Monday, September 20, 2010


Last night, HBO premiered a new series called Boardwalk Empire about Atlantic City, N.J. at the beginning of Prohibition. I'm an Atlantic City native and keenly interested in this show and the historical depiction of my hometown. It focuses on the county treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a dapper power broker, totally corrupt mover and shaker.

In 1920, my mother's mother would have been 27. My grandfather was the V.P. of a local bank. Nana's father was a county judge. So, of course, my family would have known this man, or at least known of him. I confirmed this with my aunt. Nucky was still around when she was a young girl in the 30s. She remembers seeing him walk around town and being introduced to him once when she was quite young.

I was talking about the show yesterday afternoon with a friend who then said, "Your family goes back a long way in this country, doesn't it?"

I don't think about it often, but it's true. Nana's family was here well before the Revolutionary War. (She and my mother both belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution.)

Yesterday, I really stopped and considered what this means. Members of my family were already in this country before it was this country. They were British subjects who rebelled against the Crown and fought side-by-side with their neighbors for America's independence. Maybe one of them crossed the Delaware with George Washington that fateful Christmas Day to launch the surprise attack at Trenton. I'll have to research that. There's a family book somewhere that might hold the information.

Whatever the case, the roots of the family tree go deep in the earth of New Jersey. I'm proud of that fact and those long ago ancestors. Nana's family also settled early in Atlantic County. I'm not sure of the exact generation, but it was at least a few steps back from when she was born. Have you heard of the Jersey Devil? The creature was reportedly born to a woman with the last name of Leeds who lived near the Pine Barrens in the county. (There's a Leeds Point in the area.) We connect to the Leeds family, too, and when my cousins and I were younger we claimed the Jersey Devil as a relation.

On the other side of the family, the history is much shorter. My father was a first-generation American, born to Sicilian parents. Grandpa Stella came over when he was in his teens. Grandma was born in this country, very soon after her parents arrived. They embraced the American way and the dream. My father was born the same year that Prohibition started. Twenty some odd years later, he fought in World War II.

What defines a proud American? Pondering these things and how many family fits in the grand scheme, there's at least one thing of which I'm sure. Whether 100 years, two hundred years or two generations, length of time doesn't factor into the definition.

1 comment:

The Merry said...

It's kind of cool to know your family history. To me, anyway.

I used to think it was impressive that my parents had family photographs going back to the first days of photography and family portraits going back a century before that. Then my brother married a woman whose family home has family oil paintings from the 15th friggin' century. Put me in my place, but good.

Then again, I once asked a friend, idly curious, where her family came from. She shrugged. "No idea." I don't think she wasn't trying to put me off. She honestly didn't know. Bizarre.