Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Family History and the Oral Tradition

I’m going to preface this treatise with a little about my background. First of all, my mother was a person of many prejudices. She insisted that I go to a small, private school in the Midwest that didn’t over-emphasize religion. I graduated from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa with a BA in English (declared) and American Studies (non-declared). I had minors in U.S. History, Linguistics and Social Anthropology. My major emphasis in my declared major was Cyclical Romances and the Oral Tradition. One cannot research one without covering the other thoroughly. In order to understand the language of the documents and why certain groups reacted in the way they did, I had to immerse myself in linguistics and Social Anthropology. My mother a high school history teacher instilled the love of history and so I took every course I could find that involved U.S. History. I am now, since our discussions began in the last 30 days, finding a practical application for all that training. What follows at times may seem rambling, but I wrote this out long hand as my mind raced across all the data I have received in the last few days regarding the Hendricks Family.

George Hammon Hendricks, my father, was raised by his maternal grandparents; as that is what families did when the child’s mother died within the first year of infancy. My father’s mother died when he was seven months old. As such, he had limited contact with his paternal relatives. His father, Scott Springer Hendricks, abdicated his role as participating father because he was a self-centered individual. He was all about show and lacked a certain substance. He lived the life of a playboy and Bohemian. This is a story unto itself and not for digression in this work.

George never met his paternal grandfather, William Chalmers Hendricks. Therefore, his entire Hendricks Family history came from his grandmother Elizabeth Susan “Lizzie” (Glass) Hendricks, his aunt Winona Elizabeth Hendricks (never married) and the bits and pieces thrown at him by his father, usually at the most inopportune moments.; for example when he was ready to embark on a cruiser for his tour in the Pacific Theater of WWII. He wanted to spend the time with his wife in Seattle (the family is from northern California) and guess who shows up wanting to discuss family.

My mother, Beatrice (NMI) (Brundage) Hendricks was a sponge when it cam to historical details. She was a voracious reader of any book that came within arms length. Again, she was a person with a great many prejudices. Surprisingly, during the era (Post Depression) when Anti-Semitic views and attitudes were prevalent, she did not follow suit. Yes, even during that era Anti-Semitic feelings ran high in the United States. We did not enter WWII to get the Jews released from the concentration camps. To digress for just a moment; throughout history Jews were relegated to Ghettos and periodically the European governments sanctioned pogroms against them since the convening of the Council of Nicea. That being said, why would a person of such strong prejudices not go along with the crowd? Why would she tell us growing up; “Never marry a Catholic”? There was a certain undercurrent that distrusted any belief coming out of Roman Christianity.

Our mother insisted that we know that we know our family history. It was repeated often. And, in her inimitable way would test our memory. WE had to know our grandparents names and hometowns. We had to know their (grandparents) brothers and sisters names and the names of their children. We, also, need to know their origins that were know to our parents

Both Bea and George repeated as far back as I can remember that the Hendricks Family came to the Colonies with the Huguenots, that was mentioned as given fact (or so they led us to believe). My father often wondered aloud; “I wouldn’t doubt that we are descended from Sephardic Jews.” As I got older with no concrete facts to pin these suspicions on, I drifted from that oral family history.

Historically man’s greatest stories and our greatest fairy tales were passed down from generation to generation, orally. Finally monks took those tales and wrote them down and add their own version. One thing to remember about the oral histories is that the teller would add their own parts and beliefs. Damn! I should have recognized this earlier! ! ! All I can say is that I got caught up in life earning a living, raising children, enjoying grandchildren and then maturing during an age that debunked tradition and traditional values. I have since learned there is a wealth and value in traditions that is not monetary and give off a sense of worth.
As Hendricks historians, it is our responsibility to get our story straight. Here are a few ground rules that we should never ignore. The first male born was usually named after the paternal grandfather. The first female born was usually named after the maternal grandmother. The rest of the children were named after the father’s family (aunts, uncles, great-grandparents and other ancestors). This tradition continued through the U.S. Civil War during which families were divided and the modern era of Industrial Revolution came to forceful heads on the bloody battlefields across the eastern United States against the primarily Agrarian Society that existed before.

The early part of the twentieth century had the strong carry-over attitudes that promulgated Anti-Semitism. It was heightened to the point where family histories were not necessarily written down on any form except for Synagogue records. It is, therefore, understandable why family histories were given orally and with sever understatement. My mother was at her best as a teacher. She was much better at teaching other’s children than she was at teaching her own. When she and my father pondered the question of coming over with the Huguenot immigration from Europe, they were probably passing on family history in the form of questions. My family has always been very secretive and masters at understatement.

My sister’s God parents (in an Episcopal baptism) were Jewish. I remember attending numerous Bar mitzvahs and other Jewish ceremonies for family friends when I was young and throughout my high school years. This now makes me wonder if this was a round about way to stay in touch with our roots and to pass on a family secret. We did not attend church growing up, at least past the time I was in the second grade. So far my two sisters and I have been in a religious conundrum. Each of us has been trying to find where we belong.
The online and e-mail discussions we’ve been having over the last month or so are now beginning to make a whole lot more sense. This is also in keeping with what I’ve learned over the years. Thomas Andrews Hendricks, first Senator from the State of Indiana, was requested to submit a biography to the U.S. Senate. He left off the manes of his paternal grandparents. When asked why the omission he replied that he didn’t know who they were. So if our forefathers were Jewish and immigrated for religious reasons, the marriage of my third great-grandfather, Abraham, to the daughter of very strict Scot Presbyterian would have caused a huge schism in the family. And now, the State of Indiana in the biographies of Gov. William and Thomas Andrews, VP show the Hendricks line coming out of the State of New Jersey. This was not a part of the biographies a few years ago. This make a whole lot more sense than a schism opening because a Quaker married a Presbyterian.
I am now convinced that, we are not of the line of Albertus Hendrickson. I am of the belief that now we are going to find our lines through another strain of the Hendricks’. When my oldest sister was in Amsterdam a number of years ago, she was asked about the name – especially the last three letters. Apparently, this has some significance. It is assumed that there must have been a Hendricks of some importance in Amsterdam at one time.

I appreciate all of you allowing me to let my mind meander through all the oral family history that I grew up with. I’m sure my sisters will be more than happy to add their two cents worth to this discussion.

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