An open letter to my parents, long gone --

Dear Mom and Dad -- it's been a while since we were able to sit down and have a good talk -- Dad, almost 20 years; Mom, 26 years.  That's hard to believe.  I still miss you every day.

I'm a senior citizen now and an elder as far as the family goes.  I wanted to tell you that I've been into genealogy for about five years, and have found out a tremendous amount about our ancestors.  Dad, your father was estranged from his family -- did you know that your Uncle Joseph Benard was an adventurous sort, who managed a hotel in Texas, spent time in Mexico working for an oil company, and wound up in California?  Or that your grandfather Joseph Ortmann came from a farming family in Erkeln, Germany?

William J. Ortman's senior picture

Mom, guess what -- I have your Berneburg line traced back to Cuntz D'Alte Berneburg, who lived in 1470!  Did you know that your grandfather Maximilian came from a family in Silesia, where his father was a Master Weaver and also was a trumpeter?  (That one is kind of mysterious.  A trumpeter?)

Waltraud Berneburg's senior picture 

But whatever I learn, wherever I go, it always comes back to you.  All those ancestors made you who you were, and then made me who I am.  I wish so much that I had asked you more about your lives, really quizzed you about all the details.  I have so many questions and so many mysteries that maybe you could clear up.

Elise Ortman, a couple of years after graduation

But here's what I really want to say.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for having been such a difficult person in my teenage and young adult years.  I had such high expectations -- I was a bear about hypocrisy and imperfection. Even though I knew I was far from perfect myself, I wanted you to be perfect and was pretty hard on you when you weren't.  It wasn't until I was a parent myself that I understood that you were doing the best you could with all that you brought to parenthood.  And now that I'm a genealogist, I see that everyone has problems, foibles, secrets -- that everyone just does the best they can, as you did, as I am now.

I would give anything for an hour.  Half an hour, and I would have all my questions lined up and ask them as fast as I could.  Although I'm an an agnostic, I still hope that I will see you some day and will have the chance to have everything answered.  I miss you.  I love you.


  1. Aww, Lise, I love you. That's so sweet.

    1. Well, I know it's kind of mushy and sentimental, but I mean it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Love this. I've made it a priority to ask my dad about his childhood, and what he knows about his family. You and Elke, geologists, inspired me to do so. Thank you.

    1. Oh thank you! So lovely to think I inspired someone!


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