Friday, March 3, 2017

What Have We Learned from The Callin Family History?

When I set out to revise the Callin Family History two years ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea what kinds of people I might find in the family tree. I did name the blog "Mightier Acorns," after all, because I knew that few, if any, of our relatives would turn out to be recognizably famous, important figures in World History.

As it happens, a few of our cousins really did have exciting and unique lives. Perhaps the most famous of our cousins has his own Wikipedia entry, due to his record-setting Air Force career and his science fiction novels. A few were missionaries who traveled to Africa or India to build hospitals or schools. One disappeared with Flight 19 in the infamous Bermuda triangle.

But we have largely been ordinary. We have mostly been farmers, and when farming gave way to industrialization, many of us became factory or railroad workers. We also had a few doctors, some lawyers, and in rare cases, successful corporate business leaders. Among our folks, there have always been a prominent number of teachers mixed in, as well.

We have many talented musicians and artists, woodworkers and craftsmen (and women!), some of whom even earned a living or academic honors for their efforts. Most of us have at least enjoyed making a joyful noise, whether literal or metaphorical. Many - including my dad, my grandfather, cousin John, and several others - built furniture as a hobby after retiring.

The legend of our family identity has had a profound influence on us, even though few of us have any idea what the family legend says, and even fewer have done the research necessary to find out what is truth and what is legend. Our common ancestor, James "1st" Callin, was a Revolutionary War hero, so it seems almost inevitable that his descendants take pride in serving the country. And because we have passed down the story that he was from Ireland, we seem to hold a rebellious Irish spirit close to our hearts.

It almost doesn't matter that we haven't definitively proven that the Revolutionary soldier James Callin was the father of James and John Callin of Ashland county, Ohio; our cousins have served in every branch of service and in every American conflict throughout our nation's history. I don't think there was a single post in this two-year project that didn't include at least one World War II or Union Army veteran. Less common, but just as crucial, we have had mighty women from our family serving in the military, in the medical corps, or on the home front.

James may or may not have actually been Irish - he was almost certainly the "orange" variety if he was - but we tend to identify that way when we think about our ethnicity, rather than as English or Scots-Irish. Because we started with an immigrant from the 1750s, I didn't expect to find many immigrant stories in the ranks of Callin descendants, but we certainly married a dazzlingly diverse group.

James 1st's descendants have married into the streams of German and Western European immigrants who washed across Ohio and the Midwest. We have married Eastern Europeans and people of the Slavic and Jewish diaspora; many of us have married into Latino and Hispanic families; and two of our cousins married into Japanese families who were interred in the camps established at the beginning of World War II. At least two of the nearly 5,000 marriages documented in this project have been same-sex couples, though that number might have been larger if such marriages had been accepted in earlier generations.

The religious diversity of people in our family is bewildering, as well. If one was inclined to squint and call the vast majority of them "Christian," that wouldn't be wrong - almost all of them held to some flavor or Christian faith - but the reality is that each family struggled with their faith in their own way, and even when they shared a label, they probably didn't hold to the same set of beliefs for more than a generation or two. There are Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentacostals, Baptists, Southern Baptists, Nazarenes, Universalists, Unitarians, and a few more, not to mention those of us who either openly or quietly hold to no faith at all.

And of course we have many tragic stories of the broken and the fallen among our number. We have had our share of frailty, whether that was due to what we now understand to be genetic in nature, or from the diseases that used to plague the countryside. We've struggled with our share of mental illness, alcoholism, and we have lost our share to crime and to poor, selfish choices. We've lost more than one of our family to suicide, to post-war trauma, or to accidents involving guns. I've tried to tell those stories honestly, and without judgment, but it never stops feeling uncomfortable - especially when reaching out to a distant cousin who may not be happy about digging up that darker past.

As I've done this research, and unearthed your stories, whether through your own words or through newspaper stories about you, or your parents' and grandparents' obituaries, I've been constantly amazed by all of you. I love the names you've given your children; I am proud of your accomplishments; I've felt sympathetic to the disagreements and struggles that have pushed us apart or made us lose touch.

Those of us who are still living run the gamut of American thought and life. We live on both coasts, North and South, in Red and Blue areas; we are on all sides of the political spectrum; and we are in every economic niche. If there is a controversy facing modern America, it seems we have a relative at the heart of it, whether they are a recently married same-sex couple, a struggling blue collar family in the rust belt, students struggling with college debt, or older retirees trying to get by without being a burden to their children.

Between now and the publication of the Callin Family History revision, I will be reaching out, either directly or through another cousin, to as many of you as possible. Partly, I have to admit, I want you to get excited about the book - and maybe convince you to buy a copy for each of your children, grand-children, and local libraries. But mostly, I want you to know that we're all here, and that whatever this family connection does or doesn't mean to you, it exists.

I want you to know what I've learned - because it's a pretty cool feeling to know that even the most ordinary of us can still be so mighty.

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