Deep Roots in Dark Soil

In doing genealogy research, I’ve made many connections to American history, some of it quite dark and much of it not that far back in time. It is something that has been bothering me for a while. I had a longer series of posts I was writing about it, but I got bogged down with the topic. It’s overwhelming and hard to grapple with. So, let me keep this post simple and to the point.

Possibly the earliest line of my family that came to America was the Peebles. They were Scottish and, maybe for siding with the king, they arrived in the Virginia colony (1649 or 1650) during the English Civil War. David Peebles, the patriarch, came with some help (either indentured servants or slaves) and built a plantation. Later generations of the Peebles were definitely slave owners and they fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

The family across the generations drifted further South and West, ending up in Texas. That is where my paternal grandmother was born in 1912, well within living memory of slavery and the Civil War. The last Civil War veterans died in the 1950s, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the United States died in the 1930s, the last American born into slavery died in the 1970s — the latter happening just a few years before I was born and about a decade before my grandmother died. None of this is ancient history. It’s possible that if my grandmother had bothered to ask that there were people in the family who still remembered owning slaves.

Also, the early twentieth century was a time of the last of the Indian Wars. There were major battles that happened in that part of the country when my grandmother was a child. The last significant altercation in the United States happened in 1924 when she was twelve years old and that is the age when kids begin to gain awareness of the larger world. But there were Indian holdouts who kept fighting in Mexico and weren’t defeated until nine years later in 1933. My grandmother was twenty-one years old at that point and so this was part of the world she was entering into.

David Peebles himself had been an Indian fighter, a captain in the Virginia militia. He was a well respected man. As reward, he had been given a Native American captive and I’m sure that person was treated as a slave. It’s assumed that David Peebles received an injury from fighting and he slowly disappeared from the records. Between those first Peebles in America and my grandmother, I’m sure there were numerous Indian fighters in my ancestry. After all, that part of my family was involved in the push Westward, as Native Americans retreated or were forcibly removed. And then they ended up in the region of the last battles with the last free natives.

All of this national history is intimately intertwined with my family history. And much of it was still living memory into my grandmothers childhood and even into her adulthood (in some cases, even into my parents’ adulthood). More importantly, it was an ongoing history. The struggles of blacks didn’t end with the Civil War any more than the struggles of Native Americans ended with the Indian Wars. I could understand how much of this history was hidden at the time, even as the suffering and oppression continued. Native Americans, after all, were forced onto reservations that made their plight practically invisible to the rest of the country. It was a problem that wasn’t seen and so didn’t need to be thought about. But the problems facing blacks would have been impossible to ignore for those living in the South and also in the North.

In the South my grandmother grew up in, Jim Crow was in full force and blacks had for decades faced re-enslavement through chain gang labor. My grandmother was a few years old when the Second Klan was founded. The Klan was a growing force during her childhood and was at its height in her teenage years: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men” (Wikipedia). I have no doubt that many generations and many lines of my family were involved in the various incarnations of the Klan, along with other violently racist organizations and activities; but there is no family stories about any of this, as it’s one of those things that people don’t talk about.

When my grandmother was eight years old, a short distance from her childhood home the Tulsa race riots occurred where white mobs rioted and terrorized the black population. It was an actual battle with whites and blacks fighting in the streets (many of them WWI veterans, including black veterans who took their military weapons home with them), snipers were positioned in buildings shooting at people below, airplanes firebombed the wealthiest black community in America at the time (Black Wall Street), and belatedly troops were sent in to restore order. Hundreds of blacks were killed, hundreds more ended up in the hospital, 6,000 black residents were arrested and detained, and in the detention centers blacks were forced to do labor. In the aftermath, most of the black population became refugees who had lost everything and thousands of white residents in Tulsa joined the Klan.

It was one of the most violent and destructive events in American history. Yet it was erased from public awareness almost instantly, as if it had never happened. “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place” (A.G. Sulzberger, “As Survivors Dwindle, Tulsa Confronts Past“, NYT).

This was just one of many race riots and other acts of mass racial violence that occurred in the decades before and following what happened in Tulsa. Violence like this, including lynchings, would have been common events for the first two-thirds of her life. After her family left Oklahoma, they moved to a part of Mississippi that was a major center of the Second Klan. Then as an adult in 1940, she moved her own young family to Indiana, the headquarters and epicenter of the Second Klan, during a time when the last vestiges of the organization were still to be seen. It was in the 1950s and 1960s when a splintered KKK reasserted itself in fighting the Civil Rights Movement.

Indiana is close to the South and not just geographically. It’s been culturally and economically connected to Kentucky from early on. This area is sometimes referred to as Kentuckiana. Much of Indiana’s population originally came from Kentucky and that has made Indiana the most Southern state in the Midwest (my maternal ancestry includes Indian fighters who came to Kentucky shortly after the American Revolution). A generation after my mother’s family left the border region of Kentucky and Indiana, she grew up in a large industrial city in central Indiana and yet she maintained a Southern accent well into her twenties.

