About six months ago, my friend Robin Lustig and I started talking about doing some sort of project together. We had both recently left jobs, he from the BBC and me from NPR, and for the first time in more than 40 years, we each had the latitude to focus our professional energies in directions of our own choosing.
The offshoot of those conversations now starts to take form with the launch of In the Footsteps of our Families, as we trace the journeys our forebearers took as they left the places of their birth and made new lives in Britain and the United States. In the coming weeks, we will travel through Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Germany, ending in Hamburg, the departure point for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Old World for the New.
Our family stories are part of the collective history of the great European migration of the closing decades of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century. Their stories are familiar and, through telling and retelling, have come to share an honored place in the history of the past 150 years. More recent immigrants do not enjoy the romanticized perspective of history, although the motivations and ambitions of today’s immigrants share a common bond with those who came before: fleeing danger and/or desperate poverty to find safe refuge, work and education for a next generation.
By following the footsteps of our families, we hope to better understand what it means to leave one’s birthplace; what it means for the people who leave and the families they grow, and what it means for the people in the villages, cities and countries left behind. Later this year, we’ll visit the places our families settled and made lives in England and in America, neighborhoods where contemporary immigrants still make new homes in search of new lives.
Robin and I will write parallel blogs, each with its own perspective on the places we visit and each telling the stories of our respective families and the places they left behind. Our blogs can be found at wanderingscribes.com, along with photo albums of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Along the way, we’ll add pictures from the places we visit and audio from the people we meet.