History, whether it be U.S. history or world history, or even your history, is sometimes not precise, like the math equation 2 + 2 = 4.
Sometimes, historians or just everyday people like you and me, have to fill in some blanks that are a bit gray — a bit hazy.
This isn’t a new topic with me, you’ve read similar before from this column.
When I was growing up, I always thought history was precise, that facts were facts and you kept speculation out of it.
But what I found is that history is lost almost every day of our lives, even if it’s recorded.
You see, recorded history begins every second and every minute of every day. Big things are recorded in newspapers, letters, diaries and even the digital age: emails, tweets, messages and Instagram and on and on.
Now, I will admit history from centuries and even decades ago has been lost. It’s just inevitable.
What got me to thinking about all this occurred one day when I found out something in my genealogical diggings that I had been trying to solve for decades.
My four-great-grandmother had two children — one was my great-great-great-grandfather — who had the same last name as her, but which was her maiden name.
I had always assumed that way back in 1815, when he was born, his mother was married when she had him and a sister.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact he had become a circuit-riding minister and had been born out of wedlock.
I thought in my mind this didn’t happen way back in the good old days.
Well, guess what? My four-great-grandmother had two children out of wedlock with a preacher, who didn’t give his two progeny his last name.
I found out this information by chance, but it was there nonetheless, and answered a lot of questions for me.
It just wasn’t spoken of in my family, apparently.
And, it got me to thinking that this genealogical search was not unlike much of American history past.
Stuff just gets lost, gets glossed over, gets mired in niceties and what should-have-been but really, really never was.
I know, confusing isn’t it?
We want 2 + 2 to equal 4, because that’s what it does.
In the real world, in history, in everyday life, sometimes math and science and what really is — just ain’t that way.
I found a number of things about American history we don’t commonly know about.
I had heard the story about how the American government — in particular the American military — had an Uncle Sam figure to stir up patriotism.
He was used on posters to get men to volunteer for the military, or to get people to support certain causes or directions that this nation’s leaders at the time wanted us embrace.
Now, Uncle Sam has not been used in this country much in the past few decades as it was when I was growing up.
Today, people mostly refer to Uncle Sam in a negative context, like Uncle Sam is doing something we don’t like — pay taxes, won’t fix the highways, is meddling in our lives.
But years ago, Uncle Sam was a revered figure.
The precise origin of the character Uncle Sam is kind of murky, but a popular legend — U.S. history is chocked full of popular legends — is that the name Uncle Sam was derived from Samuel Wilson, a meatpacker from Troy, N.Y.
Now, Sam supplied rations for American soldiers during the War of 1812, one of those duties that people other than soldiers sometimes dismiss. It allows armies to be able to fight — a life-sustaining thing we call eating.
At the time, there was a requirement contractors stamp their name and where the rations came from on the barrels of food they were sending.
The barrels were marked “U.S.” on them, and someone jokingly said they stood for Uncle Sam, referring to Wilson.
Of course, they stood for the United States.
Thus, Americans quickly spread that little piece of Americana throughout the land, as Americans have been spreading for how ever many decades we have been on this big old continent.
It was a joke, a fable, an observation that became one of the most iconic symbols of America for many, many generations.
The old recruiting posters with the venerable bearded man with the bushy eyebrows wearing a high-collared topcoat in red, white and blue, and the top hat with big stars on it and the words “Uncle Sam wants you” for the Army is a legendary image of Americana.
It was designed to stir up patriotism, to get young men to join the armed forces.
And, it worked.
That image has all but disappeared in today’s digital world.
But … it wasn’t back in 1917 and 1941 America.