Through the times

Piano teacher discusses his rich heritage


Contributed by John McBurney

An old photo of the McBurney family. Pictures like these are kept to commemorate their long history.

It’s the beginning of November, which means it’s time for the yearly German tradition of making springerle cookies. Springerles are a traditional anise-flavored German cookie made from simple ingredients: egg, flour and sugar dough.
The dough is rolled out thinly, using either a press or a rolling pin, and pictures are carved into it. The pictures are then cut out and baked until they are ready to be enjoyed.
Making traditional German cookies is just one of the many traditions that have been passed down to SHS music teacher John McBurney. Being of English, Scottish and German descent, he grew up in a culturally enriched family and continues to be grateful that he can be a part of their traditions.
“Having deep roots like that gives you a great appreciation for what generations in the past have done to preserve their culture,” McBurney said.
The first person to immigrate to America from Europe was John McBurney, six generations back from the Scottish side. He immigrated around 1786, roughly 100 years earlier than his family from the German side, and brought with him a desk. He had a son named James who had a son also named John.
And so, new traditions began, alternating names from John to James, and passing the desk down through the generations, from one John to the next.

The chair is from his great grandparents’ home (1890s), and the needlepoint seat cover was done by his grandmother (circa 1960s). He has one for each of his daughters, and other members of the family have chairs to pass along to their own children. (Contributed by John McBurney)

“My great-grandparents knew what it was like to leave one culture and go to another culture and I’ve had that experience myself,” McBurney said. “So that gives me a greater appreciation for where I am now.”
Many family heirlooms have also been passed down for generations. One of those heirlooms is a 160-year-old violin from McBurney’s Scottish great-grandfather’s side.
Despite its current conditions, McBurney plans to restore the violin to a playable state so he can envision what it was like for his great-grandfather to play.
From the German side, he owns a Christmas tree ornament that his great-grandmother brought over from Germany in the 1880s. He says it is one of the oldest things he has from that side of the family.
His wife, Alisha McBurney‘s engagement ring contains the same diamond from his grandmother’s engagement ring. Though his grandparents were married in 1929, a piece of the stone continues to be preserved almost a century later.
“It’s a really neat thing to do and a great opportunity to build stronger connections to your roots,” McBurney said.
He has also played a key role in passing down these traditions through their family. He has three daughters, and as they grow up he plans to give each daughter a chair from the dining room set that was passed down to him.
Although he feels very privileged that he can be a part of such a rich heritage, McBurney does not wish to continue the naming tradition. He is instead choosing to let his daughters decide for themselves when they are older whether they want to continue it or not.
His brother, Scott McBurney, also agrees with him and feels that it is fair to give his daughters the choice of continuing the tradition.
“I think that’s up to every individual,” Scott said. “I have no issue with that.”
For McBurney personally, he is fascinated by his roots and wants to preserve the culture. He has traveled to Europe several times and visited areas that his family came from 100 to 250 years ago.
In the future, McBurney plans to go back to Ireland, Scotland and England with his family when his daughters are old enough to better appreciate the experience.
“Being in the countries where my family came from brought out different thoughts and feelings …,” McBurney said. “I would love to visit those places again because there is so much beauty, history and fascinating cultural things to learn and do.”

This volin was played first by John McBurney’s great grandfather around 1870, his father in 1940 and then loaned to a cousin. It was found in the cousin’s house before it was returned to his grandfather in 1995. (Contributed by John McBurney)
Gardening and plant care is one of the legacies from both sides of the family. This cermaic planter was a gift to the family and the “Alligator plant” is almost 30 years old. (Contributed by John McBurney)