Saturday, July 13, 2019

Off the Shelf:
Encyclopedia of Diasporas

Some books spend less time on the shelf than others.

It was only last week when, puzzling over my mystery grandfather's roots and piecing together the pedigree charts of six different DNA matches, I ran across the possibility that the erstwhile Theodore J. Puchalski might have been born in a place known as Pomerania. While that might have been a fun discovery—in my sister's post-college season, she became the dubious owner of a dog who was the runt of a purebred Pomeranian litter—it didn't really inform me about our heritage.

Being one of those researchers who has to learn everything about the topic I'm studying, I wanted to delve deeper into Pomerania. This is where the newly-acquired habit of reading footnotes once again served me well. Just from tapping into the Wikipedia entry for Pomerania and following some links, I learned that not everyone who lived in Poland in the 1800s was technically Polish—like, for instance, the Kashubians. Considering that Poland was once under the rule of the Germans, perhaps that idea would not seem unique. But just as Polish people in America used to have to report their origin as "German" in some census records because they were then a people without their own country, there are other ethnic groups in the area who faced the same dilemma.

One of those groups was, as you've now guessed, known as the Kashubians. Curious to know what group that might have been, I clicked through to read up on yet another aspect of my new genealogy discoveries. In fact, the more I clicked, the more I realized I needed to learn, resulting in a wild and unrepeatable trail through the ether as I discovered more about the various ethnic people groups I never before had heard about throughout eastern Europe.

Somewhere in all my wandering, I ran across a footnote which mentioned a fascinating title to a book. Thankfully, I immediately copied down that title—mainly because I have yet to replicate my wandering path—and looked up the book.

It was a two volume set entitled Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Here was the key to learning more about those ethnicities I had just discovered—those people groups without a country.

Lest you leave off reading here to rush off and do the same, pause a moment to learn the rest of my discovery. First of all, consider this Encyclopedia a two-part tome quite capable of competing with many of the complete dictionaries used, in days of yore, as door stops. Then, too, there's the possibility that the information contained in its covers could be outdated; after all, it was published over ten years ago.

And then there's this small matter of price. The 2005 edition can be had for a hundred bucks. But an ad on that page conveniently mentions that there is a "newer edition" of this very same book. Clicking through to that page, I discover it could be mine for a cool $733, if I order through Prime.

After that breath-taking experience, I opted for the more humble option of buying the used set, and for less than twenty five dollars, became the happy owner of both volumes of the book. How a book can go through so many price gyrations is beyond me. I heartily recommend thinking more like a starving student in this case.

Meanwhile, my mind has opened to the possibility that there are many people groups out there that we may not even be aware of—and if some of those groups were part of our ancestry, we'd want to learn more about those groups just as much as we'd want to know, if we turned out to be German, or Japanese, or Russian. In fact, many of those countries whose names we easily recognize did, themselves, contain many ethnic groups which, to our uninformed American eyes, were invisible.

Sometimes, those of us in "immigrant nations" such as the United States or Canada might think we are the only place on earth made up of multitudes of other people, when the surprising fact is that that is the story for almost every place on earth. People have moved around since the dawning of civilization allowed us to trace such details; that aspect of human nature is not confined to modern-day America.  It informs the very ethnicity reports we receive from our DNA tests—and yet, even those reports are masked in that many people groups, both modern and historical, remain unknown by the average avocational genealogist.


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