Posted: April 1st. 2002
Times Viewed: 9,949
Like many Americans, I have been busy researching my family tree of late. The key word here being 'late' as most of my research is conducted between the hours of one and five a.m. Fritz affectionately kids me about being a vampire because often I am crawling into bed just as he is crawling out. Actually, I crawl; he bounces. Living with a morning person when you are a night person does have its challenges. The true nature of my love for him lies in the fact I don't actually hurt him whenever he starts whistling at six in the morning. I do think about it, of course- I mean, the sun is just barely peeking over the horizon and he's already whistling, for the Gods sake! - but luckily for him (and for the state of our relationship), I usually fall asleep halfway through the planning stage. Probably a good thing. With my luck I'd draw a morning person judge for the trial.
I really enjoy the quiet time of the mid-nightly hours. There are no phone calls, kids yelping by the pool or other types of distractions to filter out. Occasionally some egret or moor hen has a bad dream and can be heard screaming out from the rushes that surround the little pond, but at that time of night it is usually just me and the stars and the computer keyboard whiling away the hours between dark and light. I need that quiet time. Genealogy is not the easiest little hobby to undertake. Even with the increasing amount of Internet resources that are becoming available, it still comes down to hour upon hour of searching through Parish records and ship passenger lists and tracking down leads. It is a good exercise in good old fashion perseverance that is only occasionally illuminated with a sudden flash of intuition. Much as in the study of magical theory, if one really wants 'to know'; one has to really want to know bad. It is easier to just skim over the details than it is to read the entire document or context.
Those of you who have ever done genealogical research can appreciate the challenge of tracking down certain family names. In the British Isles, as in other parts of the world, people did not have family surnames as we know them today. People were identified by the location of their homeland, their occupation or as the 'son of...' some immediate or distant ancestor. Add bad spelling into the mix and you'll understand where the intuition part of all of this work comes in. My family, like many, is very well documented as far back as the 1500's or so. Certainly once we hit the American shores, we know a lot about them.
One of the founding families of the Beverly/ Salem, Mass. colonies in 1629 (Now, how ironic is that?), we pretty much can figure out just about everything about them from that point forward. That's not what I'm looking for. I am trying to find- as are other researchers in our clan- the origin of the family name. That- for the reasons given above and more- is a very difficult thing. Learning to read Latin (luckily I took four years of it in high school, so it's coming back to me.), Middle English and Old Saxon were not things that I bargained for when I began this project. But I've found that if one is really serious about going backwards into history, one has to take what one finds in the context of the period in which it was written. It's hard, often frustrating work. It would be so much simpler in these circumstances to just use 'control-F'.
As most of you know, 'command-F' or 'control-F' is the 'find' feature on your computer keyboard. Type it in and a little box magically appears. Type in the word that you are searching for and it will highlight that word where it appears in the document. A really nifty time saving feature that helps one filter out all of the extraneous materials and find just the one isolated thing that one is looking for. I use it a lot. And I was using it at about oh, let's say-three fifteen a.m. or so one night to try and locate a particular ancestral name or variation thereof. Staring blurry eyed into the computer screen, I was about to 'command F' my way through a particular Parish record for a district in Cornwall when a name caught my attention. It wasn't any name (or variation thereof) that I was looking for, but it was an unusual one and for some reason I began to follow this name through the records.
This particular man had eleven children in all. All of them were christened and entered into the records of this parish. For five of them, the notation of their burial was entered in only a few days after they were born. Six months after the last of these five children was buried, his wife died. Then two more of his children. Six months later, he remarried. Eight months after that, both his second wife and their newborn son were buried. Two years later, he himself joined them. Here within a few pages written by the hand of the parish scribe 300 years ago, was the life history of a man and his family. It was eerie in a way and utterly fascinating. I began to wonder if it was an influenza epidemic that had taken three of his children within days of each other. An accident perhaps? A fire? Many of the very young and very old of that parish seemed to have died during the winter months. Were the conditions in Cornwall for those years especially harsh weather-wise? Or were the political maneuverings such that poverty or famine or even fighting occurred there during these years?
