TLDR – Week 4

In the late 1700s, the McNary family lived on land in North Strabane township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, just a few miles away from land owned by the Piatt family; today, the Trax farm in Finleyville is on that land once owned by the Piatts. While the McNary family stayed in Washington County, the Piatt family moved on, eventually having a branch of it settle in Mansfield, Ohio. Based on the families’ proximity in the late 1700s, however, my wife (née Piatt, of that Mansfield, Ohio branch) and I had long suspected that we might be cousins somehow. A few years ago, we finally found that link; I have to confirm a few specifics myself, but based on other people’s research, she and I should be 11th cousins. The big surprise, though, was that we had to go through my mother’s line to find the link; there still appears to be no link through the McNary line.

For genealogists, there should be little surprise in this fact; 11th cousins are quite far apart and it should be possible to link in many people once you get that far back. My father’s family has been quite diligent in maintaining its genealogy; there is even a McNary family book written around 1910 that goes into great detail about the history of the family up to that point. My great-great aunt Hazel had done a lot of work on her family (the Jones family), and there are many books and records for the McDonald family. Even with common names like “Jones” and “McDonald,” it has not been too difficult exploring my father’s side of the family.

(As an aside, as a kid my neighbor was Ed McDonald, a cousin. He was old, and he had a farm with cows and sheep and pigs. E-I-E-I-O).

My mother’s side of the family has been a little bit harder to track down, but with the advent of Ancestry.com and other on-line collaborative genealogy tools, it has become much easier. Yes, you need to confirm anything you get off the site, but finding leads and information is now at your fingertips.

Ultimately, I can name all eight of my great-grandparents. I can name twelve of my possible sixteen great-great grandparents; the holdouts are my maternal grandfather’s grandparents. I can tell his father was the immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his mother may have been born in Pennsylvania, but the trail goes cold after that. Records don’t really tell where the father emigrated *from*; they name a city and a country, but that doesn’t match with modern political boundaries. St Anna, Croatia Hungary is listed on his naturalization record. It’s possible that Sankt Anna am Aigen in Southeastern Austria is the community in question; that seems to be the closest “St. Anna” to modern-day Croatia. Perhaps someone reading this can suggest other options; nevertheless, he immigrated to the United States in 1902, while Theodore Roosevelt was president.

That was the last of my ancestors to immigrate. Most of my ancestral lines wend their way through American history back to the founding of the nation and beyond. I have ancestors that fought in the American Revolution; I have ancestors that participated in the Whiskey Rebellion. I have ancestors that fought in the Civil War (for the Union; I haven’t yet found any Confederate soldiers in my lineage). The McNarys came to the colonies sometime before 1760 for certain; perhaps even before 1745. The Vances came over in the 1750s. Edward FitzRandolph (the linchpin that connects me with my wife) came over in the 1630s. Captain Francis Drake (no, not that one, but possibly a cousin) immigrated sometime before 1658.

Since today is the #Daywithoutimmigrants, it then should be on us to think of our own family immigration stories. If, like mine, you go back to the very foundations of this country, you should also know that it is through immigrants that this country runs. I could claim to belong to this country more than others; my family, after all, has been here for all of it. But this is not a country of family stories; we very specifically disassociated ourselves from nobility when we founded this country. This is a country of individual stories; my story begins and ends as I begin and end. It is influenced by my family and my family’s traditions, but whether it is a better story than anybody else’s is based solely on what I do (and in an observer’s eye of what it means to have a “better” story). It is not better – or worse – simply because of who my parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles are. I and I alone am the author of it.

And as we should not judge a person’s story based on their family, we should not judge a person’s story based on what country they come from. It is an influence, yes, but not a determining factor. What they do – their actions, their words, their thoughts – mean much more than any background information about them.

I do not expect my story to be a ballad or an epic saga. Very few people’s stories turn out that way; there is no right to greatness. But everybody should have the chance to make their story turn out that way. That is what is meant in talking about taking care of immigrants; making sure they have a chance at that story.

Margaret Atwood wrote, “In the end, we’ll all become stories.” This is echoed by the Doctor in Doctor Who, who says “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” It is only fair that we all get that chance.