Friday, September 09, 2005


For a while now, on and off I've been trying to research my family history. It's been quite a chore because there's not a whole lot of records, and most of the people who would have known anything have been dead for quite a while. But I do know some things now is spite of the dead-ends.

Oh, to be able to talk to some of them. I'll give you an example.

My grandfather on my father's side. My dad's dad. I never knew him. He died when my father was only eight or nine years old and my dad would have been 80 this year. Anyway, he came to the States from the UK sometime before the Spanish~American war. I know this because I've traced my surname and even though it sounds German, it's really English. He served in the US Navy through that war and also in WWI. That's about all I know about him. My grandmother I know just a tad bit more about. Her maiden name was Wiley, and came from County Cork in Ireland. I don't know how old she was, but I do remember her. She died when I was about five or so, and I remember being able to look her eye to eye she was so tiny.

A little leprechaun of a woman. And a bit of a firebrand if my memory serves me correctly. I remember her sitting in our living room in front of the TV watching "The Friday Night Fights", her favorite show. She would go from yelling at my folks in the kitchen to yelling at the TV...

"Oy! Kick is' ead in, ya bastard!" To the screen, then to my folks,

"Chut up out der! I'm tryin' to watch me' foights!" Then back to the TV...

"Cheesus crimeny! Doont ya see dat! Da ref muss be blind!" The back to my folks...

"Oy! You out der! Fetch me annodder pint, me glass as' gone dry!"

Ah, Christmas at the Wolfenden house...

My mother's side I know just about as much. Her maiden name was Wagner, and that's the German part of me, not the Wolfenden. I know that sometime around 1870 is when they came from Germany and settled in northeastern Pennsylvania and were coal miners, digging up that anthracite coal by hand. I'm not sure when, but they migrated south, and my grandfather on my mother's side was the Fire Chief of Camden, New Jersey when that town was a good place to live.

There's also a "Fenstermacher" in there too on my mom's side, which is German for "Window Maker".

But that's all I know. Sad really, for it gives just the tiniest hint of some greater human drama I'd love to know. It leaves so many questions unanswered.

Why did they leave their towns and villages in Europe to come to the New World in the first place? What tragedy compelled them to leave everything they ever knew? Why did they choose to settle in the Philadelphia area when so many other Irish, English and Germans were settling in New York City and Boston at that time?

Maybe it's my love of history that keeps me digging and asking questions. To remember the past, to remember your own past, is a way to keep them alive...

Because if you remember them and pass on those memories, they're never really gone, are they?

Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden


Lindsey said...

I'm the same way...I love history and I'm very interested in our family tree. I know a little but the digging is hard b/c many of my older relatives have passed away and some didn't like to talk about the past. A few family members have done a lot of research and have found some really amazing information. It's so cool.

Sydney said... is a pay site, but I found it extremely helpful for digging up records on my father's side. My mom's side already has theirs written up into a book they're so damn proud of it.

Ranger Tom said...

Linny: Couldn't agree more. I love hearing the old stories, it's like your own little time machine in your head

Syd: Checked out that site before, and as soon as I have a few extra $$$ I can justify spending, I'll join