Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Importance of Family Stories: The Fable of Jack and Jill

This is a "lost" post, originally intended for publication on Wednesday, 28 November 2007. It was discovered in the "Draft" file on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 (a mere nine and half years late!).

I know two young persons who are about to get married. For the sake of this story, let's call them Jack and Jill [certain other personal identifying information has also been changed to protect the privacy of individuals. Dates and places of genealogically significant events have not been changed.] They live somewhere in the United States of America. Jack, 32 years old, is an assistant professor at a well-known university. Jill, also 32, is a chemist for a small private company.

Jack identifies himself as an African-American. Most people would call Jill "Caucasian" or "white."
But if you know her, you get the impression she doesn't spend a lot of time concerned about "what" she is in these terms. And therein lies the root of Jack and Jill's "problem" as they approach their wedding day. Jill, it seems, has some relatives who are glad she's getting married; but that her fiance is a black man, well, not so much. Some of the objections have been so intemperate that Jill after much angst, has decided not to invite certain relatives to the wedding.

Jill had thought that if only her relatives got to know Jack as a person, they might see things differently. That hasn't worked because they aren't interested in getting to know him. But suppose her relatives knew what I know about their family history . . . .

Jill knew of my interest in genealogy and awhile ago, she asked me to help her learn something about a relative, now deceased, that her mother had mentioned. Here's what I discovered as I pursued that mission:

Jill's mother's maiden name is German. Jill's great-great-grandfather, Johannes R., came to New York from Bavaria in 1847. Johannes settled in Queens and married another German immigrant. Their son, also named Johannes, also married another German immigrant. A third Johannes was born of this marriage.

Johannes III left New York when he entered the service during WWII. After the war, Johannes III ended up in Texas where he met and married Conseulo G. Conseulo was the daughter of Cristiano G., who was born in Mexico but crossed the border at will and maintained a residence in Texas and in Mexico. Jill's mother, Barbara, is the fourth child of Johannes and Conseulo.

Jill's paternal great-great-grandfather was Pedro M., born in Cuba in 1866, the descendant of African slaves. He married Maria, whose paternity is unknown, in Puerto Rico in 1890. In 1905, Pedro and Maria moved to Hawaii. In Hawaii, Pedro and Maria raised their sons, including Ricardo M., who was to become Jill's great-grandfather. Ricardo married Victoria S., whose family had immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines. Victoria's family was of the Ibanag people. In 1920, Ricardo and Victoria had a son, Estaban. Soon thereafter, Ricardo moved his family to California. In California, Estaban grew up and met Anna T., whose family had come from Mexico. Anna had been born in Mexico. Estaban and Anna married and in 1945, had a son which they named Stephen. In 1966, Stephen met Barbara R. and they were soon married. Jill is their only child.

Suppose Jill's recalcitrant relatives knew their own family history. Would they behave differently toward Jack? I suggest that it really takes something more than just the facts. That is a knowledge of family stories that makes the names come alive for them. If they knew Grandpa Pedro through family stories, they might feel as if they really knew him.

Jack and Jill were married in 2007 and today are the happily married parents of two children.

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