Yesterday I was anxious and afraid. Today I am just sad. I will go into this in more detail as the story I am starting today develops here over the next few weeks.
I believe I have a sense of family time depth atypical in today’s world. I was raised with stories of ancestors. This perspective informs my interpretation of all things, and it does so in a way that seems alien to many people.
Whether we know the stories that create our family attitudes or not, they are embedded in the attitudes we absorbed, or which we were overtly taught. If you can reconstruct, or just record phrases you remember about your family stories, do it!
My father’s primary ancestral immigrant story was the tale of a voyageur and a First Nation’s woman at the southern end of a fur trading route.
I have been able to flesh out another story he told. Essentially it was about brothers escaping, perhaps illegally from the King’s view, from servitude in Europe to come to America in the late 1700s.
Dad’s story started out with, “There were three brothers…” I learned in a college course on folktales, that this opening is a classic way to start a folk tale and my anthropological training taught me that when this narrative device is used to begin a story it is putting the story in a fictive frame and letting us know that what follows is more fiction than fact.
Oh, but Dad’s stories were good and told with such a twinkle in his eye.
He let us know that he wasn’t sure about the details being exactly true but that “he had been told” there were three brothers who were groomsmen to a lord back in Europe, and they were entrusted with traveling to a large port city and selling horses for the lord. They decided to buy passage to the New World with the money made from the sale rather than returning to servitude in the stables. He said that this story was set in maybe Germany or one of the low countries. The brothers split up so as to be less traceable once they arrived in the a port city on the east coast of America.
The family bible he inherited as the oldest son in our family (that was negligently lost by someone in my generation) and I viewed it many times as a child, was printed in German, and family notes made in it in Low German, as my Father said lends credence to this German origin.
There is a great deal of context in this story. It shows how important context is.
What I have found out in the past year of genealogical research is that a man from a small village in northern Germany was conscripted into the military by his Prince and given to the British to fight for the English Crown (the German prince was probably one related to the House of Hanover) in the American Revolutionary War. Other German soldiers enlisted but conscripts were taken when needed.
From Hessian Soldier to Me in 8 Generations
Friedrich Hill was born Friedrich Hille in 1753 in Germany. He came to the Colonies in 1779. He defected from the Hessian Troops given to the English Crown the same year he arrived in the New World. He bought land and farmed. Through probate records I found that an ancestor of mine buried a few dozen miles from where I grew up, was mentioned as a son, Jacob Hill, with Friedrich Hille listed as his father.
The part of the story about the horses? Who knows. Perhaps the boy was on his way to sell the horses when conscripted. Or perhaps one of the other Hille boys on that transport ship was a brother. Perhaps the story changed so as to not be incriminating. Or maybe it is a mixture. But without that oral narrative in my family, I would not have known to search ship records after finding Jacob listed in the last will and testament of Friedrich.
There is more, but that is for another day.