"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
Heather Wilkinson Rojo at "Nutfield
Genealogy" has very kindly recognized Walking the Berkshires with an Ancestor Approved Award. What tickles me most about this honor, aside from the very kind words about my writing style, is the dour faced look of disapproval sported by the matronly mascot of this genea-blogging distinction. That old girl's no Mona Lisa: more American Gothic.
The idea behind the Ancestor Approved Award is to highlight excellent blogging from the genealogy community and challenge those so recognized to list 10 things we have learned in their course of our ancestral research that have surprised, humbled or enlightened us. Here then, are my 10 lessons learned.
1. You've Got a Friend: I think many of us are drawn to genealogy for the thrill of the chase and the opportunity to personalize the past. Our own bloodlines may be the hook, but genealogists tend to be a generous bunch and are just as excited to learn about each other's stories and research as in documenting our own. And we do love a good story. Finding this supportive community online was a pleasant surprise for me when I added genealogy to the rotation of post topics at Walking the Berkshires.
2. God Bless Google Books: Genealogy is not simply a matter of vital statistics. It is more about the lives of the people that these names and dates represent. Applying the skills of the historian, the archeologist, the social scientist and psychologist really animates family history for me. To that end, as a non academic researcher I swear by the gold mine of source material represented by Google Books. Querying this trove has delivered untold data on countless ancestors, the communities in which they lived. In many cases this results in completely new information that changes my understanding of who they were and what they did, Idly searching for information on one of my Revolutionary War era ancestors with Google Books, for example, revealed evidence in Washington's correspondence of a court martial. Among the many happy results were this 11 post series on the Court Martial of Matthias Ogden and a connection to a group of avid reenactors who depict the New Jersey regiment that Col. Ogden commanded.
4. Maybe it Ain't So: There is still no substitute for primary source material. It is amazing how much bad history gets repeated as subsequent authors take at face value the claims made in other texts . Sometimes the silences say more than false claims. A privately printed genealogy of the Walker branch in my mother's pedigree from the early 1900s identifies the revolutionary war service of a collateral relation, but neglects to mention his subsequent and much longer service as an officer in the Pennsylvania Loyalists. The only clue was that his father's will provided for grandchildren in New Brunswick, Canada after the war.
" 5. Ancestor Worship is not Good History: A good genealogist respects good data even while paying respect to one's forebears. We take tours through the intimate details of our ancestor's lives. We look in their underwear drawers and read their private letters. If it turns out that they were more complex human beings with real flaws and contradictions - in other words, that they were human - we have an obligation to treat them fairly and honestly.
7. Sooner or Later, You Become the Source: Good bloggers are good aggregators. People searching for topics of an historical or genealogical nature are often lead to my blog. On matters having little or no family connection, like the Morro Castle Disaster about which I blogged four years ago, I still get daily hits. Once you go back a half dozen generations or so, the odds of sharing a common ancestor with others doing family history expand exponentially. A post I wrote about my grandfather's experience as a doctor in wartime lead the son of one of the officers he served with to my site, as well as the grand-niece of a man who died on the Liberty Ship later that took my grandfather to the South Pacific.
8. Expect the Unexpected: When searching the 1860 Census Records to try to close a gap in my primary Abbott line, I found that my Gr-great grandfather had an older brother. Since I was at the National Archives, I searched under his name for a Civil War service record, and discovered that he had enlisted in the 9th NY Hawkin's Zouaves. Not only that, but his pension record gave me additional data that helped with my inquiry into his parents, and also revealed where he died out in Montana. A few years later, I was vacationing at Glacier National Park and called up the nearby Old Soldiers Home that had been his final residence and in about 30 seconds found the number and location of his grave.
9. All in Good Fun: Remember, no matter how passionate our interest in the lives of our ancestors, not too take things too seriously. 19th Century Facial Hair and old family photos have tremendous comic possibilities. For me, this prompted a long running and very popular Family Archive Caption Contest.
10. Life is for the Living: The family history at greatest risk of disappearing is being made now, and is still in the minds of those still with us. Every genealogist I have ever known regrets not asking more of those now departed who could have told us more. The memories we make now will enliven the past for those who come after.
And now the fun part. To share the love and pass on this award, Here are 10 worthy genea-bloggers whose fine work has inspired me and who do their family history proud:
"This is not what I meant when I said I wanted a Red Ryder!"
The sashaying Shetland was my Grandmother Athalia Barker's beloved pony "Max." This was the nag that I and my cousins first learned to ride, which for all his small size was harder than it might seem. Max could expand his barrel of a belly to a prodigious girth, thwarting all attempts to cinch a saddle. He was just as likely to roll over as canter under a low hanging branch to rid himself of an impudent rider. In addition to the western saddle with the red wool blanket, he also pulled a pony cart, in which he was far less rambunctious.
