I love genealogy. I’ve mentioned that here before. I spoke with my Aunt Joyce the other day, and she shared with me the baffling results of an ancestry DNA test she’d just gotten. One of her grandchildren had given her the test as a Christmas gift last year. Aunt Joyce is my mother’s oldest sister, the second-born child of six, and the only one remaining.
“I know you love the family history, and my report is identical to your mom’s, so you need to have the information,” she said.
I was so excited. I was about to see what makes up half of my DNA in an official report.
She is our matriarch, and at 88, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Never sick and sharp as a tack, she attributes her good health to the fact that she’s always cooked most of their meals at home. She just bought a brand new, red, sports car because she’s never had a red car before. She’s a firecracker, and she’s my idol.
Me and Aunt Joyce in 2014… ❤
Four full-blooded Texas Wendish women back when they thought they were Germans ❤
Aunt Joyce and her sisters, probably around 1990ish.
Left to right, top to bottom: Aunt Joyce, Aunt Edna Mae, my mom Debbie and Aunt Bea.
Uncle Fred, the first born of the bunch, was very much interested in the family’s genealogy and was one who suggested at a family reunion 25 years ago that we’re actually not German, but Wendish. Few of our family members had a clue what he was talking about and didn’t really pay much attention, sadly.
“I don’t know that I believe the results,” she said. “It says that we’re only 3% German and that we’re 91% Eastern European and Russian. But only three percent German? My whole life I’ve been German!”
If I didn’t know the history of the Texas Wendish, I would think that her results are a sham. But actually, it all makes sense. Her results indicated roots in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania, which are all right next door to Germany.
According to one of my research books, “The Wends are connected with the branch of Western Slavs, which includes the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks. They are distantly related to the Eastern Slavs, including the Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians and to the Southern Slavs, including the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Bulgarians.”
Our paternal ancestors that we’ve traced back to lived in Germany on the border of Poland. I think it’s kind of like saying, “I’m from America, but I’m a Texan.” I’m still trying to figure it out.
The Texas Wends, my ancestors Johann and Maria in particular, left Saxony, Germany in September of 1854 to arrive in Galveston in December, in search of a place to continue to practice Lutheranism. Less than two weeks into their journey, Johann and Maria lost their two-year-old son. My guess is that he was a victim of the cholera outbreak that took the lives of one out of every eight people on that ship, the Ben Nevis.
They and many of the others on the small ship eventually ended up around Walburg, Texas, where they settled, most into lives of farming. Many of the descendants of those brave settlers still live in the area. Wends often spoke German and English for commerce, and the Wendish language eventually faded away.
Does this “new” information change anything about who Aunt Joyce is, now that she’s discovered she’s not as German as she always thought? No way. It does change things for me in the way that now I’m even hungrier for more information about our heritage.
For most of my life, we spent Christmas Eve at Aunt Joyce’s house, packed with cousins and family. Food was everywhere, and she always made Divinity – a white candy that resembled little puffy clouds and tastes like heaven.
In flipping through my Wendish Heritage Society cookbook, I found a recipe for Divinity Candy that I decided to make this Christmas. And then, I found a more modern recipe that I’ll be trying instead, and am sharing it today.
It’s things like old recipes that evoke memories of the past that help family heritage stay alive over the generations. Make something this holiday season that your older relatives used to make. My hope is that one bite fills you with warm memories. Just the thought of Aunt Joyce’s Divinity does that for me.
This is not my divinity because I haven’t made it yet. I got this photo off the internet through an image search and thought it was really pretty. It’s also not this specific recipe, but I’m sure it’s probably pretty close.
4 cups sugar
1 cup white corn syrup
3/4 cup cold water
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Stir only until sugar has dissolved. Do not stir after this point. Cook syrup mixture until it reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer, bringing it to a hard ball stage.
While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Once the sugar mixture reaches 250 degrees F, carefully pour a slow steady stream of syrup into the stiffly beaten egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Add the vanilla and continue to beat until mixture holds its shape, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in pecans.
Using 2 spoons, drop the divinity onto waxed paper, using 1 spoon to push the candy off the other. This may take a little practice because the technique is to twirl the pushing spoon, making the candy look like the top of a soft serve ice cream. If the candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water. You will need to work fast when making this type of candy. After you spoon the cooked sugar and nuts onto the waxed paper, you’re done. Cool the candies on racks completely. You can store them in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.