Family history can be a hard thing to nail down. Even when you have genealogy and paperwork that categorizes and pinpoints exactly where you’re from, it sometimes can’t quite define your “family”. There’s an old saying that that truth will always be comprised of all the facts but that the opposite is not always true. This means that while the Walthers could be described as a family of mixed German, Scottish, Irish, and Bohemian (now geographically known as Czechoslovakian) descent with roots in Baltimore and Oahu, that does little to tell just who we are. So that’s why I’m putting pen to paper, to shed a little light on the name that is Walther.
First off is the name Walther. It wasn’t always so. When we crossed over to America in the 1890’s we were given a choice to change it from the far more Germanic and hilariously evil sounding von Voltaire. Now Walther is still very German, but slightly less vampire lord sounding, so I can at least be happy about that. My father also wanted to name me Dietrich when I was born, so I narrowly avoided being christened Dietrich von Voltaire.
Let’s work backwards a little though. My father, Mark Breen Walther, had a mother, as most people do. Her name was Marjorie Walther. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, as Marjorie Hluboky, an ethnically bohemian name, Marjorie grew up and lived most of her days on Hawaiian waters. She wore a gas mask during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and took to the skies working for Pan-Am. She finished working for the airline company in 1987, after spending 30 years in the service as an airline stewardess.
Marjorie’s uncle, Admiral Francis Weatherwax, was the Commander of the United States Pacific fleet during WWII. The military has always had a strong relationship with the Walther family and its ancestors. Currently Julia Walther, my cousin, is serving the Air Force in Alaska in a capacity she is not at the liberty to explain to me. That may be a far way off from the warm waters she grew up in, but she’s serving her country proudly with chattering teeth and a fiery heart.
Marjorie settled down with man named Jack Walther with whom she would later settle with divorce court but keep the last name. Because of this, her three children, my father Mark being the youngest, would grow up on Oahu as well. My aunt Lynn, the oldest, would marry a Hispanic man and have five kids. The Hawaiian heritage of my family is dominant at family gatherings, and part of who I am, despite not sharing any of the genetics.
My aunt Lynn is also a lawyer who created a codex for Hawaiian property. Basically a property focused genealogy almanac, she created it with he purpose of allowing the Hawaiian people a legal way to claim the land that the United States had taken from them when the initial settlements and missions were founded. It has made the Walther family rather known on the windward side of Oahu, another curious development when you consider that my father and I are not in way, genetically Hawaiian.
This is where I get to the point of my reflection. Because race is cultural construct, it stands to reason that those constructs can be broken. While my cousins’ skin colors are darker and more traditionally “Hawaiian” looking, it’s actually because they are half Caucasian and half Hispanic. Yet, they are Hawaiian in every other sense of the word. If you tried to tell Kainoa or Manu Walther they aren’t true Hawaiians, you’d end up with a fist upside your head before you could say, “aloha.” My father is as white as any other European immigrant descendant, but if you spend five minutes getting to known him, you’ll immediately get to know a laid-back Hawaiian man, and not the haole he appears to be. A haole by the way is Hawaiian for a white man, similar to a Spanish speaker calling someone a gringo.
What decides what you identify as? Is it more important what your blood tells you that you are, or should the luaus that you grew up at and spam breakfasts help you live your life? It’s important to ask these kinds of questions as we move over to my mother’s side of the family.
So if the Walther side of my family are simply Bohemians that melded with some German Scots, where does that leave my mother’s side of the family? The Hanes family are classic Irish Scottish immigrants. Immigrating to Baltimore and then spreading down to Colorado, they escaped the persecution of the Irish in Ireland and traded it for the persecution of the Irish in America. Able to lean on their traditional Scottish name though, they moved further and further west until my grandfather Paul Hanes met and married now Lois Hanes in Denver, Colorado.
Much like the Walthers, the Hanes family has gravitated toward the military. Paul flew planes in WWII, and several of my cousins now serve in the middle-east, including my cousin Tony Wilson who repairs jets in Kuwait. Military service didn’t quite do it for my grandfather though, and he headed for the sunshine state to join the tech boom of the then fledgling Silicon Valley.
While the Walthers’ history is focused in Hawaii and runs deep because of it, the Hanes’ history is more widespread and therefore the notable history tends to be more modern. My grandfather Paul worked with some young start-up entertainment company called Atari, testing games and filming archive footage for the Library of Congress of him playing a new little invention known as the game Pong.
Not as intricate of a history as I would have liked to explore, but that doesn’t change the point I’m trying to make. Whether focused or spread out, finding your identity and culture in your family lineage can be next to impossible. You need to explore which facets you truly value.
I value the part of me that is Irish and Scottish because I’ve studied the persecution they went through. Though I would not culturally consider myself Irish, I enjoy a lot of that culture and value those members of my family for persevering so that I may exist. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii, so I know that claiming to be Hawaiian would be disingenuous, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love Spam, eggs, and rice, or that I use pidgin English phrases casually because my dad does, or even that a Mele Kalikimaka hangs outside my house every Christmas. The key to understanding yourself is understanding where you came from, where you are now, and where you want yourself to go. We are who we make ourselves out to be.