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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thursday, December 27, 2012

See newest blog on new site:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

New Blog Hosting Site

To Readers of my Blog:

Alas, I have run out of space on this blog site so everything has been moved over to a new site for all future posts.  You can go there and find my old posts as well and enjoy the new look!

Find it at:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Family Names and Place

I am in the process of making an offer on a house.  This involves a house inspection, or course.   And who is recommended for that task?  Someone named Nico DiStefano.  Nico DiStefano??  What kind of name is that? Clearly this is not West Michigan or Pella, IA!  My combined 28 years in those places taught me to pronounce and spell names like DeVries, Van Klompenberg, Zandstra, and van Dijk. In fact, in Pella, if you divided the phone book in half, S-Z would make up the second half due to the many Vs and Zs amongst the Dutch-American population. Not a Curry to be found anywhere.   

I don't know when I started to play the game of guessing family geographic origins based on family names.  Whenever it was, as a geographer this has evolved into interpreting individual's place within the framework of the larger migration patterns in North America based on their names.

My sensitivity to names came early.  I grew up primarily in a town with Croatians who came to work in the factories and mines of central Illinois.  We knew the Petrovich sisters, and others with names like Tomlionovich, and Yerbic.  There were no Currys except us.

I went to college in Minnesota and had four David Johnsons in college with me. I had two roommates--an  Ostazeski and a Spence--they both married Johnsons.  And I knew a Carlson who married a Carlson.  And then there was Olof Olson.  I decided to take a Swedish language class and ended up being one of three out of a class of 30 who did not have a Swedish name. One had a Swedish mother and the other had had their name changed when they "got off the boat" from Sweden because their family was one of many, many Andersons onboard.  There were no Currys except me.

When I worked southern Louisiana I had to learn French names and spellings.  Boudreaux, Voisin, Billiot, Solet, and even Bourgeois, but no Currys there.

And now I am in Massachusetts where Irish, Italian, and English family names abound. But where do I find Curry except in the spice isle?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Looking for Echoes of Myself

Half Brother of Ninth Great Grandfather
I have always looked for self understanding and identity in the landscapes and places out of which my family grew.  On a trip with my mother and grandmother in 1981, we went west from Minnesota, all the way to Oregon and Washington, visiting my mother's cousins who had been scattered along the route during the depression.  My mother had not seen many of them since she was a child, yet we found echos of her father's family in them--everything from their noses to musical ability and valuing education.  I didn't "know" them yet we were invited to stay and I saw echoes of who I was, in who they were.

I have found myself helping my daughters see themselves through travel.When my older daughter was in grade school, she was struggling with issues related to her father's family and her identity. My response was to take her on a trip to explore who she was.  We traveled from Iowa, where we lived, through Ames, Iowa where we looked for the brick with the name of my grandmother engraved on it in the Plaza of Heroines at the Catt Center at Iowa State University.  I had placed it there in honor of my grandmother who had come from Iowa and encouraged her daughters and granddaughters and great granddaughters to be who they were.  We traveled on to southwest Minnesota, and met great aunts and uncles, visited cemeteries to see the names of my daughter's great grandparents and great great grandparents.  We knocked on the door of the house where my father grew up and where my family lived with my grandmother for a year when I was 6 years old.  The present owner let us wander through the house as I recalled what it was like at the time I lived there.  I wanted my daughter to understand and know that she came from somewhere and had deep roots and connections to both place and family.

This same daughter went with me to Scotland for a conference many years later.  We learned about lowland Scots culture--the origins of public education, the egalitarian culture that encouraged the establishment of local organization of different kinds, and other values that went on to shape American culture.  These values and the culture resonated with my family which has Scottish roots.  This side of the family came to Pennsylvania  with very limited resources.  They moved west with opportunity and valued education.  When they settled on the prairies of Minnesota in the 1860s they quickly established a public school and a church for example. And of course, in Scotland we saw red hair and freckles, just like my younger daughter.
On a beautiful fall Saturday recently I went looking for myself in the New England landscape.  This took me to Chelmsford, the town where the English side of my family settled in the 1650s.  A local resident, who descended from a common ancestor, met me there to show me around (so we might have been something like 9th cousins, or first cousins, 9 times removed?).

The Old Burying Ground in Chelmsford, Mass, is at the center of the settled, which has a traditional New England form.  A common or "green" is at the center with a church on one side and usually a meeting house or local government building on another.

The Green
Public Building

The cemetery was full of my ancestors' graves, but I struggled to find an echo of myself.   I heard about the power of established families.  And I saw last names that had been associated with a place for more than 350 years.  The descendents of these people were still here while my part of the family had moved west.  Probably my ancestors were relatively well educated and perhaps worked for the King.  They might have been in Jamestown or in the Caribbean before coming to Chelmsford.

It was interesting.  Maybe good material for a cocktail party.  But it didn't resonate with my identity.  I come from an egalitarian, westward moving family.  My grandmother cleaned houses to make money.

Why did Scotland resonate with me but not Chelmsford?  They are equidistant in the past. Why do some traits and identities get passed on across time and space, but not others?  If I was a believer in the Turner Thesis I would say that is was the experience of westward movement and its associated challenges that made the difference, but that still doesn't explain Scotland, but not Chelmsford.

In two weeks, my older daughter comes to visit.  We are going to visit Chelmsford.  I'm going to watch her reaction carefully.
Ninth Great Grandmother

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy 2

I am used to pretty wild storms.  After all, I have lived in the Midwest most of my life where storms can be violent.

I woke up to windier conditions telling me that Sandy was coming.  I needed to get out and do a few things this morning but it wasn't bad at all.  I decided to go look at the beach.  The waves were building.  In the harbor areas the boats had been pulled in and out of the water, leaving the area looking abandoned.

By the time I headed home after working in my office around noon, twigs and leaves were on the roads, but people were still out jogging.

Now, at 3 p.m., it is getting crazy.  The leaves are being blown off the trees and my windows are covered with water blown against it the wind whistles like the winds of a big winter storm.  And I just got the message that one of the dormitories at Gordon has to be evacuated due to high winds and risk of falling limbs.  Students are being moved to another dormitory.

There is a clash between the two weather systems over the state of Massachusetts.  Temperatures remain quite warm meaning lots of energy.  So though we aren't near the middle of the hurricane, it is now 1500 miles across.  Gusts almost 70 miles.  And more to come. Another dorm has just been evacuated.   I think I get to add to my life list of natural events.




Late morning--blowing trees

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

I am prepared.  I have found my flashlight and my candles.  I have been to the store and gotten food and filled up my gas tank.  I will fill up some pots and pans with water later today.  As I went down the road today, bags of leaves were along the road, being picked up by municipal trucks.  Instructions are to try to have your gutters cleaned out and limbs trimmed from your trees away from the power lines.  And don't park your vehicles under trees.

And I have gone to the beach to experience the sea before the storm--all was calm.  But we are under a state of emergency.