Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Dog, the Rabbit, the Carrot —
and Genealogy

The other day, I mentioned tackling Christine Kenneally's most recent book, The Invisible History of the Human Race. It will likely take much longer than one more transcontinental flight before I can claim I've finished the thing. Still, each chapter leads me down another unexpected path of considerations, making the reading journey profitable.

A chapter I've just finished edged into some aspects for viewing our past from a different direction, which the author dubbed "the cultural inheritance of psychology." Reporting on a study requiring subjects to pair two out of three pictures in a set, Kenneally explained how scientists explored cultural differences, East versus West.

Say you were one of the subjects in that study. If you were given three pictures—one of a dog, one of a rabbit, and one of a carrot—which two would you say belong together?

In my mind, I immediately paired my set before reading Kenneally's explanation:
In previous studies the way a dog, a rabbit, and a carrot were paired differed according to whether the subject was from the West or the East.

If you had paired the dog and the rabbit, thinking the common bond was the fact that they both were types of animals, you might find yourself in the majority of traditional Americans (or British, or likely Australians or, for that matter, most of western European heritage descent). According to Kenneally,
The Western subjects paired the dog and the rabbit, which is more analytic because the animals belong in the same category.

Perhaps that is the same thinking behind those dreary tests administered by elementary school faculty upon their unsuspecting subjects for never-explained reasons, other than to place their charges in yet more categories.

Perhaps that is why people who think like I do tended to confound those who thought like public school administrators. You see, while I am far from being Asian—though I can think of people I know, personally, from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philipines and India—my response to the Kenneally question was far from the Western "right answer." My instant inclination was to pair the rabbit with the carrot.

Of course. What else is the rabbit going to eat?! 

And though I don't feel particularly "Eastern," I feel vindicated to learn that I have plenty of company sharing in that rationale. Again, from Kenneally:
The Eastern subjects tended to pair the rabbit with a carrot, which was thought to be the more holistic, relational solution.

Relational. I like that. Perhaps that's why I opt for family history over genealogy. A moot point, I admit, but I like my genealogy to explain just how these faceless names relate to each other. I want my genealogy to reveal who these ancestors were, what they were like, and what they meant to the people who shared their home and their community. I want to know what trials they endured, what incredible odds they faced, what problems they surmounted on their journey through life.

If it is now fashionable to label that tendency "Eastern," so be it. I hardly can find that in my heritage, but I must have inherited it from somewhere.

Wherever it came from, it is still firmly ensconced in the core of my being—that very spark that propels me to seek out those opportunities to explore the places where my ancestors once lived. Though Fort Meade might have been just a blip on the radar of one week in my life, I'm grateful for the tangible opportunity to take in its surroundings. Though one hundred years after the fact, I've just gotten the chance to walk the very paths my great grandparents once walked—the relational in me experiencing the relationships that make up my family's past.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Rupert Charles' John Hancock

When I passed through Fort Meade last week, I hoped to at least locate one city document that contained Rupert Charles McClellan's signature. After all, my great grandfather served as mayor of that tiny Florida city for one brief term during the early 1900s.

When we looked at the binders stored at the Fort Meade Historical Society's museum, though, the earliest volume contained data from 1914—too late for my great grandfather's term in office.

While we couldn't find any such records, it was interesting to see what was included in the volumes of documents stored at the city's museum. Most of those early records—at least the pages which survived the ravages of time—seemed to be forms naming citizens and specifying the charges for which they were being fined.

Though the documents didn't carry Mayor McClellan's signature for any of those items dated 1914 forward, what was lacking at the point of service fortunately was made up for at the point at which the money came due. While these were not glamorous mementos of my great grandfather's term in office, at least I found what I wanted: a signature by the mayor (well, at least in pre-printed format) displayed on one of Fort Meade's tiniest official documents.

On the first day of July, 1919, the Town of Fort Meade, Polk County, Florida, will pay to bearer the sum of twenty five dollars ($25.00) in gold coin of the United States of America of current weight and fineness at the Office of the Treasurer of said town, being six months interest then due on its sewer bond dated July 1st 1912.

