Fireworks explode overhead. Children make designs in the air with hot, sparkly rods of metal. Bands play songs that are impossible to listen to without tapping our toes to the rhythm. It’s all a part of the annual birthday party that is uniquely American. Looking around in the crowd, we see so many different types of people, each with their own story.
Each branch of our family tree has its own tales. Older family members have passed them along, some as simple narration of facts, others with much embellishment and bravado. All together, they make up the rich fabric that makes us who we are today.
My dad’s side of the family, the McLeods, originated in Scotland. My grandpa’s grandpa and grandma arrived in the US around 1880. Times had been hard in the Scottish Highlands. John McLeod came to America first, and after moving from the Pennsylvania coal mines to Eastern Kansas, he sent for his wife, Mary Whiteford McLeod. She and her four small boys set out across the Atlantic, and in the midst of the difficult journey, their fifth son was born. Once in Kansas, they left the dark world of the mines to become ranchers.
My Mother’s grandfather, Karl Maurer came to America just a few years earlier from Germany. Not speaking any English or having any family in his new home, he enlisted in the Army. His several tours of duty took him through Oklahoma, Kansas, and points west. Because the army was engaged with making the frontier safe for white settlers, much of his time was spent working with the Indians. After a twenty year military career and becoming an American citizen, he married the daughter of an Army musician. Though twenty years younger, she was also of good German stock. They settled near his last assignment, the Presidio in California.
My husband’s family stories all take place in the United States. It seems that on both sides, his ancestors have been in America much longer than mine.
The Carlisle legend centers around four brothers who were shipwrecked in North Carolina. Though I haven’t been able to verify the shipwreck, the location is correct, and for generations, there is a tradition of Carlisle boys traveling and settling together. As to where they came from, or why, indications seem to lead to the importance of their faith. During the Revolutionary war, they were not soldiers, but there is a Carlisle who was a shoemaker that traveled with the Army. Conscientious objector? After moving to Mississippi, they were reportedly Mennonites. In Arkansas, they are listed as founders of a church in Grant County. Doing what is needed for the local congregation is a tradition that continues today.
My husband’s Grandpa Weaver’s grandmother was a survivor of the tragic massacre at Mountain Meadows in Utah in 1857. After returning home to Arkansas, these children made it their life’s mission to share the truth of what had happened to their families. Though the official story involved an Indian attack, the children had seen past the war paint and recognized the murderers as the same Mormon settlers who had earlier promised to protect the wealthy wagon train. Their courage helped bring the story out, and the misguided zealots to justice.
What’s your story? I know you have more than one. Have you shared it with your children and grandchildren? If they don’t seem interested now, write it down. Someday, they will want to know, and they will be proud to understand more about where they came from.
Whether or not you know why your ancestors came here, these stories are so uniquely American. Nowhere else on earth do so many different threads converge into such a rich, warm quilt.
Happy Birthday America! We love to hear your stories!