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Tracing our roots

Published March 20. 2010 09:00AM

I think for many of us it is rare to be able to trace our history completely back to some satisfying origin due to historical events and in many cases disasters. But most of us with some diligence can make progress at least on some branches back through a history that could be several generations old. My latest contemplations were triggered by a television show, a conversation and a search.

The television show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" which premiered on NBC works with celebrities to trace their roots back as far as possible. It was quite a fascinating program although streamlined in that it does not reflect the genealogical searches of most people with whom I have discussed the subject. It seems pretty apparent the research staff does the legwork and drops bread crumbs for the personalities to follow, but that does not minimize the fascinating stories they have uncovered.

In the first week, Sarah Jessica Parker learned she is a direct descendant of one of the last women to be accused of being a witch in Salem. She was not executed because the accusation came at the end of the hysteria and the Puritans stopped executing women right before her trial. She went on to have children and begin the line traced to Parker. The following week football player Emmitt Smith traced his roots back to Africa to see where his ancestors were sold into slavery. It was a sad, touching and sentimental trip. One emotional scene is when Smith stood in his ancestors' owner's cemetery and realized that his great-great grandfather was probably buried in an unmarked grave in the forest adjacent to the plot making it practically impossible to find or visit him.

The second impetus to think about my roots came from a conversation I had with my cousin Lyle at an under-21 dance at the Summit Hill Heritage Center. We were watching the dancing and the loud music that is foreign to me, an indication that I must be an adult even though I refuse to totally accept that fact. I began to think about my grandparents and their parents and grandparents and how they were tied to this building.

The Center which was the former St. Paul's United Church of Christ was my family church as well as Lyle's. Our great-great-great grandfather Daniel Remaley and his ancestors were some of the core leaders who built the church in the late 1800's and members of the Remaley family remained members until it closed in 2007. I joined the board to help reinvent the church as a local center that we want to service the community as a social, educational and cultural center. We plan to have programs and entertainment for the entire area.

Anyway, our great-great grandmothers and aunts were proper, stern women according to our family history. I commented to Lyle as we listened to the music that he and I probably would have had our ears clipped by them if they were able to for allowing a dance to occur in the building. Of course, that initial reaction may be tempered to a degree by our hard work at trying to save the building from falling into disrepair.

The last trigger that led me to think about roots occurred during the St. Patrick's Day Parade over the weekend. My wife Katie wondered aloud if her grandfather was Irish based on his last name and what color his tartan would be. This led her on a whirlwind search to locate that branches ancestors and to date she is still working on finding out for sure where her grandfather's roots truly lie.

Many people don't give family history a second thought, but everyone has stories to tell, some amazing, some amusing, but each one important. One thing I did before my grandparents on my mother's side passed away was to sit with them and tape their personal history. It was one of the best things I ever did and now to hear their voices describe my family history and some local history is a gift. The least we should do is tape our parents and grandparents and preserve their experiences for the future.

One learns some fascinating things when we stop to learn about our roots. In my case, I'm a descendant of Burkhardt Moser as are hundreds of people in this area. He was given a land grant that stretched from Tamaqua through to Pottsville. The land was subsequently taken by the coal company, but he was my earliest ancestor in that branch of the family. His son who is also in my direct line was one of the founders of Coaldale.

On my mother's father's side of the family, my earliest US ancestor was Johannes Brownmiller who came here on a ship in the early 1700's. That family line was represented in every conflict from the American Revolution through the Vietnam War according to my grandfather. My great-great grandfather Levi fought for the union in the Civil War in Delaware. My great grandfather was a Justice of the Peace and made a failed run to be a county commissioner.

On my dad's side we always assumed my grandmother and grandfather was Slovak, but it wasn't until my brother researched that we learned my grandmother was actually Greek, but her mother remarried when her father died while she was young and she adopted his Slovak traditions.

Those are just some of the interesting tidbits I learned in my family tree. No famous people, but a colorful history nonetheless. If you have an interesting anecdotes, please share and perhaps I will have enough to run a column with your interesting histories. You don't have to be famous to tell a good story.

Til next time…

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