Saturday, December 28, 2013

New Year's Day Special: Phraseological Genealogy of "Until The Last Dog Is Hung"

"We'll keep going until the last dog is hung"

It's funny how the phrases that your mother uses are so woven into to your worldview that their strangeness never occurs to you.  Years later, you use them and your spouse gives you a quizzical look and you realize that your ordinary phrase is someone else's complete non-sequitur.

So that phrase - "We'll keep at it until the last dog is hung" has always been part of my world.  When my mother is at her most tired, and her most determined, out it comes.  We always knew exactly what it meant.  Sure "Come Hell or High Water" could be used.  There are probably dozens of phrases women have used to describe that moment of exhaustion and determination.  But this one is my mother's.

Then I read this in a novel:
"Even now things that people thought of as regional attitudes and expressions come straight from the Senecas. When anybody from around here wanted to say they were still present at the end of a big party, they would say they had 'stayed until the last dog was hung.' Most of them probably had no idea anymore that they were talking about the Seneca New Year's celebration in the winter, where on the fifth day they used to strangle a white dog and hang it on a pole, Nobody had done that for at least a hundred years." Dance for the Dead by Thomas Perry (Random House, New York, 1996)
I don't know whether this is true or not - if so, I'm glad the actual ritual had disappeared.  But its metaphoric remnants intrigued me.  My mother was born and raised in Oregon, and raised me in Colorado.  Her parents were both born in Oregon.  Her grandparents were born on the West Coast as well.

How could a phrase from a tribal ritual in upstate New York have ended up completely integrated into my mother's vernacular?  I asked her where she learned it, and she doesn't remember her vocabulary without it.  For her it isn't specific to staying until the end of a celebration or a party, but rather sticking to any situation until it is completed.

So into the family tree I went.  And sure enough, four generations back from mother, there he is.  A great grandfather born in 1820 in Schroon Lake, Essex County, New York, deep in the Adirondacks.  Here is a Thomas Cole painting of the lake from about 1840.  And his father was born in Floyd, Oneida County, New York in 1783.  Floyd wasn't officially founded until 1790, and Schroon in 1804.  This was a frontier family, living in Mohawk and Oneida territory.  Maybe the ritual was more widespread than the Seneca alone..

So there we have it - maybe, somehow, (and remember, this is Genealogy Imaginings not Genealogy Certainties) this phrase was passed down and persisted all the way to the other side of the continent.  Maybe the meaning changed a little to reflect the things that made these new generations tired, or maybe the original party sense didn't translate well in the first place.  But it was a useful phrase, and it lasted, and I enjoy the idea.

Happy New Year.  May you party just long enough, avoid harming any pets in the process, and have a great 2014.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Madness Monday: Halloween Special: Mary Allin Toothaker

My 11th great-grandfather was a doctor named Roger Toothaker.  The story of his life and the life of his poor wife sends shivers up my spine even when it's not Halloween, but it seems appropriate to visit their story and the madness of the Salem Witch Trials at this time of year . . .

Roger gets his own Wikipedia entry, but his basic story is this:  he was a doctor in Salem, Massachusetts beginning in about 1658.  He and his wife Mary had nine children, including my ancestor Andrew.

Now, medicine was a pretty ethereal game in those days, and people that couldn't be cured by the rudimentary options available were often assumed to be cursed.  Perhaps to keep his reputation, Roger at some point claimed that his daughter Martha had killed a witch.  This was probably risky - it explained one death, but might have lead to a lot of resentment from other people he hadn't treated successfully - if he had this witch-killing power in the family, why wasn't it used to kill witches afflicting other people's families?  To make this all a little more complicated, one of Dr. Toothaker's main rivals, Dr. Griggs of Andover, had made several witchcraft allegations.  It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before Dr. Toothaker himself was accused - by several people, including Dr. Griggs' servant.

Shortly after Dr. Toothaker was taken to prison, his wife Mary, daughter Margaret, sister-in-law Martha Carrier and cousin Elizabeth Howe were also accused and put in jail.  Mary was jailed with her youngest daughter Margaret, who was 10 at the time.  Martha Carrier was jailed with 4 of her 5 children.  Apparently, she had a husband who wasn't capable of making deals and trades himself with the neighbors, so Martha had to negotiate with the men around her, which was not appreciated by her neighbors.  When accusers against Martha came forth, Mary and Roger's son Allin was among them.  Elizabeth Howe had six children and a blind husband, and was accused along with Rebecca Nurse by the group of girls at the center of the trials.

