A Family Affair: Szczecin, pt.1

To listen to an audio version of ‘A Family Affair’ click the play button

“All origins become mysterious if we search far enough into the past. And almost all peoples, when we look at their earliest origins, turn out to have come from somewhere else.” -Noel Malcolm, Kosovo: A Short History

A fierce north wind struck the boat, chilling us to the bone. Waves from an oil-tanker slapped the hull; the pilot boats taking it out to sea resembled the small fish that keep company with whales. Towering cranes lined the docks, their metallic arms reaching through air, loading and unloading cargo from around the world. Fishermen cupped cigarettes to their mouths, the thin nets of smoke sheering away in the wind. A grey sky skimmed the world.

A class of Polish university students huddled on the open deck, listening to a lecture about the historic importance of the port, the trade of nations that made its way through the waters, the momentous and violent events that altered the fabric of the city. We picked up fragments of the talk when one of the ship’s crew, a kindly mariner who wore his many decades at sea with a smile, brought us coffee and tried with a few words of English and motions of his hands and arms to explain the essentials. In light of our reason for being there, his considerably better German should in theory have been our common tongue. But between the three of us we couldn’t muster a sentence.

Szczecin, 2010
Szczecin, 2010

It was our last day in Szczecin, in northern Poland, and my parents sat across from me on the deck. Despite the cold, we rarely went down below to the warm comfort of the lounge while journeying around the city’s extensive docklands, shipyards, waterways, repair yards, cargo terminals, channels and lakes. Staying up top afforded us our best view of the city, a peek into its historic heart. But while the skyline and riverbanks drifted past we were searching for something else as well, something more elusive and intangible. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of its past.

Stettin, 1594
The layout of Szczecin’s harbour has changed little in centuries, straddling both sides of the Odra River since the Middle Ages. It’s a seafaring city, and always has been, shaped by the salt waters of the Baltic that mingle in the estuary with the river. These ties to the Baltic, for both better and worse, led to the city’s coronation as the port of Berlin, an ideal arrangement for a landlocked city only a 150 kilometres away by rail and road. Trade brought Szczecin a substantial wealth, but for its strategic importance it paid far more than it gained. By the end of the Second World War, more than eighty percent of the city had been left in ruins by Allied bombers seeking to sever its connection to Berlin.
Stettin, 1929
Szczecin, 2010

In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes that, “when you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one can know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back…” This is true in so many respects, but what of yourself can you find if the place you’re travelling to was known only by an ancestor? What memories and associations might linger over the years? And what meanings can we make from the traces? If the past is another country, can it ever entwine with today?

Szczecin, 2010

Before my great-grandfather jumped ship in South Shields, England sometime around the year 1900 for reasons that will never be known, he worked in the merchant navy out of the port at Szczecin. This was the place he belonged to, where whatever memories and associations he might have seeded from the first part of his life would be stowed. Only the city of his birth was called Stettin back then, and was German rather than Polish, behind a line on a map that moved after the war. Charles Hoffmann (as the family name was spelled at the time) was the son of a police chief, and about 26 when he left the city. So angry were his family at his desertion that they disowned him, and eventually he signed over his rights to inheritance, severing ties to his native land. Whatever his reasons for choosing to stay, the moment my great-grandfather decided against rejoining his ship as it sailed away from England many things were set in motion that he couldn’t possibly foresee. A cutting from the family tree began rooting a long way from its ancestors.

Szczecin, 2010
Stettin, 1936

Journeying around the harbour, my parents remarked upon how eerily familiar it was to the English coastal town they both grew up in, only a few miles down the coast from where my dad’s grandfather had landed. I find myself drawn to these similarities, these “memories and associations” conjured by two distinct places. Years ago, when we began tracing the family history, I was immediately struck by the resemblances, the fact that Charles Hoffmann had lived out the span of his life between two coasts. And yet port cities have long been gateways where sailors, traders and immigrants first landed, where languages and cultures coalesced and collided. To stay in a place that might have reminded my great-grandfather of his old home, and where his skills as a mariner remained useful, seemed obvious after only a short while in Poland.

Szczecin, 2010
Stettin, 1931

But something else sparked my fascination while we trawled the waters of Szczecin harbour. I don’t know whether it was the open sea that the Odra River ran into, or the flags of countless countries rippling above ships, but I became aware of how common an experience my great-grandfather shared in. All across our planet people are moving this very minute, led by wanderlust or economics, out of love or out of fear. People are leaving homes and crafting new ones, slowly, surely, spurred on by optimism or desperation, moving a little or wandering far, searching with determination for a place that seems right.

