Here’s something you might not know about me. Or you might, depends if we’re friends in real life, or if you just met me here. I am a bit obsessed with family history. My parents both grew up here in Ohio, but we moved away when I was just four. I had a great childhood, and I had good relationships with my grandparents despite being a 14 hour drive away most of my life. I also had Bonus Grandparents in my life. Older couples in the church, especially, who loved and encouraged me like grandparents, who watched me grow from a goofy junior high student to an even goofier high school student, to college student, to young woman. Then I decided I needed to go “home.”
So, my whole life my parents had come “home” for Christmas, or graduations and other family gatherings. I had a wonderful home to grow up in, but there was no doubt in my brother’s and my minds that “home” was in Ohio. And, living in the South, one is never encouraged to forget one’s Yankee heritage. I went to college in the South, though a full six-hour drive from my parents, so I knew I could live far from them. Not that I didn’t have a good relationship with them, but I’m just telling you, something was calling me. And I knew they would always come back to Ohio. All my grandparents were living still, and I’d certainly see more of my parents in Ohio than if I picked up and moved to California. And nothing was calling me to the West Coast.
And then there’s “him.” I didn’t know who “he” was, yet, but I knew he wasn’t south of the Mason-Dixon. Stupid, isn’t it? I moved to Ohio, and met him within the first year. We were living together inside of a few months, and married a couple years later. I just think that’s how it was supposed to happen, and nobody will convince me otherwise. But I don’t believe in fate. That’s an entry for a different day.
But the point of all this is that I decided, while living in Atlanta, that I needed to go north. I needed to get closer to those roots. And when I moved here and took a job waiting tables and doing catering service at the now gone Buckeye Hall of Fame Cafe, I met an older couple one night who knew my grandparents in Marion, just 50 miles up the road. Never, ever, in my entire life had I run into someone who just knew my grandparents. Never. I was so excited I just wanted to scream, “I belong here! My PEOPLE hail from this place! I HAVE ROOTS!” Overreacting? Probably, but nobody has ever accused me of being under-emotional. Ever.
Now I live in the Columbus area and I trek up to Marion to see my cousins, and one remaining grandparent. I drive right over the land that was once a family farm belonging to my paternal grandmother’s family. I go to the church my parents and maternal grandparents were married in, which is almost across the street from the fire station where my maternal grandmother’s father was Chief, in a town where HIS father was a police officer in the 19th century. If you go a little further north up 23, you’ll come to the area my maternal grandfather’s family comes from. There’s a pretty large group of that family that still holds a reunion each year up there. I never knew who any of those people were until I came back to Ohio, although my mother played with those cousins on family farms as a child.
I’ve done so much genealogy research now that I know quite a bit about each of those lines of my family. I know that the Marion Cemetery has graves of my ancestors throughout, not to mention the dozen or so small cemeteries dotted about Marion and Crawford counties. I even found one branch of my paternal grandfather’s family that is directly descended from Gov. William Bradford of the Mayflower. He was my 16th great-grandfather. And another branch of his family is directly descended from Pietro Cesare Alberti, first Italian immigrant to America. (That’s where my Italian heritage ends, though. He married a Dutch woman.)
THOSE are some roots. It turns out the most recent immigrant in my family is before 1900. Every single branch of my family was here before the start of the 20th century. It doesn’t give me any special claim to fame, or privilege (beyond those otherwise afforded middle class white girls), but it does feel good. It feels good to be able to visit so many family graves. It feels good to be able to drive by houses where family lived 150 years ago. It feels good to meet strangers who know who my family is, who that are, who they were. It feels good to show my children these things. To show them THEY have roots! It’s like telling them they are firmly tethered. Go out and conquer the world, kids, meet new folks, immerse yourself in other cultures, soak up all the new and the different and the strange and the wonderful that is out there. But know that back in Ohio, there’s a 150 miles that covers almost all of your family roots for the last 250 years. And you are American. No more American than that Chinese guy over there who was just naturalized last year, or that Latina woman who worries every day about her illegal family members. But everyone has roots somewhere, and yours are here. It’s just good to know.