Foreword to the
First Edition of the
Retzlaff Family History
istory is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.
The history of our family is most important to us all, whether we admit it or not. Even more important is the fact that a very large quantity of the history of our family has been accurately preserved in both words and pictures, something very few families can claim. Family history is usually something passed verbally from generation to generation and the only history that survives that type of treatment is the sensational, the tragic, or the most memorable to the party passing it. Everyone has listened to their parents from time to time as they told how it was 'in the good ole days'. It's interesting how each generatin prior to our own was always better. Each story is told excitedly, or told in whispered innuendoes, or told in glowing, glittering terminology, the tale becoming ever so more exciting or whispered each time it was told. This is a type of history, but everyone must admit it is an out of focus one . . . one that becomes even more blurred as the family increases in size, as it tends to do. As we all remember those stories our parents faithfully told us we cannot help but reflect on what we've head and realize how little we've actually learned . . . how the quantity of knowledge we've received is minute in comparison to the incalcuable number of experiences in an entire human lifetime. And with that thought in mind, think back hard and try to visualize a mental picture of the appearance, the experience and the times of your grandparents. Not easy, is it? Sure, you have an inkling of what they went through, a vague idea. If you really thought about it, even believing you have a vague idea is not really being truthful to yourself. Believe it or not, you're a blank as far as your ancestors are concerned.
Nearly all families know next to nothing about the ancestry of their family. If a family is fortunate, and there are a few obscure documents lying around in the stuffy attics of old family homesteads, the names of the multitide of prior generations might be recorded. But you know, just a name doesn't tell you much. Think about it. You could even have an elaborately designed family tree drawn with every ancestral name that could be found, but what do you really have? I do believe history is the stepping stone to the future, and with the records that we have meticulously maintained, we are indeed fortunate, something none of us should take for granted.
For a very long time, I took it too lightly. My sin was a little bigger than everyone else's, mainly because the Family History books were easily within my ready grasp, just a few miles away, all of them waiting for the moment to be studied in earnest. The short time we can all take at each Family Reunion to gaze at these books is short, but even that privilege I abused for a very long time by not even taking the time to look at them then. A couple of years ago, my interest slowly began to increase as my desire to know who all those people were at each Family Reunion became more acute. Even then that interest could be considered minor, yet the seed had been planted. The germination period, however, was a long one.
I'm sure everyone has looked throgh the Descendant Charts at least once and have found how difficult it is to understand them. This is no reflection on the compiler of the information -- charts of this type are inheritly difficult to comprehend. It has been the family's wish for many years now to assemble all the information in those Descendant Charts into one organized volume, designed in some type of reasonable manner so everyone could attempt to discover 'who they're directly kin to.' It was with that single thought in mind that this book was first conceived.
Why then, if it's not a new idea, hasn't the book been done before now? Once again, we get back to me. It was a great challenge, one I didn't want to attempt until recently. My excuses have been many and varied, yet few have been original. It was only until I finally agreed to spend the time and effort to really making a go at completing this book that I discovered all the haggling I'd gone through was unfounded. I had found a new awareness in myself through the knowledge of my ancestors, something I could never have achieved without taking the time to go through the charts and the history books. Hopefully this book serves its intended purpose -- to present the Descendant Charts in a reasonably understandable format, along with the following history of the life of the man who we all can thank for our existence, Franz Ferdinand Retzlaff. In pictures and his own words, hopefully you'll receive an insight into the father, the husband, the educator, the man who is the trunk of our own family tree. With that, I wish to make one final note:
Within the eleven volumes of this history of the Retzlaff family (a bulk difficult for a single man to carry alone), we have a record any family would be supremely proud to possess. When you briefly flip through the book of your family name during Family Reunion each year, please realize something. Don't pass by the many pages of old, badly focused, faded pictures near the front of the book (you know, the ones with the long names no one ever uses any more), and hurriedly hunt for the latest portrait of your own grinning face, but pause for a moment and reflect on the story those unknown faces and names tell. Take the short time to read some of the letters (letters we wouldn't have the time or patience to write today), and contemplate the life and experiences told by the writer. I guarantee you that it won't be time wasted, because you are reading your history, the lives and dreams and hopes and sorrows of the people that make the world the great world that it is today. And if you do not believe all the words I have previously written, reflect on this one point: If it wasn't for those men and women with their dark beards and long skirts and sour expressions and scrawled handwriting, you would not be here to question.
Donald Alan Retzlaff
July 5, 1975
copyright © 1975, 1995 Donald Alan Retzlaff