Do you remember when George W. Bush made the state visit to Beijing, and at the end of a speech, he attempted to walk out of the conference room, but chose a locked set of doors? He pulled and pulled and the doors wouldn't budge; finally, his Chinese hosts led him to another exit:
It was, like most things Mr. Bush did during his presidency, an extremely uncomfortable thing to behold.
In the interests of political balance, Jimmy Carter's speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention easily equals Bush's door troubles. Carter had barely outlasted challenger Ted Kennedy in a long, ugly primary battle. The party was deeply divided, the nation mired in what Carter himself called "a malaise": the economy was a mess and the Iranian hostage crisis extended from weeks to months and we were becoming familiar with a nightmare called Love Canal. Lousy times, indeed. Carter, seeking to unite his dissolute troops, invoked the name of a recently deceased lion of the Democratic Party, the much beloved Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey of Minnesota. We have lost a hero, a warrior, Carter declaimed, a man "who would have been one of the greatest Presidents in history -- Hubert Horatio Hornblower, um, Humphrey!" Even watching it on tee vee, you could feel every ounce of energy drizzle out of Madison Square Garden. Carter looked like a man who knew that his political career was over, an utterly defeated, completely humiliated man. I haven't been able to find a photo of that, but this image of a conventioneer sums up the moment:
I was in high dudgeon in my last post. I'm still probably going to take a break, but then again, I woke up four times last night, thinking about Thomas More, and I feel guilty, so who knows? The guilt cocktail that is produced when a Catholic converts to Mormonism, the Monongahela of Catholic guilt joining with the Allegheny of Mormon guilt to create one super river, a mighty Ohio of guilt, makes any other psycho-religious conscience pangs you can muster -- Jewish guilt, Lutheran guilt, Mennonite guilt (if there is such a thing; I know they make quilts, I'm not sure about guilt) -- look like a kid playing with a garden hose by comparison.
Anyway, I mentioned the Battle of Agincourt, but I messed up the Shakespeare reference. Hubert Horatio Hornblower! am I embarrassed! It hit me this afternoon that "screw your courage to the sticking place" is from Macbeth; Henry's speech is about "a band of brothers." It's the St. Crispin's Day speech. (If you're interested, Lawrence Weschler writes an interesting essay about Shakespeare's take on Agincourt in his Vermeer in Bosnia.)
So I apologize for that, cabbage soup. And now to find an unlocked door...
Sunday, June 6, 2010
I've been writing this thing for about six months. It started as a way to keep track of family history, and also as an excuse to write on a regular basis. I never really intended for anyone else to read it, and for the most part, that's been the case: the people who wander in here either do so accidentally (and beat a quick retreat), or they are using the site as a means of luring people into soft-core chat rooms aimed at the Chinese market (check the comments; you'll see what I mean).
After six months, we've had just shy of one thousand visitors, maybe ten of whom read with anything approaching real interest. This has made me happy.
A goodly number of that rather skimpy throng are unhappy. "You need to stick to family history," some say. "You are too critical of your ancestors," say others. "What you write usually makes me mad," says a third. "What do you think, someone is actually going to publish you? You're trying to write a novel or something, instead of doing what you were supposed to be doing." That last one is especially interesting, considering that, a) the only people reading this are a couple of family members and some pervy Chinese dudes (I'm not exactly pulling in "Julie and Julia" readership); b) this isn't a job, and no one is paying to read it, so I am not exactly sure what I was supposed to be doing; c) if there is one thing that gets beat into you when you grow up where I did, when I did, it is: KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. Even on my best day, when the endorphins are tap dancing across my synapses and the sun is shining and I've done a push-up or walked around the block or completed some other crazily audacious act of physical endurance, even on those increasingly rare days when my blood pressure is reasonably normal and I've actually had a good night's sleep, I'm not thinking, "I'm gonna write a book." I know my limitations.
On top of that, there's a website out there which is plagiarizing this blog. It's weird: it almost looks as if someone is translating my writing into a foreign language, then re-translating it into English. It's all garbled and strange, but it's definitely mine. Here is a sample from The Three Thousand Assignment, which appears to be cribbed from my entry, "Kids Today, Part Two, Or, Why I Am A Mormon":
i boast ancestors who connected the house of worship in the 1830’s, in western new york. one of them, dana jacobs, was a bishop,cabbage soup and in a while, one of the seven presidents of the seventy. one more, hiram jacobs, helped erect the nauvoo temple, and conventional his donation in attendance,cabbage soup by his partner caroline, in february 1846, immediately in the past nauvoo was abandoned. the jacobs did not comparable brigham fresh. by 1848, they had been disfellowshipped for apostasy.cabbage soup hiram took his family unit backside to niagara, everyplace his daughter married abriam pearce. their granddaughter, gladys mae, is our grandmother. dana returned to ohio; his son,cabbage soup moroni, was a 33nd measure mason and a neighborhood chief, and died in ashtabula exclusive of increasingly having been a associate of the house of worship.
in a out of the ordinary way,cabbage soup their apostasy ended it viable for me to be born: the strange cabbage soup with the intention of is my DNA amalgamate – keep pace with parts kielbasa and corned beef – may possibly not boast happened had the jacobs family unit passed on to utah.
on the additional give, i have faith in, by all my tenderness,cabbage soup with the intention of the missionaries bring into being my parents in 1969 for the reason that our family unit was living being brought backside to the fold. i am a warden of with the intention of herd, a guardian of with the intention of fold. too countless of the nation i fondness wander timetabled unfamiliar paths, attain comfort in the dark.
it breaks my tenderness.
This has discouraged me no end. You might say it breaks my tenderness, cabbage soup.
