“ . . . the Great War, as it was initially called, sucked up lives at rate of almost 50,000 a day at one point. The Germans committed atrocities against civilians in Belgium, and reduced the Cathedral of Arras to rubble. The soil of Northern France, pockmarked with war craters, is all one big burial ground for lost souls — the graveyards you see, 410 military cemeteries, and the graveyards you don’t see.
When the war ended, after 17 million deaths worldwide, a headline in Britain’s Daily Mirror proclaimed: ‘Democracy Triumphs Over the Last of the Autocrats.’”
My great-great uncle was one of those 17 million.
“Few of their children in the country learn English… The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”
…the language so vexing to him was the German spoken by new arrivals to Pennsylvania in the 1750s, a wave of immigrants whom Franklin viewed as the “most stupid of their nation.”
“JANE, YOU IGNORANT NAZI SLUT!”
Smearing someone as a Nazi ain’t enough anymore. Now, you must add slut-shaming to the slur.
Often I find that children’s books, as in books written for children about any particular help simplify and clarify subjects for me. I love ’em.
Such is the case with a book I discovered at the public library in downtown Bellevue, Washington. It is a brief bio on Otto von Bismarck, the man who created modern German state. The author, Kimberley Heuston, boils down the essential facts, mixed with a bit of moralizing, but not enough to be off putting, thank God.
If ever you are confused by a topic, see if there’s a kids’ book on it. And don’t be embarrassed! Learning is learning! Knowledge is knowledge! No matter how you absorb it.
April 16, 1521: German reformer Martin Luther arrives at the Diet of Worms, convinced he would get the hearing he requested in 1517 to discuss the abuse of indulgences and his “95 Theses.” He was astounded when he discovered it would not be a debate, but rather a judicial hearing to see if he wished to recant his words. In defending himself the next Day , Luther said, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning . . . then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen!” When negotiations over the next few Day s failed to reach any compromise, Luther was condemned (see issue 34: Luther’s Early Years).
The German Connection
Using a multidisciplinary approach, including DNA and a family religious artifact, helped me confirm that my grandmother’s paternal line had its origins in Germany.
The artifact is a book, printed in Philadelphia in 1814 with text in German. This alone is significant. The language is not American English. This is German.
When I first saw this, after a copy of it was reproduced in a book on the family history called Michael Hay and His Descendants, I knew that I had to pursue this. I had to unravel this story.
One of the compiler’s of the book, Lucy Bayley, lived in Oregon. And one day years ago my grandmother, her brother Everett, and I made the short road trip to her home. She was welcoming, but when I began asking questions about the family, she was reticent to give much information.
She was publishing a book and did not want to share, as if I was a competitor. It was a strange experience. I certainly had no intentions of publishing a book. But she treated me like a spy. So I was frustrated. Grandma said that I should just let her handle it.
Funnily, when the book was finally released, many in our branch of the family were disappointed. It was a typical genealogical book, with a bunch of names and dates, but little else. And there were some errors. I much prefer a narrative format, rather than the routine one.
This is not to say that the book is without merit. The first few pages are worthwhile and quite informative. These include maps and photographs, of land where our ancestors farmed and the long-neglected cemetery on private land where many were buried, more than a century ago.
Lucy was convinced of a Scottish connection, that the family had been in Scotland, part of the Hay clan apparently, but had then relocated to Germany. She was obsessed with this theory. To this day I have no idea if there is one. But I have seen no evidence of it.
However, the link with Germany is solid. I convinced my great uncle, the same one who made the journey to visit Lucy, to submit his DNA, and the results proved a link to a man named Kettering, who had traced his line back to a particular place in Germany.
So now I am working on a translation of this catechism book. I don’t know if I can do it on my own, using online translators such as Google Translate. But I am gonna try.
The Power of Compound Words
“The German language
is sufficiently copious
for any idea
that can be expressed at all.”
— Charles Follen in A Practical Grammar of the German Language (1835)