Not Much Happy Talk?

AncestryHow many children were born to your great-grandparents? How many born to your grandparents? How many to your parents? And if you’re a parent, how many children were born to you and your spouse?

For me, the answers on my paternal side are 8, 6 and 6: eight children born to my great-grandparents (two of whom died as teenagers) and six children born to my grandparents (one of whom died in infancy). Six children were born to my parents (one of whom died in infancy) and my husband and I had four children.

On my mother’s side of the family, the answer is 4, 2 and 6. My great-grandparents had four children (two of whom died in infancy) and my grandparents had two children (one of whom died in infancy). As previously mentioned, my folks bore six and I had four.

I ask these questions for two reasons. The first:  I’m a genealogy nut and these kind of comparisons are interesting to me, and secondly, I consider demographics a fascinating way in which to understand some things about our world.

DentI’ll put this into the context of a new book I ran across this week. The Demographic Cliff: How to Survive and Prosper During the Great Deflation of 2014-2019 looks like an interesting entry into the overall demographics discussion. Author Harry S. Dent, Jr. (not to be confused with the Batman franchise’s Two-Face character Harvey Dent) has written at least eight previous books in which he discusses population trends and how these trends interface with market outcomes and a population’s eventual impact on an economy.

As a Baby Boomer myself, I find Dent’s observations compelling. My husband and I tend to reflect many of the buying and spending patterns of our fellow Baby Boomers. Dent uses Japan as a primary exhibit in extrapolating how the aging of a culture has a direct impact on a nation’s economy.

Entering their 60s and 70s, Baby Boomers are moving away from the “I can afford it” and “I deserve it” mode into an opposite, the mode of capital preservation. As a general rule, Baby Boomers are thinking less about the newer, bigger house or the head-turning new automobile and focusing more on maintaining sufficient funds to support our independence by keeping the nest-egg funded long enough to make it to our final breath.

I ask my Baby Boomer friends, am I wrong?

If you’re a member of a younger generation, Dent’s scenario won’t offer any comfort to you. In fact, if you take a look at most of his other book titles, Dent’s doom and gloom theme seems to predominate. In a December post at Business Insider, author Steven Perlberg (who looks to be much younger than the Baby Boomer demo) sardonically characterizes Dent’s latest book as “cheery stuff.” Another post (The Market Oracle from the UK) begins an author interview with these words:  “There’s little happy talk in Harry Dent’s new book …” 

Ever since the 1987 release of Ben J. Wattenberg‘s book, The Birth Dearth, I’ve paid some attention to the discussion surrounding population trends. I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I’ve always looked at the trends that were operative in my own family tree.

Certainly, one of the primary things I learn from my family history, I’m immensely grateful we live in an age when infant mortality has decreased considerably. Just looking at the trend of births in several generations of my family seems significant. My paternal great-grandparents had twice as many children as my husband and I. Furthermore, many of our peers characterized our family as being on the “large” side. (For families with one or two children, four does indeed seem large.)

On my maternal side, I had the same number of births as my great-grandparents, but significantly, all of my children lived into adulthood.

I also find it striking that my paternal great-grandparents (having emigrated from Germany and settling in St. Louis) raised a larger family overall than my maternal great-grandparents who had been born and whose family had been rooted in Philadelphia from several previous generations. I can’t help wondering if this was an expression of differences between the two sub-cultures (eastern US and central US).

What do you think? Are we headed over a cliff, as Harry S. Dent suggests? Whether or not it’s a cliff, I think it’s prudent to weigh the possibilities and consider our options. Your comments and observations are always welcome!

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The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part II

This is part two in my mother’s story (written in her own words) of how she and my dad met. Part one is here.

Ruthe7Ruthe Continues:   Next morning I put my plan into action. After bringing her two coffees as well as a pack of cigarettes (I knew she wouldn’t turn down some smokes from someone else’s coupon book), I worked up the nerve to ask:  Was she planning to go to the dance at Ft. Dix? “No,” she responded. I told her:  “I sure wish I could but I can’t.” Then she asked me:  “Why not?” (perfect opening!) and I had my explanation ready.

I told her my story and asked if I could go using her name. Initially, she didn’t understand what I proposed, but when the light began to dawn she let out a whoop and started to laugh loudly causing everyone to turn and stare and wonder what was going on. She said she’d see me at lunch and let me know her decision, so I went to my desk to work, all the while wondering what I’d do if she said no, where would I go next? Worse yet, what if she blabbed to someone else about it? I could be in big trouble again.

