April 17, 2024

Opinion: A little bit of everything

Erin' it Out

I’ve always been pretty interested in my ancestry. As a lover of history, knowing my own history seemed important. I’ve always known I’m a good example of America and the melting pot. I know of at least six countries represented in my heritage, thanks to my family keeping our history alive.

I did some searching into my ancestors through Ancestry.com in eighth grade and loved what I could find. I didn’t do much looking into my family history after that until college, when I had access to more documents through my university. I was super passionate about it for maybe one summer, and then school took over my focus again. Since then, while I certainly enjoy hearing stories from my family, I didn’t do too much searching into my family history.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying a number of books that take place in Scotland. This has brought my family ancestry back into my mind, as my maternal grandfather was half Scottish. All the talk of tartan and clans in books like “Outlander” had me wondering what mine was like.

The Scottish part of my family claims the name Jackson. While this is not one of the original Scottish clans, it eventually became one, becoming more common in the 14th century. The Jacksons originally heralded from England, eventually making their way up to the Highlands over time. I am a big fan of the Jackson tartan, of which my cousins all joked we should get matching kilts.

The other half of my maternal grandfather’s heritage was Irish. The Dower family is an old Irish family, the surname stretching back a few hundred years before the Scottish Jacksons. The Gaelic version of Dower is Dubhuir, meaning black-haired. While no one in my immediate family has this family trait, my mother said her grandmother, who’s maiden name was Dower, did.

My maternal grandmother’s heritage is also pretty easy, as she is half English and half Swedish. On the English side is Clark, a super common English surname meaning clerk or or scribe. My grandmother has told me stories about her own grandmother, who still spoke in a slight accent and took her afternoon tea.

The Swedish side of my maternal grandmother is Gustafson, which is the Americanized version of Gustavson aka son of Gustav. Gustav stems from the Norse words of “got” and “stafr,” meaning respectively God and staff. Therefore, Gustafson means the son of the staff of God.

Now to fully shift gears to my father’s side of the family. My paternal grandfather is of course where the name Henze comes from. My dad’s side of the family is very German, as is my last name. Henze is derived from the name Heinrich, meaning ruler of the house. The Henze surname is originally from the Saxony part of Germany.

My paternal grandfather was also a Pankratz on his mother’s side. While a German name, it stems from the Latin and Greek words Pancratius or Pankratios meaning “all-in wrestler.” In Germany, it is more commonly known through a newer Greek translation by the early Christians meaning “almighty.” According to my mother, that’s the side of the family I get my chin from.

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Flaming, also German in origin. It is believed that this name came from those who were once involved in ironworking. Like the Henzes, the Flamings were originally from Saxony.

My paternal grandmother was also a Koenig on her mother’s side. Like every other name on my dad’s side, this is a German surname. It comes from the German word Konig, meaning king.

Though not seen through the last names on my dad’s side, there is also some Swedish and Russian blood in me too. I found it once in my search back through my ancestors, but no longer remember where it came from.

It’s hard to find someone in the United States who is totally one nationality unless they recently immigrated. Even if one believes they are, are they really? Humans have been moving around, immigrating to different places, since the dawn of time. While our ancestors may have stayed in one place for a number of generations, that doesn’t mean that’s where they started.

This research also makes me wonder about my descendants. Will they stay in the United States? Will I even stay in the United States? Will they think of me the way I think of my ancestors, curiosity brimming as to how their decisions led to my birth?

Erin Henze

Originally from Wisconsin, Erin is a recent graduate from UW-Stevens Point. Outside of writing, she loves to read and travel.