It's strange to think that right now, as a starving college student, I'm enjoying a higher standard of living than just about every ancestor who contributed the blood in my veins. The truth is that I come from a long line of very poor people. They all came to America at various times for various reasons. My family line was made by religious persecution and civil wars, by famines and opportunities. They crossed oceans and plains, settled down in foreign lands, and spent the rest of their lives working hard for their families.
My ancestry comes from England, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, and France. The Italian comes from my Madre's side; she's a fourth. My grandmother used to cook Italian dishes for special occasions; I remember making home-made ravioli with her as a child. We also have chicken caccitore as a traditional Christmas meal, which means that the first time I remember having a Christmas ham was the also first time I remember spending Christmas with my paternal side (we used to drive up there for New Year's before my parents moved). It was so strange, and even more strange to think that ham was normal for pretty much everybody I knew.
My Italian side has found a lot of difficulty as my ancestors attempted to make a life in the U.S. The first of them, a great-great-great grandpa or so, came to San Francisco to avoid civil war in Italy. His cousin was already there, but their timing was a little off, as they had arrived in just enough time to experience the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. My grandfather's cousin was thrown across the room while shaving during the attack, and he was so affected that he moved to the East coast, where his family has been ever since.
My great grandmother's family worked in the textile mills in England during the Industrial Revolution. When the mills went on strike, they suffered cold and hunger. After working and saving money, they were able to afford passage to the United States. Another branch on my mother's side (also from England) were wheelwrights who converted to Mormonism and immigrated to join the Saints in Utah.
I'm also a direct descendant of William Brewster, who was persecuted in England for his viewpoint on interpreting The Bible and sought religious refuge by first going to Holland, and then coming to America aboard the Mayflower. He was a very educated man who served as a royal scribe, and eventually would become very instrumental in The Mayflower Compact.
It's amazing to think that there are literally hundreds of people who are an integral part of my personal history, and that many of their struggles are completely unknown to me. I try to learn as much as I can, but there are so many names and stories that I wonder if it will take me a lifetime to truly understand where I came from. In fact, I was a teenager before I learned that my own Padre was the first person in his family to attend college. It took me even longer to understand the kinds of sacrifices he made to ensure that his family would be able to have the opportunities that I have now, and I've probably got a little ways to go before I can truly appreciate everything he's done for me. Sometimes I wonder if I could ever really understand what all of my ancestors have really contributed to my life, but I think it's worth it to try. As I start to new year and overcome the trials that are ahead of me, I know that I need to know who I was before I can determine who I can be.
Regards, best wishes, and beginnings,
-Cecily Jane and Madre