One after another, small stickers were affixed on—no, over—those old records of fines noted in the 1914 binder from the city's archives. It brought to mind our research trip, last year, to check the microfilmed baptismal records in 1830s Ireland, when I wondered, "What happened to the outside margins of the pages?" In that case, the Irish priest, desperate for a wick with which to light the votive candles, would tear tiny slivers from the margins of the baptismal records, themselves. In this Florida version, the city clerks had apparently decided to co-opt the older records as a storage device when investors cashed in their notes on the Fort Meade sewer bond.

Yeah. Told you: not glamorous. But worth gold to someone.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mr. Mayor, the Dentist

Recently visiting Fort Meade, the small town home of my great grandparents, Rupert Charles and Sarah Broyles McClellan, was informative. Of course, it was nice to see the place and learn more about what life was like for my ancestors during those years in the early 1900s when they lived in Polk County's oldest city. And it was a treat to visit their historical society's museum.

But what I really wanted to find was more detail on my ancestors. After all, since my great grandfather was the town's dentist—not to mention, Fort Meade's mayor for one brief term—there ought to have been some trail of evidence marking his existence in the area.

Fortunately, a cousin tipped me off that there were old city record books stored at the city's museum, and urged me to look for them. Maybe something within those pages held a copy of R.C.'s signature. Then, she also told me to keep an eye out for a display with an old dentist's chair; she thought it might have been from his office.

Armed with that intel, when we walked in the front door of the museum and were greeted by the historical society volunteers, there were two questions uppermost on my list. Once we explained our mission, our helpful volunteers directed us to the room with the very display my cousin had described. The chair, however, was thought to have belonged to a different dentist.

That, however, didn't jive with the calculations. It was a very old style chair, and Dr. McClellan had left it behind when he moved his practice to Tampa in 1919. The new office was to have all new equipment, and taking that old style of chair simply wouldn't do. Perhaps the dentist who took over his practice in Fort Meade received the chair, as well.

There is one way we can untangle this minor mystery: the Fort Meade dental chair itself bears the tag indicating the manufacturer—McConnell, out of Demorest, Georgia. The date on the manufacturer's tag seems to say May 8, 1900. Possible date of the patent? Perhaps a visit to our helpful friend Google will resolve the question—a question to tackle after my return home. In the meantime, though, here's an interesting capture of a similar chair by same manufacturer in its current native habitat (an antique store), courtesy of this blogger.

One look at the chair reminds me of all those old horror stories about the dread of having to go to the dentist. The chair was simple enough—but somehow, its austere air was enough to remind me that fear can be a tradition passed down through the generations, as well. Going to the dentist is nothing, today, in comparison to the ordeal of years gone by, so why do we still act like a trip to the dentist is consignment to a torture chamber? We don't know how spoiled we are.

Dr. McClellan's office was situated on the second floor, above the bank alongside the main road through town. Now, of course, the bank is gone—supplanted by a pawn shop, of all things—and there is no public access to the upstairs suite. But the volunteers at the museum told us that we could spot the right place by the mosaic sign embedded in the doorway to the bank's front entrance. (Of course, the signs to the pawn shop would be a dead giveaway, as well.)

We simply had to go back down the street—despite the rainy weather—so my intrepid husband could snap a picture of what, in bygone years, would have been the storefront entrance to my great grandfather's business.

In addition to his professional livelihood, however, Dr. McClellan was known for one other role: that of his one term as mayor of Fort Meade. For that, we hoped to find some records bearing his signature. Though the records at the museum only went back to 1914—and R. C. McClellan's term began in 1912—the volunteers brought us the volumes which came closest to that date range.

Though not many, there were some records which satisfied our search. Even this little bit is a start, telling me that with a little more time, we may locate more of what we're hoping to find.

Photos courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The History-Keepers of Fort Meade

It is not unusual to encounter a dedicated group of people, committed to preserving the history of an area. However, it is more likely that group would be dedicated as a county's historical society, rather than that of a city. During my trip to trace my roots here in Fort Meade, Florida, however, I've had the fortune to meet some of the people who have made it possible for this small city to capture its own history in a local museum setting.

While "city" is Fort Meade's official designation, the place in which my maternal grandmother grew up now has a population of under six thousand people. Still, its historic district is composed of 151 buildings which have qualified as historic landmarks, according to the Polk County Historical Society—of which Fort Meade is its oldest city. According to one count, Fort Meade has over three hundred homes on the National Register of Historic Places.

