Family Tree

Posted: January 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

         I am a history buff and for a long time I have had an interest in the history of my family.  I had always been told that I am sort of a mutt, a Heinz 57 variety person.  I’m a little Irish and a little English and a little French and so on.  I was always a little jealous of Betsy’s family history because it was way more interesting than mine.  Her father’s side of the family was primarily Scottish and her mom’s side had some Native American.  These were both very cool and I was envious.  The one aspect of my own family history that piqued my interest was my father’s mother’s branch of the family tree.  I had always been told that she was German, which was sort of intriguing to me.  So I started digging into her family.  Luckily, her family name was sort of unusual … it’s Griesemer, which made it easier to search for information.  After a few years of sporadic research, I was able to trace her family back six generations to the first ancestor to come to the United States.  His name was Johan Valentine Griesemer, who was born in Lampertheim, Gemany in 1686 and emigrated to America, arriving in Philadelphia on August 29, 1730 along with his wife Anna Maria and 4 children – Caspar, John, Anna Margaret and Jacob.  The ship they came on was the “Thistle of Glasgow”, which left from Scotland.  I wonder if maybe some of Betsy’s ancestors might have been on the dock waving as the ship left…you never know!  The family settled in what we now know as Amish country in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

        family-tree  I didn’t carry my genealogical research any earlier than the first member of the family who came to America, but I did find a book on the Griesemer family that looks much further back in history.  It seems that my German heritage is not really German after all.  The family was actually from France and had moved to Germany during the 17th century, when the French Huguenots were fleeing France because of persecution.  When they relocated to Germany, they changed their family name in order to sound more German.  The original family name was de Croismare.  Here’s an interesting tidbit I found.  One of my ancestors, Robert de Croismare, was responsible for building a tower, part of the Cathedral de Notre Dame in Rouen, Normandy, France. Was he an engineer? No. Was he a stonemason? No. He was the Archbishop of Rouen from 1483 to 1493 and the money for the construction of the tower was raised through the sale of “indulgences” – if you wanted to partake in something that was banned during Lent, you could pay money to the church and apparently God would look the other way. The ingenious Archbishop knew that the people of Normandy loved their butter (which was not allowed during Lent), so he accepted money so that they could enjoy this delectable dairy treat. They must have REALLY loved their butter … that’s a BIG tower. Incidentally, this tower is still known today as the “Butter Tower”. Another fun fact – when Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation this tower was used as the prime example of the “ritual profiteering” that the church took part in through the sale of indulgences.  To go back even a bit further in history, much of Normandy, where the de Croismares lived was actually settled by Viking raiders who attacked the coast of France then decided to stay there. 

            I have enjoyed researching my family history, and the icing on the cake is a gift Betsy gave me for Christmas.  She bought me an “Ancestry DNA” kit.  I mailed my saliva sample in just after Christmas and hopefully by mid-March I’ll get a report that will give me information about my ethnicity and family history.  I’m hoping that it will shed some light on the information I read in the book, specifically whether or not I have a Viking heritage.  Also, Betsy and I are also looking to settle a disagreement.  These tests also indicate the percentage of Neanderthal DNA.  I’m pretty sure mine is less than 100% and she disagrees.

            It can be fascinating to look back into the past and see where you have come from.  You may uncover an interesting story.  You may find that you are descended from a famous historical person such as Abraham Lincoln or maybe from an infamous historical person such as Attila the Hun.  DNA doesn’t lie.  If your test shows that you have Scandinavian blood, that may explain why you find yourself craving some lutfisk washed down with a mug of glogg.  But even though you may find out where you came from, your past does not necessarily determine the person you are today. Who you are does not depend on your ethnicity, who you’re descended from or who you are related to.  Who you are depends on your character, your integrity, your choices and how you live your life.  Who you are depends on those people who have influenced you, inspired you, taught you. 

            It is interesting, fun and even educational to look back into time at our family history.  I am suggesting that we turn 180 degrees and look to the future.  How can we make a difference in the lives of those who follow us? 

          When we consider the legacy we may leave, it really doesn’t matter if we are Spanish, French, English, Norwegian or Australian, as interesting as our heritage might be.  What matters is that we belong to the family of God.  Galatians 3:26-29 tells us So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”  We are heirs to the covenant, we are bearers of the light of Christ and we are charged with spreading the Gospel.  Jesus gave us the instructions.  He was asked, “What are the greatest commandments in the law?”   He replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

            When we look back at our genealogical family trees, we will see all sorts of influences, both positive and negative.  There will be people who were admirable, people we are proud to be associated with.  But there are also some who tarnish the family name, branches of the family tree that we’d like to prune.  When we take our places on God’s family tree, we have the example of Jesus, a shining example of loving God and loving people.  He always put God first.  As you read through the Gospel accounts of his life, you will find that he prayed often.  He prayed before he made important decisions, he prayed when he was troubled, he always kept God close.  And he listened.  He always yielded to God’s will and direction, even as far as enduring the pain of the cross. When it came to loving people, Jesus didn’t just love those who were convenient.  He loved those who were cast out from society, those who were ignored, those who were hated.  He loved people even though loving them meant problems for him.  He loved them because they needed what he had to offer and he was their only hope.  He challenges us to do the same.  He challenges us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, give hope to the discouraged, love the unlovable and reminds us, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

            As disciples of Christ, we have been taught by him, he has shown us how it is done, and we have been challenged to follow in his footsteps.  He has left us a legacy and it’s ours to share – with our family, with our friends and neighbors and with all we come in contact with.  We share this legacy by living our lives with a difference, with a purpose, with love.

           As we have grown in our Christian faith, we can point to individuals who have meant so much to our spiritual formation.  Because of them, we are the Christians we are today.  Now it’s our turn.  Will we make a difference?  We have all been given gifts – abilities, talents, passions, tragedies, failures and life experiences.  As we go through our lives, we will each encounter people who are in desperate need of what we have to offer.  We are uniquely qualified to meet the needs of these people.  These are the opportunities we were created for.  As the Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Here’s a salute to a long life: goodness that outlives the grave, love that outlasts the final breath.  May you live in such a way that you leave a legacy that lasts long after you have heard the words “well done good and faithful servant”.  

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