Continue reading “The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part II”

The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part I

RutheWere my dad still alive today (he died in 1994), he and my mom would be celebrating 68 years of marriage at the end of this month. That’s a picture of her from the 40s. (—->)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved hearing about how my parents met and the various details related to their war-time courtship. In a battered box in their closet, Mom once kept a stack of letters Daddy had written to her during his service in Europe in World War II.

Whenever I got the chance, I’d snatch one or two letters from that box and steal away to my own room to read them. (They were only slightly romantic, just accounts of news and whatever drama his friends were experiencing.) Of course, every letter had to first pass through the censor’s oversight before it could be posted!

Sadly for their offspring, those letters are gone now. In the days after my dad knew death would likely come within the year, he and Mom walked out to the beach near their home, sat down and re-read the letters one final time before dropping them into a campfire. I know they chose what to do with the letters; but I’ll always be disappointed that part of their legacy went up in smoke.

Near Mom’s 80th birthday, I asked her to write down the story of meeting Dad. (She still had her sight then.) I turned her recollections into a memory book prior to the surprise birthday celebration we threw for her with many family members gathered in her honor. (See more about that celebration here.) The story of their first meeting is funny and I share it below (the first of two parts with part two posting tomorrow). This is the story … in her own words.

Continue reading “The Tale of Bobbie Pringle, Part I”

Brave New World III: Are You My Father?

EastmanWhen my children were quite small, P.D. Eastman‘s charming book, Are You My Mother? was a regular entry in the nightly story rotation. My Beloved usually handled this night-time routine and he had a great way of dramatizing story books. This one was no exception. The children responded with squeals and laughter.

The book resolves, as children’s stories should, in the perfectly happy ending. The baby bird is eventually reunited with mamma bird.

Toward the end of the book, there’s a telling passage where baby bird has been searching everywhere for mamma but has been rebuffed each time he poses the question:  “Are you my mother?” Finally, in complete frustration, baby bird exclaims:  “I want my mother!” Of course, it’s only a story but behind the tale lies a compelling fact. Each of us has an innate need to know our parentage.

The huge success of ancestry.com underscores this deep desire to know. Whatever our age or station in life, one of the most primal questions we spend our lives seeking to answer is:  Who am I? Ancestry is a tool many of us use to flesh out that question.

I’m a genealogy enthusiast. I grew up with family all around me. We lived in the town where my daddy grew up, so there were relatives and extended family with whom I could interact about the Stricker roots. My mom, on the other hand, had transplanted from Pennsylvania to Missouri when she married my dad. (Read about my dad here.) Mom was (as far as we can determine) the last of her family, having lost her dad in childhood and her mom when a young adult. (Read about my mom here.)

WestAbrahamMy ancestry quest has branched far and wide, but no matter how many genealogical connections I make, I always return to one name:  West. My mom’s family is the one to whom I’m most drawn. The incomplete picture reflected from various records shows a family repeatedly torn apart by war and loss, but a family that didn’t permit this brokenness to defeat them. The character of this stalwart line lives in my 87 year old mom who still has the grit and determination of a pioneer woman.

I’m driven to understand this family! But every turn presents another closed door. I’ve failed to locate any records that reveal the parentage of Mom’s great-great-grandfather, Abraham West (1807-1903)! His history has become the closest thing to an obsession for me.

But consider this. Nothing about Abraham West’s history will affect me in any significant way. He died more than 100 years ago. Even my mother didn’t know him except from afar! His life shouldn’t carry the significance with me that it does, but I can’t shake it.

I say this to my shame:  my obsession pales in comparison to what many people today have experienced. The website anonymousfathersday.com relates the lifelong search (and attendant grief) multitudes of people have endured as “donor-conceived” offspring. For myself, I can’t begin to imagine their agonizing searches for answers to their parentage!

When I began this series of posts on the Brave New World, I had only begun to realize some of the tragedy we’ve heedlessly inflicted (as a culture) on so many innocents.

When I was a kid, I know I got angry enough with my parents on occasion to hurl the “I never asked to be born!” accusation at them. What of the donor-conceived individuals? Not only were they born at someone else’s whim, they were cast aside with reckless disinterest and disregard for the potential havoc these offspring might endure because of such anonymity.

People who know my mom (or knew my dad) have frequently mentioned how much they think I look like one or the other of my parents (and some say my grandmother). In my family, there are expressions, gestures, even raised eyebrows that seem to pass down from generation to generation. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen those characteristics expressed in my children. We are individuals, but also in a unique way, a sum of our parts.

