I just released my second novel And the Memory Returns about a woman who looks back on her life and the people and events that most shaped her. A writer, her memories serve as a diary of a sort. As Ava begins writing her memoir, the phrase, and the memory returns … is the jumping-off point to remember.
Ava might have sent her DNA to Ancestry (to make sure that the stories her parents passed down about her heritage were indeed true). My results came back last week, and what my parents told me proved accurate, although there were surprises. While I am mainly of Germanic and English heritage, there is some Russian and Scandinavian thrown in there, which I never knew. How cool is that.
Looking back at the past and where I came from as I “row north” to quote Mary Pipher from her bestselling book, Women Rowing North is about mortality. As I began researching my “family tree” I learned that some of my ancestors lived only to thirty, while others made it into their nineties. My great-grandmother died on the day my mother was born. Her name was Gertrude so now I understand why my mother’s name was Gertrude. (My mother never told me that.)
Who were these people going back generations? What were their dreams, motivations, desires, and demons? I’ll never know because except for my grandmother who kept a diary in a brown University Composition Book, none left a written legacy.
The Ancestry journey has been an exercise in “and the memory returns.” I remember my father saying that the Weideners came to Philadelphia prior to the Revolutionary War. “Weidener with three e’s is the real German spelling,” he insisted, not the Weidner or Widener as some spell it. This is how a third cousin ended up contacting me on Ancestry. You’re one of the only Weideners on the site, she wrote.
I remember my father telling me our family began as glassblowers in Philadelphia. By the early part of the 18th century, most of us had migrated to Chester and Berks counties, here in the Philadelphia suburbs. One Weidener even fought under Von Steuben in the Revolutionary War.
My cousin reminded me of where my grandparents are buried in Germantown. An old Episcopal church with crooked tombstones and ancient ivy comes to mind as a little girl followed her parents there. I plan to visit that cemetery soon.
In some ways, the Ancestry journey put into perspective the fact that my book does not yet have a review and the copies I ordered to sell are taking three weeks to arrive. Has anyone even read it? Momentum, as my friend said, happens gradually.
“You never know where the book will lead,” she said. “Give it time. It’s your legacy.”
Time and history and a reminder I am but one in a long line of lives and stories.
Have you tried Ancestry? What surprises, if any, did you learn?