Larry and I were talking yesterday about how we look at our ancestors' lives. That Paul Hesch was a "well-to-do" farmer sounds like he didn't have to work at it...but when you think about it, most of his 54 years was NOT well-to-do. It was simply the condition when he died. Still, we think of him as a successful farmer.
The lives of the people we've researched for Hesch History are done. We rely on obituaries for chronological info about them: "...grew up in Agram, married, farmed for 40 years, retired to Buckman"...and we imagine blocks of time spent working towards each new milestone.
It's never that way, though, is it?
We all do what's needed at the time, and we live with our new conditions. Nobody plans a death in the family, or the need to emmigrate, or a divorce, or a lost farm, or kids who leave for Minneapolis or Portland. These things simply happen, you deal with it, and life goes on.
Still, we here in 2009 look back and judge what happened through our current filters. We can't help it. But almost everything about our daily lives now is different than theirs was: meals, clothing, education, parenting, transportation, provisions, the water supply, child labor...
So, a major line of our research is about HOW they lived, especially in Europe--what were conditions like? Did wars or revolutions affect them? Were there famines or epidemics? Were they able to move up the economic ladder there?
Heschs didn't own homes or farms in Bohemia. They were hired labor and moved to where there was work. (That's why 'Niedermuhl' and 'Oberschlagles' are interchangeable when we refer the village they left). Were they allowed enough land to grow their own food? Could they own animals? What DID they own? Where did they get firewood? Was there a doctor nearby? Did they go to school? What was FUN for them?
Great grandfather Paul was 28 when he married Mary Otremba in Buckman in 1874. We think he arrived here around 1870. He knew plenty of hardships in his young life: he was born during a cholera epidemic shortly before a revolution, he probably grew up working the fields with his dad, and his future in Bohemia was bleak (either military, or as a hired farmer). He told his kids later that he was a stowaway to escape military service in the Austrian Army. The system there was a lottery, but if your number wasn't called this year, you were obliged to participate each year till you were 35, a tough time to 'start' your life.
Still, leaving Europe for a man of draft age wasn't as hard as that sounds--America needed settlers right after the Civil War here, and Europe was trying to get rid of the "riff-raff"--the thousands of unemployed laborers who had nothing to inherit because their parents had nothing....
Knowing some of Pauls' background should explain alot--our senses of humor, all their making-do, why we don't put on airs, even why grandpa Anton rarely smiled. To study them is to discover our birthright and heritage.
And that's pretty cool.