28 July 2011

Standing out in a Crowd

A couple of days ago, I found myself looking over my dad's side of the family shrub. It doesn't take that long; there's my dad, and his parents. That's all I know. Well, almost.

Investigating my mother's side of the family offers so much more in the way of immediate gratification, and me, I'm all about immediate gratification. The Catholic Church keeps such obsessive records, French-Canadian women kept their father's surnames, I can almost read the original documents – well, I bet I could almost read them, if it weren't for the obscure handwriting and archaic language on scanned images of 300-year-old documents. With all the information available on the Internet, you sit down to trace a family, and 15 minutes later you're back to the flood. It's almost too easy.

Scarecrow's family is pretty much the same, easy-wise. Not only did the Puritans keep pretty close track of who married who, and who was born to whom, but the documents are even in English. Kind of seems like cheating. They didn't seem to make much use of those records to avoid consanguinity, though. I found at least one marriage between first cousins, which I've been telling Scarecrow explains a lot. < snrk! >

My father's family is more of a challenge. His parents were among the eight bazillion people who immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe in the first decade of the 20th century.

Beyond not having much to go on, everything seems more foreign, somehow. Even when they're written in English characters, the names of people and places sound so… ethnic. It's farther away from here, both geographically and culturally, but it's more than that. I can imagine 17th-century Québec, but a village in Minsk in 1900 eludes me.

I know nothing about my grandmother before she turned up in Chicago at her wedding to my grandfather in 1913. In contrast to the embarrassing abundance of documentation for my mother's side of the family, she didn't know for sure when she was born. She told my dad the name of the town she was from, but she couldn't write it in English, and by the time he told me what he thought she said, it could've been anything. Same thing with her name, when you get right down to it. It could be spelled any number of ways which, taken together, become the local equivalent of 'Smith.' I don't know when she came to this country – only that my dad said she called my grandfather a greenhorn, because she was here before he was. OK, I give up. Maybe I'll take another run at it next Mother's Day.

With my grandfather, I have a little more to go on. Not much, but a little. From Ellis Island, my dad procured the passenger list from the SS Petersburg, which made the crossing from Libau to New York on 27 December 1906. There's a name on it he believes is my grandfather. I don't know why he thinks that. The name doesn't match, but, like a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, we know he changed it when he came to America. We don't know what it was before.

According to the passenger manifest, the person my father believes to be my grandfather was 23 in 1906. In 1913, his marriage certificate gives his age as 26. Seven years later, he's only three years older. I wish I knew how he did that.

Here's what else the passenger manifest to us about him:

Birthplace: Karpilovka (a town in what is now the Ukraine, pretty close to where my grandfather said he came from)
Occupation: joiner (cabinetmaker, which is what my grandfather was)
Height: 5'2"
Eyes: blue
Hair: blue

If this is really him, I have no idea how he got from New York in 1906 to Chicago in 1913, or how he met my grandmother, or why they wound up in Ohio.

Really. How hard can it be to track down a little guy with blue hair?

25 July 2011

Can We Just Not Talk about MS for a While?

Sometimes I go through a stretch when I just don't want to think about MS. As much as I care about the well-being of my blogger buddies (you know who you are), I don't want to read blogs about MS. It's not denial. I did my usual checkup with the neurologist, which was unremarkable, as usual. She wanted to do some lab stuff, just to make sure that, other than MS, I'm generally healthy. So I did that, and I am. (That whole concept never fails to crack me up, but there it is.) I took my power chair in to the shop a while ago to find out what's wrong with it, and taking it back tomorrow to get it fixed. I do what I have to do, MS-wise. I just don't want to give it anymore of my attention than that. And since much of my own blog is about MS, I don't much want to look at that, either. So I've been doing other stuff.

For one thing, while Tuffy was in southern California for a family wedding, I've been stalking her on Facebook. Creepy, I know, but fun seeing the pictures she and her cousins took while she was down there. She did the obligatory grand-parental visit, and the folks look good, considering. Dad's wearing his Toledo Mud Hens baseball cap. Where does he get these things? She's back now, says she had a blast, but was ready to come home.

I've been stalking dead people in Scarecrow's family, too. Like my family, they're mostly just regular folks, but fascinating for all that. You just never know what will turn up.

For one thing, there are some great names. Jehoshaphat Prindle. Perseverance Johnson. Ebenezer Dibble. And a good thing, too. With surnames like Bates or Whitman, it's easy to get lost in all of the Johns and Daniels and Sarahs. A name like Philo Dibble Bates gives you something to hang onto.

And then there are the Puritans. Finding that Scarecrow, militant atheist, is descended from a bunch of Puritans, is more than a little amusing. I first stumbled over this sometime last week. My ribs still hurt from laughing.