In late June of 1692, less than a month after his arrest, Dr. Toothaker died in prison.  Though it was well known that accused witches were often tortured in prison, 24 men were brought forth to testify that he died of 'natural causes.'  (This seems to me like it may be a case of protesting a bit too much . . .)

On July 28th, Elizabeth Howe, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, and Susanna Martin were hung as witches.

On July 30, when she must have been mourning the deaths of both her cousin and her husband, Mary confessed to striking a deal with the Devil in order to protect herself from the Indians, who had attacked the colony frequently and of whom she was terrified:

And he promised if she would serve him she should be safe from the Indians (she was then a litle stopt again & believed it was the Devil that did it)// Being asked if the Devil did not say she was to serve him Answered Yes, and signed the mark upon that condition and was to praise him w'h her whole heart, and twas to that appearance she prayed at all tymes for he said he was able to delyver her from the Indians And it was the feare of the Indians that put her upon it. 
On August 1, the empty Toothaker house in Billerica was burned to the ground by angry neighbors.

On August 5, Martha Carrier and 4 men were hung.  One of the others was John Proctor, whose story is the core of The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

 Despite her confession, Mary and Margaret were not released until January 1693, long after the main furor of the trials had died down.

After her release, Mary bravely continued to work helping the sick.  All the surviving accused people were pardoned in 1693.  Elizabeth and Martha's survivors received a few pounds of compensation in 1709.

If this were the end of the story, it would be horrific enough.  But in 1695, the Indians Mary feared so much attacked Billerica again.  Mary was killed, and her daughter Margaret, who had endured so much in prison with her mother, was captured and never seen again.  Mary's nightmare, the one that seemed so much worse than selling her soul to the Devil, had come true.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Funny: Wait, I'm What? Or How Ancestry DNA Has Messed With My Reality

I think I should probably start you where I started, with my own name:
First Name: Rhiannon
Middle Name: Kathleen

Recent Family Surnames: Jones, Evans, Potter, Mauracher, Branson, Kern, Lorentzen, Tuggy, Parrish, Lasswell, Hawes, Sheldon, Tharp.  For those of you keeping track, that's Welsh, Welsh, English, Austrian, English, Irish, German, English, English, Irish, English, English, and English.  Forgive me for thinking there must be some British DNA coursing through my veins.

When I got my Ancestry DNA results, though, they looked like this:

Wait, what?

Attached was a lovely letter telling me all about my Italian and Swedish ancestry.  I have two great-grandparents who came from Austria, and one from Denmark.  Otherwise, everyone is pretty darn British Isles, way way back.  25% Austrian, 12.5% Danish, and 100% pretty confused, that's me.

My son is thrilled, he now tells everyone we are Italian.  Apparently it is considerably more hip than Irish in elementary school.  And he's a huge Cake Boss fan, which may be a coolness factor.  He's sure we're related to Buddy now.

Conveniently, I got the letter the same day I went to my dad's family reunion.  Though there were a lot of raised eyebrows, I assure you that they were very similar eyebrows in faces that looked, for better or worse, so much like mine that I'm pretty sure they are my genetic relatives.

I figure the Southern European piece comes from the Austrian Tyrollean folks, which is actually quite close to the Italian border.  So I'm willing to give them the 18%.

But I am a little appalled that after years of trotting out my Welshness at every opportunity, right down to attending Celtic Festivals with a pout due to 'our' under-representation, I don't have the genes to back it up.  I have a Welsh flag.  I have all these little blippy bits on the map above, which represent birthplaces on my family tree.  I married an Irishman, I have red hair and a red-headed, Irish monikered son.  I have known the story of my legendary namesake Rhiannon (no, not the Fleetwood Mac song) since preschool.  I know who I am, darn it.

Or not.

I get the Scandinavian conquerer aspect, I do.  I know that the red hair is a Scandinavian thing, I know they've been trotting/breeding around the British Isles for millennia.  But still, I'd expected a little something Celtic.  Or Anglo-Saxon.   Or Gaelic.   A bit of inter-marriage to back up all those surnames doesn't seem a lot to ask.  So I'll see if the data changes as more people try the Ancestry DNA approach, but try to embrace my new self in the meantime.

