When I began to research our family tree, my father told me that his grandfather George Christ emigrated from Germany because he was a socialist. I eventually learned that it was not George Christ but his parents, Thomas Christ and Anna Maria Hemmerlein, who emigrated from Bavaria. Thomas died in 1863 when George was an infant and George died in 1895 when my grandfather was an infant, which explains how their stories got confused.
Thomas and Anna Maria emigrated less than a month after negotiations for a new constitution following the uprisings of socialists and democrats the 1848 revolution ended in failure. Thomas and Anna Maria boarded the ship to America under different surnames and listing different villages of residence. This suggests that they had fallen victim to concords signed by the church and state that prevented poor men from marrying. Besides not being permitted to marry her beloved Thomas, Anna Maria was herself an illegitimate child, one of three born to sisters in the family of the poor teacher George Hemmerlein after he died.
It is easy to imagine Thomas and Anna Maria supporting the revolution of 1848 in hopes that they would be allowed to marry and be given land to farm. Nor is it difficult to understand that they were deeply disappointed and perhaps afraid of being persecuted for their beliefs when they decided to leave Bavaria in 1849. Anna Maria, who lived until 1907, would have been the one who told these stories to her son and grandsons.
My grandfather and my father were staunch Republicans who often complained that black people and poor people were asking for too much and who firmly believed that woman’s place is in the home. The last thing they would have wanted too have is a socialist ancestor! Nonetheless, my father passed the story he heard from his cousin Georgie on to me.
When I returned from trips with my cousin Bill Christ and friend Christa Schoeniger to the villages of my German ancestors in the spring of 2016, I had many questions and a great deal of information to assimilate. I succumbed to the flu that had afflicted Bill during our journey and entered into a kind of trance where I communed with the ancestors, asking them to fill in the gaps in their stories.
I stayed in this state for several weeks, eventually realizing that I needed to return to my life and to start working on the final details of the upcoming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. I thanked the ancestors for their presence and asked them to leave. They did as they were bidden. Several weeks later, I left for Crete.
While singing with the group in the Skoteino Cave, I sensed the presence of Thomas Christ behind my left shoulder. Words immediately formed in my mind, “I thought I told all of you to leave.” My great-great-grandfather was quick to reply, “I have been waiting so long to find someone in the family who could understand why I was a socialist, I could not leave.”
Thomas Christ is still with me, reminding me–who am viewed as the black sheep by in the family because of my political and spiritual beliefs–that I am not the odd one out. I am the one who is following in the footsteps of Thomas Christ and Anna Maria Hemmerlein, who were oppressed by both church and state.
As someone who affirms the sisterhood of women and who experienced unconditional love from my mother and grandmothers, I was surprised that a male ancestor chose to become my guardian angel. I understand now that he came to heal wounds.
The fatherless children of George Christ, with my grandfather Irving John, center. There are no photos of Thomas Christ or his son George, but I imagine them to have been of medium height with brown hair and brown eyes, like my grandfather.
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Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.
Join Carol on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. It could change your life! Spring tour filled, sign up now for Fall 2018.
Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger