The present trend in our church and in the country seems to be, “Where did I come from” and genealogy is being stressed as a most important part of our church and family activity. This is rather hard on my generation, as we have only started to have time to look backward, and the things which we have been pushing aside to wait, while we were so busy with life ever present; have to be faced and analyzed, considered, and probed, as to cause and effect, and the influences of times and people and events and decisions right or wrong made, and 70 years of living, each day and year, now to be woven into a story sequence to be open to the criticisms and scrutiny of the generation which we helped to form and have tried to lead into maturity of thought and actions.
My mother used to say, “You don’t know how much you have to know, in order to know how little you know.” How true! And how long it takes to realize that truth, until you sit down and try to put it down on paper.
This was written by Loraine Jeppson Baird, my second great aunt. While I was at RootsTech 2017, I was able to visit her daughter Loraine Jeppson Law, who is my grandma’s cousin (and best friend). She is 96 years old, and her house is a repository of genealogy records for my mom’s side of the family. It was an experience I will never forget.
I know that this blog is not about my Utah and Idaho Mormon ancestors; it’s about my Czechs! But this was a piece of writing which I found to be extremely moving and personal, and it affected how I viewed genealogy in general, so I want to share it.
It was in Loraine’s own handwriting. She was born in 1896, the granddaughter of Mary Reeder Hurren who crossed the plains as a young girl in the infamous Willie Handcart Company. She knew the original Utah pioneers. Actually, Loraine (who I met) also knew Mary Reeder Hurren, and was old enough to remember her. So, I spoke to a person who knew an original Utah pioneer, which is completely mind-blowing to think about.
But the real reason I want to share this piece of writing is because it deeply changed the way I think about my ancestors. Some, perhaps most, of these people had very difficult lives. I continue to try to piece together dates and facts from their lives in an effort to draw a picture of their story. Sometimes it feels frustrating that I do not have a better understanding of their personalities, their likes, their fears, their hopes, their dreams. But can I really fault them for not writing down their history? I know that not everybody loves to write, but I had never really considered the kind of pain writing has the potential to unleash on the soul. It seems that Loraine had some very negative feelings about being urged to write her history, and they were tied up in ideas like, “Can I write this in a way that will be understood by a generation that did not go through what I am going through?” “How can I face some of the less than ideal facts and events in my life which I have pushed aside for so long now that they are merely distant memories?” “How can I explain my feelings about choices that now, in hindsight, I see were wrong?” “What more will I be required to give to this next generation – they want me to willingly subject my soul to the possibility of criticism and betrayal?”
I have so few stories of my Czech ancestors. It is a huge hole. I know that the only real way for me to come to know them is by learning Czech. Maybe, just maybe, I will find that they did write their history – and of course it would be in Czech!
I can do a lot of things without fluency in Czech, such as find names, dates, and places. But to really come to know the culture and history of this place will certainly, without a doubt, require me to speak (and especially read) Czech. Culture is so tightly wound around its medium of communication, and culture is the backbone of stories. If I want to truly understand a person, I know that I need to try to immerse myself in their culture, therefore in their language.
I realize that even if I tried as hard as I could, and put in every possible effort to learn this beautiful and very difficult language (which…I am doing…), I would still fall short. But if perfection is the standard, then we should all just give up on all of our dreams and aspirations. Obviously, something somewhat less than perfect will have to suffice. Anyway, it’s the journey towards understanding that I crave, not really reaching the goal itself. Is it possible to ever “completely” know another person, ever? Isn’t there always more to learn?