Grafting a Tree

Wednesday I put aside the computer to accomplish something offline: to recopy the family tree I made as a class project in Mrs. Raskis's ninth grade English class. The posterboard on which I'd originally drawn it is so old that it was starting to dry up--it wasn't just tearing, pieces were actually breaking off.  I'd planned to put a new copy on some fresh posterboard, despite knowing that there's software out there that will work better, but I felt this needed the same hands-on treatment that the original had gotten.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize the boys had used up all our posterboard for school assignments. This required a venture out into the year's first snowy evening, but at least the majority of Virginia's drivers, being terrified of the white stuff even in daylight, were off the roads, and I made it to CVS with a minimum of trouble.

Returning home with posterboard, pencils, Scotch tape and a Cadbury bar, I gingerly placed the original tree on the dining room table and looked it over.  I had of course realized that the tree's 1978 vintage meant that it lacked my children's generation, but I had somehow forgotten that it lacked the last three members of my own generation--Larry and Patty's kids, all born in the 80s after I left junior high. These factors necessitated a slight adjustment to the whole diagram, which I moved about four inches higher on the new posterboard, and they also meant that dad's side of the family was crammed into an even smaller area of the display. Nonetheless, I got all three of the "new" cousins in, then added spouses for myself, my brother, and cousins Joshua, Indira, and Michael, the only ones who've married so far. Then I got to put in our kids, my nephews, and my cousins' three younguns (so far), with room to work in a few more if the occasion should demand.

Then came the melancholy task of adding second dates to the members of the earlier generations.  Three of my grandparents are gone now, and it saddened me to record that fact, even as doing so made me realize how strange my perceptions of them had been.  Mama Lou died in 1983, age 70, but for some reason I'd always felt as though she died much younger. Daddy Joe died in 1990, surviving his wife by only seven years, but somehow it had seemed like such a long time without her.  Papa and all his siblings are gone now, but Mama Lea is still dominating the family in Scrabble despite the (1916-    ) below her name.

And then it was back into the names I know mainly by reputation, or because I copied them onto the tree back in 9th grade. My great-grandfather Wolf Sutker and his father Klonimus, my great-grandmother Belle Whitney, a great-great-great grandmother with the unlikely monicker of Bernhardine Trepper, two separate Rebeccas whose maiden names are unknown, a surprising number of Franks and Franklins, the unfortunate names (lots of Berthas, a pair of Augusts, and my poor Uncle Hyman), a Westphalian cluster of Schoenhaars and Eckhardts, and the long mysterious trails back to origins we're often only guessing at... Bladen County, NC... Mathews County, VA... Wales... Lithuania... Ipswich... Somerset... and dozens of Polish villages that may not have existed for generations.

(One of my Sutker cousins has made an extensive study of our mutual ancestors, and he has actually tracked the family back to a particular village in Poland, but I don't have a copy of his findings.  Besides, my tree isn't meant to be comprehensive--it's really just a chance to reconnect to my own work and make it more up to date.)

Finally, back aching and hands covered with pencil residue, I picked up the copy and showed it to Dixon, who is rarely at a loss for words. He looked at his own position down toward the right corner, then let his eyes trail left and right and up, over the aunts of uncles and the uncles of aunts, all the way back through the Rubinsteins and the Rayments and the Ruttkamps, back through the strands of his own DNA.

"Wow," was all he said.

And that's about all I can say at this point. I have a big ol' pile of relatives, and chances are, if you go back enough, they're your relatives too.

Happy Hanukkah to the the whole family--even the goyim.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 7, 2007 9:10 AM.

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