So I'm trying to use my hands more when I talk, and considering changing my name to Regina, which means the same thing as Rhiannon.  And there must be a Scandinavian Festival around here somewhere, where I can pout because the Danes are neglected . . . .

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Those Places Thursday: Why Smithfield Market is Important in Our Locavore World

In 1993-1994, I was at University College London on a Fulbright Scholarship for the study of Victorian Geography.  After a key hotel in my first topic, Scarborough in Yorkshire, fell into the sea, I decided to come up with a second and more convenient topic.  I chose the Smithfield Market.

Today, the City of London and various historic organizations are struggling to determine a plan for the market building.  This is a question that, I think, is more broad than the structure itself.  Which is saying something - it is a LARGE building.

For my research, I was fascinated by how the urban depictions of the market and its participants evolved as London developed into an industrial city.  A market which started out in the 14th century as a natural part of the city became, by the end of the 19th, an object of ridicule and derision.  The farmers who came to the market, and their animals, were seen as fat, uncouth bumpkins who were dazzled and amazed by sophisticated urban London, even as the Londoners happily ate the products provided.

It was a microcosm of the industrial and post-industrial detachment from food sources, from farming, and from rural people.  But we are now learning, across the globe, the consequences of that detachment:  GMOs, pesticide-contaminated food supplies, wide disparities of food quality, and disregard for food production, from farmers to honeybees.

Smithfield is a symbol of the long-gone balance between urban and rural, the ways in which the two populations need each other and need to support each other.  We have lost that relationship, pushed the farmers farther and farther away even as our city edges expand, and we no longer recognize their importance.

In Denver, we have the National Western Stockshow, which comes to the city every January.   Hundreds of thousands of people go to the show, wearing their best cowboy gear.  The cattle are paraded through the downtown.  The Junior Livestock Auction is broadcast on TV.  For a week, we connect with the farmers and ranchers upon whom we depend.

Around the world, we are attempting to reconnect: the locavore movement, the slow food movement, the farm-to-table movement - these are all connection opportunities.  I think it's only fitting that while we are making these changes, we are also preserving the old connection points, like Smithfield.  There are always things to be learned by understanding our past, particularly in this fragile moment when we are just starting to recognize what we lost in between.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: What We Bring to Our National and Personal Stories

This week, stories on the Internet whirl around powerful issues - stereotypes, profiles, justice.  These are good conversations to have out loud, instead of in our respective minds and insular communities.  Because when we move these conversations into the open, we can examine the assumptions, expectations, fears and aspirations behind them, and that, I think, is good for both personal and global storytelling.

In a modern world where all of us can become storytellers to strangers, many of the filters set in place to moderate stories told by journalists and authors no longer limit stories we tell or read - lines between truth and libel, fiction and reality are increasingly blurred.  And with that lack of official filtration comes an ethical need to recognize and acknowledge what we are bringing to the tale - our assumptions, expectations, fears and aspirations.

One of my storyfathers is Dr. James Coleman, who wrote the book Black Male Fiction and the Legacy of Caliban.  I studied African-American literature with him, more than a decade before he wrote the book.  He was frustrated, when I was in class, by the national fascination with Alice Walker's The Color Purple. He felt that the book was popular among white readers because it fulfilled expectations about violent and animalistic black men.  He felt that these depictions of black men made white America feel better about years of oppression.  In the Caliban book, he argues that many male writers also fulfill those expectations, in part because the narrative is so strongly represented, and alternative stories are so rare.

Looking at The Color Purple through his eyes changed the way I read the story.  I didn't forgive the men in it, but I viewed them with  a different understanding.  I had to consciously choose to read them as complicated characters, who had their own untold stories of oppression, anger, and struggle, rather than as simple stereotypes.  This complexity came back to me a couple of years later when my fellow college students were harassed by police after the Rodney King riots.  The police took the LA riot narrative and made assumptions about young black men attending a little liberal arts college in Minnesota.

In our attempts to simplify the complexity of our world and the myriad people in it, it seems to me that in all the stories we tell - whether national news or personal narrative, we are doing a combination of these things:

1.  We are making assumptions about the story.  We are bringing our personal and cultural history into our hearing, our telling, our editing.

2.  We are bringing our expectations to the story.  We have an idea of how the world works, and we seek out the pieces of the story that fit those expectations.