Founded in 1849, this central Florida locale was the place where my great grandfather chose to establish his dental practice—and where, back in 1912, he served as the city's mayor. Now that I've had the opportunity to visit this place for myself, it was a treat to stop by and walk down these very same sidewalks, myself.

Just after my husband and I flew to Florida, my cousin mentioned that Fort Meade has a city museum we might want to visit. I hadn't even thought to look for this resource, and was glad to take up her suggestion to stop by. Being a small, volunteer-run organization, the city's historical society is only able to keep the museum open for a limited number of hours during the week. The morning we were driving through town thankfully happened to fall on one of those days.

We ended up having a delightful visit with the volunteers and board members present that day at the museum. They were only too glad to help direct our attention to historical artifacts of specific interest to me in my quest to trace my family history. We gleaned stories from the volunteers about life in the city back in the early 1900s—an old mining town whose long-abandoned phosphate pits have become the "lakes" alongside the state highway.

During our visit, we also learned the history of the 1880s-era building that houses the museum. Now located near the railroad tracks and the city's old depot, the two story building once had served as the city's first indoor schoolhouse. Later, it became a boarding house.

Moved to its present location in 1989, it wasn't until 2000, after extensive refurbishing, that the building was opened to the public as the Fort Meade Museum. A handcrafted gazebo, serving as a stage for open-air entertainment, and a refurbished set of cars from the phosphate train, reconverted to meeting rooms, round out the museum's community-oriented properties. Already outgrowing its spacious layout in that two story building, the museum could use even more space, and some board members have dreams to expand to include a library and archives.

There is something so helpful about learning more about the context in which our ancestors lived. I'm still trying to piece together the story of why my great-grandparents Rupert Charles and Sarah Broyles McClellan chose to leave the old McClellan family property up in the northern part of the state to relocate to Fort Meade. Whether I ever discover the story behind that move, it is easy to see the McClellans' lovely home—now one of those historic landmark properties in Fort Meade—and the small-town ambience made the move a good choice for my great-grandparents and their family.

Photographs courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Going Back Home

Well, for one thing, it wasn't my home. But we did go there.

It is a splendid little home on a corner lot. Back in the early 1900s, when my great-grandparents Rupert Charles and Sarah Broyles McClellan bought the place, it was framed by a spacious lot and—I assume—young palm trees and an oak tree outside the kitchen porch in the back yard. Two cannon-ball-topped pillars stood guard at the walkway leading from Oak Street to the well-appointed porch and front door.

Today, the corner lot stands across the street—in both directions—from the town's elementary school. Even Google maps didn't quite pick up on the hint that the street was gated off for the protection of the children on the sprawling campus, so we got the grand tour of the neighborhood, just trying to drive to the right address.

There have been other changes. The property is now enclosed with a wrought iron fence and an ominous neon sign proclaiming, "Beware of dog." This is a sign to heed—even though no dog was to be seen.

Through the rain—hey, this is Florida at the start of hurricane season—my intrepid companion didn't miss the opportunity to snap some photos of what was once the place where my maternal grandmother spent her teen years, graduating from the Fort Meade high school in 1919.

It might have made for a nostalgic trip. Sarah McClellan did actually make that journey, returning in 1949 to her old home in Fort Meade in the later years of her life.

Unlike my great-grandmother, however, I wasn't the one who once lived here. Hey, I've never even set foot in this state until this week, despite my claim to historic roots in this territory. But perhaps I can say I partook of the nostalgia on behalf of those relatives now long-gone.

Not only are these ancestors no longer with us, but the people who purchased the house from R. C. McClellan are no longer here, either. To those living in Fort Meade today—the ones who still remember those earlier days of the previous century—that home is known as the Heath house.

But even the Heath family no longer owns the property. Nor does the next family. The procession of homeowners continues, as even the ones who purchased the house a few years ago and wonderfully restored it to its previous condition have now sold the home and moved on.

Photos of the former R. C. McClellan property in Fort Meade, Florida, courtesy of Chris Stevens.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Hazards of Blogging

When a blogger like me is smitten with a weakness for The Bright Shiny, it's hard to stay on task. Consequently, when deep in the midst of exploring one branch of Ye Olde Family Tree, I—and my readers—may suddenly find ourselves snatched away and spirited toward the nether reaches of yet another family tree.

