The Ancestry and Legacy Journey

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?

Published by Susan G. Weidener

Join me as I share reflections, always with an eye toward the challenges and struggles we women encounter and embrace in both creative and personal ways. My memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, was selected as a 2011 editor’s pick by Story Circle Network. Its sequel Morning at Wellington Square has also achieved critical acclaim. A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel based on a true story, is centered around a story of two people destined to meet and one man's commitment to honor following his years at West Point. In 1991, I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a reporter covering news and writing feature stories until 2007. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs, I attended the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, I started the Women's Writing Circle, a critique and support group for writers in suburban Philadelphia, which meets the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. I live in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania with my Yellow Lab, Lily.

5 thoughts on “The Ancestry and Legacy Journey

    1. Indeed. I love thinking about all those women on my father’s side with last names like Whalley, Dean and DuBois. His side goes back a long way but records are scarce for my mothers family. I’ve dead-ended with her tree going back to Dresden around 1856.

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  1. Strands from Germany and the Scandinavian countries may explain your pretty blonde hair, Susan.

    You are right. Momentum happens gradually. Your thorough critique has set me on the right path I think. What is developing is a marriage memoir. My manuscript now (about 500 words each day) hardly resembles the draft I gave you. My research has taken me into the Beaman family, and I recently found sketches of a patchwork shoulder bag Viola Beaman (Cliff’s mother) made. They would parallel my own quilt ancestry and extend the checkered life metaphor.

    I have received a copy of your memoir and definitely enjoyed what I’ve read, especially the literary references. Ava sounds a lot like the Susan I know–ha!

    No, I haven’t tried Ancestry.com, mostly because I have so many primary documents in our family archives and at The Mennonite Historical Society. One grandson wanted a DNA test, so I bought a 23&Me kit, which pleased him no end.

    Here’s to our ancestry and legacy journey! 😀

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  2. Hi Marian, I’m happy to hear the edit has set you off the right path. It’s exciting when a project starts to come together and congratulations on 500 words a day! I’m also pleased to hear you’re enjoying the novel. Ava’s story is a way for readers to connect to their own lives, I hope. Keep me posted on the marriage memoir. I like the way you are intertwining your story with Cliff’s in a patchwork of ancestry and lives lived and shared.

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    1. Susan, although I have shared my manuscript with two other writers, you are the only one who really “gets” my story. Thanks for the affirmation here too.

      I hope soon to make some notes from reading your book. I’ll post a review as soon as I’m able. Enjoy your weekend. 😀

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