Family is So Cool

[dropcap style=”color: #9b9b9b;”]M[/dropcap]y mother — also known as Nona by the younger crowd here — is visiting. She flew in last week from Oklahoma with bags full of goodies for everyone. Candy for the kids. Hand-me-down business clothes for me.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I really take after her. Same face. Same size clothing. She’s always had such a classic wardrobe, and fortunately, I fit in the things she no longer wears. Normally, I get a box or two once a year, whenever she purges her closet, but for this visit, she stuffed a huge suitcase with nothing but clothes for me. I was shocked: it was the heaviest and biggest of her bags, full of skirts, jackets, dresses, and tops that are already tailored to fit her … my … frame.

It pays to be a clone, ya’ll.

Not surprisingly, the kids have been floating on cloud nine: they love waking up and finding Nona downstairs every morning.  Every day, I wipe away a trace of chocolate or Nutella from their faces, no doubt slipped to them by their adoring grandmother.

Of course, this visit is tinged with a sense of change in the end. Not finality, but the knowledge that we’re going to be moving to another hemisphere soon. Which is funny, because our in-person visits with Nona weren’t nearly as frequent as our visits with Ohio family. And just like now, there will still be almost-daily Facebook, Skype, email, and all that jazz no matter where we are in the world.

In that physical sense, it’s not going to be a huge change. But still. Different.

So far, Nona’s helped fold laundry (which is clearly the fastest way to my heart, if you haven’t noticed), sort toys (we’re giving some to my nieces), and put aside items to hand over to family in Ohio as we prepare our things for the move.

But she’s also quickly and easily molded into our daily routine: fixing Lola’s hair before school, signing in as a guest to eat lunch with them at school, almost-daily trips to the dollar store, reading bedtime stories, cooking dinner.

All that jazz.

It’s pretty awesome.

In related news about family, I decided to go ahead and pay for an account on one of those family-research sites.

As I may have mentioned in previous blogs, Martin was contacted by his father’s family last Christmas. Since Martin’s parents were divorced when Martin’s father passed away in 1985, it had been decades since Martin (who was 6 years old at the time) and his brother were in touch with that side of the family.

 

Martin, his brother Christian, and their father Klaus in 1982.

In 2001 and 2002, we tried to locate some of his father’s relatives to invite them to our wedding, but we were very limited in our efforts back then. Martin didn’t know very much about his father’s family, couldn’t remember names or dates, and of course, the Internet back then wasn’t what it is today. (That’s so weird to say because 2002 wasn’t exactly the Stone Age, know what I mean?)

But then, last winter, we got a letter from Germany explaining that Anna, the third wife of Martin’s father’s late uncle Wilhelm, passed away. A neighbor named Heinrich had grown close to the elderly Anna, and was in the process of helping her create a family tree, and through his research, was able to connect Martin and Christian to a family of living cousins, aunts, and uncles, as well as the names and dates of generations stretching into the 1800s.

After speaking with Martin over the phone and including our family’s information in his research, Heinrich sent us a family tree that was several pages thick, all delicately taped together from several print-outs. It was amazing, both the information and the level of care that went into preparing it. We finally had names, dates, occupations, birthdays … everything.

For months, the family tree lived in our safe. Occasionally, I took it out and searched for things via Google. But this weekend, I invested the money and opened the account and starting plugging away names and dates both from my family and from Martin’s side. I got very little sleep Saturday evening/Sunday morning.

But it’s pretty addicting.

Not surprisingly, I found all kinds of documents and paperwork about my side of the family even though it’s truly an American mix of heritage. While my father’s side is all completely German both before and after the fateful boat trip across the Atlantic in the 1880s, my mother’s ancestors and relatives have roots from all over the place — a chunk from the United Kingdom, some Czechoslovakian, a sprinkle of Native American, etc. Almost all of them settled in Texas, and they’re all traceable going back several generations. That I can find all this is not surprising. We Americans love documenting the crap out of everything and making it all readily available.

On the other hand, Germans tend to be much more private in general, and official records aren’t normally easily accessible. So I was very, very surprised to be able to find a lot of paperwork and documents related to Martin’s family from a variety of generations.

Of course, I also Google’d my findings, and discovered a photo of one of Martin’s male cousins. I knew immediately that it was a relative just by recognizing some shared facial features, and was able to confirm that the grandfathers of Martin and the gentleman were, in fact, brothers. From him, I was able to find others with photos published online.

I was constantly running up and down my stairs with my laptop, showing Martin my findings. You can imagine how crazy strange it is to go from having almost no knowledge about your family to seeing photos of people who kinda-sorta look like you online.

We had already planned on meeting up with his living relatives after the move to Germany, but finding all this information over the weekend just solidifed them, especially since I know now what I want to learn and ask them.

Because it’s not just Martin’s history now.

It’s my kids’ history, too.

And they’re super interested, especially after I showed them that their great-great-grandmother — the mother of their paternal great-grandfather — was named Elsa Anna.

Not even kidding. Her first and middle name.

Elsa Anna.*

Family is so cool.

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* For those who don’t know a single child right now, Elsa and Anna are the names of the lead characters in the movie Frozen.