Granted, there are sometimes other hazards of Life that get in the way. I do need to remember to cut myself some slack, for instance, when I beat myself up over having lost the trail, the first time I started blogging about William Ijams and John Jay Jackson. (Yes: three years ago.) Thankfully, in that case, I was able to pick up the thread and get back on track, albeit years later.

When it comes to other threads at A Family Tapestry, however, the passing of years since initiating a series on one part of the family might mean all the other stuff that inevitably happens while we're busy having fun blogging can cause us to miss out on hoped-for results.

I guess it's no secret I'm on the road again—this time, with an opportunity to squeeze in some family history research. I'll save the particulars for another post—I do, after all, want to pick up a few details to share from one of my destinations for tomorrow's topic. But even though the long-hoped-for opportunity is now here, other people's lives have moved on, and with that, apparently the connections which might have supercharged that opportunity, had it been taken when first offered.

It is what it is. Sometimes, we can blog and the research moves forward at a speed at which it feeds the information mill with nary a hiccup. Other times? Let's just say the Speed of Blog doesn't always match up with the Speed of Life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Curators of Stuff to Love

Don't you love it when you can curl up with a good book and get lost in its pages for hours?

I always appreciate it when I receive a great book recommendation. And that's why I love trawling through the various social media, where there are so many great reading suggestions. My Twitter associates point me in the right direction for insightful articles in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. I suspect the same is true for LinkedIn—another social media property on which I'll soon be focusing my attention. As for blogs, they figure right up there with the best of the readers-cum-social-commentators, when it comes to the heads-up for great reads.

So, of course, when all these great resources align to recommend useful reading material, I'm not more than a click away.

That's what happened last month—just before some traveling, which always calls for a healthy helping of food for thought—when blogger John D. Reid mentioned in a post at Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections that he had been enjoying the contextually-rich volume, The Invisible History of the Human Race.

The more I thought about it—John Reid's comments on the book, as well as The New York Times' review of the book—the more I decided it would be the perfect reading companion for my upcoming travels. I bought the book in time to tuck it in my travel bags for that early August trip.

Now, I'm nearly halfway through author Christine Kenneally's well-researched volume, and am finding myself heading out the door again on a surprise flight back east. What better companion than this to fill the six hour void?!

While Christine Kenneally's book is ostensibly about DNA—that, at least, is the hook grabbing John Reid's attention—it naturally travels a far wider course. Included, as you might suspect, are sections covering genealogy and all the usual suspects: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org and the LDS Church—much more than just "nature's digital record," as Kenneally dubbed DNA. Included between the covers of these three hundred pages (plus obligatory end notes and index) are side excursions taking us far afield of what we've come to expect as the usual tour of genealogical research. She recalls pre-World War II Germany and Hitler's tragic partnering with proponents of the eugenics movement. She examines the genealogical silence imposed upon those in the foster care of the recent past in Australia and closed adoption cases throughout the modern world.

And that's just as far as I've gotten in this book. There are worlds more awaiting my chance to grab a few more golden hours for extended concentration.

Even at this midpoint—though it is always my policy to hold off such comments until the conclusion of the matter—I can say I heartily recommend this book. It is not an easy read. It is not a straightforward examination of one simple topic. It is a contextually-dense exploration of the universe surrounding mankind's quest to understand our origins. As noted inside the book's cover,
Knowing where we stand—with respect to our direct and distant ancestors, our nationalities, and even to the tribal bands that long ago wandered from the birthplace of Homo sapiens in Africa to populate the earth—grounds us in our humanity by enabling us to claim our place in the Great Chain of Being.

I don't know if thoughts as deeply ingrained as those are what drives me to check my DNA test results each week, but there is no denying what seems to be a primal need to connect with our roots. This book is one author's exploration of that human need. And by the time my flight touches down at the end of the day, I'll hopefully have made the voyage to the last of the pages of her argument. 

Disclaimer: Though I have, at times, contemplated the inclusion of what is called "affiliate links" in this blog, up to this pointand including this postI have not done so. Please click away with abandon; though it is my contention that any decision to purchase this book would be a beneficial one for any book lover who enjoys reading this blog, it certainly won't augment my financial standing in any way, nor decrease your benefit from such a purchase.
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