Monday, November 19, 2012

Strange; The Things We Remember

The sorting of files, examination of photos, documents, and stories continues.

I have come across a few interesting and confusing details that have captured my attention and curiosity. I noticed that my aunt's Ahnenpaβ  had  two entries of the same couple 6 generations removed from me. My initial reaction was that my aunt had made a mistake. Then I checked the family tree documents that my father's cousin, Willi Janβen, had put together. Willi had collected more details than my aunt but his records showed the same information as my aunt's. I decided to go with the assumption that this information was correct.

After a rather cursory review, I thought this couple (Nikolaus Janzen and ? Schmidt) showed up in both of my paternal grandparents' ancestral lines. I was wrong. Upon closer examination I realized that this couple showed up twice in my paternal grandmother's ancestors. Furthermore, this couple's son, Johann Janzen and his wife Catharina (nee Lammert) also showed up twice (5 generations removed from me). Two of Johann and Catharina's grandchildren married and these two were my paternal grandmother's parents. I'm a little surprised that the marriage of first cousins was condoned in what I had always assumed was a religiously strict Mennonite community.

Confused? So am I. I'm still wondering if I've got this correctly sorted.

As I organized these details of my father's line in my head and on paper, I remembered a story my mother had told me about some of her mother's family that also involved the marriage of first cousins. It seems my maternal grandmother had an uncle who had married his first cousin. This was a family where there had been a multi-generational history of  inbreeding (an effort to keep the family estate from passing outside the family). One of this uncle's granddaughters named Grete Meemken spent much of her life in a psychiatric institution.

Related to this, I have a vague recollection of a comment my grandfather made when my sister and I were in Germany  in 1969. My grandfather and a great-uncle were touring us around the area my mother's family comes from, stopping in various villages and towns and introducing us to relatives and friends of my grandparents. (It actually felt like we were being displayed to all these people - strangers to my sister and me.) Late in the day, my grandfather pointed to house in a village we were passing through and said something to the effect of, " We have relatives that live in that house but we don't go there. They have a crazy person in their back room." I didn't remember this incident until years later when I personally had to deal with the stigma of having a mental illness.

In the chats I've had with my mother about our family history she's often remarked, "Komisch, was man an sich errinert" (strange; the things one remembers).

I regard memory not as a phenomenon preserving one thing 
and losing another merely by chance, but as a power 
that deliberately places events in order or wisely omits them. 
Everything we forget about our own lives 
was really condemned to oblivion by an inner instinct long ago.
~~~ STEFAN ZWEIG, The World of Yesterday

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