The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed,his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph). 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 (NIV)
My great-grandfather, born Wouter van der Wel in the Netherlands. Evidence suggests that he became angry when his widowed mother married her former teacher, a man much older than she. He left home by himself, crossed the Atlantic, settled in northwest Iowa and “Americanized” his name to Walter Vander Well.
My grandma Vander Well’s father, Daniel Bloem, was an alcoholic and was difficult to live with. A widower, his three daughters took on the burden of constantly looking after him. When my grandparents secretly got married, they told no one and my grandmother continued to live at home and take care of her father. A man of great temper, he asked my grandmother “When are you going to marry that Herman Vander Well?”
“I already have,” she replied honestly.
“Then get the hell out of my house!” he responded.
Very little is known about my grandpa Hendrickson’s father, Perry Hendrickson. He contracted tuberculosis when my grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was just ten years old. Not wanting to be a burden on his family, Perry Hendrickson shot himself at home. It happened to be my grandfather’s birthday when he came home to find his father’s lifeless body. Great grandma, Olive Hendrickson, farmed my grandfather off to be raised by family which likely saved his life. She drug the younger children through several tragic marriages and their lives appear to have continued down tragic paths.
Grandma Hendrickson’s father was William Yeater. As an adult he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of a local Irish immigrant named David McCoy. William sued for his share of the estate and won a large settlement. An alcoholic and philanderer, my great grandmother, Daisy, gave him second chances but eventually divorced him for good and raised five children through the depression through her unshakable faith in God and hard work. When William offered to share part of his settlement with Daisy, she flatly refused to take his money and provided for her children by herself.
I know that reading through the genealogical records isn’t the most exciting of assignments, but I have to admit that there are all sorts of things that resonate with me as I read the chronicles. As an amateur family historian, I’m fascinated by what nuggets of history and information get passed down through the generations. Consider for a moment that when Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, slept with his father’s concubine the year was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 B.C. Tradition holds that the scribe writing the Chronicles was Ezra who would have penned his work somewhere between 400-500 B.C.
For 1500 years, the one thing that gets passed down and remembered about Reuben was the mistake of sleeping with his father’s concubine and losing his birthright to the two sons of Joseph. Talk about tragedy. The tribe of Reuben for generation after generation across centuries and two millennia lived under the curse of being the tribe that could have had it all if great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa Reuben had simply kept his dick in his tunic.
Very little of our lives will be remembered. The few nuggets of information I have about my great-grandparents is far more than I know about their parents. I think about my ancestors. There are volumes of their life story that have been lost and their legacy is reduced to a single bullet point that conveys how subsequent generations remember them:
- He was angry with his mother and ran away to America.
- He was an alcoholic, temperamental, and a burden to his daughters.
- He killed himself on his son’s birthday.
- She lived a hard life and was married five times to different losers.
- He was an alcoholic, a philanderer, and his wife wanted nothing to do with him.
- She was a woman of faith and hard work. Her children honored and adored her.
Today, I’m thinking about my legacy. What will be remembered about me? How are my words and actions affecting future generations? What do I want my bullet point to be?