We are a family of pioneers. My brother and I were reminded of this many times by our parents and grandparents; they who were the last of the pioneer experience. My later research into the history of our ancestors has provided the surprise at just how many of these progenitors left home for unsettled land, often not yet a state. I believe most of us, at least to my generation, were land oriented; this though the talents of many have been more appropriate for the arts and academia. In other words, our, and I believe most, early New England ancestors, were peasants, of the class that had not had access to the high culture of the educated.
I don’t know that I thought of it at that time; but there was for me an imperatives to remember that extends back to my early childhood. Even at eight or so I knew it was important to not forget. Unspoken but always implicit was the command to be aware.
On reflection today I wonder if that imperative has its roots much further in the past, perhaps hearkening to memory for place and nourishment experienced by our ancestors wandering the African Savannahs and Siberian Steppes.
We still recall our mother reading aloud each letter, fresh from mail, that brought news from and of family. We recall our father, reading the paper, calling out comments on the news of the world as Mother prepared supper. In so doing they endowed us with a comprehension of connection with the world beyond the limits of home, town and country. It immunized us from paralyzing parochialism.
Our ancestral imperative to remember was amply applied in the preservation of a large volume of personal letters written throughout the 19th and into the 20th century. The complete transcripts are included in our book Prairie Tree Letters, IUniverse, 2008. In the connecting narrative of the book I have tried to let the the authors speak by way of their eloquent voices.
This online narrative with illustrations contain more specific genealogical information. I have hoped for a literary expression presenting the lens through which most of us experience and best understand history and life … an ordinary family. At its heart it is my interpretation and memoir of the nature of our folks.
In our case one whose roots in this nation go deeply into the early New England and Virginia experience, representing the full span of history of the nation.
Our render many images of curiosity, optimism and energy in beginnings. A gift brought by the authors has been the exquisite eloquence, awareness and sensitivity to all the environment around them, even the displaced and the oppressed peoples. This energy prevails in spite of their many struggles for just food and shelter as well as the premature deaths of disease and injury of so many children, siblings and parents.
Developed in the harsh environment of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, our own father’s determination that our success will be defined and arrive by way of beauty, service and regeneration remains a part of my perspective these 80 some some years hence. My own early memories encompass respect and appreciation for the gifts of work and service to others.
Note has been made of Picasso’s Mother and Child (First Steps) depicting that first step to be away from the mother. It has also been long appreciated that one cannot take that first step fully without persons and place to leave. It is my hope to describe the “froms” in our family.
We know most of our ancestors came to the New World from the British Isles. Unfortunately the information at hand includes only fragments of stories of before they arrived here. As an alternative to personal histories I have gained some pleasure and I believe understanding through the study of the American family’s environment of leaving in the book Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer. It covers the history of Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the people who came from there. I found it to be a marvelous compilation and a particularly useful account of the folkways brought to the various regions of this country.
One must begin somewhere. I begin with our documented early days in colonial America.