Six Degrees of Separation or Less

I was thinking about how relationships connect us… ya know, the whole 6 degrees of separation kind of thing.  Specifically, I was thinking about how relationships connect us to history.

Obama mentioned an old black lady who voted for the first time in her life.  She was born a mere generation after the ending of slavery and saw all the conflicts of the civil rights movement which led up to this moment in history of a black man being elected president.  The elderly are living history.  Some other examples: the last surviving veteran of the Indian Wars died in 1973 (2 yrs before I was born), and the last Civil War veteran died in 1959 (the last known widow of a Civil War veteran died in 2004).

My grandmother (my mother’s mother), who is slightly younger than the aforementioned old black lady,  was also born in the early part of the last century when some Native Americans were still fighting for their independence.  The last of the Apache fought until 1900 and Geronimo died in 1909.  The US Cavalry had their last battle with the Yaqui in 1918, but the Yaquis continued fighting the Mexicans until 1927.  Ishi was one of the last Native Americans who lived entirely free from contact with settlers until he was discovered in 1911 and he died in 1916.

American history isn’t very long and even the earliest generations of Americans aren’t that far beyond the living memory of our culture.  The last Founding Father to die was Madison in 1836.  An older person alive today is potentially only one degree of separation away from the Founding Fathers.

This reminds me of another thing.

My great grandfather (my father’s father’s father) was born poor.  After his mother died, his father sent him to a Shaker orphanage.  As a point of interest, the Shakers no longer exist and the last Shaker died in 1992.  The Shakers were a popular group during the Civil War and they were the leaders in Agricultural technology.  My great grandfather learned a great deal about agriculture before leaving the community.  Because of his talent with plants, he was hired by an extremely wealthy family to be the caretaker of their estate.

My grandfather grew up on the estate with the rich kids which made him envious of the good life but strangely he became a minister.  Despite his meager salary, he raised his children with an appreciation for the good things in life.  His children grew up to have respectable careers and could afford to live a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle.  One of my cousins got in to the computer industry where he makes even more money and married a princess from banished Middle Eastern Royalty.

So, it only took a few generations to go from poor farmer to marrying into royalty.  Ahhh, the American Dream.  From the immigrant perspective, how many generations does it take to go from royalty to marrying a descendent of a poor farmer?  🙂

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about 4 hours later

Nicole said

yes, we live in very young countries. I was pondering this the other day with a friend of mine who grew up in England – for them, things aren’t really old if they are only a few centuries in age, and people are still uncovering Roman ruins from time to time.

From the immigrant perspective, how many generations does it take to go from royalty to marrying a descendent of a poor farmer?  🙂

Indeed! 🙂

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

I hadn’t thought about it but Canada’s history is equally young.  Or rather its young if you don’t consider the thousands of years of native history… but that doesn’t count because history are the words of the victors.

Part of what I was thinking about is how history influences us on a personal level.  That is why I shared the story of my great grandfather.  As the Shakers didn’t believe in procreation, I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t left the community.  And his leaving created a chain of not only events but also a chain of psychological tendencies.  His poverty led to generations of my family to seek out greater wealth.  I’ve personally chosen not to follow in this family tradition.  I must be a maverick.

1 day later
1Vector3 said

Yep, you look like a maverick to me, LOL !!!! Talk like one, too.

It rocked me back on my heels to realize my mother was born well before women could vote. She was born in 1909. I could have talked with her about the suffragettes, while she was alive, but my close connection to them was not in my awareness.

And her mother was the first woman dentist in the state of Massachusetts. I’m not sure of the year of her birth, but it must have been shortly after the Civil War. I never realized how close I am to that !

Some time back, Time magazine did an article on 6 degrees of separation, picking a bunch of prominent people and tracing out the friendship/acquaintanceship connections between pairs of them. It was amazing.

Applying that concept in a historical timeline, which you are doing, adds a whole new dimension to the concept !!!

One thing a connecting-place like Gaia Community does is rapidly increase our degrees of contact, with folks over all the world. That’s an awesome angle to contemplate, as well.

Thanks for another thoughtful blog !!

Blessings, OM Bastet

1 day later

Marmalade said

The internet in general (and the fact that people move around so much these days) has increased the interconnectivity of the world.  Social Networking sites such as Gaia are becoming extremely popular.  I belong to maybe a dozen or so discussion boards and blogging sites.  Over time, I start seeing some of the same people across various sites.  For all the vastness of the web, its in some ways still a small world.

There are all kinds of people I’ve met on the web that I probably wouldn’t have met in my everyday life.  One interesting thing is the ability to sometimes connect with people you’ve previously admired only from a distance.  For instance, a few years ago I was reading a lot about the Bible, Christianity and Gnosticism.  I found forums on the web where some of my favorite writers would have open discussions about these topics.

3 days later

Nicole said

that’s fascinating, the access we now have to people all over the world, even favourite writers. Certainly unprecedented.

5 days later

Amazume said

“but that doesn’t count because history are the words of the victors.” This is probably why attending history classes used to have a sleep inducing effect on me. However, this has changed. The internet certainly too has its role in the way history is written today. Cyberspace certainly has its advantages. It’s where I found this poem:

History of the Victors, No More by Raymond A. Foss

It has been said that history
isn’t written by who was in the right;
but by who was left, after the battles;
Filtered by scribes of the conquerors
or so it has been in the world
before the current age.

Today, however, greater variety of voices
contradictory, contrary voices
each tell a different, competing truth
spread equally around the world
in mere milliseconds
about war, about struggle, of the acts
the commissions, the omissions,
of nation states, rogue groups,
each one being catalogued,
accumulated for the telling
of the history of this age,
unscripted and uncontrolled
by the victors anymore

June 16, 2007 16:24,
edited June 17, 2007 18:25

5 days later

Marmalade said

Nicole – Yep, unprecedented indeed.

Amazume – Thanks for the poem.  I must admit I found school in general boring, but especially history.  The internet definitely helped to teach me how much fun learning actually can be.  I’m envious of kids growing up today with so much more interesting info easily available to them.

Here is something else about history and degrees of separation:

Presidents who are royally descended are:

J.Q. Adams
William H. Harrison
Benjamin Harrison (his grandson)

Additionally the following first ladies were royally descended:

Mrs. John Adams
Mrs. Thomas Jefferson
Mrs. Franklin Pierce
Mrs. Ulysses Grant
Mrs. James Garfield
Mrs. Chester Alan Arthur
Both Mrs. T. Roosevelts
Mrs. Taft
Both Mrs. Woodrow Wilson
Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt
Mrs. Truman
Mrs. Eisenhower
Nancy Reagan
Mrs. Bush

So 18 presidents + 8 additional presidents whose first ladies were royally descended (a total of 26 out of 41–remember to count Cleveland twice so that Clinton is the 42nd president, but the 41st man to hold the office). That’s more than half.
That should go a long way to proving were all related in some way.

Some other interesting info about presidents:
List of United States Presidents by genealogical relationship

List of notable distant cousins of Barack Obama

Obama, Clinton and McCain have some famous relations

Obama has a prolific presidential lineage that features Democrats and Republicans. His distant cousins include President George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S. Truman and James Madison. Other Obama cousins include Vice President Dick Cheney, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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