A Genealogy and Family History Diary.
I live within 40 miles of the graves of 9 generations of my paternal line. The first of my Dad's Puritan ancestors came over in 1635 and is buried in Watertown, MA. So is his son. The 3rd and 4th generation in America are buried in Groton, MA and the 5th, 6th and 7th of my direct paternal line are buried in Gardner, MA. My grandfather is buried in Salem, (I think, a little murky on this one) and my father sleeps eternally in a plot of land a stone's throw from a stark monument set up to honor the victims of the Witchcraft Delusion of 1692 in Danvers, MA. I don't know, but I think this qualifies me as a genuine "Masshole." It's feels a little bit un-American in a way.
I had no idea that my family lineage went so far back. This is evidence that I am, at least partly, capable of extraordinary dumbness. Finding people in New England with lineages that go way back should be about as shocking as finding out there are French people in, ahm, France, but it is a bit shocking to put all those pieces together in genealogy and come out with such a strong connection to a place.
Americans move around a lot. I mean a lot. No sooner did Europeans get to America than they started moving around to find bigger, better plots of land. The New England migration began along the seacoast then slowly began to settle inland. The settlements went from Salem and Boston to the more western MA lands in Concord, then north and west of the provincial capitol of Boston. The Puritans and Pilgrims fought with, then decimated the Native settlers they found in present day New England. Those Indian people were driven, over the course of about 3 generations, almost entirely either into present day New York (and west from there) or were rounded up and sold into slavery after King Philips War. After the Native inhabitants were gone, the descendants of the English settlers quickly took their lands. Those, for better or worse, were my Dad's relatives.
I mentioned that I found there was something vaguely un-American about having a history that goes back so far in one place. I talk to people all the time who had ancestors among the MA Puritan settlers or their colonial descendants. (The colonists were Englishmen, btw, not yet Americans. They were becoming Americans, but it took a long while.) It is more common to talk to people whose ancestors were in MA and then left. These descendants stretch across the United States. I have many a "lost" cousin in Ohio, Iowa, California, and Utah. (Oh yes, Utah. Many of my distant cousins followed Brigham Young and Joseph Smith to Utah. The LDS Church has strong, strong roots in old Puritan New England.)
There are diaries on DKos that begin in the general Kos population and pick up a number of commentaries from people who don't really get why this subject has such a fascination for some of us. For this part of my family history, it is a fascination with place. I am, clearly, the descendant of the family members who stayed. Puritan and, later, colonial families could have huge numbers of children. All these children could not inherit land from their parents; there simply wasn't enough to go around. So each generation lost people to the westward (and northern) migrations. Yet some in each generation stayed. They moved to central locations in MA, but they stayed here as Yankees. Later on, many of their children moved back to be closer to the Boston metropolitan area and stayed and stayed.
I live near the same brooks and stone walls that untold numbers of my "kin" have lived near. Though the landscaping and make-up of the woods and wildlife areas in eastern MA have changed a lot over the centuries, certain facets of it have stayed the same. My 7th and 8th great-grandparents might have admired the views of the Merrimac River in spring and paused to take in the changing colors of "the fall" in New England. Later generations probably grumbled about fleeting victories and unearned losses in games of rounders (early baseball) and the earliest versions of what became the game of football. (First known as "the Boston Game," btw.)
I sing of place. That idea that some humans are held by long, long ties that bind to certain places. Some members of my extended family who lived in MA were illustrious, most were very ordinary. Some seem to have been hard workers, some were, no doubt, scoundrels and narrow in their outlooks. Some lived very long lives, some were cut down early by diseases like consumption (tuberculosis) and dysentery and other horrors. I have kin who died in long ago wars with the French, others who perished in the American Revolution and still others who fought in the War of the Rebellion (Civil War).) Causes have rippled across this landscape, leaving searing scars on the land about the rights of individuals, abolition, religious diversity and women's rights. There is something about this place that breeds causes. And the people who take them up.
Anyway, I was wondering, how many of you feel that pull of place. You wander in a spot where you know distant (or not so distant) relatives lived and wonder how place shaped them. (For better and for worse. Not all stories are glorious or have happy endings. Place can nourish or suffocate, enlarge or shrink people in their fortunes. All that happened here as well to my kith and kin.)