27 January 2009

Who are you?

I've mentioned a few more or less professional things about who I am. At hand, though, is genealogy. Some people look to genealogy to tell them who they are. Some go looking for famous relatives or rich ones, and a few (the 'black sheep' society) go looking for the infamous. For me, it's none of the above. I am me, no more, no less. That won't change by who I discover I'm more closely related to than others. If they were wonderful, or awful, I'm no better or worse a person myself.

Part of the process, for me, is that discovery. A bit of the chase, and more a matter of having something to direct me a little towards learning about some particular time and place -- culture, history, language, whatever. It turns out that several ancestors, for instance, lived more or less near to my current location near DC -- Baltimore to Richmond, with a couple in Philadelphia. So there are some weekend trips to see some parts of the country which my wife and I have talked about visiting anyhow.

Or, on a long drive (DC to Chicago) my wife and I thought some about the travels of one of my ancestors in the early 1800s -- Baltimore to N. Central Ohio. We were driving 55-65 miles per hour along what was probably more or less their route. That, to their 10 or so miles per day. Us being able to stop whenever we wanted, to get food, take a break. Could have stopped in a hotel, etc. My ancestors would have had to carry everything with them. If it rains, it rains. No problem for us, but how would they have handled it? What time of year would they have travelled? They were farmers, so I'd think they'd want to arrive for a spring planting. But that means travelling in late winter, which would not be a very pleasant time! Their trip was 1-2 months, assuming 10-20 miles/day (and some parts my wife and I agreed it would be hard to make much time through), to our 1 day. The world, we've heard a lot since our childhoods (my wife and I, that is, not sure about you all) is getting smaller. Thinking about our trip versus my ancestors' really brought that home for us.


Anonymous said...

I've done quite a bit of work on genealogy and have had similar moments of insight.

My family relocated from Hardy County, VA (now WV) to OH in 1797/98. Two brothers made trip -- I assume after harvest. They built a cabin and cleared some land. One stayed, while the other (my gr. gr. gr. grandfather took the wagon back to get the rest of the family. He was 16 at the time and the woods weren't all that friendly.

We are really soft these days. I can't imagine many of today's teenagers making that trip (without texting, no less) let alone do it while handling a team of oxen.

Robert Grumbine said...

You needn't limit it to teenagers. Few people of any age in the US today would be prepared for a trip that difficult. That was one of the things my wife and I were thinking about as we drove; we're all awfully soft these days.

Steve Bloom said...

Well, those folks probably thought their lives were a lot easier compared to their ancestors. Consider e.g. the development of whale-oil lamps and decent suspensions for those wagons.

This isn't genealogy, but when I found out about it a few days ago it gave me a similar feeling to those I've had upon finding out some interesting fact about an ancestor: James Inhofe officially took to drink on the day I was born! I'll do my best to hold up under the karmic burden. :)

Another coincidence, this one genealogical: Upon comparing ancestral notes, my significant other and I discovered that each of us had had a gay great-uncle named Floyd (both born circa 1890). What were the odds of that?

Anonymous said...

I'm your worst nightmare.

Robert Grumbine said...

Naah. You have shown a sense of humor.