Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heritage

The first time I ever visited Huntsville, AL, it was on a business trip.  I walked into the office on a Thursday morning, and at some point my managers asked me if I was willing to fly to Huntsville that night.  When you are young and childfree, as I was, the only appropriate answer to that question was "Yes."

One of my first encounters was with a very Southern gentleman who promptly asked me that question that is the bane of all military brats, "Where are you from?"
"Uh, well, all over."
"Where'd you grow up?"
"Nebraska"
"Yankee!"

The thing about being a military Brat is that... while I have an awareness of regionalism in the U.S., I don't identify with it.  I identify as an American, and that's that.  One nation, no North or South, no East or West, just one nation.


One year in elementary school, our teacher asked us to write our family histories.  We were supposed to interview our grandparents, document our genealogy, etc.  I remember my classmates writing reports about how many streets were named after their family, how long they had lived in Bellevue / Omaha.

I had none of that, at the time.  I had a vague awareness that an aunt had traced the family history, and it was documented somewhere at Grandma's house, in Indiana.  But I didn't have access to it, I'm not sure Grandma could find it.  I had to make do with what my parents could remember.

One or two years ago, my husband and I went to see a play up at Burritt-on-the-Mountain, titled Appalachian Witches.  It's a story about family, ancestors, family knowledge passed down through generations.  One of the characters in the play, is a legendary Native American ancestress.  Both of my grandmothers are said to have some Native American ancestors, but I have no proof of it.

I have written before, a bit about the family history in Indianapolis.  But in truth, my great-grandparents moved to Indianapolis in 1920, from Kentucky.  Great-grandma Langsford died not long after.  With her death, I fear a great deal of our family history and stories were lost.  And, in turn, my grandmother was only able to teach me a very few things, we lived so far away so much of the time.

When we lived in Houston, I had the benefit of training under Master's Barry and Choon-Ok Jade Harmon. One of my fellow Kuk Soolin recently helped Yu Kwan Jang Nim (YKJN) Harmon to write her autobiography, titled "The Iron Butterfly: Memoir of a Martial Arts Master".  A short adaptation of one of the stories is published here.  In the beginning of the book, YKJN writes about the stories being passed down from mother to daughter through generations.  But as I wrote above, my family stories were lost while my grandmother was still a child.  How can I pass along what I don't know?

Maratta.  In the paperwork for Grandma's admission to the orphanage in Indiana, it asked her heritage.  Great-grandpa had written several things down, including an "Italian?"  Genealogy searches tend to say that "Maratta" is an Italian name.  But her father, and her father's fathers, have names like James, Caleb, and Matthew.  Names that don't sound particularly Italian.  Sometimes Maratta is spelled "Marattay," and I once read it speculated online that it could be a variant of "Moriarty."

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, the prospect of BEING a "Moriarty" is just... Huh.
And then there's the parts of the heritage that I'd rather NOT own.  My ancestors farmed in Kentucky before 1860.  My aunt commented on coming across THAT census record.  The one that proves that not all of their farmhands were voluntary, or even paid.  Yuck.  

Much of what I have learned is reconstructed, thanks to my uncle's interest in genealogy, which has in turn inspired my aunt to research it.

Their families had lived in Kentucky for several generations.  Some are buried in the Tichenor Family Cemetery not far from Louisville, which we visited on one of our drives up to Indy.

It's... strange.  In Omaha, the family names didn't mean anything to me.  Now that we have moved to Huntsville, the Langfords and Lansfords that I meet, might be cousins.  Even if we are on the OTHER side of the mountains from those ancestors.  It feels kinda nice, like maybe I can re-discover some of what my great-grandparents knew.  If I walk that path, if I stay here.  As an Air Force Brat, I've never actually felt deep roots before.  It's kinda nice.