Bob is the sap in his family tree

Bob is the sap in his family tree By Writer at Large Nostalgia is the thing these days, and genealogy has become the intense hobby for lots of folks.

Most everyone wants to find out who their ancestors were. They roam the cemeteries of the world, trying to find out where Great Aunt Emma is buried. They look at weathered tombstones and squint through miles of microfilm for the slightest clue about a long lost family member. Yellowed and musty newspapers are paged relentlessly in their quest.

They call librarians, editors and writers like me, hoping that we'll have come across some reference to the object of their search. Most of the time we haven't.

Some even learn to read another language to help them in their exploration. That's real diligence.

I suppose I should be more interested in my roots. I know, for instance, that I am Polish on my father's side and that my mother's parents were Germans-from-Russia. They were Evangelicals, not Mennonites.

Karolevitz should be spelled Karolewicz (the old Polish way) and that my sainted grandmother was a Ugofsky who came to America as a young girl on a sailing ship. That's about all.

As for Henry (Henrik) Rathjen, my grandfather, I don't know what vessel he boarded at Odessa. Or when. I have heard that he immigrated to this country to avoid going into the Russian army � and I can't say I blame him.

Phyllis's paternal people came from some place in Norway and were Gundersons. Whether they were storekeepers, fishermen or farmers caught up in the age-old tradition of primo genitor, we're not exactly sure.

Her maternal ancestors were Sorensons from Denmark. That makes her a real Scandihoovian. She always whips up a batch of lefse at Christmas time, but she won't allow lutefisk in the house. That's when I question her lineage.

She counters by saying that I'm probably the sap in our family tree, but I ignore the barb!

A lot of genealogists look backward through rose-colored glasses. They don't want to find horse thieves or hooligans in their pedigree. They hope their tracings will lead them to royalty, the Vikings (not the football kind) or at least Plymouth Rock.

Me? I'd like to locate a scoundrel or two. Maybe even somebody like Robin Hood or Friar Tuck � although I think the latter wasn't supposed to have children. They would add zest to my genealogical story, if I ever get around to writing it.

I admire those who study their heredity and develop page after page of who belongs to whom, but so far I haven't caught the bug nor have I written to the Mormons in Salt Lake City who apparently have all that information written down or on their computers.

We do know, though, that Phyllis will never be a Daughter of the American Revolution, and I didn't have any forefathers among the men who threw the tea into the Boston harbor. We didn't have anybody who came over on the Mayflower or knew Miles Standish either.

Maybe that's why neither of us has been gung-ho about our past.

We're just Americans, I guess!

© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz

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