration, but it’s not as easy getting out of bed and being excited to work for it when you increasingly find yourself rolling your eyes at your own side. Maybe that’s a downer for me.

Or perhaps it’s just raining, and I’m on my first coffee of the day at 1:55pm. You tell me.

35.

I was sitting in the Hotel Bethlehem having dinner with a friend on the final night I would be 34 as I looked out the window and saw the bus roll up to the door, with “MORAVIAN” scrolled across it. Out rolled repeated 22 year olds, dressed in their suits and dresses, smiles beaming across their faces. This was their night, May 10th, 2018, the gala celebration for members of the Class of 2018. These young Hounds had their lives in front of them. Twelve years ago, that was me.

Time is both our most precious resource and the most unforgiving critic. Time, inevitably will pass us by. For all of us, time is finite, and we don’t know how much of it we will have, only that we have now, the time between this moment and that morning when we are summoned home.

I turned 35 years old Friday, a semi-milestone in my life, one made easier by the fact that some bartenders and waitresses still ask me to see my ID. I feel my age some days, but others I still feel 25. I’m pretty proud of my life to this point. Professionally, I’ve worked for Presidents, Governors, Senators, Congress members, state legislators, judges, and local leaders, all over America, for diverse people, managing staffs and campaigns that were big and small. I’ve got a good relationship to my family, and I have stayed close with my friends from childhood to now. I serve on my college alumni board, my township board of auditors, and the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee. I’ve got a very sizable social media following. I go to lots of baseball games. I spent my birthday weekend at a wedding for one of my best friends. I came home and my dogs were happy to see me.

There are things that I’m either unhappy with or anxious about though. I’d like to be wealthier, maybe have a family life of my own, get more degrees, eat better, buy a home, get back into my athletic shape, and travel more. The good news though is that I’m not consumed by any of those things. They would all be added benefits. If they don’t happen, I’ll deal with it.

I’m pretty happy at 35, and pretty content with who I am. I’m a product of my community, family, friends, work experiences, and education, and I’m quite happy with that. Thank you for knowing me, and reading me.