October is National Family History Month, and my husband, David, is hot on the research trail of his English ancestors. Knowledge of my own Filipino ancestry comes only from family stories. David and I are jealous of each other.
My husband loves the treasure hunt for information through census, birth and death records. His ancestors labored in rural England, and his research stretches back into 19th-century England.
Genealogy shows he comes from salt- of-the-earth folks” tanners, bleach workers and tallow makers.
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“What’s a fustian? I asked.
“Someone in the mills who cut fabric using heavy machinery. All the dust and damp made it hard to breathe,” David said.
“Huh! Maybe that’s where the word fusty comes from.”
I look at my successful scientist husband and note, “Wow, you’ve come a long way, baby.”
In comparison, I tell David stories about my grandmother Rosario, a village beauty in the Philippines who had nine children by a Catholic priest who never left the priesthood to marry her. But they were inseparable, and later he was transferred to a faraway diocese in the Philippines.
I add, “I shouldn’t even be sitting here.”
My grandmother had prophetic visions and later gambled away her inheritance. Apparently, Rosario never loved anyone else but Father Lorenzo because another man was never reported in her life. So it surprised me when David said, “I wish I knew something about my ancestors.”
“David, you do. They were bleach workers and greengrocers.”
“No, I mean who they were, not just what they did.”
It gave me pause. You could spend your whole life as a doctor or a dockworker, but it only hints at who you were. In the end, succeeding generations yearn for stories as proof of adventure, courage or passion within their own DNA.
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James Standring, David’s grandfather, was a “political organizer,” yet an earlier job on the census listed him as a “haberdasher.” During a visit to England, David found lines of poetry scribbled in his grandfather’s hand into turn-of-the-century notebooks.
Perhaps James Standring was a dapper gent who turned a poetic phrase to rally workers. I imagine Rosario lived her life with a defiant passion and loyalty.
And these visions give David and I great satisfaction.
You can reach Rosario’s granddaughter (me!) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton resident Suzette Martinez Standring is the Spiritual Life columnist for The Patriot Ledger. Also, visit www.readsuzette.com.
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