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My ethnic story...

Alice at Sciencewomen asked people to post about their ethnic stories. The conversation over there has been quite intriguing, and because of it, I'm going to post my own. There are two things I think are important about the conversation. 1 - I had no idea that there are people who don't know that much about their ethnic heritage. 2 - Not everyone who is looks white is, entirely.

I'll start with point #2, since it is shorter. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm part Hidatsa. My grandfather lived on Fort Berthold reservation until he was about 12. I don't know much about his life there because he passed away when I was about 10. But I do know a few things...he lived there before they flooded the reservation with Lake Sacajawea. He lived in Van Hook...which is now underwater. My mother owns the school bell from there. When he was a child, my grandfather sat on the lap of Chief Dragswolf, who was considered the last great Hidatsa chief. He told the US government that he would let them flood his lands over his dead body. Unfortunately, he passed away soon after, and they did flood them.

My grandfather's family moved to Minot when he was about 12. My great-grandmother worked as a house-keeper for a man whom she later married. Her first husband took off a few years before that. (My biological great-grandfather was the epitome of the deadbeat dad.) I don't know if they had any problems assimilating into the predominantly German/Norwegian population. Regardless, after they left, they really never had much to do with the tribe afterwards.

What I did grow up learning about was the German-Russian side of my family. I think this is due to the fact that my great-grandmother lived until I was about 15. She lived with my grandmother during the last years of her life, and so I spent a lot of time with her. When I was about 10 years old, I made her insane, and she decided to teach me to crochet so that I'd quit pestering her. My great-grandmother was highly gifted in needle arts despite the fact that she had developed rheumatoid arthritis at a very young age and had seriously deformed hands.

She was born over a hundred years ago in Bessarabia, Russia. When she was very young, the czar decided to boot out all the Germans living in Russia. They were forced to March over 2000 miles under the supervision of Russian soldiers. If you fell down on the March, no one was allowed to help you up. You were beaten to death with the butts of the soldier's rifles - they weren't going to waste ammo on you.

Her family made the trip to Canada and became citizens there. Eventually, she came to the US (after she got married, I think). This was before the second world war, and like most German-speaking citizens, she made a real effort to not speak German. There was a lot of suspicion of German immigrants during that time, and I understand that things were rather tense. When she was 80, we found out that she's spent her entire life being afraid of telling anyone her family was from Russia. She was terrified that she would be deported...so that was when she finally opened up about where her family had come from.

Growing up, I mostly learned about the traditions that came through my German-Russian side. Food was always a big part of tradition, and so I learned all about yummy things like haluschka, kuchen, and fleischkiechle. We suspect my great-grandmother's family was actually Jewish but then converted when they got here. It was a pretty common thing for the German-Russians.

My father's side is primarily Norwegian and Romanian. I don't know much about them except that they eat lefsa (yum!) and lutefisk (yuck!). I also know that my father's grandmother was very happy with my mother because she was Lutheran and not Catholic. Apparently it was very important to marry within your religion.

I think I don't know much about that side of the family because they came over six generations ago. (I'm either sixth or seventh generation North Dakotan on that side.) So that side of my family is the farming side. My grandparents went to school in a one-room school house in the middle of nowhere. My dad spent summers helping on the farm, and my dad's cousin still owns it...although they no longer raise cattle.

So that's a pretty good summary of what I know without getting into too much detail. Writing this has raised a lot of questions that I need to ask my family, though.

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( 3 Transmissions — Comment )
Mar. 16th, 2008 05:39 am (UTC)
Ask now before your mom dies because you never know what stories people have to tell. I'm sure of some doozies my mom never told.
Mar. 16th, 2008 02:40 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think it's my grandma that I should be asking. But you're right. I need to do it soon.
Mar. 17th, 2008 02:38 am (UTC)
Our family has been using Geni the last few months to map out our family tree. It's been great since I can now actually figure out how people (2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, etc.) are related to me. We know have 310 people on our tree.
( 3 Transmissions — Comment )

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