Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blathering and Dithering

So yeah, the first week of kicking ass and taking names, also known as dieting and working out, was pretty good, but since then nada, zip, zilch, zero progress. I think I'm still making up for the shit I ate (and guzzled) at that Memorial Day party, which only serves to piss me off further. But enough of the Fat Girl Diaries - I'm sick of me bitching about it, so let's move on, shall we?

The last two and half weeks of school are going at a snail's pace. I think there may be a cog stuck in the space/time continuum, because SURELY it should be June 10th by now. And could they, the ubiquitous, yet faceless THEY of public educational institutions, possibly refrain from asking for yet more money to fund yet another stupid travesty of time and funding wastage - ie: class parties where everything has to be store-bought and preservative laden, lame-ass 5th grade musical productions nobody even volunteered for, but they have to show up for and perform in after school hours are over, buying some piece of lawn furniture in the name of the 5th grade, like they're seniors in high school. Does this sound like Educational Retardation to anyone else? Excuse me, I have to scream primally for a moment-

I whipped through a re-read of the last two Harry Potter books this past week, and now I'm reading "Albion's Seed", by David Hackett Fischer. This book was published in 1989 by Oxford University Press, but I'd never run across it before. I would have loved to have this guy for a history professor, since most of mine were dripping bores. This has to be the most entertaining book of history I've ever read, but I know you're asking, "Yeah, okay, but what's it about?" Alright, let me backtrack.

We were in Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago, on one of those Girl's Night Out occasions. I picked up four books in five minutes and was trying to find some rationalization to not buy any of them, seeing as how the money would have come out of our grocery budget, and kids need to eat, even if grown ups don't. So I sat down, on the floor, because the Crabtree Valley B&N has NO DAMN CHAIRS (what the hell IS that?), winnowed out the TS Eliot "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (I did already have a copy, even if it's pages are falling out), and "The Annotated Brothers Grimm" (because I do have about 4 different variations of Grimm's already, although a Grimm's scholar can never have too many copies), "The Joseph Campbell Companion" (which I bought because I thought it might help me avoid sharp objects pointed at my throat - not so much, strangely) and started to read "Albion's Seed - Four British Folkways In America".

In my ongoing family history research it's not unusual to hit walls where the data banks out there have nothing to offer up. I've found that going to the history books and getting insight into what's going on during a specific period can often yield a way around those stumbling blocks. This books covers the colonization of America by four separate cultural groups from the British Isles, and how those distinctly individual groups shaped the regional cultures we have even today. The four groups are:
  • East Anglia to Massachusetts: The Exodus of the English Puritans, 1629-1641
  • The South of England to Virginia: Distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants, 1642-1675
  • North Midlands to The Delaware: The Friends' Migration, 1675-1725
  • Borderlands to the Backcountry: The Flight From North Britain, 1717-1775

Fischer says in his foreword that only about 20% of Americans can trace their ancestry back to any of these groups, but that their early influence set the tone for how this country has developed, and while later groups of immigrants do affect the culture in those areas, they are also subject to a certain amount of assimilation from the culture already present.

Someone asked me once, while we were vacationing in Wales, whether the United States actually has a culture of it's own, other than the omnipresent consumerism. I wish I'd had this book then, because while I knew that America does indeed have several regional mini-cultures, not all of which are British-based, it's hard to articulate that, especially to someone whose country would fit into the state of Texas. We are the size of several countries, and our culture reflects both that size as well as the mixing pot of ethnicities we come from.

But back to the book. I had to have this book, because three of the groups discussed in it are in my family tree, and I'm still trying to figure out where and when those ancestors got here, as well as tracking their migration in the early days of westward expansion.

Example: I'm am at odds with some of my fellow researchers of the Toy family, as to the name origin, and the time frame of it's point of entry into America. Based on a very flawed and limited resource genealogy done in the 1950s, most researchers of the Toy family think the name was tagged onto a Swedish patronymic tradition when the English Quakers showed up in the 1680s to colonize what is now New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Looking a little further south towards Virginia and Jamestown, I found evidence of the name Toy there as early as 1642, and that group had ties to families of the same name in Bristol, England and Carmarthen, Wales, but they didn't stay in the Virginia colony for long; there are records of women with that last name marrying into other families, but very few men. Where did they go, and why did they leave that area? "Albion's Seed" actually answers that question - the elitist hierarchy that governed that area made it impossible for anyone of common rank to move up socially. Even if they had a large and successful plantation, they would have been shunned by the families of "Old Virginia", who were descended from the younger sons of English nobles, and maintained a feudal caste system in that area, keeping the poor uneducated and indentured as much as possible, and providing opportunity only for those of a certain social rank.

Reading the part on the Virginia Cavaliers was lurid, and horrifying. It's not hard to see why anyone of common stock would want to get the hell out of Dodge. Obviously, my roots are not in that tradition, because I was nauseated and incensed by the accounts. An indentured female servant was often casually raped by her master, so that she would have to work a longer indenture to "make up" for the time she spent being pregnant, and that was after she was stripped and whipped publicly. Rape was considered on the level of petty theft in this society, and there wasn't much concern for the rights of anyone who wasn't of the elite.

Right now I'm reading about the Quakers, thank god, which is like a drink of fresh water after the misery of the Virginians. It's interesting to note that while a large number of Quakers show up in the Delaware Valley in the year 1682, there were already settlements of Quakers in that area. The Quakers were prosecuted far more violently in both England and America than the Puritans ever were, and droves of them came to the New World to find religious freedom. Unlike the Puritans, who had zero tolerance for anyone not of their faith, the Quakers actually encouraged religious pluralism, and lived peaceably alongside neighbors of different faiths. Their governing laws lay the groundwork for our system of government, and their work ethic, firmly in the middle between the Idle as a Status Symbol Virginians, and the Work Till Ye Drop of the Puritans, is the basis of the middle class work ethic our parents grew up in. Even their Midlands dialect is the foundation of a large part of our common speech in this country.

I haven't gotten to the Puritans (okay, I skipped them, because they really are kind of a drag - blah, blah, God's Will, blah, blah) yet, but the Scotch-Irish are next, and I'm sure they're going to be a rowdy bunch. They're the other big influence on the American Way - those stubbornly independent, frontier-loving, don't-put-much-stock-in-larnin, man-I-hate-crowds-and-the-government folks. Maybe it's just me, but I love the backwoodsmen. Think of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln; they are all either backwoodsmen or a product of the defiant spark of that culture.

And now that you've all gone to sleep, or drifted off to read something far more lively than me spouting off about history, I reckon it's time to call it a post.

And yes, there will be a pop-quiz later, just to see if you were paying attention.