Between the Siskels and the Eberts and the guy who's ripping me off, I'm sick of the whole thing.
So here it is, for the last time for a while. Family history.
To date, I have linked a lot of names to my family tree, some of which are on my wife's side of the family. I quit counting this afternoon at 1200 names, and I'd only gone two generations deep on my wife's side, and had only looked at a few of the lines on my side. The number could already be as high as 3000 names, and I suspect it may be even higher: I am trying to sort through a lot of research that I've linked into from other sources, and the numbers get a little fuzzy (see my earlier post on this subject, where I discuss my suspect ties to Charlemagne and Jesus Christ).
My research has uncovered the following facts:
My wife's family, on her mother's side, were among the first French families to settle in North America. Her ancestors, the De Launays, were contemporaries of Samuel de Champlain.
One of my wife's ancestors, Jabez Alexander, fought for the New Hampshire militia during the Revolutionary War.
Another ancestor, Alvah Alexander, tended Joseph Smith's cows during the Nauvoo period, and was present when the wagon carrying the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith arrived in Nauvoo following their murder at Carthage Jail.
My McMurray family, contrary to all I was taught as a child, is Irish, not Scot. What's more, they were Irish Protestants, and loyal to the English crown. We come from County Antrim and Country Armagh in Northern Ireland. At least three family members -- Hugh, James, and James Ocean -- were British soldiers. James was born in India, where his father fought against the Sikhs.
James Ocean McMurray settled in Canada before emigrating to the United States. He and his family lived near what is now the site of the CN Tower, in a working class neighborhood. In the US, they lived in Buffalo (in a house that still stands), and finally settled at the corner of Oliver and Stenzil Streets in North Tonawanda (in another house that still stands).
The Siedlecki family lived in Suwalki, about 15 miles south of the border with Lithuania (I know this from Walter Siedlecki's military record, which lists his place of birth). Since I know nothing else about the Siedleckis, I really don't know if this is significant.
I have found the marriage certificate, the insurance papers issued following his death, and a number of photos of Peter Litwin, the farmboy turned factory worker turned barber turned bootlegger turned respectable saloon owner who is my great-grandfather. For me, Peter Litwin IS the story of Eastern European immigration to the US.
Two of my direct line ancestors, Hiram and Caroline Jacobs, were endowed in the Nauvoo Temple, in February 1846. Hiram is listed as a member of Alpheus Cutler's building crew: he helped construct the original Nauvoo Temple. In 1845, he bought land in Nauvoo from Parley P. Pratt -- I have seen transcripts of the documents. By 1850, unhappy with the leadership of Brigham Young, Hiram and Caroline had disassociated themselves from the Church, returned to the family farm in the Town of Niagara, and evidently never mentioned Mormonism again.
Henry Anguish, son of Jacob Anguish, was the first permanent settler of what is now Tonawanda, New York. He ran a tavern at the mouth of Ellicott Creek, about where O'Connor's Toy Store used to be. By 1830, he had returned to Canada, where his descendants live today (there are hundreds of Anguishes living in southern Ontario).
Jacob Anguish, who from the records I've found seems to have been a paranoid nutjob, was a member of Butler's Rangers, the greatly feared British guerilla outfit. He joined, as best as I can tell, to avenge himself against neighbors whom he accused of stealing timber from his land. To this end, he participated in at least two massacres, including the infamous Battle of Wyoming, in which about 340 men and boys were murdered and 1,000 homes were burned, and the Cherry Valley Massacre, which led to retaliatory strikes against Iroquois and Loyalist settlements and ultimately led to the deaths of as many as 10,000 people.
The Pearce family, Jacobs family and Milliman familes settled in Niagara County in the 1820's and 1830's. Our family is among the oldest residents of Western New York.
Our heritage includes Irish, English, Polish, possibly Lithuanian, possibly Ukranian, possible Jewish (no more on that until I have more solid evidence), and Palatine German.
From others, I have learned that we are direct line ancestors to Deacon Samuel Chapin, a man immortalized in a famous statue, "The Puritan", which graces Springfield, Massachusetts. (I have a photo, but it won't upload to the site, so maybe I'll try again later. On second thought, google "Deacon Samuel Chapin" and find it yourself. Your fingers aren't broken.)
I learned that we are direct descendants of the noble Sir Thomas More, the man who died rather than betray his convictions. "A Man For All Seasons", the play and the movie, are about Thomas More. Al Stewart wrote a song about him.
I learned that one of our ancestors, Michel de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, died on 14 September 1415, during the siege of Harfleur. This won't mean anything to you, except that it was England's surprising defeat at Harfleur that forced Henry V to take a much depleted force into battle against a numerically superior foe the following month. That battle, which Henry won, largely thanks to a combination of brilliant strategy and the deadly effectiveness of a new weapon, the English longbow, is known as Agincourt. You know, "screw your courage to the sticking place"? Shakespeare's Henry V? The most important battle in pre-1940 English history?
So that's it.
I could devote 40 or 50 hours a week to this effort. I would dearly love to do that. It's interesting, and I like writing about it, but I'm taking a break. Typical, a few of you will say. He's picking up his toys and he's going home. I guess so.
The fact is that I can't do it, not the way it deserves to be done. I can't do it the way some of you expect me to do it.
One of the strange things about Mormonism is that nothing can be done for the pure joy of it: it has to be codified and organized and ordered and sucked clean of anything that makes it soul-restoring and happy and fun. We are all pulling our handcarts (one of the great myths of Mormonism: only a handful of Saints pulled handcarts; the vast majority took the train), grimly trudging toward the desert we call Zion.
I'm taking a break in Nebraska.