Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are?

Have you seen NBC's new show Who Do You Think You Are? I stumbled onto it last night and thought it was the coolest show ever. I am fascinated with ancestry and it's one thing my parents - especially my dad -infused in our family when we were little kids. On Memorial Day each year, we'd all pile into the car and drive from cemetery to cemetery, laying flowers on headstones of family members we knew and those who died years before we were born. Taking this family road trip wasn't always on the top of my list but now looking back, I appreciate my dad telling the stories of where our history.

My parents are both of German descent and my dad's tracked his geneology all the way back to Mathias Mentgen - the man that came to the United States from Germany. Here's a piece of his story:

Mathias Mentgen lived at Trier, Germany which was separated from France by the Mosel River. His father operated a ferry boat to take passengers across the river to France. Mathias used to go with his father and knew how to operate the boat. One hot night in the summer he and his brother Jake were sleeping outdoors when two men came and asked if they would take them across the river and not make them sign the register. They were political escapees and said they would pay them well. So the boys took them across the river. The men said they were escaping to America and were going to Buffalo, New York. Mathias and his brother said they wanted to come to America to escape army services, so the men told them to land in Buffalo, NY and they would help them. The men gave the boys money and gave Mathias a cutting diamond imbedded in a handle. The boys never said a word to their father about taking the men across.

In 1852 Mathias, Jake and another boy came to America, one being smuggled on board due to lack of passage, and landed at Buffalo, New York. The men they’d met before had gone down to meet all ships coming in and found Mathias. They gave all three of the boys jobs in New York and Mathias lived in New York for awhile learning painting. It is not known when Mathias left New York and came to Chicago, Illinois where many of the Mentgen descendants live today.

I like to read this story and remember all the sacrifices and spunk my ancestors had before I came along. We've visited Mathias' burial site on our Memorial Day family drives and it's amazing to me this history isn't too far away from where I am today. Mathias died in 1909. That's only a hundred years ago -- the lifetime of essentially one person. Isn't that fascinating?

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