Thicker Than Water, Part One

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Dittrich
Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Dittrich

Apologies for the breaks between my blogs.  I’ve actually been unwell for most of this year, so, with work and life and other committments, my oomph to publish a blog every day is not quite there.  I will get there because I am feeling better… Now on to the blog!

In the last few years, I’ve suddenly become interested in my family’s history.  Maybe it’s that overwhelming question of, “Who am I?” or watching too many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? and hoping to find something utterly fantastic and romantic out about my family somewhere along the way.

My Grandma, the last living grandparent I have now, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s / dementia earlier this year, and my Mom, Dad, brothers, and sister-in-law had been working frantically to get things sorted out for her, including finding an assisted living facility.  Noel and I weren’t even in Chicago for 24 hours when Noel helped my brothers and Dad move Grandma into her new home, while Mom, Grandma and I went through the paperwork to get her sorted out.  Of course, we had to clean out Grandma’s old condominium and sell it too.

Last year when Noel and I were Stateside, Mom and I spoke with Grandma to find out information about her family.  Grandma is the youngest of 13 children, and the only remaining living sibling out of her family.  While some of her siblings died in their childhood, six of them lived until adulthood; basically, we have a really big family.  So Mom knew names, but she wanted to find out some of the connections we didn’t know about.  As we kinda knew Grandma’s memory was failing, we wanted pictures to prompt her, but Grandma was adamant that she didn’t have any old photos.

As she got tired, Grandma turned around to me and snapped, “Why do you want to know all this for anyway?”

The question kinda smacked me between the eyes, but I calmly replied, “Because I want to know where I come from.  Gavin and Connor (my nephews) will want to know where they come from.  And once you’re gone, that knowledge is too.”

She seemed to understand this answer, but Mom and I knew she was getting tired, so we left it for the day.

Back to August 2012… Mom and my brother Jeremy were cleaning out Grandma’s storage unit (down the corridor from her condo unit) while Noel and I were cleaning up odds and ends around the condo itself, when Jeremy came in with boxes and boxes of old photos, slides and home movies!  Mom and I were excited (Mom a little more perturbed than I was, since her mother had told her she had no old photos and here was box upon box full of treasures) and couldn’t wait to get our hands on them.

Mom and I spent many hours combing through the photos and slides.  There were quite a few duds amongst them (a picture of someone 30 feet away in front of a fountain.  Great.  Who are they?) but we got a few gems in there.  Of course, there were also mysteries; who were the young boy and girl at the Berlin Zoo?  We had first names but few ideas why there would be a handful of photos of them and other people.

There were pictures of another brother and sister, John and Susan, who lived in Canada.  Mom remembers them visiting and she also remembers visiting them, but how they were related was sketchy.

So here we are, faced with all these mysteries that we hopefully will unravel.  My cousin Jackie came up with the idea of gathering those of us related Dittrichs all in a Facebook group to keep in touch a little bit easier, but a side consequence of this is Mom and I have been able to upload a few old family photos to share.  What has been great is that these old photos seem to spark intrigue and interest in my cousins too.

The Dittrichs gathered for Grandma's first communion (1926)
The Dittrichs gathered for Grandma’s first communion (1926)

One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that, even though I didn’t get to meet some of my great-grandparents or any of my great-great-grandparents in real life, they are the reason I am here.  They are why I am who I am.  My ancestors took the gamble that coming to the USA, the land of opportunities, would help their family thrive and provide chances they wouldn’t normally get in their home countries; the gamble paid off.

And I often wonder what I would do if I was able to go back in time and thank them.  Maybe on one of the less exciting days of their lives, as they worked their guts out to make ends meet and provide for their families, to show up and say, “I’m your great grandchild.  By you working hard, you provided a wonderful life for me.  Thank you.”

I’d get to tell them all the exciting places I’d been.  Australia.  New Caledonia.  Vanuatu.  Indonesia.  New Zealand.  I’d get to show them pictures of those who walked in their shoes after they left this earth.  Hopefully, it would give them peace of mind to know they would live on through us.

I guess the moral of the story is that we should try to record this information for our ancestors’ sakes, so they don’t have to ask the same questions we have because we’ll be able to provide them some answers.  That’s the exciting thing about living in the 21st century; we have computers, we have back-ups, we have all this technology available to us that they will be able to access to find out more and more about where they come from.

So, who are you?  Don’t wait until tomorrow to find out.  Good luck!

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