Imagine − if you will − being a child … a teenager … a young adult gazing longingly into the eyes of every person you meet, afraid to ask, paralyzed by fear you’ll be rebuffed. Are you my mother? Are you my father?

This is no longer a children’s story. For many, it’s real life.

Knit, Purl, Decode

a-tale-of-two-cities-granger My recent posts discussing the perennial favorite, A Christmas Carol, got me to thinking about the oeuvre of its author.

Besides the incomparable Christmas novella of Charles Dickens (my previous posts begin here), other books by Dickens retain their reputation as “classics.” I can’t remember my first reading of A Tale of Two Cities, but I recall the impression it made on me.

The contrasts Dickens uses give us a glimpse into this dramatic period of history and upheaval. As the novel says in its opening paragraph, this era was “the best of times” and “the worst of times,” and with the French Reign of Terror as a backdrop, Dickens moves on from this initial description to lay out one of his bleakest narratives.

Dickens was of course closer to the actual events about which he wrote than we are today. His concern about the England of his day (and Dickens thinking there was a possibility England might be following down the same road of sorrow as the French experienced) may have factored into his intent for writing this novel. Whatever his reasoning, he created believable characters struggling through a nightmarish clash of ideologies and lawlessness. There are characters who display heroism and others deeply involved in evil. The book definitely portrays the entire human condition.

Besides the actual tale itself, knowing this story unfolded in installments has always intrigued me. In recent years, I’ve read several writers who suggest serialization is making a comeback. (Of course, if by serialization, these writers somehow equate installment fiction of old with the regularity of blog writing, my intrigue diminishes.) I remain hopeful − but skeptical − that a 21st century kind of serialization is possible; I’d like to see such ventures succeed. So far and to my disappointment, currently available episodic reading material (other than classics like a Dickens serial novel) has failed to engage me.

One of the other intriguing elements about A Tale of Two Cities specifically is a practice described in the novel:  the art of tricoteuse. As a knitter myself, knitting is a creative endeavor I enjoy. The possible genealogical connection with German poet Der Stricker (weaver and knitter of tales, mentioned in this post) causes me to view all things knitting through a more personal lens. (I get positively territorial.)

Hence, the art of tricoteuse as depicted via the despicable fictional character of Madame Defarge bothers me. Defarge turns a positive creative expression (knitting) into a negative record of hate. Dickens shows how destructive and all-consuming Defarge’s drive for vengeance has tainted her “art.”

Tricoteuse also appears in another novel set during the same time period, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. The heroic main character, English nobleman Sir Percy Blakeney, employs various disguises (including the tricoteuse motif) in order to rescue French citizens condemned to a grisly death via the guillotine.

opart1In Orczy’s novel, the fictional Blakeney’s portrayal of a tricoteuse seems less objectionable (to me) because Percy is saving people rather than cheering their deaths. Am I making a distinction without a difference here? (I’m open to other points of view.)

Whenever I’m knitting a piece, I often think about the fictional tricoteuse. What methods did these knitters use to craft enduring (and highly meaningful) pieces of art? I’ve read a variety of articles suggesting possible code patterns. I’ve even considered the way in which I would design a piece for this purpose, but I’ve never been entirely pleased with my final designs.

Perhaps that’s the mystery of tricoteuse:  a pleasing result might be too easily deciphered. And then, what would be the point?

DNA: Following the Evidence

When genealogy research migrated from the cumbersome (often deteriorating) media of microfiche, county record ledger books and newspapers into the electronic age, it was welcome forward progress. (In yesterday’s post, I mentioned wrestling with microfiche.)

Accurately inputting hard copy records to digital files took time. For me, testing multiple software packages over a ten to fifteen year odyssey finally ended at the Ancestry Online platform. Why not? I can access my account from almost anywhere, any time.

abstract-dna-download-the-free-free-download

The innovations of online resources like Ancestry, FamilySearch, Rootsweb, Cyndi’s List and a host of state and local databases continue apace and deliver high value for researchers from around the world.

Today, the emergence of a genomic age portends another forward leap on the horizon. Genetic data services are readily available (for an introductory price of $99) to assist in a variety of applications (among them, health, fertility and even curiosity).

For genealogy researchers, technology promises potential answers for baffling questions. Ancestry.com proffers: One simple DNA test. A world of discoveries. Multiple other vendors are capitalizing on this expanding market and offering similar testing.

