Those of us in the United States are seeing another cozy Thanksgiving holiday weekend draw to a close. The afterglow of a mellow time with those we love, coupled with some fabulous feasting, make this a favorite time of year.
While we claim this holiday as a time to focus on gratefulness, there is nothing that reminds me so much of the countless reasons for gratitude as history. Yes, history. Pure and simple.
Just thinking back over this year, and the stories uncovered here in A Family Tapestry, I realize how many times in this research I had to stop—in amazement, often—and realize what a price some people paid to conquer whatever obstacles stood in their way to a new life. I think, especially, of Bishop Frederic Baraga and his work in establishing mission outposts throughout the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and of Bishop Edward Fenwick and his pioneer work throughout the early years of Ohio statehood—two men whose influence had a direct impact on my own family's ancestors' lives.
Of course, there is a story that we all share in common as Americans—whether you consider it legend or legacy, and whether you can link your own ancestors to New England heritage or not—the history of the pilgrims who established what became known as Plymouth Colony.
The hardships endured by these immigrants—and the many others from whom the great majority of us descend—illustrate the value of the lessons we receive from history. The simple observation of what life was like in specific instances, whether in the lives of what we now honor as “famous” people or in the lives of our own ancestors, can speak volumes when we compare life’s details back then with the bounty we enjoy today.
One year, while studying Pilgrim history as a homeschooling project, I ran across what seemed to us to be a humorous poem about Pilgrim life. I thought the poem’s closing comment to be a wry statement about their living conditions—although whether it was originally meant as such, I cannot tell. The poem was first featured in a volume called The Pilgrim Fathers, published by British artist and engraver W. H. Bartlett in London in 1852 and reprinted in Boston in Annie Russell Marble’s 1920 book, The Women Who Came in the Mayflower.
Writings like this—whatever letters, journals, or other original documents we uncover of our relatives’ stories or even the stories of the communities they lived in—give me a deeper appreciation of the heritage they have passed down to our own families today. Sometimes, it is so painfully clear what a great price they paid to gain whatever goals they sought. Sometimes, though, even amidst the struggle, there is still room for a wry smile.
The place where we live is a wilderness wood,Where grass is much wanted that’s fruitful and good;Our mountains and hills and our valleys below,Are commonly covered with frost and with snow.Our clothes we brought with us are apt to be torn,They need to be clouted soon after they are worn,But clouting our garments they hinder us nothing,Clouts double are warmer than single whole clothing.If fresh meate be wanted to fill up our dish,We have carrots and turnips whenever we wish,And if we’ve a mind for a delicate dish,We go to the clam-bank and there we catch fish.For pottage and puddings and custards and pies,Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies!We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon,If it was not for pumpkin we should be undoon.