The reasons for movement are immeasurable; it’s what our species has always done from the moment it spread out from Africa, crossing vast, forbidding seas and inhospitable deserts, pushing on over land bridges and funnelling down through continents, migrating, dispersing, gathering in unexpected ways. And with each movement a line is altered, a lineage like a vine encouraged in a new direction. The world shifts a little each time, is remade by our steps.

Szczecin, 2010
Szczecin, 2010

While the contemporary photographs of Szczecin are mine, the historic images are taken from postcards bought in the city. The original photographers are unfortunately not attributed. The pictured airship is the Graf Zeppelin, famous for its round the world journeys, and from which the overhead image of the Odra River was also taken two years later.

33 thoughts on “A Family Affair: Szczecin, pt.1

  1. A finely wrought and evocative tale of a journey in the wake of family migrations, Hoff. I was so transported by the narrative that I only paused to realise how insightfully constructed and well written this piece is after I’d finished reading. So I read it again, second time with your spoken accompaniment.

    I realise I haven’t heard you speak for some years – and then I would have been looking at you as you spoke. Your disembodied voice conjoured a wraith of your 30-ish self as i listened along. Hearing your voice like this, I noticed how your accent bears traces of your English childhood and your Canadian youth – particular words seem to arrive from different sides of the Atlantic – the timbre and cadence flits between the two and never seems to fully settle along one shore or the other.

    There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, eh?

    1. But I still am 30-ish, Pete! Wraiths never age, you know that! Accents are interesting, and I think you’re quite right about the metaphor within my own odd trans-atlantic voice. I think much of the English part of it came about after leaving Canada, interestingly, when I was already in my twenties. Whether picking up from the accents of my parents and many of their friends, or some deeper, residual memory, I don’t really know. Of course, it’s not something I hear so easily myself, but it never fails to provoke a few guesses as to where I’m from whenever I meet someone new!

      Thanks very much for your very fine thoughts on the post, Pete. Delighted that it sparked a second read/listen. And we really must get together again one of these days. It would be a delight wherever that might be, my friend.

  2. My family history is well documented through journals, letters, anecdotes of friends and family lore. But still, I wonder what went through my grandfather’s mind when he left Holland to establish his home in Mexico City during a time of revolution. I do know, it was not a bad or unfortunate decision. I loved this post and it gives me much to think about.

    1. Thanks ever so much, Georgette! It must be fascinating to have your family history documented to such a personal and diverse extent, something I didn’t have unfortunately. Those documents and anecdotes must be wonderfully rich. And I have to say that it sounds as though there’s an interesting tale in there about moving from Holland to Mexico City at a time of revolution. So many of these stories surround us, continually making me marvel at the extraordinary things that people do. Thanks for taking the time to add this story of yours. Much appreciated!

  3. My New Zealand born father has roots in both the former East and West Germany. I have never been to any of those 3 countries but I am sure – despite the past is another country – there are memories there that I would sense.

    1. Thanks for this, Diana. I agree, even if I can’t explain precisely why, that these places and their memories can be sensed. It was a remarkable experience travelling to Szczecin in so many respects; do you have any interest or plans in visiting New Zealand or Germany?

      Many thanks for reading and adding your thoughts here.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

      1. My father kept a few well-thumbed letters, from the grandparents I never met. Memories sparkle in those sheets of paper. How dry it will be to read an ediary in the future. Perhaps not – if it is as enticing as your work.

        1. I love the thought of having “well-thumbed letters,” a tangible connection to another time, and to people you’ve never met. You’ve crafted a lovely image with memories that “sparkle in those sheets of paper,” Diana, and I’d like to say thanks for your warm-hearted compliment. Here’s to words for the future!

  4. Hi Julian!

    Thank you for the photos of Szczecin and this great post!
    My grand mother met my grand father there. She moved to Szczecin from Przemyśl – the opposite corner of Poland to find a job just after the war. My grandfather was a sapper and a engineer, and was a member of a polish-german comission/team which demarkated the countries border. I have never been to this town, but some day I think I will walk the same streets my granmother wandered when she was young and the whole life was before her.
    Oh, yes it is fascinating to discover family history and see all this places where something important happened in our ancestror lives.
    Sometimes it is so unpredictable what will happen, how our life will look life and what will it cause. My friend (she is after 60) recently foud out that she has stepsister living in England (the story worth writting a book)… : )

