I’ve been reading a massive 500-page history book called the “The Silk Road,” a history of happenings from recent times going back to the years before the birth of Christ. Though I have only put 100 pages behind me, I am engrossed in this book and the history lesson I am learning as a result. One thing that is very clear is this; if you lived in Europe and the mid-east going back fifteen hundred years one thing was certain – you were going to be conquered by somebody.
Life in those early years was prone to a lot of conquering, sacking of cities, killing of citizens and the theft of anything precious. Some conquering armies would take prisoners as slaves while others would walk into a city and kill every man, woman and child. They did this with little regard for life, often wiping out one city just to create fear in the next town over. When the conquering army got to that town they were welcomed as heroes and not a hand was laid on anyone.
Their crusaders often had ties to the religious faction of the day. Armies claiming to be Christians marched into territory and defeated its citizens. If you converted you were spared, if you didn’t you might likely suffer a terrible fate. The same was done under the guise of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and religions I have never heard of. It would have been a terrible time to live.
Considering all the hardships nearly every generation experienced, I find it difficult to wish I had lived in any of those early days, and yet for you and me to be here today living in relative comfort and prosperity, someone in our ancestry didn’t get to live with such privilege.
Going back 100 years would put my father growing up in Logan, Utah. He would have been about ten-years-old. He would be doing chores in the yard which included milking a cow for milk. The family also had a garden and I’m sure he would have been doing his chores regularly.
Fifty years earlier my grandfather would have been two years old. He would have been living in Drakesville, Iowa with his brothers and sister. His mother would still be alive, but it wouldn’t be long before she would become ill and die. When my great-grandfather remarried a woman who already had her own children he and his siblings would become unwanted. Because of this woman my grandfather left his siblings and headed for the gold and silver mines of Montana. He was just sixteen-years-old at the time. Within ten years he had made a name for himself and had earned enough money to send for his brothers and sister so that they might live a better life.
His hard work and dedication to his siblings helped them create better lives for themselves but it wasn’t the end of their hardships. His older brother would lose his only son to a burst appendix at just four years of age, a tragedy that would be difficult for anybody to endure. His younger brother lived a hard mining town life, making his living as a poker player. He died at the ripe old age of 31. Even my grandfather experienced hardship, losing his first wife of just ten months to some type of kidney disease. He would not consider marriage again until after his brother George passed away.
Going back yet one more generation would place my great-grandfather in Steinau Hessen Prussia (old Germany). He was a military man and by all accounts that made him a bear to live with. Sadly, we know very little about his way of life, his siblings, nor his first wife. Much of the Lenkersdorfer family history was made in Indiana where a number of them gathered after they immigrated from the fatherland. My great-grandfather would have gone through Winchester County Indiana on his way to a homestead in Iowa. Why he chose that route instead of staying where the majority of his family settled is unknown.
Beyond those few generations there is little known about my ancestry. If I could go back twenty generations I’m sure I would find my family fighting in the Germanic wars, eking out a living on subsistence farms. One thing is certain – they would have been far less comfortable than their posterity, which includes me. I am in their debt because without them, you would be looking at a blank page.
Why not spend a few minutes this holiday learning about your family, how they lived and what prompted them to leave Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas to come to the United States. I hope that I can continue to learn more and so should you!
Give thanks to your progenitors this holiday season because without their sacrifices and hardships you wouldn’t be here. If you are pre-disposed to knowing more go to work doing your family history. You’ll never know what you’ll learn until you do.