3.  We are bringing our fears and aspirations to the story.  We have fears about the world and how it works, and we have hopes for how the world should be, and we seek out the pieces of the story that fit those visions.

In personal storytelling, this plays out in many ways.  The beloved grandfather couldn't possibly have committed adultery, so it isn't talked about out loud.  The angry uncle who never comes to Christmas couldn't possibly be his town's biggest philanthropist, so his family doesn't realize it until the story emerges at his funeral.  The war-hero cousin couldn't have PTSD, so she struggles alone, without family support, afraid to damage the stories her family tells.  Into our personal stories, we carry our aspirations for our loved ones; our expectations for their stories; our assumptions based on our own interactions with them; our fears of who they might be and what it would mean to who we think we are.

We do the same in our national and global narratives.  Right now, the nation focuses its attention on a single story and all of these assumptions, expectations, fears, and aspirations come into the dialogue.  Mr. Zimmerman brought his expectations of Mr. Martin into his decision-making, and ended Mr. Martin's life.  Many people rationalize his actions using the national narrative about young black men.  And in his acquittal, many other people see their expectations of a biased justice system fulfilled.

Fundamentally, the jury selection process is supposed to be an act of separating people from their stories - finding the people who can look at the stories told by defense and prosecution, and bring nothing of their own to those stories.  As a citizen, I hope it's possible.  But as a storyteller, knowing how deep these stories run in our history and in our souls, I worry.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday's Tip: Using Protopage to Organize RSS Feeds and Replace What Google Took Away

I didn't use Google Reader much, but its discontinuation has clearly thrown a lot of people off.  I did use Google home page, but that was discontinued several months ago.  So for those of us who loved those tools, my Tuesday Tip is to use my new favorite:

5 Things I Love About Protopage:

1.  It allows for customizable tabs, so I can easily organize my feeds by topic.  All my genealogy feeds are on one tab, all my art feeds are on another, all my cooking ones are on another, etc.

2.  It keeps track of which articles I've read by crossing them off on the page, so it's easy to scan for new entries.

3.  It allows for non-RSS widgets as well - comic strips, games, and even To-Do lists with checkboxes, which I find very handy.  I have multiple to-do lists for home, work, etc.

4.  It is easy to set up and customize with colors, etc. and offers customization at the feed level - how many headlines appear, whether there are pictures, etc.

5.  I can choose to make my page with the feeds I like public or private.  Because of the to-do lists I choose private, but there may be value for many people in using pubic instead.

So give it a try.  I think you'll find it's a great replacement for what you think you're missing now that Google has moved on.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Mrs. Petra Fogelberg and Her Love Lessons

When I was studying at Macalester College, I spent a few months earning extra money as an assistant for an old woman who had lost her sight.  She had gone to Macalester as well, and so advertised at the school for help.  She died about five years later.

She had been married for decades, but had no children.  I can't find her in online records.  I don't know if she had family members who remember her.   Though I spent several hours with her for months, I am sure there is a lot that I don't remember.  For me she is a tall, white-haired story collection.  And in a way, twenty years on, maybe that's not a bad thing to be.

Here are some of the stories I remember her telling:

  • She remembered going to college in World War I, and watching all the men disappear from campus and go off to war, leaving the college barely able to sustain itself. 
  • Even though she went to college herself, she didn't work outside the home, but seemed to thrive on being a doctor's wife in small town Minnesota, getting paid in chickens, getting up in the middle of the night to attend to expectant mothers.
  • In the little retirement apartment she lived in since her husband died, she had a whole closet full of what she called her 'mad hats'  Whenever she and her husband fought, she went out and bought herself a hat, and she kept her favorites despite the downsize in home.  If I described a particular hat, she could remember what it looked like, where she bought it, how much she paid, and what the fight was about.
  • She never forgave the Mayo Clinic for the death of her husband from kidney cancer.  She felt they sent him home knowing how ill he was, wanting him to die off their books.
And the most telling story was this: half of her bed was piled with boxes of papers.  I asked her once if she wanted me to move them, and she said "No, I was married too long.  Now, I can't sleep without weight on the other side of the bed, so I keep all my husband's letters to me on his side of the bed."

Ultimately, many of her stories seemed to come back to her marriage, the strength and complexity of their relationship, the pride in their teamwork, the ferocity of how much she missed him.  I know she told me how they met, but I can't remember it, and that saddens me.  But I knew I wanted a relationship like hers, despite the difficulties she went through.