    1. Hi Barbara! It’s a pleasure to hear from you, especially with this wonderful story you’ve brought to the discussion. Absolutely fascinating to think that your grandfather was one of the people marking the border after the war. And I fully recommend a visit to Szczecin. Although our main reason for visiting was to see the place of our ancestors we all kind of fell in love with the city as well. In fact my parents enjoyed it so much that they returned a second time this year just for their holidays. I’ll be writing a bit more about Szczecin in the second part of the this post, and perhaps how it is changing from an industrial city to one that is encouraging tourism through cycling, canoeing on the lakes and nature reserves among the wetlands. It’s a fascinating city, and I’m looking forward to my next visit! Thanks ever so much for leaving this wonderful comment and for taking the time to read. It’s been a delight to write about your homeland.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  5. Julian — What an incredible, powerful narrative. The journey and the writing, both. I often find myself thinking about the lives of my ancestors, what would have chanced had they not chanced aboard a certain ship or into a certain person. Someday I hope to visit the island of Bornholm in Denmark, or the out-country of Czechoslovakia. Your insights and footsteps here are inspiring. Thank you.

    1. Thanks ever so much, as always, Emily. Delighted that the words resonated with some of your own thoughts and feelings regarding the past, and its place in our lives. And as you point out, there is also a great element of chance involved in these processes, which can be a little dizzying to consider! I hope you can make those journeys some day, to both countries, where I’m certain your sensitivity to place will be richly rewarded. And from where a story is bound to emerge through your fine words. Thanks for reading and adding these thoughts and connections…

    1. Thanks for joining on the journey, Larry! Greatly appreciated, and I’m very pleased you liked it. It was one of those things we’d talked about for years, half in jest: should be go to Szczecin? And the decision to go was well worth it, in so many ways. A wonderful way of spending time and exploring the past together through a place.

      Regarding the photos: would you mind telling me how they appeared on your screen, the ones I took I mean? I spent quite a while trying to process B&W versions that would suit the piece, so I was pleased when you’d commented on the photos. But speaking to my parents last night they said that for them my photos looked very ‘blue’ rather than B&W, and not quite right. I don’t know if it’s about the way different computers are colour-calibrated or not, but I was alarmed to think I’d sent out a set of blue photos! Many thanks if you’re able to reply to this.

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  6. Hi Julian, your quote at the beginning and words at the end tie everything together so eloquently. I appreciate the reminder of how alike we are to other species that are also always on the move, remaking the world “with each step”. I enjoyed your b&w photos, the history, and your connection with this place.

    1. Thanks kindly, Cait! It’s a quote that I’ve had in a notebook for a few years since reading the book, always knowing that some day it would be just right. And reflecting on this particular journey brought it to mind again; I think what Noel Malcolm has to say in these few words is crucial to our modern world, raising questions about nationalism, racism and identity. But they also ask us to look closely at who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we might be going. I’m delighted that you enjoyed these steps, wherever they may takes us…

      Best wishes,
      Julian

  7. I agree — experiencing this essays works well when one reads first and then goes back to listen.

    Two things came to my mind as I read through the piece. The idea that today, through our choices, we are planting the seeds of tomorrow. The future is present in today although we cannot see it. If you live long enough– as I have– you begin to get a sense that the future is not often a random, luck of the draw, product. Each choice we make shapes.

    Because my husband and I have bought an historic farm in Oregon, and we are attempting to restore the buildings and the land, I am aware families lived there before us. We see it in the buildings, such as the nineteenth century barn and farmhouse, and we also sense their presence through the land– the way the land has been “used” over the past 100 years.

    Jullian’s essay, though, has made me think about the choices these past owners made in, and of course, I’m seeing our actions in a new light too.

    Looking forward to part two.
    Sher

    1. Thanks for adding this wonderful comment, Sher!I’m really drawn to what you have to say about the farm you and your husband are restoring; how even the homes and buildings we live in bear the marks of how others have lived. Your idea brings a strong parallel to the notion of our present seeding the future, that each act now futher embellishes the template of someone else’s time. “The future is present in today” – indeed it’s good to be reminded of this important fact. To be able to glimpse some of the history of a place through its land is a wonderful and intimate prospect. As others will come to see your own in time. Enjoy these excavations!

      By the way, I dropped by your blog to see what was happening around the Oregon farm these days but I kept being told that the blog no longer exists. Is this just a technical problem that I encountered, or have you stopped writing it, Sher? Looking forward to catching up with your part of the world if the blog is still around!

