I’ve been playing around on Ancestry.com. I’ve never really been close to any of my family, and I like to think it’s because almost everyone was a bigoted asshole, but sometimes I wonder what I’ve missed out on. I traced parts of my family to Germany, Lithuania/Russia, Ireland, Barbados, and through the Civil War. I found out I’m related to a man who owned slaves, somehow simultaneously thumping bibles and engaging in acts of war. His name was Reverend Henry Barrington Pratt D.D. There is a marble tablet in Roswell, Georgia inscribed with his name, stating that he was a missionary to Colombia and a writer whose works include the accepted Spanish translation of the bible. Beneath this is written “Charles Pratt and John Hall, negro slaves, members of this church, educated and freed, to go to Africa as missionaries.” Why was Charles’ last name also Pratt? Did the Reverend adopt him and give him his name, or was he his father or related in some other way? Is that too romanticized an expectation for me to have of someone in that time period?
I’ve been watching a lot of True Blood lately. It was hard to begin the series because the characters’ accents are so atrocious. I’ve always patted myself on the head for being from the North rather than the South, so it’s quite a mindfuck to think that I hold that in my core. Just within my maternal grandfather’s family there seems to have been family members on both side of the divide during the Civil War. I like to think that contributed to his cranky, bigoted exterior. I never really knew him, but then, I don’t really know any of my family.
My paternal grandmother has virtually disowned me for being different. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m queer, liberal, or an antitheist, or simply because I inherited the crazy from her side of the family. Regardless the reason, she never even bothered to tell me she stopped caring about me. She had won the lottery during the 80s, and promised a college education for each of her grandchildren. I saw money at Christmas during my formative years, but after I turned eighteen she seemed to conveniently forget all about me. While on Ancestry.com, I found contributions made by my paternal aunt – the one who doesn’t have MS or some other relatively mysterious health problem. She wrote (poorly) a tale told to her by her mother about my great grandfather; that he rode away from Hitler’s madness on horseback, escaping Germany to come to America, and that, a great man, he died from a stroke in his forties. The historical documents age him 20 years older than that story does, but he did live during the correct time frame.
There was such poor record-keeping during those times, it’s extraordinary to find pictures of relatives, but I did see some from my maternal side. It’s been very difficult to keep track of names, because many of my family members wanted to hide their ethnicities, and melt into our great ‘pot’. I’ve found many name discrepancies just within one generation, particularly on my paternal side. Some of them were from Lithuania, which is also listed as Russia in some documents. Being Russian seems to have always had poor reception here in the States, so I don’t know where the lines cross and where they blur.
I feel blurred and blurry-eyed. I’ve been cleaning this weekend. The dust of the past is too real.