Sunday, October 16, 2011

What If?


A few years ago I was walking from my bus stop to work.  As I approached a street where the traffic travelled one way to the north, the “Don’t Walk” signal began flashing.  I heard sirens approaching as I stopped at the corner.  As I stood there, I saw a car speeding on the intersecting street with a police car in pursuit.  The car turned south onto the street I was preparing to cross.  It was a “What If?” moment.  What if my bus had been just a couple of seconds earlier or I had walked a little faster or I hadn’t stopped to let someone exit the bus before me?  I would have arrived at the corner before the “Don’t Walk” signal started flashing and likely been in the middle of that street at exactly the time that car made the wrong-way turn to elude the police. 
Our lives are filled with these What If moments.  However, we are also the result of What If moments in our ancestors’ lives.  It is awesome to contemplate how events in our ancestors’ lives, some seemingly insignificant, resulted in our very existence. 

What if my second great grandfather Peter Ballein decided to remain in Bavaria instead of immigrating to the United States?  What if he settled in New Orleans, where he first set foot in this country, instead of Brown County, Ohio?  What if his first wife Margaret Yochum hadn’t died so young?  There would have been no Hite Ballein, Esther Ballein, Russell Lee Davis, or me.
My dad told me that his parents met at a store near his dad’s home.  Although both Quincy Davis and Esther Ballein lived in Brown County, Ohio, they lived around 11 miles apart when they met.  There were probably a lot of stores between her home and his.  Did that store carry some type of merchandise that other stores didn’t?  Did she have friends in that area?  Why was she there?  I’ll never know what led my grandmother to visit that store, but if she hadn’t, it is unlikely my dad would have been born.

If my grandfather Eddie Earl Donaldson hadn’t moved from Oklahoma to Cincinnati, if he hadn’t found work where he did, if my grand-uncle Charles Dudley hadn’t worked at the same company, if Charles hadn’t introduced Edd to his little sister Mary, my maternal grandparents would have never met, married, and had ten children.
My mom has often pondered what her life would have been like if her father hadn’t died when she was seven years old.  Edd Donaldson was an alcoholic who sometimes abused his wife, Mary Dudley Donaldson.  My mom wonders if she would have graduated from high school, gotten a decent job, or been in church if her father hadn’t died.  If she and her family hadn’t attended the same church as my dad and his family, they most likely wouldn’t have met and married.

As a family history researcher, I typically only learn about the big events in my ancestors’ lives – births, deaths, marriages, military service – and not the decisions, accidents, illnesses, hardships, successes, tragedies, and victories.  However, these things happened to my ancestors just as they happen to all of us and set the course for their lives and, in turn, mine.  I think that’s why it is so important to me to learn more about my ancestors.  In a sense, it helps me understand why I am here.
As amazing as it is to recognize that the events of my ancestors’ lives resulted in my unique existence, I am humbled by the realization that one small change in the course of the life of any one of my ancestors might mean I wouldn’t be here. 

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