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FINDING MY PRIDE
In sixth grade, I learned the complexities of language arts, the intricacies of mathematics, and the forces behind the mystery of science. Social studies taught me about ancient civilizations, the rise and fall of powerful people throughout time, and the birth of a great nation. I began to appreciate art for its aestheticism and feel the emotions hidden within music. But the one learning experience I cherish most from sixth grade began as a spark of interest and grew into a passion for knowledge.
My teacher had us interview our parents to learn all we could about our family lineage. The next day, we went to the school library to research the origins of the surnames in our family trees. Unfortunately, the only resources back then were books with lists of surnames and the country from which the name originated. Most of us found that our ancestors came from all over Europe; mine came from Great Britain and the Netherlands.
Our teacher showed great pride in her Native American history as she told us about her recent trip to the annual Pow Wow. She described the colorful costumes in such vivid detail it was as if the parade into the arena was happening right there in our classroom. She demonstrated several of the traditional dances and songs of the different tribes while explaining the meaning of each one. I absorbed every word as she told us about the importance of the Pow Wow and how it keeps the Native American customs and language alive by teaching the children of the tribes.
However, her angry rant about how our European ancestors had treated her Native American brethren overwhelmed my young mind. She fumed about how our history books don't tell the real story of how our country was once her peoples' country. She scolded us for not being more ashamed of what our ancestors had done all those years ago. While I didn't realize it then, her disdain for the white man would inspire me to learn more about my family's role in American history.
Back in 6th grade, my initial research uncovered diligent blue-collar breadwinners, including my father, head of maintenance for a plastics factory. I'd also learned that my grandfather worked in a factory assembling front end loaders and other machinery after he'd served in the army under Colonel Patton during World War II. But that's where the trail went cold as far as available information. It would be 23 years before I learned more than I could've imagined.
Thanks to the website www.ancestory.com, I discovered generations of hard-working coal miners, farmers, and pioneers. As I continued to build my tree, I found my first historically significant ancestor, John Van Hoose, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War. I located an online biography and learned he served under the command of Colonel George Rogers Clark. Thrilled by my find, I sought out more information about his service and uncovered a website containing excerpts from the journals of Colonel Clark and Captain Bowman. I soaked up the details as I read about the regiment's journey during America's fight for freedom.
I admired the bravery these men must've possessed in order to leave the comfort of home and wage war on the British and their allies, the Native Americans. I poured over the details of the long and treacherous journey those men traveled, through unknown territory of flooded plains from heavy rain in the spring and icy rivers during the harsh winter. Clark and his men forced the British to cede the entire Northwest Territory, now known as the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Their success came from striking deep inside enemy territory, securing communication and supply lines, and killing anyone who got in their way. Their names are forever scribed on a war memorial that stands on the courthouse lawn of Paintsville, Kentucky.
The discovery of an important Revolutionary War soldier inspired me to seek out other monumental achievements of my forefathers. My online journey into the past took me to New York where I found the next source of family pride, the Jan Van Hoesen house. I gazed at the photo with wonderment and marveled at a rare treasure. My wonderment transformed into amazement when I read about its historical significance. I learned Jan had the house built between 1715 and 1724, using extraordinary structural features reflecting a prosperous lifestyle. According to cultural historian, Ruth Piwonka, "such brick houses were not merely farmhouses but substantial upper-middle-class residences expressing tastes and prosperity in a northern European manner." In August of 1979, the Van Hoesen House joined the list of National Historic Places.
My heart fluttered from the excitement of finding two ancestors with prominent roles during the earliest years of America's history. My pride soared after learning my hardworking family came from brave pioneers and influential opportunists. I couldn't believe how many leaves now filled my family tree. I only had one question left unansweredâ€”who was the family patriarch to first set foot in the new world?
Ever since that assignment in sixth grade, I'd thought my family came from Holland, but it turned out my ancestors became Dutch by association. According to an online biography, my family's first American, Jan Fransse Van Hoesen hailed from the province of Schleswig, located in the southern part of the Jutland Peninsula, now northern Germany. Born in 1609, he lived during the time of Danish rule and witnessed the religious battles plaguing the area. A sailor by trade, he lived in the town of Husum until he moved to Amsterdam during the 30 Years War.
At the age of 30, he and his new bride arrived in the colony of Rensselaerswyck in New Amsterdam where he began working for the West India Company. As Commissioner of Lands, he traveled between Holland and the new world on a number of occasions as revealed by records of his arrival to New York three times in 1646.
My pride flourished with each new discovery I made during my quest for information about my ancestry and finding the patriarch proved to be most rewarding. In June of 1662, Jan Fransse Van Hoesen purchased a large tract of land from two Mohican Indians, Pametepiet and Tatan Kenaut. The area purchased, called Claverack Landing, served as a port for the surrounding settlements. The present-day city of Hudson, New York sits upon the hill my ancestor bought over 350 years ago.
I embarked upon a journey to find my pride with the tentative steps of a 12-year-old. Back then, I learned from a bitter teacher that my white ancestors had destroyed the lives of a proud people. The knowledge I gained from my journey back in time exceeded my expectations. While I found my white man who killed Native Americans in battle, I refuse to be ashamed of his actions all those generations ago. He'd followed his heart and volunteered to fight for what he believed in and was honored for his success. From his story, I learned pride comes from putting it all on the line and pushing onward when the situation looks hopeless. I concluded pride to be a reward for surviving during the harshest of times.
I found another white man who created relations with the Natives through business deals and who opened the door for others to find success in the new world; a man whose religious spirit gave him the courage to sail across a vast ocean and start a new life. From his story, I determined pride comes from believing in a dream, working hard to make it real, and sharing the blessings with family and friends. I believe pride exists in those willing to take a chance in the pursuit of happiness, a pride that can only come with confidence.
Not until the information age did I discover just how big a role my ancestors played in the building of a great nation. I'd never imagined my lineage would take me all the way back to the 17th century. The story of my family's patriarch taught me an appreciation for American history I never had in school. My pride bloomed after finding the lore of Jan Fransse Van Hoesen and I even learned some geography during my trip to the past.
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