      Many thanks for the kind words and compliments! Best wishes,

      Julian

      1. Hi Jullian:
        Not sure what the issue is. You are the first person who has mentioned any problem with the blog. I plan on continuing. Since I retired in January from teaching, I finally have the time to read and write as I wish. It’s quite freeing!

        Try this link — it shows the old barn and pictures of what we have done so far.

        http://mulesprings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/the-barn-wow/

        the general link is:

        http://mulesprings.wordpress.com/

        If this does not work, let me know, and I will investigate further.

        I jotted down a series of points yesterday regarding the land and aspects of it that show what was done before–how the land was impacted, what I know of the lives of those who lived there — hopes dreams, and failures.

        I have a good friend who is a historic preservationist, and she is researching past owners and creating a sketch of the old farmhouse, and we plan on giving this as a gift to my husband for the holidays. Once I see what she has found, I will go from there with my own research…

        Sher

        1. Hi Sher! Sorry for the late reply; it’s been a busy weekend. But I’m very pleased to let you know that the link is working. The problem I seemed to be having was that I was trying to reach your blog via the Mule Springs namelink that comes with your comment. That is linked to a blog called ‘travelswithbumbleburr.wordpress’ which I can only now presume is one that you closed?? I’ve had a quick look at what seems to be a fascinating barn restoration project and will stop by properly later this week when I have a bit more time to look around.

          Sounds really fascinating what you are doing regarding the land and making a note of how it was altered, affected, and changed over time. Looking forward to seeing where it leads you. Keep up the great work!

          Best wishes,
          Julian

          1. Jullian:
            Thanks for explaining what happened when you clicked on my comments. I did not realize the link would take you to a discarded blog. Travels with Bumbleburr was my first short-lived blog project. I was able to go in and change the setting, so now it should be fixed.

            :) Sher

  8. As usual, (as I have learned) I had to wait until I had a good block of uninterrupted time to absorb all the words and images of your post…hence my late comment.
    First, I really enjoy the audio narratives! It must take time to put together, but it is so nice to hear the names of these towns properly pronounced!

    This post comes at an appropriate time. My sister just started a journey called “ancestry dot com”. :) We knew my dad’s family came from Poland, but she is trying to trace the lineage back into and through Poland. We have decided to journey there for my 50th birthday (in just a few years) after she has gathered the information we need.
    Your post made me feel a sense of excitement at what we would find there!

    Thanks again for an enjoyable read (or “and enjoyable listen” in this case!)

    1. Thanks, Savvy Sister, for your very kind compliments. The recordings do take a bit of time but I like being able to bring another layer to the piece if possible so I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed it. I’ll try to include audio as often as I can. However, I’m absolutely certain that a native Polish speaker would tell you that I’m mangling beyond belief the names of their cities! When you arrive in Poland I would advise you not to rely on my pronunciation!

      Sounds like a wonderful and important journey to be making with your sister. I’ve been to Poland a few times now (the other visits being before we started becoming interested in the family history) and I’ve always found it a fascinating place to explore. I’m certain you’ll find much richness in your travels.

      Many thanks again and hope your planning if fruitful…

      P.S. I like the ‘ancestry dot com’ journey ;-)

  9. I just recently read Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables and was stuck by a statement made by one of the characters. “The truth is, that, once in every half-century, at longest, a family should be merged into the great, obscure mass of humanity, and forget all about its ancestors. Human blood, in order to keep its freshness, should run in hidden streams, as the water of an aqueduct is conveyed in subterranean pipes.” Although I thought his timeline a little short, I could see the value in what he said, especially with regard to the story. As terribly curious as I am about my family’s history, which does not appear to have been a topic of particular interest beyond my parents’ generation, isn’t it possible that the burdens of heritage might possibly have been wisely left behind?

    1. This is a really interesting thought, Cindy, and there’s a great deal of truth in Hawthorne’s quote. No doubt in evolutionary terms nomadism was a way not only of hunting and gathering but also a technique for the dispersal of genes as well. What is also raised in this idea, and which is so easy to forget or sidestep in our searches, is that for many people emigration was about getting away. Whatever is was that sent my great-grandfather to the UK he didn’t, to the best of our knowledge, show any great interest in returning to what was Germany at the time. Which might very well be the same for Italian emigrants fleeing starvation and poverty at the turn of the 20th century who came ashore at Ellis Island, or refugees from Rwanda escaping genocide who landed in London not many years ago.

