Monday, September 06, 2004

Blogging My Genes Off

Video Clips from a Lifetime of Reflection

An American Name:

I lived in England for awhile about twenty years ago. One of the more fascinating activities to an old radio guy like me was listening to the news on the several BBC networks. One day, BBC Radio 2 (in those days, basically similar in format to what used to called "MOR" in the USA) carried a report of a bank robbery in a London suburb. The female perpetrator had first made a deposit before demanding that the teller hand over an exorbitant sum or suffer physical harm. The newscaster (or "presenter," as the British say) noted that the woman had left behind a deposit slip with a pre-printed name on it. "Scotland Yard are seeking a blonde woman, with an American name," the presenter said.

Where are You from?

A friend of mine, Nisei, spent three years in Washington, D.C., while her husband was in law school there. For various reasons, they got invited to a number of high-profile social gatherings. Being gregarious and loquacious and intelligent, Millie (not her real name) was always a popular guest. More than once, an enthralled (but hopelessly ignorant) host or fellow guest would say to Millie, "You speak English so well! Where are you from?" Millie would smile and deadpan (truthfully), "Colorado . . . ."

Yes, But Where are your people from?

Anybody of a certain age who grew up in the South or who has southern relatives has heard that question. I've taken to asking it a lot lately myself. And to really make myself obnoxious, I've started answering that question for people even before I ask it! That's one of the social hazards of genealogy. "Birdsong? Well, your people must be from Upson County, Georgia or Gregg County, Texas. The Birdsong family migrated to Texas back in . . . ." Try that sometime--it's not for the faint of heart or for anyone who wants to make a new friend . . . .

Names & Places . . .BTW, where are your people from?

I've always been interested in names and their origins. My own nom de blogue reflects three of my ancestral surnames; all three happen to be Anglo in origin. But my family tree includes names like Le Jay (French) and Braveboy (said to be derived from a Native American name). My ancestors came from Scandinavia, Scotland, England, Africa, and pre-Columbian North America. Since the 17th century, my ancestors have lived in Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. These are all places I had never spent much time in until recently.

I was born in the Midwest, raised in the Southwest, and spent much time on the West Coast as an adult. I've lived all over the Rocky Mountain West. As a result, I sometimes say I'm from everywhere. But someone who's from everywhere is really from nowhere. Perhaps that's the reason I'm so interested in my ultimate origins.

Last Christmas, one of my Midwestern aunts gave gifts of "family calendars." The calendars had birthdates of both living and deceased family members as well as anecdotes about our families. That simple gift re-awakened my profound desire to know and understand from whence I come.

In a relatively short time, I've learned a lot about our ancestral families. I've also learned much about history, geography, society, sociology, and the art/science of genealogy. I appreciate the interconnectedness of humanity and the significance of history.

I've observed that history is personal. Furthermore, history is too important to be left to historians. And finally, history is made by each of us every day in the things we do and indeed, the things we fail to do. We are shaped by history, but we are not bound by it.

My families fought on both sides of the American Revolution and both sides of the Civil War. Over the course of two or three generations, one (and may be another) of my families literally changed races. This ocassional journal is the story of this American family of families . . . .

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