The riddle of my family tree awakens in a box with forty photographs. Two images would be decisive for my research, the group photo for the inn in Nemanice from 1866 and the group photo in a living room at the Goudseweg in Rotterdam from 1915. As the research progressed, the other images also got their place. A matter of gender arithmetic and carefully asking yourself and others who the persons in the photos are. The aforementioned grand-nephew helped me by questioning too early conclusions. This way the other pieces of the puzzle fitted into the whole.
Broadly outlined this sibbenkunde consists of patient questions with every piece of evidence that is in your possession. This way the constellation of the pedigree is drawn with more and more details. As you find out that the answers are also determined by who you get the information from. My father’s sister was usually on the right track when it came to the names of the people in the photos and the notes we made of them before her death. Sometimes her ideas turned out to be pretty bad afterwards. Which became clear thanks to the discussions with my grandnephew.
Eventually two family lines remained that I recognized from my father’s stories. The family of my father’s father and the family of my father’s mother. That seems obvious, but if you yourself did not know the people who are in the photos, it remains difficult to get a grip on their identity. Certainly if the people who might know the answers from their own experience are deceased.
Even the memory of my father’s youngest brother, whom I spoke with some regularity from his eightieth to his ninetieth, showed fluctuations. In the lineage of my father he was the youngest. The youngest is not told everything about life before his time. To the extent that he was aware of certain facts, he confirmed them during one conversation, to deny them in a subsequent conversation.
In that respect, the family stories of my father remain the guiding principle. As a middle son he understood a lot better about how the true story was made up. Often confirmed by the official documents from Municipal Archives at home and abroad and the National Archives in The Hague. The mail exchange with the historian and the answers by Czech forums made the missing links come together. Plus my own additional studies on the internet.
Every individual within these family stories takes his own place. The larger dots in this unit are the fathers and mothers. Around it are the smaller spots of sons and daughters. That fanning out perspective takes on such forms at a given moment, between past, present and future, that you have to set a limit. You do not want to know everything, because it does not add anything. It seems more of the same. Of course you do wrong with the next generations and the much older tribesmen. As far as the first group is concerned, that is no longer my task. For me it is only about the essence, seen in the light of my personal interpretations.
What then is the essence of the family from which I came?
Families are a reflection of the ability and ambitions within a culture and the social cohesion that results from it. The Habsburg Empire, where the origin of my family from father’s side to my great-great-grandfather can be traced back, was a ranks and class society. Organized in a tight militaristic way. On the one hand the nobility and on the other hand the civil servants. My great-grandfather emigrated to the Netherlands in 1870. Just after the Franco-German war. The family he grew from belonged to the well-to-do bourgeoisie. Traders, entrepreneurs and lawyers.
Even though you encounter many images of mass poverty on historical websites, you can find as much evidence of the opposite from the place where my great-grandfather comes from. People who are photographed with luxury cars, or on a terrace at a lake in the Sumava Forest, at that time already a tourist attraction for the wealthy from Vienna, Budapest and Prague. The good life. Certainly not an undeveloped area. Industrialization and modern technology were on the rise. In a previous story, I explain how my great-grandfather came to the Low Countries and immediately started working at his own level. Indeed a matter of relationships and a good network. Nothing new under the sun.
No easy task for the sons and daughters of my great-grandfather to win the love and recognition of their father. Social success or prestige in the religious field were the ingredients. Only two descendants took care of offspring. My grandfather and his eldest sister. The eldest son was a technical engineer and supported the furnishing of my grandfather’s factory. A younger son of my great-grandfather was a priest and a chaplain. On his death he was given a military funeral in Belgium, because he had saved the city of Diest, around the monastery where he was staying, from a bombing by the German army in the First World War. And thus was a bearer of the Order of the Crown. The youngest son managed to work up to Rijksklerk at the Council of Labor. The other daughters were unmarried or monastic. The Roman Catholic religion played an important role in the family. Naturally also with the descendants.
Earlier I told that my grandfather, father of my father, was a successful businessman in tobacco. Although some of his sons and daughters have worked for some time in the company, none of them have chosen to trade. They became an official, confectioner, marconist, advertising painter, director, pharmacist and administrator. The role of the absent father can not be underestimated in these choices. You can only learn the skills of trading when an expert teaches you the tricks of the trade. As a result, the influence of mother’s side became more important. Precisely because this wisdom, through the family members of that side, was widely available.
The most important sense of life that you can recognize in that is the desire for freedom. Great-grandfather on his mother’s side was an artist who had been trained as a painter in Paris. Father of two daughters and two sons. There are no examples of his work left, but the fact that my father and his eldest brother were able to draw exceptionally well at a young age points to that influence. This great-grandfather was flexible enough to be part of the bakery business of his wife’s family after his marriage. Which did not stop him from making decorations and murals, in and around the shop and in the corridors of the houses paint wood and marble as paneling.
Thus trade spirit, craftsmanship and artistry came together as inspiration for future generations. The influence of that branch is also perceptible in the physiognomy of my father, his brothers and sisters. Where the faces to the second generation still show round Bohemian characteristics, sometimes still identifiable in childhood, the faces in the third and fourth generation become narrower and longer. With the exception. That too is part of the puzzle, in which pedigrees are mixed with the intersections of other bloodlines.
Our memory may be limited, the cellular memories of our ancestors are stored deep within us, until they are awakened. I have noticed a deep urge in me to know and understand since my childhood. The questioner in me was able to come up with answers that were inaccessible to previous generations. If they watch over my shoulder, I hope that the results of this quest will please them. All those strands from the past now come together in me. A living past, where I find the right distance. In the present.