      But in reply to your final question I suppose I would ask what constitutes burden in terms of heritage? For some there may be a great weight, but I suspect that for many their personal histories can be enriching, where the past is a set of stories told and woven into the thread of their own lives. I had a very interesting experience in Germany, having spent a few days there after being in Szczecin. Although I’d only once briefly been to Germany many years earlier I felt extremely at home, as though a part of me belonged there somewhere, a sensation that has never arisen in any other country I’ve visited, fascinating though I’ve found them. I realised that my heritage, what has influenced the trajectory of my life, is northern European; it’s where I feel most at home in a cultural sense. But what appeals most to me about exploring the past is unearthing the stories that have crafted it, and discovering how easily we can belong to and can come from other places, a way of celebrating the rich diversity of human possibilities, always on the move.

      Thanks ever so much for this wonderful addition to the discussion, Cindy. Looking forward to any further thoughts!

      Best wishes,
      Julian

      1. I fully agree that a heritage of culture and traditions, and even further of accomplishments and pride can enrich one’s life. I cling to mythologies of adventurers and risk-takers who parented my own grandparents. On my paternal side it was my grandparents themselves who individually ended up in a small town in the interior of British Columbia from Europe and South America. The stories are vague however and leave room for details that could swivel the interpretation of my ancestors’ actions. For whatever reason, the specifics of their stories were not passed down.

        I still have to wring stories from my parents of their own youth. They are just not interested in the past. It could be that my people were simply in the habit of living in the present, but perhaps there were reasons to leave the past behind. Possibilities that had not really even occurred to me until I read Hawthorne. If you are familiar with the novel you will understand that (although it is an extreme example) the actions of an individual can be passed down with an obligation through descendants whose own growth and individuality might be inhibited as a result; as though you are born with a dept.

        Nevertheless, I do feel a strong pull towards what were my ancestors’ homelands. I devour the landscapes, the histories and try out the accents. I believe there is a subliminal energy at work within us that is not our own, but is a product of the accumulation of the experiences of all those who have likewise contributed to our specific DNA. Be it burden or boon, it is there anyway.

        1. Hi Cindy, I haven’t read The House of Seven Gables (though it’s now on my list!), but I see where you’re coming from – the burden of inheritance, a debt beginning at birth as you rightly point out. What’s also interesting for me in this line of thinking, and is completely influenced by experiences I’ve had in the village, is seeing how past and present do entwine in terms of personal obligation and debt. There are people I know in this village who don’t speak to each other because their parents don’t speak to each other, parents who don’t speak to each other because of something that happened between their grandparents, an event or misdeed that can no longer even be remembered with any precision. Which is what I find so fascinating about your reference to stories that are “vague and leave room for details.” This is perhaps the crux of any reassembling of the past, the unreliability of its contents. I might touch upon it in part 2, but we have so little detail about my great-grandfather’s life, partially because he was a very quiet man, remembered by my father when he was a boy as “just sitting in the garden in a chair,” but also because some members of our extended family are unwilling or uninterested in talking about it. The past can be read in so many ways. While I’m drawn to the stories of my great-grandfather’s origins I know that others in our family, considering themselves English through and through, are somewhat ashamed by a Germanic heritage. Then there are others in the family who are indifferent, simply uninterested. I don’t think, in my family at least, that it’s about living in the present per se; things excite us differently.

          I like that line, “I devour the landscapes.” There is no reckoning on why certain things interest us, but your line resonates deeply with me. Landscape is often at the heart of my connections to the past; it feels like a second language, one that spoke to me from early in life. That “subliminal energy” must pass through so much, gather and sift a profusion of experiences, and then bestow our inheritance upon us in varied ways, because there can be few things as complex as the families we descend from!

  10. Lovely post, Julian, and a little bit different from the things that I have read from you over the past 6 – 8 months. When you state near the beginning of the post that you were hoping to get a glimpse of Szczecin’s past, I had the sense that you were trying to triangulate between Szczecin’s past, your great-grandfather’s past, and your own present. Is this the case or am I reading too much into this? If so, that sounds devilishly difficult to do because much of the narrative that accompanied your great-grandfather’s journey has been lost.