Not everyone who has a legacy has children.  But they do have powerful, inspiring, riveting relationships, and from those relationships can come great stories.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: The Storyfathers

There are people who are related to you by blood - and those relations are important.  But there are also those people who are related to you by the stories they tell, stories that move you, stick with you, and change you.

My father taught at Colorado College in the chemistry department.  When I was little, there were three other professors who often came to dinner and cherry pie at our house.  None of them teach there anymore.  But the stories they told about their incredibly different childhoods gave me insight and perspective that changed my world.  In my head, they are my storyfathers - my early teachers in the art of agenda-free, moral-free, relaxed, and fun-filled storytelling.

Storyfather One - a white religious studies professor from Georgia.  His stories were full of cottonmouth snakes and Baptists.  I particularly remember a tragic story of his disillusionment when a tent revivalist couldn't help an ill friend.

Storyfather Two - a hispanic Chicano studies professor who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.  His stories were full of farming and struggle.

Storyfather Three - an African-American literature professor who grew up in the rural South, in a house without electricity or plumbing.  His stories were about being a young man in the middle of a changing culture, and the challenges he faced.

Storyfather Four - my dad, who grew up in Oregon, whose stories were full of my grandmother's antics, car repair, and family.  I remember his story of the whole 1st grade going to his friend Steve's house to see the first TV in town.

Storymother - my mom, who also grew up in Oregon, on a farm with limited resources.  Her stories were full of goats, walnut trees, and architecture.  I remember her story of getting up early in the morning to take Russian lessons through the radio, so they would be ready for the invasion.

While we watched and listened, they would sit and eat pie and talk back and forth for hours.  They could remember the moment they learned to read, the moment they heard about Kennedy's assassination, the moment of the moon landing.  They shared huge events and little ones, and through them, my sister and I came to understand the differences in their histories, the diversity that made up the United States for all of them.

As storytellers, you may not know which of your stories are good and eternal and which are temporary, or only valuable to you.  You may not know their significance, but you owe it to the children around you to give them a chance to find out.  Talk more, talk often, risk being dull or vulnerable or cliched.  You never know which story will expand their world.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Copper Plate Quest: Whelan & Blair

The latest Copper Plate is from a 1958 Kentucky Wedding.  I have tried to find this family so I can return the plate to them, but haven't been successful yet.  I still have hope!

I found a biography of Gene, from the St. Joseph's Prep School in Bardstown, Kentucky:


Born in New Hope, Kentucky on April 17, 1934. Gene was one of eight siblings. His tenure is well remembered for his numerous accomplishments in basketball, football and baseball.

As a freshman, Gene played Junior Varsity basketball and six man football, his talent was evident and he was quickly moved to Varsity during his sophomore year. He continued to hold key positions throughout his junior and senior years as quarterback. , starting guard, and starting pitcher. Baseball was Gene's first love, coached by Brother Carey(1951-1952) and Brother Chad(1953). During his years as pitcher, the Eagles earned State Championship Runner Up on 1951 and  1952, and went on to win the 1953 State Championship his senior year. Gene was selected to the All Tournament Team. St. Joseph advanced to Sectionals and was invited to the South East Regional Tournament where they lost in the first round against Key West, Florida. The Teams overall record was 52 wins and 4 losses during 1951-1953. Brother Charles, St. Joe's headmaster, said that winning the State Championship "climaxed the most successful year the prep had ever had". Amidst the enormous commitment to athletics at St. Joe's, Gene still had the time to serve as Vice President of his senior class.

Gene attended Bellamine College, in Louisville, for one year on a baseball scholarship. Later, he served as a Corporal in the United States Army for two years. After his service in the Army, Gene joined IBM Corporation in  Lexington and married the love of his life, Mary Martha Whelan of New Haven, in 1958. Ten years later they relocated to Austin, Texas where Gene continued his service at IBM for a total of 35 years as a Procurement Specialist. He sustained his love of sports by representing IBM on their city league softball team and  later pitched on a team  with his children and led them through three successful city league seasons. Gene obtained his Associate Degree in Business from Austin Community College. 

Martha and Gene have celebrated 50 years of marriage and are extremely proud of their five children and thirteen grandchildren. They reside in Round Rock, Texas and stay active supporting each of their grandchildren's activities. To this day, they enjoy yearly vacations to the beautiful state of Kentucky to visit family and friends.