Though science has never been my bailiwick, nascent technology captivates my imagination. My inquiring mind wants to delve into the microscopic world of DNA. I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise. What mysteries are hidden in the smallest of places? And, thanks most often to DNA, the detectives on these shows were always able to wrap things up in quick order!

A couple years ago, I watched a video that wasn’t just captivating; it was an elegant miniature display of such beauty and grace and order, words fail description. Before I share the video, a couple comments are helpful. This video is part of a series called Unlocking the Mystery of Life produced by Illustra Media. This (and all the videos from Illustra) present a scientific – but unapologetically Christian – point of view.

To me, this particular video reinforces (as few things might) evidence of a Designer. If that’s not your personal persuasion, don’t let my perspective (or the video’s) dissuade you from watching. About 30 seconds into the video, you’ll see an amazing computer animation of what goes on every second of every day within our bodies. Toward the end, Biophysicist Dean H. Kenyon says it’s “mind-boggling!” I totally agree!

 

Will I spend the $99 to test my DNA? I can’t deny I’ve considered it. More on that in future posts.

Going West

Long before the popularity of genealogy website, ancestry.com, family history was one of my favorite pursuits. Some might call me a devotee, but the honest truth is it’s more of an obsession, a positive (though time-consuming) addiction.

Why genealogy, you may ask? How will I write the “great American novel” when I’m distracted with genealogy?

Well, I’ve already wrestled with many of life’s burning questions:  who am I? where am I headed? who is John Galt? And I’ve managed satisfactory answers for myself. The single nagging unanswered question persists:  from where have I come? My compulsion has been to develop an understanding of who my ancestors were.

I grew up in St. Louis, my dad’s hometown. My mother hailed from Philadelphia and after WWII moved to St. Louis to marry my dad and raise their family. A post relating to my Stricker origins is here.

The unattainable was, of course, what captivated me. My mom’s the last survivor in her family. (Read more about Ruthe here, here, and here.) She had one sibling (who died before Mom was born). Mom was five years old when her dad died (he suffered mustard gas poisoning in WWI). She was twenty-four when her mother died.

In the days before Ancestry, I’d visit my local library laboriously combing census records on microfiche to uncover whatever I could find about Mom’s Philadelphia West forebears. She’d grown up knowing scant details about her dad; from the 1910 Census we discovered he had a sister (long since deceased) whom Mom had never known existed!

West_Frank abt1930

One of my fascinations with genealogy is a quest to discover the unique experiences of these real (though departed) individuals. They’re more than names on a family tree and the summary of their vital statistics is hardly a start. Yes, a gravestone gives evidence of a life once lived, yet rarely provides more than a hint (if any) of that person’s totality. Did he like to joke? Was she witty or plain? What were their struggles?

Here’s my great-grandfather Franklin Pierce West (1853-1935) whose story illustrates how this puzzle presents itself. Some of my mother’s early recollections include Frank serving briefly as a father figure to her. (He died when she was nine.)

To get some perspective on who Frank was, the backstory is crucial. Frank’s father (Samuel P. West, 1832-1864) died at Spotsylvania Courthouse (VA) when Frank was barely eleven. In time, Frank, his two brothers and a sister, grew up and went on to have families of their own. But there’s an underlying turmoil that the various census records fail to expose.

Frank married Julia Boyle (1857-1903) in 1876 and they had four children, two of whom died as infants. The 1880 US Census shows the couple together, having already buried their firstborn. No 1890 US Census information is available for them. In 1900, I’ve been unable to find a census listing for Julia, though she didn’t die until 1903. Frank is listed living with his younger brother (and family).

Where are their two remaining children? Bethesda Home (a charitable institution?) in Springfield, Pennsylvania lists two children who are close matches, but that information is far from conclusive. The 1910 US Census shows Frank and his now adult children are reunited in the same household; under Frank’s marital status, there’s a “D” for divorced.

Did Frank and Julia legally divorce? I’ve found no records to support it. I can surmise there must have been a serious rift though. After Julia died on New Year’s Eve 1903, she was buried in the same burial plot as her parents.

Even when records exist, they’re often incomplete. Relations who might have fleshed out the frame have gone to their graves with the answers. Nevertheless, the mystery motivates more exploration, not less. As I research, I find new possibilities and eliminate others. It is (I hate to admit it) a quest without end.

So far, though, I haven’t discovered a connection to John Galt. I’ll let you know if that changes!