Max was the primary lawnmower at Windrock during the 1970s. There were shovels and a wheelbarrow instead to follow him about with and gather up excess manure. In later years he preferred standing with his hind legs crossed, and he lived beyond 30.
Judging from the wide collar of my dress shirt, I'd say I was probably just finished with 3rd or 4th grade in this picture (1977-1978). I am sure during the summer I only wore my red Keds when my feet were in stirrups. Max and I are actually reined up rather near the bluff overlooking the bay, but I am certain that there was no risk of him deciding to plunge. Not when the barn and the barrel of sweet feed lay in the other direction. My stern expression may betray a suspicion that my rotund steed is poised to bolt. Today the barn is filled with many things, including hay for my Aunt's horses at her home down at the end of Great Neck, but alas, no resident equine species.
Perhaps it is because I am rather closely related to the barelegged cavalier in this archival image, but it strikes me as rather droll and suitable fodder for the 15th Walking the Berkshires Family Archive Caption Contest.
We'll put your finest offerings to a vote next week.
19 readers of Walking the Berkshires cast their vote in the 14th Family Archive Caption Contest. 8 (42.1%) of you, supported the leading caption, while 6 (31.6%) supported the next most popular submission.
As we had an exceptionally fine field (with a late write-in, no less), it was down to the wire until the polls closed today, but with no super-delegates to haggle over, this is a winner take all event. It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce that Anthony Turner has prevailed with his classic offering:
"I'd Walk a Camel for a Smile."
This rather extraordinary image is my Great, Great grandmother Alice Jane (Greene) Barker on an Egyptian holiday at Giza in 1904. She is clad in mourning for her late husband, Samuel Barker, Jr., who died the previous year. She was accompanied on this trip by her son Lloyd (not to be confused with the criminal of that name), who had suffered from respiratory problems since childhood.
Now I have ridden on a camel in the the semi-desert of northwestern Namibia but never attempted to do so side-saddle, let alone clad from head to toe in heavy black. Alice Jane Greene Barker was a published poet and an indomitable traveler, but this picture which my cousin Karen found recently is the first I was aware that she had sojourned to the Sphinx! She also had very strong genes, as there is much in her facial features that strongly resembles her son Raymond H. Barker, Sr. and her grandson Robert H. Barker (my grandfather).
The nominees have been selected, and the ballot is in your hands. Which of the following should win the 14th Family Archive Caption Contest here at Walking the Berkshires? Polls close Friday p.m., March 7th. Cast your vote below.
1. Clara's travels suffered somewhat By camel with a musical butt “But some people thinks the music, it sphynx it blows toots uncommon, so what?”
2. I'd walk a camel for a smile." (variation on an old radio ad theme)
3. I don't care how economical it is, Edgar. I want the Buick saloon.
4. Tell the guide, if I can wear black in the desert sun, I don't see why it should make the camel sweat...
Calling all captions, creative and shrewd, Amuse with your muse, let no shyness preclude Your participation in these, our gay revels, With double entendres on so may levels, And don't give a thought to the dread Pharaoh's curse; The crone on the camel's our Mummy, not yours!
The nominations are now closed and it is time to put put the question to a vote. Which of the following captions submitted by waggish readers of Walking the Berkshires best applies to this ancestral image from my family archives?
1. As they merrily celebrated Oktoberfest, Wilhemina had the sinking feeling Nigel was skirting disaster.
2. "We've switched Hal and Lois' Folger Crystals with high-octane, homemade corn liquor. Let's see if they notice!"
3. "You used a flutaphone for WHAT?"
4. Aunt Maude and Uncle Earl celebrate that he was able to dodge the draft!
The free and fair polling services of Vizu unfortunately have a character limit, so please refer to the fulll text above when voting for your favorite below! Polls close in the morning of Feb 3, 2008.
After an extended hiatus - due not to a writer's strike but to an absence of suitable material - Walking the Berkshires is proud to offer its readers its latest Family Archive Caption Contest. Now even more free and fair with a transparent popular voting process, there is not a single reason not to match your wits and whimsy against the legions of contestants who shall vie for the coveted and most dubious honor of caption winner for this lucky 13th edition.
Look well on these departed shades. They will not take amiss your japes and jocularity at their expense. Do these look like the sort of vengeful spirits who would deny you the opportunity to demonstrate your puissance with puns, deftness at doggerel, wry remarks and sly asides before all and sundry? They are not taking themselves seriously, and neither should you.
You can't win if you don't play, so give us your best and caption this!