I am fortunate enough to have had amateur genealogists in my family, on both sides, so I know a fair bit of my factual, verifiable history, which I want to share so that my subsequent thinking about the current battle over symbols, history, and heritage can be put into context.
My great-great grandfathers both fought in the Civil War. Both were Virginians at the time, and both fought for the Confederacy. My mother’s family was originally from Massachusetts, but had migrated to North Carolina generations before the war, and then to central Virginia, where they settled. My great-great grandfather spent some time at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, suffering from mental illness thought to have been brought on by his war experiences. My father’s great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Germany around 1850, entering through the port of Baltimore and finding his way to Fauquier County, Virginia, where he became a farmer and joined the confederate army when the war broke out. He is listed as a “foreigner” in a troop manifest from the war, where his name, Anton Schwab, is misspelled as “Antonio.” He was born in Uehlfeld, Germany, which was a community of mostly Jewish Germans; he had many brothers and sister, including brothers named Israel and Morriz, and his father’s name was Moses.
That’s what I know as fact. There are no official monuments or memorials to these men, who must have had very different feelings about the war and their part in it, but who nevertheless took up arms and fought, and then went on with their lives after the war. Despite the fairly detailed genealogy, I have otherwise very few stories about these men, and so am left to imagine what these facts mean, but the contribution of this history to my heritage is much more clear. More on that, next time.