    We are all strongly imprinted by the environment in which we were raised. Having been raised in a small town in Northern Ontario, I know that this experience influenced my values related to stillness, communal ties, the outdoors, the starkness of winter, and much more. Having been to where my parents grew up in an even smaller community in Northern Manitoba, I could see how this environment had helped to shape who they were, which obviously indirectly influenced me. If I had a child and took him or her to both of these places, the connection with the past would be fairly strong, as both mine and my parent’s home communities are little changed from their respective pasts. This complicates your attempt at triangulation because you’re reaching even further back in time and Szczecin has clearly changed significantly since your great-grandfather lived there. That said, were there things about Szczecin that resonated with you at a deep, visceral level, in the same that you mentioned experiencing a ‘sense of belonging’ as you travelled afterwards through Germany? And if so, can you put your finger on what resonated with you?

    1. Thanks for this wonderfully interesting comment, Paul. Sorry I haven’t replied yet but I have a little pile of work to finish off and then straight on to your thoughts. Great to hear from you and will get back to you in the next day or so.
      Cheers,
      Julian

      1. As you’ve probably noticed by now, that was a rather long day or two! My sincere apologies, Paul. With the winding up of the year I seem to have a number of projects all requiring far more time than I’d imagined. Thanks for being patient.

        I’m fascinated by many aspects of your thoughts and questions here: long before I wrote the post, of course, there was the journey itself. The writing is, in many respects, a second journey, one in which I often find I’m able to go deeper and further in my explorations of a place, history or experience. I didn’t know what to expect as we travelled together to Szczecin, but what I’d hoped to obliquely bring attention to in the post is how “devilishly difficult” (as you so wonderfully put it!) it is to trace the past in any meaningful sense. That glimpse is all it can be, at least in our situation. I realise how popular genealogy and family ancestry have become in recent years, but beyond the names and dates of significant events it is profoundly difficult to raise sails over the rigging of a life without the stories that propelled it, and feelings that constituted it. Our hopes to glimpse something of the past were solely that, hopes that I think many of us share in trying to search through our family histories. The distance is too great, both in time and place to piece the puzzle together into anything that resembles a whole. Having said that, what amazed me was the sense of walking amongst echoes in Szczecin. The connections were intangible, but they were there. A sense almost of having walked the place before, though obviously I hadn’t. But between the “imprinting” of an environment that you bring up and the “subliminal energy” that Cindy mentions, I believe there is something far vaster at play in these places than the names and dates of ancestors can bequeath us.

        Travelling onwards to Berlin I had the curious experience of sitting in a train and listening closely to German being spoken in the landscape it was born of, and the sounds (so often described as harsh and unmusical) suddenly made sense to me. Not the words or their meanings as I don’t speak the language at all, but the rhythms and cadence and pitch. I listened with great enjoyment, with the sense that it was a language perhaps “imprinted” in myself at some depth and remove, but there all the same. I left the carriage that day realising how fragments, or glimpses, of the past, both cultural and geographical, can linger.

        Hope this finds you well, Paul, and many thanks for the wonderful comment. My apologies that it’s taken me this long to get back to you. Best wishes for the coming holidays.

        Julian

        1. Thanks, Julian, for answering my questions. It gives me some context to know that you didn’t really have any expectations going into this trip, and in hearing more fully about some of the intangible connections that occurred for you during the journey. I love your phrase, “raise sails over the rigging of a life”, as we truly all are vessels in many more ways than one. I hope that you also have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends.

          Paul

  11. What a wonderful exploration of your family history, Julian. I was eating my lunch while listening to your story and enjoyed it immensely. I like the sense of continuity you showed with the modern pictures in black and white to connect and link past and present with the older historic ones.

    I too have felt those “’memories and associations’ conjured by two distinct places.” Instead of settling out west with other Scandinavian immigrants, my Norwegian sailor ancestor settled on Cape Cod, I presume, so that he could still live by and on the sea, eventually becoming a sea captain. And my Ukrainian grandfather finally wound up owning a farm here in Connecticut. As a peasant in Ukraine he would never have owned land, at least not in his lifetime. Sometimes we can only guess at the motives our ancestors had for moving so far away. Knowledge of history can help us to find some context and possible answers. A quote that inspires me to keep looking:

    “Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.”
    ~ Carl Jung

    Thank you for an engaging read and a thought-filled start to my afternoon!

    1. Thank you very much, Barbara. I know you’re keenly interested in your own family history so it’s particularly pleasing to hear that this post resonated with you. I love the Jung quote that you’ve added to the discussion as well, raising the idea of a ‘house’ peopled by ancestors through memories and echoes and recollections. I think you’re quite right to mention historical context as a way of searching, or at least understanding the framework that specific lives were lived within. So delighted that you began your afternoon by listening to this, Barbara. Thanks for bringing me a smile!

      Best wishes,

      Julian

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