Saturday, February 20, 2010

Revolutionaries and Castles: Seeking my History

One of the most amazing aspects of human culture is the preservation of our history, not just in remembering our wars and our heroes, but also in the remembrance of our ancestors. The stories of my family were perhaps the first inspiration my young mind found to practice my ability to write and preserve an amazing tale.

In my home growing up, we set extra places at the table every Christmas for those family members no longer with us. I knew a bit of the stories – the war, the death, the terror, the immigration across an ocean, across a language, into a different way of life, this American life that is all I’ve ever known – but they were just that to me, stories. I couldn’t and still cannot grasp the magnitude of what my mother’s parents went through.

On the other side of my family, I know so much less. I know the arrival dates of two Czechoslovakian Spisak families at Ellis Island, and I’m fairly confident my ancestors were among them, though sadly any more specifics than that are lost to me.

I talk a lot on these blogs of the ever-changing world we live in, of social media, of Kindles and Sony e-readers, and of publishing trends; however there is something so substantial lost when all we focus on is the present. Ironically in these modern times, the Internet provides us with peeks at our past, even for those of us who are naively guessing.

This morning online, I read histories of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations and the fight for Ukrainian Independence that my maternal family spent their lives pursuing. I read the names I’d heard in family stories and saw their young pictures, all posted online for the world and their long lost family members to see.

This afternoon, I stumbled across sites in Czechoslovakian seeking out English translations, hunting out any lost family history that may be out there waiting for me. I discovered the Spiš region of Slovakia, with its towns of Spišská Kapitula and Spišská Nová Ves. There is a 12th century Spiš castle. Is this where the fiction writer in me takes over and creates my own Spisak family history?

As writers, we can change the world; we can also preserve it for generations to come.

Consider this a writing exercise. Write down your history, your parents’, your grandparents’, and as far back as you can trace it. Maybe you’ll get a great story out of it. Worst case scenario, your children’s children will thank you.

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