Last Sunday while many people gathered at Super Bowl LI parties, I revisited my own family history. My octogenarian parents and I drove to rural Macomb County to see my great grandparent’s farm. The snow-covered fields that once pastured Max Holf’s Holsteins are still lovely and blissfully quiet. However his big dairy barn is gone, two out buildings are nearly collapsed, and the farm house is abandoned. As we stood on the sagging front porch, my mom recalled stories that her mom had told her. Her crystal clear memories revealed my grandmother’s values, strength, and determination. One was particularly poignant.

Emma Holf left her family’s farm when she was seventeen and worked as a cook for a wealthy family in Detroit. One Christmas Eve, she took the Interurban from Detroit to the town of Washington and then walked from the stop to the farm in the bitter cold. My great-grandma had waited up for her daughter and when young Emma finally walked through the door, she wrapped her arms around her and cried, “I knew you would come.” Today I pulled out the old Detroit United Railway (DUR) maps and calculated that my grandmother had walked over 11 miles that night.

For me, family history is so much more than the names and dates on a family tree. Stories passed down orally, through letters, diaries, and even photos often reveal how our ancestors thought and what motivated their decisions. These insights into their minds and hearts are as important to me as the trail of DNA in my cells.

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