Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Goers and The Stayers: Genetic Geography?

I grew up in Colorado, in a military town where almost no one had grown up in the place they were living as adults.  So when I spend a year living in Boston, I was in culture shock on multiple levels.   Boston is a city built for people that have always lived there.  They encourage tourists to stay on a little red line through town.  They avoid labeling major streets to save money, figuring everyone who mattered knew the names.  Every neighborhood has a funeral parlor, a Sons of Ireland, and a Sons of Italy.  Needless to say, I didn't exactly fit in.  And the effort made to alienate people irritated both my geographer and my usability expert selves. 

I concluded that there are goers and stayers.  The people in Colorado are goers - high risk, high mobility, high flexibility.  The people in Boston are stayers - high sentiment, high tradition, high permanence.  I had a feeling I was the latest in a long line of goers, and Boston wasn't going to be the place for me.

Fast forward 18 years, and I am working on my family's genealogy and my husband's. 

And sure enough, I found my goers.  Some of my relatives had children born in 5 or 6 different states as they made their journeys: Virginia, then Kentucky, then Indiana, then Iowa, then Nebraska, then Oregon.  One relative - William Jones - went across the Oregon Trail, parked his family, headed to the California goldfields, went around South America by boat, and then came back across the Oregon Trail again.  I'm pretty sure this qualifies him as a goer.

In my husband's family, on the other hand, there are some serious stayers.  They took about 100 years to move from Maryland to Kentucky to Indiana, where they've been since about 1800.  Many of them, even up to current generations, live within a few miles of their birthplaces.

The only thing that these two families have in common, in fact, is that they are both incredibly family-oriented.  Even though the Jones' traveled extensively, they did it with siblings, parents, and cousins.  Even though they weren't as stationary as the Millers, they kept a remarkable number of their family members nearby.

All of which leads me to believe that maybe there is a genetic component to this goer/stayer dichotomy.  Maybe some families thrive on change and travel and others on continuity.  But they all are still families, and I like that.