family histories

students share their secrets

What’s something surprising you’ve found out about your family history?

My great-grandfather was a U.S. representative. He sent my grandfather off to boarding school when he was a kid, mostly so he and my great-grandmother could enjoy the social scene in Washington. Apparently, my grandfather used to send them heartbreaking letters about how he wanted to go home. Fast forward to college. Because they came from this wealthy background, my grandfather decided to join the FBI instead of being drafted into the regular old army. He spent WWII doing stuff for them, including, apocryphally at least, blowing up some tower in Argentina. He then went back to Olney, Ill. (my family was small town royalty), married the prettiest girl, my grandmother, and settled into life as a lawyer, then a judge. -Lena Bohman ’18

I’ve known about the Holocaust and my family’s relationship to it (three of my grandparents fled Nazi Germany and Austria as children) since I was young, so the stories that go along with that history have never been exactly surprising to me—they sort of are all tucked away in the same mental file. Grandpa chased through the park by kids with a noose? Yeah. Grandma’s father in hiding in his office building, and she wasn’t supposed to know where but saw his slippers under a couch there and figured it out? Happened. It wasn’t until this summer in the Anne Frank House that this managed to surprise me: I hadn’t known Anne Frank’s first name was Annelies. My grandmother is an Anneliese. Anne Frank was only a year older than her. The story about the slippers, the hiding in an office building—I sort of felt like I’d had the breath taken out of my lungs. Something I’d known for years, only then somehow made surprising by emphasis: one tiny shift in the story … -Abby Muller ’16

I guess this is more about me and my family than just my family, but my mom had a miscarriage before she had me. The year I was born (and also coincidentally the day after her birthday) was when the Great Hanshin earthquake happened, and it completely demolished a huge part of Japan. We had some family there, and she was quite distressed that she couldn’t get in touch with them; they ended up being okay but had to come live at my grandma’s place for about three months. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my mom and dad went through a lot to have me here and nurture me into the person I am now, and I’m really lucky to be here today. -Anonymous

Growing up, I had this great-uncle who spoke really good English and drove a nice red convertible. We all loved him. When I got older, I found out that he was involved in a drug cartel in his home country, and he spent 10 years in prison there. He had actually snuck over to the United States and was living here illegally. For a while he worked in California as an airplane mechanic, and then he moved back to his home country. Now I only see him sometimes, but I still think of him as the cool great-uncle who speaks good English and sold heroin. -Anonymous

My great-grandfather was Swiss and lived right on the border between Germany and Switzerland.  During WWII he snuck a young German Jewish boy over the border and into safety in Switzerland (I can’t recall the details). Fast forward many years later and that boy’s grandson was able to locate the whereabouts of our family and gave a DVD to my great uncle. The DVD was a sort of video diary of the family that that young boy ultimately had; the video had snapshots of key moments in that family’s life—weddings, family gatherings, etc. Along with the video, the grandson had written a note saying that “none of this would have happened without [my great grandfather].” -Anonymous

Something cool I found out is that my grandfather (dad’s dad) was the mayor of Norzagaray in the Philippines. And he (along with over 2000 mayors from 56 countries) signed a United Nations document calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and other South African political leaders! -Anna Delamerced ’16

Well my great-great-great-grandfather invented Memorial Day! He was Blackjack Logan, a general in the Civil War and one of Grant’s buddies. He’s noted usually as the founder of Memorial Day as a national public holiday. I think there was a committee involved, but he led the movement. It was originally called Decoration Day. He wanted to remember the dead after fighting and commanding in the war. -Mari LeGagnoux ’18

I found out that my great-great-grandfather was a freedom fighter during the Indian freedom struggle (and I’m sure many Indians can trace back their ancestors to the freedom movement, but I thought this was cool in any case). And my grandmother got to visit the house of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, many times when she was a school student. Also, my great-great-grandfather’s father was the first doctor in their village. -Minoshka Narayan ‘18