Around 2003, I started to trace my family history. I was interested to find out where I came from. I searched websites, and libraries, miles of microfilm, and a boat load of census records. I think I secretly wished to have a glorious background filled with royalty and riches. I heard rumors about possible “aristocracy,” and couldn’t wait to see what royal family I belonged to.
Each day of research brought me closer to the fact that there were indeed, no records of any of those things. I come from a family of polish potato farmers. Not that I minded, but thought things could have been a little more exciting.
However, I started to make contact with people…people who had stories. Suddenly, these “polish potato farmers” became real individuals, with personalities and stories. It was fascinating! My great great grandparents, Frank and Polly Omernik had 18 children. My great grandmother, in a time when women were supposed to keep their mouths shut, brought a black woman as a guest to dinner, at her country club, where black people were not allowed. Another great grandmother came to the US with her brother, hiding from Prussian officials who were trying to catch him for evading the Prussian army during the war. My relatives sat for weeks on dirty boats, with famine and sickness ravaging through the travelers, while trying to keep their families together, just so they had a chance at a better life, political and religious freedoms.
I have learned two things… They were so strong, and I am so weak.
Through this process, I have had the opportunity to grow very close to my maternal Grandmother’s family. My grandmother Therese was my very best friend, which is why Aristana’s middle name is also Therese. Getting to have long conversations with her sisters, gives me a glimpse into her life, when she was my age, raising a family. I love when I can hear my grandma’s voice when Anna Mae speaks, or see her smile in Mitzie. Even though she has passed, I swear I can feel her through my “Aunts.”
The day I reconnected with Mitzie, Anna Mae, and Mitzie’s son RJ, my whole search was blown wide open. I was blanketed with story after story, of their childhoods, and the good and bad times. I got to see pictures and old “artifacts” of generations gone by. I realized that I was missing so much.
This week, I got to go to Wilke Lake, outside of St. Nazianz, in the town of Schleswig, where both my grandparents and great grandparents spent their summers, with the whole family. I have seen so many pictures, and heard so many stories. We would also stay at one of the neighboring cottages a few times, which was fun…but I was too young to feel the connection to past generations.
I stood there, and pictured what was going on in those pictures, as I stared at my grandparents old cottage. My mother painted “The Funky Bunky” on the side of the old bunk building, when she was in her late teens. I was able to take a picture of Aristana standing under it.
I welled up so many times, out of pure respect for those who came before me, just wishing I could be a bird in the tree, and travel back to those days, just for a short while. I’m tearing up as I write this…I can’t explain it.
I am including some pics, then and now, just for some visuals…
THESE ARE MY GREAT GRANDPARENTS, JOSEPH AND AGNES (HEIN) JAGEMANN
MY GRANDMA THERESE, THE HOTTIE
ARISTANA AND AUNTIE ANNA MAE (MY GRANDMOTHER'S SISTER)