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What Would My Great Grandfather Think of Me?

John Martin Rohde SketchtoonHave you ever wondered what your ancestors would think of you, your life and the time you live in?

About a month ago, I received a book of family history, which traces our family history from Bobitz, Germany in the Mecklenburg region (near the Baltic Sea).

My great grandfather, John Martin, came to the US in 1873, and settled near Juneau, WI where he lived, established a farm, and had children, one of which was my grandfather Edwin.

What Would He Think?
Reading through our family's story, I've begun to ask: what would John Martin think of me, my life and the time, place and culture I live in?

I ask this probably for validation, but I think more for curiosity sake. I'd be very interested in his reactions, and to hear his wisdom, learned from years of hard experience as an immigrant, husband and father.

I wonder if he would he be amazed at the Internet, which allows me to work from Milwaukee with colleagues, clients and friends around the world? Being a farmer, what would he think of the virtual world I live in?

Would the "magic" of computers and tiny gadgets surprise him or would they seem like cheap flashing toys to him?

I wonder what he would have been like, quiet or talkative? A reader? An artist?

Obviously, I may never know, but it's interesting to ponder.

If I Were to Guess...
I think he would be proud to see the family continuing on, adapting to the world in which it found itself. John Martin lived through some amazing shifts in culture: the German Revolution, the turn of the century and the rise of industrialism, World War I, the Great Depression and more. How cool it would be to hear his stories now.

The sketch above was done early this morning, as these questions bounced around in my head. I wanted to capture an image of John Martin as a way of personalizing and honoring him as my great grandfather.

John Martin, I hope I'm making you proud.

Reader Comments (7)

An interesting take on family history, Mike. How fortunate that you had a reference that told about your ancestors. Now, flip the coin: What about your descendants? During the month of May, I'm giving a free mini-course on how to write your own personal history. It's full of tips. Someday, a descendant of yours will have the same questions about you.
May 6, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Lehmer
Waw, this is quite like "Back to the Future" trilogy :) I use to love it. I remember watching and re-watching those movies for ever...
May 7, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVladimir Campos
Larry, thanks for the comment!

This is a great idea � I'm going to have a look at your tips and ideas � especially with a 4 year old son whom i want to capture this information for. Thanks!
May 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I can only imagine that your great grandfather would be extremely proud of you.

Why? Well you are what every immigrant yearns for for his/her child to become. All immigrants hope that their children will become good and responsible citizens. Immigrant parents are elated when their children become educated and contribute on a greater level to our society, because it affords them a given amount of respect and admiration from immigrant groups (their peers) that came to America during the same time period, as they did.

Whether your great grandfather was quiet or talkative? He was probably both, depending on whom he established his relationships with and quite possibly the many issues and events that weighed on his mind at any given high or low point in his life, not to mention the historical events that shaped his generation.

Being that he was a farmer I can only imagine that he would have been extremely busy tending to the ever present, never ending manner of tasks that dictate the pace of life on any farm. The demands of farming on that era coupled with the needs of the family and communities, despite the isolation that sometimes accompanied it, did not translate into too much time to read whatever struck ones fancy. We've come to take reading and the availability of reading material for granted in the Internet age of today, but books and magazines were a rare and expensive commodity back then and not readily available. Today the internet not to mention Wikipedia provide a readers free access to the worlds biggest candy store.

I doubt your grandfather would think that computers and gadgets of today as only cheap toys. He would quickly see their power in their ability to connect people, the fact that you can "tele-commute" would amaze him, not to mention getting into the whole "bit and bytes" of things.

I would imagine that your great grandfather would be amazed at the technological progress our society has made, and delighted that his descendant is right in the middle of it all.

Lastly, I also think he would be saddened that even in todays modern age and our technological achievements, in so many parts of our world we continue to witness the suffering of millions. He would would be sad that sickness, starvation and poverty don't look much different than they did during his times.
May 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTony Herrera
I, too, have thought a lot about my heritage and the lives of my ancestors.

A wonderfully thoughtful post and amazing artwork.
May 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Pike
Tony, wow, what a nice comment! I've re-read it several times and I think what you say makes sense, and is along the line of what I imagined.

Especially important to me was your thought of my great-grandfather being proud of my participation in the culture � I have a friend from Honduras and I see the same things in him and his desire for his kids � to have an impact for the positive in the society they live in.

On your final point, yes, I think he would be saddened by the presence of poverty, suffering, sickness. My great grandfather came from a pretty rough situation in Germany, so I suspect this would be one of his criteria for judging a society.

I think that leaves it to me to carry on the effort to fight these things, especially knowing where my own family came from.

Thanks again for your detail comments Tony! :-)

Barry, thank you for kind words. I'm pleased that you enjoyed the artwork and the words!
May 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Vlad, great reference to the "Back to the Future" films! :-)
May 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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