Finding Out I’m Not German, Just in Time for Oktoberfest

“You are German…you hail from the Motherland…we’re not exactly sure where or when, but the name was Americanized and you are German.”


So I believed until a few months ago. Knowing our heritage and embracing it was very important to my late father, even though, as far as I know, he never did any genealogy work. Whether or not he had a choice in where he was stationed, I have no idea, but he reveled in the time that he spent in Celle, Germany, during his Air Force stint. We went to German street festivals and I tried (and failed) to like sauerkraut. I even took German Civilization, a !@#$ 300-level course at Bethany, second semester, SENIOR YEAR (okay, so I needed a 300-level course for my minor. But still.) This sense of heritage, of knowing where I belong, has always been important to me. So when I visited my stepmother last July, and she casually mentioned that Cousin So-and-so has documentation of our genealogy, and by the way, the Buckners aren’t German, I was flabbergasted. No, really. I was in denial.

I came home and told my mom, who was the only person I thought would take this seriously (actually in retrospect, my brother, Lee, would have felt the same way, but he’s been pretty busy lately, and I don’t think I mentioned it.) But I wasn’t ready to call the finding fact until I saw it and confirmed it, as if I’m some great and knowledgeable historian.

A few days ago, I arrived home from my WV trip to find a copy of this report, sent to me by my stepmother (sent to her by my aunt, to whom I rarely speak, sent to her by someone I don’t know.) Sure enough, right there in black and white, documentation that the Buckners emigrated to America from Oxfordshire, England, in the 1660s. Philip Buckner came to Virginia and had sons. One son stayed in Viriginia, and his ancestors eventually migrated into the northwestern part of the state, while the other headed to South Carolina (even then, we liked the beach.)

This probably seems trivial to you, but to me, I felt like my foundation was shaken. I’ve told others about this lately; their reactions have been uniformly, “Oh, that’s nice.” But to my personal sense of history, it’s jarring on one hand…and a pleasant surprise on another. I have always loved, and pursued knowledge about, England and things British. I was fairly obsessed during high school, college, and early single years. I planned to study at Oxford, but the plans fell through (a badly broken leg – mine – being involved.) I always felt that this interest wasn’t…justified. But now it is.

I’m sure that all of this reveals something deep and dark about my psyche, maybe about my need to belong, or my belief in fate…or maybe it’s pointless and meaningless.

Last nite, when I couldn’t sleep, I did what experts say to do – I got a boring book out and started reading. The Oxford History of Britain – I swear! – should have put me to sleep in about five minutes! But it didn’t. Suddenly, the chapters about demographic changes in the 17th century, and the fact that more people emigrated than immigrated – they were alive. I wondered why Philip and his wife Elizabeth left England, two years after being married in a London church…

Maybe this is the book I have in me? Or maybe it’s a great time for a future vacation? Who knows?

For now, I am happy to report (why? WHY? why does it matter?) that the Buckners came to Virginia with a land grant, and were neither indentured servants nor thieves.

Who says math and science are the confusing subjects? History certainly has enough twists, turns, and perspectives to keep us all on our toes.

4 thoughts on “Finding Out I’m Not German, Just in Time for Oktoberfest

  1. Don’t feel bad most of my life I thought I was part German on my dad’s side and turns out NOT. Totally Welsh.

  2. If you feel the urge to travel to the UK, we are here for you. I’ve been to Oxford (about 4 hours south of us, but accessible by train), and really liked it. Nice bookshops, as you might expect.

    I’m half German myself, and while I adore Sauerkraut, I never got past “Gesundheit” in language classes. Not a romance language – very tricky.


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