In one of my favorite books, Atomic HabitsJames Clear wrote: “Success is the product of daily habits, not once-in-a-lifetime transformation.” Your ancestors lived out their lives one day at a time. The life you might have today — having multiple outfits to choose from, living in a beautiful home, getting to go to college, driving your car — came from centuries of struggles, decisions, and risks your ancestors took. Thousands of people came before you, and every day of their lives compounded into what you get to experience. 

In 1904, Andrew Feit was 64 years old. He was a German immigrant living in Meriden, Connecticut. In September, he resigned from his job as the janitor of a two-room school building. He was moving away and would no longer be within walking distance of the school. Andrew couldn’t speak English and lived in a small home with ten other family members — his wife, daughter, and eight grandchildren.

The Meriden Historical Society even located and shared a photo of the school building where Andrew worked, taken in the 1920s.

Finding this out about Andrew, my 3rd-great-grandfather, while sitting in one of the libraries at Duke University where I studied as a student for four years felt like a full-circle moment. The magnitude of the idea that I’d have no chance at getting to go to college if it wasn’t for Andrew (and many others) was overwhelming. Andrew left his birth country and came to an entirely foreign place with his wife and infant children in the 1870s. He likely walked to work his entire life and made just enough to get by. He never stopped and paved the way for his descendants to have a better life. I wish I could shake his hand, say thank you, and get to hear his story.

Andrew Feit, pictured on the bottom left, circa. 1910.

How did your ancestors pave the way for you? 

Jack Palmer has done genealogy research since he was ten years old and loves writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy research stories and advice. He graduated from Duke University in May 2023, majoring in History and Psychology, and is the author of Helen & Frank: A Biography, a biography about his great-grandparents.

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