Saturday, February 10, 2007

The most enduring thing

My dear of all these many years sometimes tells visitors I have an imaginary family. It is when they are looking at one of my old photographs, propped up in some corner of the store or shining from a wall. In truth, many of the pictures are bonafide relatives--my father as a beaming two year old in his rompers with a kitten on the pocket, standing in front of a bank of irises; my grandmother on her porch; my parents as young--very young--newly weds; my mother's mother and father at the beach, staring into the sunlight with such confidence and enjoyment long, long before I was on the planet.

But I do adopt photographs. There is something infinitely sad to me about the old photos forgotten in dusty boxes in junk stores and antique stores. How did they get there? Is the family gone? Does no one remember the name of the woman with the black lace and jet pin at her throat? What about the beaming little girl with her hula hoop? These photos I take into my care, and they join my relatives.

Well, we are all related, somewhere down the line, right?

My youngest brother, the farmer in Mississippi, this year sent off a sample of his DNA to some project sponsored by National Geographic. I didn't know he was doing this until he emailed me the results. It's sort of an extension--a big extension--of his fascination with family history. Since we share both mother and father, I assume the lines traced in his cells live on in my own. And in the case of the matrilineal DNA, in my daughter.

It was no surprise to see our mother's line most common in Finland, which is indeed where our family originates on that side. What was astonishing, however, to my mind, was to think back through...what...hundreds of thousands of years to a woman somewhere in Africa, who bore a daughter, who bore a daughter..and each of these survived to bear at least one girl, who survived to...

And so on. It is like the little Russian dolls, each with a little one inside, and another, and another.

What are the odds? My father's line got traced back to the middle east. To Iran, Iraq, that area of the world. From there, eventually, the families moved on and on and on...we know this, because that line ended up in Virginia back in the 1600's.

But my mind can barely grasp all this.

I can, however, grasp photographs and oddments and bits and pieces, and catch the bits before they are lost. For at least a little while.

In the corner of a dusty dark shop I found a badly framed, yellowing marriage certificate. It is written in German, and decorated with lithographed angels and flowers and scrolls. It bids us, in German, to remember that "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end". It says, in German, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". The frame is carved and painted silver. The certificate, tearing at the edges, has been pasted to a bit of flowered wallpaper.

Had they no children, no grandchildren, no tender niece who remembered them? I don't know.
But I hope that Jacob Hardi and Ida Ureck, who were joined in holy matrimony on the 5th day of February in 1910, in Dallas, Texas, had a long and happy life together. I suppose at some time they must have moved to California--how else did this certificate come to my area. I wonder about them, as I stare at the pattern of blue flowers and angels, the lithographed church, and the flamboyant signature of the priest or pastor, A. Romanowski. Bernhardt Wepf and his unnamed "Frau" were the witnesses.

Yes, it is very unlikely I am actually related to this couple. But I gather them in..remote cousins. I start inventing a happy life for them, believing in happy-ever-after stories.

In my mind it connects with two other lovers, much farther distant, found near Verona a few days ago--buried together, a lasting and tender embrace. We won't know that story either, but it touches my heart, particularly in these troubled times.

Nothing endures longer than love.


Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

And there are many different types of love. People live on through that love. Or at least I choose to believe that they do. It would be nice to know their story but it's wonderful for you to sort of rewrite history. My guess is that they would be honored.

9:27 PM, February 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we may be relatives, who knows ;)

this story touches my heart...deeply!

6:53 PM, February 11, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

Just in time for St. Valentine's approval! I have a very elderly neighbor--alas, she has just gone to a nursing home. She knows her past very well (although not the past five minutes), and has some of those marvelous painted marriage certificates, all from her family...

Yes, the parade of people from the past, into the unknown is astonishing.

7:49 PM, February 12, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

p. s.

Happy St. Val's, Jarvenpa! (A little early--snow's on the way...)

6:42 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger Blue Hole said...

Response at my blog.

7:01 AM, February 13, 2007  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, I find myself in harmony with this post in many ways! :)

I read about the ancient lovers near Verona, too, and saw the picture of them together. I felt very touched also!

A couple of months ago, I attended a lecture given by the lead scientist in the National Geographic genetics study that you mentioned. I was struck by his main theme that we are all, regardless of outward racial features, very closely related to each other. Also, there are very interesting and unexpected surprises in our ancestries. I had the chance to purchase a DNA test after the lecture, but unfortunately, the $100 price was a bit steep for me. Maybe some day, I hope to do the test, though. I am very curious to know more about my genetic roots!

It is interesting that you mention Virginians with Middle Eastern ancestry. A recent BBC article mentioned genetic testing done on Thomas Jefferson that indicated that his father was decended from someone from the Middle East. Perhaps you are related to Thomas Jefferson. The article also profiled a white English family who discovered they have an ancestor from West Africa. Another interesting part of the article talked about Hadrian's Wall in England and how soldiers from all over the Roman Empire served there and married local girls. Given that bit of history, it is likely that many British people have ancestory from Africa and the Middle East.

I am fascinated by old pictures too, and wonder about the lives of the people depicted.

10:49 AM, February 15, 2007  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

There's an antiques/junque/bricabrac shop south of here that always leaves me a bit forlorn.


Drawers and chests stuffed full of old, unclaimed photos -- most from the early part of the 20th century, but some (notably school pics) from late.

I always wonder whose estate went up for auction that had no claimants for these family pics. Am glad you're taking some of these orphans in.

7:42 PM, February 17, 2007  
Blogger bearsmoma said...

Jacob and Ida Hardi were from Switzerland. They lived their married life in Dallas, Texas. They had 7 children, six living till adulthood. Only one is still living (my Father-in-law). There are also 15 Grandchildren. Jacob died in 1963. Ida died in 1983 at the age of 97. One of their sons lived in Eurika, California. He died in 1997. I quess that's how their marriage certificate ended up in California.

7:29 PM, July 28, 2007  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

oh my goodness, bearsmoma...I am glad to hear more of the story. Is there someone in the family who would cherish the marriage certificate? If you can contact me and let me know perhaps I can see that it is returned home to the people who will recall Jacob and Ida with love. The shop I found it in was not far from Eureka.

8:13 PM, July 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Jacob and Ida Hardi were my grandparents. I would love to get the marriage certificate. And I would like to get info about the shop where you found it. I think I know how it got there and there might be more things from my grandmother that were disposed of when my uncle died in Eureka in 1998. Thanks. Please contact me at this address:

5:48 PM, July 29, 2007  

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