“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed. Most peculiar, Momma.” John Lennon
Schools and restaurants closed, concerts and sporting events cancelled, Broadway going dark, cruise lines ceasing operations, and even Disney shuttering for the first time in years. Lock down is turning cities into ghost towns. Coronavirus is having a dramatic effect, globally and internationally. Individuals, especially the 60 and over crowd, are being ordered to self-quarantine. Social distancing has become the catch word of the day. Experts suggest that the virus will run its course in time, but nobody knows for how long. Never in our lives have we experienced such strange and unsettling times.
Unexpected time at home provides the opportunity to delve into my recently received Ancestry.com results. Ancestry.com is the world’s largest private online genealogy database, answering such questions as, “Who were my ancestors?” and “Where were they originally from?”
My ethnicity results estimate that I am 49% Irish- Scotch, 30% English-Welch, 18% German, and 3% Eastern European.
A portion of my Irish ancestors hailed from Leinster, the site of the Irish rebellion of 1798, an unsuccessful uprising against British rule, influenced by the revolutions in America and France. Death tolls are estimated at 10-30,000.
Other Irish relatives came from Roscommon, where deaths from the Irish potato famine peaked at 50,000 a year. Owen McCabe, my ancestor on my mother’s side, fled to New York along with a million others, where they continued to suffer religious persecution for their Catholic heritage.
My father’s family can be traced back, amazingly, to Katharine Uhl, born in 1630 in Germany. Her great-grandson, Michael Leonard Hahn, was born in York, Pennsylvania, in 1748. A captain in the Revolutionary War, he later married Mary Elizabeth Bentz and had 14 children.
As a current resident of York County, I feel that my family has come full circle!
The family later moved to Ohio, where Hahn was involved in an Indian attack. A later relative, Matthew Perry Bateman, tried his luck in the California Gold Rush, as well as serving in the Union Army in the Civil War!
By the late 19th century, the family had settled in Wisconsin, where my father was born in 1925.
Rebellions, famines, war, and religious persecution, my ancestors endured them all. And I bet yours did, too.
In my mother’s family, I can envision the cold and cramped quarters on the steamship that transported Owen McCabe and his wife, Ellen, to New York. The smells, the rolling waves, the panic of the unknown. In her new country, I can sense her fear as Ellen combated prejudice to apply for the only occupation for which she was qualified as a young, uneducated Irish girl. Years later, my grandmother, Mary McCabe, also worked as a maid. After her husband’s untimely death, she had to work to survive. Her daughter and my mother, Peggy, nearly had to quit high school to make ends meet.
In my Dad’s ancestry, I can imagine the musket on his shoulder, smell the gunpowder as Michael Hahn battled the British in the Revolution. I can feel the pain of packing up one’s belongings to begin the long trek in a dusty covered wagon from the Pennsylvania countryside to Ohio, there to be threatened by the native Americans. Of course, it was their land we were invading.
By the next century, my ancestors were ensconced in the Wisconsin hills, where, as a child, my father, Al Bateman, endured the poverty and unemployment of the Great Depression. My Dad often told me that his mother, Clara, had to pack lard sandwiches for him and his siblings. Meat simply wasn’t affordable. Snow sifted in between the rafters where he and his brothers slept in their attic room. And yes, he walked several miles to a one-room school house. Those stories were no joke, and the struggle was real.
Today, COVID-19 is testing our spirits in new and alarming ways. Currently, it has killed over 100 of the more than 5,200 diagnosed in the United States, but globally, the death toll is over 7,500, with especially high rates in Italy and Iran.
But our ancestors endured far worse, and lived on to prosper. We will get through this, and hopefully come out stronger on the other end.
In absence of visits, I’ve been FaceTiming with my grandkids, reading them stories of long-ago struggles, and having them respond in kind.
Maybe it’s time to just stop, take a breath, and reconnect.
As far as Ancestry.com, I have to wonder about the future. Is it possible that some great-great granddaughter in the 23rd century will be checking some database to procure information about me and our times? What will she find?