My dear friend “D” entertains annually on the Winter solstice. The party includes many people who don’t know one another, because they come from different parts of D’s life. My original connection was the playgroup that supported D and I though our children’s preschool years. Those kids are over age 30 now, and most of the playgroup mothers are now grandparents.
Not satisfied with food and drink and general conversation (all wonderful!), D always organizes some kind of “sharing”. This year, her topic was simply inspired. IMMIGRATION has been all over the news and dominates many conversations.
We were offered a chance to discuss our family histories, and share about holiday customs that came from our forebears! Seriously, we could have talked all night. There were 16 of us. Do the math. Thirty two parents, sixty four grandparents, and on it goes! Each life is a story.
What did I learn? The most common country of origin for South Jersey families is Italy! (Had you asked me, I might have suggested Germany, but that’s just my neighborhood.) Those with Italian roots reported large families and many variations on the “Feast of Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve.
Next most common was the Irish/German/Miscellaneous cohort. I belong there – German mother, Irish father, maybe some English blood.
Many people like me report data gaps. Family members were adopted (often informally), and their backgrounds remain unknown. Going back only four generations, my family tree includes two adoptions.
Two people reported Native American ancestry. Each could name a tribe, but neither holds tribal membership. Only two in our group reported on ancestors from before 1776, and no one reported membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution).
Some of us discussed genealogy and/or genetic testing. One woman hired a specialized tour guide to help her find family records along the Rhine in Germany! Several people had done or planned to use commercially available genetic testing.
I spoke early in the discussion, and managed to be brief, but things continued to occur to me. Did anyone else know how to make the German treat called “elephant ears”? Did anyone speak a language that was NOT lost during immigration? Each of my grandmothers said she had forgotten her first language, but my German grandmother remembered a little vocabulary and snatches of song. My mother studied German in high school, and I learned it in college. Gaelic, regrettably, has been lost to us.
The Christmas season is a wonderful time for these types of reflection! Thanks, D, for a great evening.