Toss of the Cosmic Dice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy bother? I mean really? They’re dead. Who cares about the past, and what difference does it make? But here’s the deal, sometimes we do something for its own sake, or sometimes simply because we want to.

There was a five-year period from when I finished writing a family memoir until I published it. In that five years, I worked on my genealogy, gathering all the historical facts, figures, and tales I could glean about my parents and their lines. I didn’t plan on dancing with the dead any more than I planned on having teenagers or going into real estate. Sometimes things just happen.

Chamberlin sisters: Mamie Rosborough, Nellie Chatfield, Ada Whitaker

Chamberlin sisters: Mamie Rosborough, Nellie Chatfield, Ada Whitaker

From adding flesh to the bones of our ancestors and breathing life into them as far back as I could reach, I came away with a sense of my genetic make-up. When I started this, I knew little beyond my grandparents’ names, then I came across a picture of my Grandma Nellie with her sisters. How could I not know that she had sisters? I nearly fell over, partly from realizing how clueless I was, but also how curious.

That’s what started me on the hunt. I spent untold hours on the computer (you have no idea) and tracked down other relations, all the while gathering pictures, records and letters. I now know my history and my heritage. I have a lot of the same traits and tendencies that those that came before me did. I gained insight about my culture. I came away with a love of history. I didn’t know squat about those that settled this country, about planters and pilgrims, about the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, or WWI and WWII. Did I sleep through high school history? I know I had the book as I carried that weight back and forth to school every day. Apparently I never opened it. My ancestors were part of all that, and somehow I’d missed it.

Actually, I find it stunning that I’m here at all. Truly, what are the odds? From of a toss of the cosmic dice? First of all, each of those that came before me had to meet, then live long enough to procreate, then their children had to repeat that process: Peter Clemens, a stonemason, and his wife Mary Reiland arrived in New York from Luxembourg in 1855. George Chatfield (and his third wife, Isabel Nettleton) emigrated in 1639 from Sussex, England sailing on the ship St. John, and were of the original inhabitants of Guilford, New Haven Connecticut. Albrecht Hoy and Maria Schaurer left Prussia in 1751 to settle in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Henry Chamberlain, V and his wife Susannah Hinds (their lines are from England) were born in Massachusetts in 1718 and 1722. Sebastian “Boston” Shade, an innkeeper and gristmill owner, was born in 1750 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, His father, born in Bavaria, hailed from what is now Hessen, Germany; he was hired as a mercenary by the British government to aid in the rebellion of the colonists—then switched sides. That’s a long line of dead people who’ve been part of this country for generations, all of whom contributed to my very being. I stand on their shoulders, for if not for them, I wouldn’t be here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of us that work on our family lines have an obsessive dedication and curiosity that surprises even us. It’s a remembering that’s important, offering an understanding of our imprint as a member of our culture and family, and who we are as human beings. Knowing where I came from reveals to me who I am. I’m blessed to one of the keepers of the lines, alongside my brother—who has been at it for years—along with a number of both near and distant cousins. It’s given me a relationship with them, among untold others, who’ve also shared what family information they possessed. Many with whom I connected were in their 80s and 90s; they were thrilled to talk to someone who was interested in their life, and generously shared their stories and pictures with me. They were also grateful to have a remembering of their past, and I’m thankful that they were able to share it with me before they died.

Not everyone is fascinated by genealogy, particularly someone else’s. I’ve been to events where speakers rhapsodized at length about their kith and kin; it was painful, and, it was an “aha” moment. I realized we do all this work, and really, nobody else in the room gives a popcorn kernel! I discovered nothing bores me more than listening to the droning of another’s line, yet oddly enough, there’s nothing I like better than the puzzle of sorting out my own. I love the quest, and the satisfaction of having missing pieces fall into place. Gathering my kin also fulfills a need in me; it’s part of my wanting to keep the family together; I do it for my ancestors, I do it for my family still living, and for those yet to come. I do it because it’s important to me. That’s why I bother.

A smattering of lines:
Chatfield Heritage
Peter Clemens & Maria Reiland
Finley McClaren Chamberlin & Emily S. Hoy
Isaac Willard Chatfield & Eliza Harrington

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  1. Donna Morosi says:

    Catherine, you have mastered a way of drawing me into a place of pure enjoyment… reading these wonderful pieces of your family’s history.

  2. Amen Catherine. You’ve explained it so succinctly. What a journey for anyone to climb that family tree.

    • Hi Linda, I know you know from whence I speak, you being the keeper of your line. The books pictured are some compiled by me and my brother Gordon. He also made the collage for me of our direct Clemens line, and enlarged and framed the beautiful photo of our great-granmother, Eliza (Harrington) Chatfield. I also have two enormous family trees on the walls of my garage from him.

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