Scrolling down the list other family names kept reoccurring and I got to know some of them, too. Similar births and deaths and marriages-happy events and sad events- came to life before my eyes. Paupers' burials paid for by the parish and which were later reimbursed by the district. Illegitimate children who tragically seemed to have an even higher death rate than for the rest of the parish infants. Were they neglected by choice and allowed to die? Or were their mothers simply unable to get them proper food and medical treatment with no father around to help out?
I was hooked. I imagined what life in that little isolated Cornish parish must have been like. I pictured these names that had suddenly and almost magically became real people going to church and to the fields and to the graveyard. For a few hours, I went back in time and experienced what life must have been like there so far away and so many years ago. Leaning back in my chair and stretching those cramped neck muscles, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
I would have missed it all- this man, this life, this history, this culture- if I had simply used the control-F function.
I think that Pagans and Neo-Pagans today often miss something too when we F-key our way through history. In our efforts to reclaim, retrace or reconstruct the spiritual or magical or cultural beliefs of ancient peoples, we so often just key on a word or a phrase and then lift it out of its original context. We isolate Isis from Egypt or Arianhrod from Wales or The Eddas from Iceland and then either place them into a completely foreign land or leave them dangling out there in magical space somewhere with no familiar reference upon which to rest. And by isolating them such, we not only steal them away from their homeland and culture, we also rob ourselves of an opportunity to grow.
Pagans and Neo-Pagans often complain these days that there is no 'Wicca 202' material out there. After one has mastered the rehashed and rewritten basic materials, there is little in the way of advanced studies to be had. We have only ourselves to blame for that. Many Neo-Pagan authors or authors writing for the Neo-Pagan community have simply taken one God from column A and one Goddess from column B and presented that as a standard menu for Neo-pagan practice. Not only is this fare not a balanced diet, it is junk food. And since most American Neo-Pagans have been brought up on a lucrative diet of junk food, we don't realize just how lacking in real nutrition that this menu is. And then we wonder- after reading all of the popular books and doing all of the recommended exercises- why we are still hungry. It's simple. We have nowhere to go from there. The road to Isis has been blocked off, the thread to Arianhrod has been cut and the link to the Eddas has been severed. We have F keyed our way through history. We have skipped over the culture, the context and the land of origin. We have created an intellectual island and we have no boat.
But we do not have to remain island-locked. The roads are still there. The links can still be found and the thread still winds its way through the cultures and languages and customs of today. The past and the present are still connected. Nothing stopped with the advent of Christianity or the Norman Conquest or the Greek entry into Egypt. It changed and perhaps adapted, but it never stopped. And that is where those who hunger for something more will find it.
The man from Cornwall is not my family. But someone today does still carry his DNA. And hopefully that person has found his/her ancestor as I did. I can't claim this man as my family. But if my family also comes from or near this same parish, then the stories may be very similar. But until I know for sure, I can't claim that this ancestor and my ancestor did the same things or lived in the same way. I just don't know as yet. And I'm not about to write this man's name into my own genealogy chart just to fill in some gaps. I'll keep following my own threads. I'll keep on doing the tough research through the wee hours of the night. I'll certainly hope for a few flashes of inspiration to occur along the way to help point me in the right direction. I'll write into the chart only that which I can prove really belongs there.
And I won't be using any control-F function with which to write it.
Walk in Love and Light,
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, April 1st., 2002
Image credit: The image used for our anchor photo and on our intro page this week comes comes to us from Nosal Woodbender. http://home.attbi.com/~nosalwoodbender/ "I took this shot for Brahm at Brahm's Bookworks because of some bookstands I am carving that display their books nicely". - Great shot Nosal. Thank YOU for sharing it with s all.
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