Richard Palgrave and Anne Hooker came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630, part of the first major European settlement in New England after Plymouth Colony, and part of John Winthrop's effort to establish the colony as a Puritan "city upon a hill."

Anne's brother Thomas Hooker was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, who founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts.

Richard and Anne are Scarecrow's 10th great-grandparents on his mother's side.

They are also the 14th great-grandparents of George W. Bush.

Hey, I read it on the web, so it must be true.

13 July 2011

Going South

Tuffy left for LA yesterday morning. One of her cousins is getting married on Saturday, and I guess she thought that was a good excuse to hang out in southern California for a week. Could do worse. She had to buy the plane ticket, but once she's down there she can stay with my brother Sparky (he's an electrician), and mooch food from various relatives. This is not the first time she's traveled on her own – she went back to Michigan for a wrestling tournament when she was in high school – but it's still an adventure.

Grandma and Grandpa will be happy to see her. Spending time with my brother's boisterous, rowdy, somewhat overwhelming brood will be… different… They're all good people; they're just very… large. They're big people, with big personalities, big voices. When you get several of them together, they really fill a space. She's an only child, from a generally quiet family. She can hold her own, I have no doubt. It'll just be different. Which is good. What would be the point of going someplace if it's the same as the place you left? Besides, other people's weddings are always fun.

Scarecrow and I get to try out the whole empty nest thing. It's still too soon to say how we're going to like it. She's only been gone a day.

05 July 2011

Oh Say Can You See…

Oh say can you see
By the dawn's early light…

A day late and a dollar short, as usual. I hope any blogger buddies in the US had a festive fourth of July weekend, and I hope your dogs have recovered from the fireworks.

Our narrow dogs seem pretty blasé about the whole fireworks thing, which is odd considering how they can be totally wigged out by much more commonplace occurrences. Like running the vacuum cleaner. Or the power washer.

The other day Scarecrow was using the power washer to blast the moss off the roof. We knew Bareit had issues with this device, but his last experience with it was a while ago, and we thought he might've settled in to where it wouldn't be a problem anymore.

It was still a problem.

After Scarecrow went to work with the power washer, he realized Bareit was nowhere to be found. Even after the latest round of repairs and improvements, it seems he can still get through the fence whenever he wants. So Scarecrow went off to look for him.

A few minutes later, Bareit wandered through the office. I figured Scarecrow found him, let him into the house, and went back out to find out how he was getting through the fence.

A few minutes later, Scarecrow came in. He came back from looking for Bareit to find the click front door standing open, and both Bareit and Jasmine running around in front of the neighbor's house. Apparently, Bareit came home, let himself in, and in doing so, let Jasmine out. Fortunately, they were both very relieved to see Scarecrow, and raced him to the door.

They're never boring. And at least they're not afraid of fireworks.

As Dragon NaturallySpeaking interprets our national anthem:

José can you see
By the dawn's early light…

02 July 2011

O Canada!

O Canada!
Our home and native land!

A day late and a dollar short, as usual. I hope all you Canadian blogger buddies had a festive Canada Day. Happy Canada Day. Merry Canada Day. Whatever greeting is appropriate on the occasion.

In Scarecrow's youth, his family always spent summers in a cottage his grandfather built on the north arm of Lake Gowganda in northern Ontario, making an annual trek up from Florida. We went up to the cottage a couple-three times when we lived in Michigan, although I'm afraid Tuffy was too young to remember. Since we could only manage two weeks of vacation, we tried to predict (with only limited success) when the wild blueberries would be ripe, and schedule our trip to coincide with the height of the season. What do you think? Late July? If they haven't had much sun, maybe they'll ripen late. Maybe early August would be better? We haven't been back to Gowganda since we moved to Seattle, distance and logistics and disability issues being what they are. It comes to mind this time of year. We can visit vicariously, but it's not the same.

As it happens, I've been Stalking Dead Canadians lately.

Scarecrow's mother's family comes from Ontario. After some digging around, it was starting to look like some of them arrived in Canada when British loyalists decamped from the colonies around the time of the American Revolutionary war. Thinking that was kind of cool, I told Scarecrow what I'd turned up. His response left something to be desired on the shock and awe front. Apparently family lore said something to that effect, so he wasn't surprised. Seriously. When I tell you I managed to track down a guy named "William Bates" in Burlington, Ontario, in 1800, you could at least pretend to be impressed.

I got to tell you, it's a little weird reading about the French and Indian war from the French perspective, or about the American Revolution from the Canadian point of view. Refreshing, and interesting, for sure, but weird.

O Canada!
Our home and native land!