My great great grandfather on my father’s father’s side had an extremely eventful life. Eugene Wasserzug was born in Warsaw, Poland around 1831. After attending multiple universities to train as a doctor, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death by Russian authorities for participating in an unsuccessful Polish uprising against Czarist Russian in 1863 (probably the January Uprising of that year). He was able to escape in the guise of a beggar and fled to Prussia before settling, with his wife and three children, in Switzerland, where he became a citizen and a licensed physician. By 1870, Eugene and his eldest son, Etienne, had abandoned the rest of the family in Switzerland to move to France, where Eugene was appointed Inspector General of Ambulances for the French army during the Franco-Prussian War. Eugene quickly remarried and moved to Argentina to become a professor of medicine at the University of Buenos Aires; he never mentioned another family in Europe, and the connection was only discovered several generations later. Etienne was left behind in France under the custody of one of Eugene’s patients, where he managed to succeed and become a valued assistant and researcher for Louis Pasteur before dying of scarlet fever at a young age. Euegene had more children in Argentina and never taught at the University. Instead, he became a well respected physician and a founding member of the Argentine Medical Association before dying in 1911.
Eugene Wasserzug’s grandson, mi abuelo Germán Wasserzug, married mi abuela, Coca, whose mother immigrated to Argentina from Spain. My grandparents had three children in Argentina before coming to the United States in 1961 where my father was the first of four more children. Mi abuelo was always vague about why he insisted on uprooting the family and moving the States, especially given that he had a stable job and didn’t speak English well (and his wife not at all). Argentina, which was one of the richest countries in the world before the outbreak of WWI, had endured the post WWI recession better than most economies of the region. When the Great Depression hit, the country with a history of high economic highs and low economic lows began a transition from the former to the later with a slug-like determination. Mi abuelo was born in 1928, the perfect time to see the economic and social struggles of his country grow to national problems. His decision to make the move to the US was probably motivated by the opportunity he saw abroad and the dangers he saw at home. Indeed, this branch of the Wasserzug family avoided the fate of those that stayed in Argentina. My father’s cousin, like many others, was abducted by the in the middle of the night by the military junta in control and never seen again, but that is a story I have already told in one of these posts.
My maternal grandfather’s family has far better record keeping. We can trace multiple branches of our family tree, generation to generation, all the way back for literally millennia. The family moved to Texas sometime between 1817 and 1844, before Texas was a state in the US. Before that, we had been in what became the states since long before independence. In fact, tracing the recorded family tree through England and Belgium, we are direct descendants of Emperor Charles the Bald (823-877), grandson of Charlemagne. Although this is interesting, Charles the Bald had over 30 children and lived over 1000 years ago, so it probably isn’t too uncommon.
For the most part, we do not know why my ancestors migrated when and where they did. Eugene Wasserzug’s flight to Switzerland was understandable given that he has been sentenced to death in Russia, but we did not discover that until over 100 years after it happened. The Polish uprising against Russia was nationalistic and was a precursor to years of resistance. We do not know why Eugene moved to France or Argentina. He may have been simply following the economic opportunities he was offered, or he may have had other motivations. The descendants of his family in Switzerland suggest that he simply left and they never heard from him again. Then he migrated across the Atlantic to a country that spoke a language he did not, leaving his son in the custody of a client, to take a job he never ended up working. Our move to the United States was also probably about opportunity to find a better life; the Great Depression was catastrophic for an uncountable number of people across the world. My mother’s side of the family has not really migrated anywhere that we have sufficient records of for a long time. Although my grandmothers’ families were from Spain (paternal side) and Sweden (maternal side), we do not know what prompted them to migrate to Argentina and the US respectively. In some ways, my family knows a lot about our history. In others, we know nothing. Even if we know when and where we migrated, we often cannot say why. In those histories we do know, our migrations do not reflect world trends or developments other than a possible connection to Economic misfortune. Perhaps Charlemagne is the exception to that, but I would argue that he does not count.