Indiana was a destination of many white Southerners looking for work. Yet Southern blacks knew to mostly avoid Indiana, except for Northern parts of the state closer to Chicago. This wasn’t just a vague notion that blacks had about Indiana. The local white population, Klan and otherwise, made it overtly clear they weren’t welcome in most parts of the state.

My father was born in small town Indiana and then moved to another nearby small town. They were both in an area of much racism, but the second town where he spent most of his early life was a sundown town. When my father and his family moved there, a sign warning blacks to stay away was still visible on a major road into town. My father would have been too young to understand, my Southern grandmother could not have missed something so obvious. They had to have known they moved into a sundown town. Did my father know about this? No. Did his mother, my grandmother, ever talk about it? No. It wasn’t talked about. As my grandfather was the town minister, he could have challenged this racism from the pulpit. Did he? No. The reason for this is that my grandfather My was a racist, although like many he softened his prejudiced views later in life. Still, that doesn’t change the moral failure.

My grandmother was always a religious and spiritual person, moreso than my grandfather despite his being a minister. She grew in that old time religion, Southern Baptist church. When she moved to the West Coast, she became quite liberal and joined extremely liberal churches, such as Unity Church and Science of Mind. It was because of my grandmother that I was raised in the same kind of liberal churches. This led me to become the liberal I am today. Even so, my grandmother never spoke of our family’s ancestral sin of racial oppression, even though she had spent so much of her life right in the middle of it.

My father went off to college at Purdue. The city, Lafayette, had been a sundown town at one point. The systemic racism was lessening there by the time my parents attended, but the black population remained low. While they were at college, the Civil Rights Movement was growing and violence was happening. Professors and college students from Purdue even joined in some of the major events of that time. The world was changing all around my parents, but they apparently were oblivious to it all. When I’ve asked them, they had only slight memory of what was happening at the time, other than some brief news stories that they paid little attention to. It didn’t seem all that important to them, as white conservatives in a white conservative state with a hopeful future before them.

Systemic and institutional racism continued in some parts of the country long after the death of MLK. Blacks were still fighting for basic rights and demanding that laws against racism be enforced, well into my own lifetime (in fact, the struggle for justice continues to this day). For my parents, living in Ohio after college, that was a happy time of their life. As their children were born, protests and riots were going on around the country (including nearby), but it all seemed distant and insignificant, maybe a bit incomprehensible. After that, during the 1980s, our family moved to Deerfield, Illinois — a Chicago suburb with a history of keeping blacks out, something my parents were also unaware of. Then we headed to Iowa, which at the time was a demographic bubble of whiteness.

In my own childhood, I don’t recall my parents or other adults talking about race and racism. I also was oblivious to it all, until we moved to South Carolina when I was thirteen years old. It was a shock to my system. I didn’t grow up with that world and so I saw it with fresh eyes in a way someone wouldn’t have if they had grown up with it. Even then, amidst obvious racism and an overt racial social order, few people talked about it. I saw blacks at school, but no blacks lived in my neighborhood or went to my church. Black kids didn’t come home with me nor did I go home with them.

I was facing generations of denial in my own family. No one gave me any tools to deal with any of it. If not for genealogy research, I might never have realized how close to home all of this comes. Even now, I live in a liberal college town where at an earlier point in time a racist mob chased out of town the radical abolitionist John Brown, shortly before his execution. And a muted form of that old racism lingers still.

How do we deal with the legacy of centuries of oppression when it’s almost impossible to even publicly acknowledge what has happened within living memory? How do we come to terms with the fact that the legacy continues with systemic and institutional racism? How do we open up dialogue? How do we move forward? If more people simply dug into their own family histories, what might they find? And if they put that into context of the larger national history, what understandings might they come to?

My eternal refrain: Then what?

I’ve gained this knowledge and it was no easy task, as I had to find it for myself through decades of obsessive research and intense study. Generations of my own family have avoided this knowledge, built on centuries of ignorance and denial, supported by a vast social order designed to maintain the status quo. So, here we are. Many others like me are looking at these hidden truths now brought to light. What are we supposed to do with it all? How does a society come to terms with collective guilt?

William Faulkner spent most of his life a few counties away from my great grandmother’s home in Mississippi, the last place my grandmother lived before adulthood and the area she returned to after college to work a teaching job for a couple of years, around 1935. That is where my father would visit as a child and where he saw his first “colored” water fountain. Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun was set in that part of Mississippi, as were other of his novels. The events in the story were fictionally placed in the years immediately following my grandmother’s departure. The world that Faulkner described was the world that shaped my grandmother, a world she couldn’t leave behind because she carried it with her.

One of Faulkner’s best known lines comes from that novel. He wrote:

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

My grandmother was an educated woman, a teacher in fact. I wonder. Did she ever read those words? And if so, what did she think of them? Did she ever look to the past, her own past and that of her family? Or was she trying to escape the past by getting as far away as possible, ending up in the Northwest? It’s ironic that she spent the last years of her life in Oregon, the only state in the Union that was once fully sundown, excluding blacks entirely.

From what I gather, my grandmother was a kindhearted woman, but that could be said of many people. Few white Americans are overtly mean-spirited. People simply try to live their lives, and yet their lives exist along a moral arc bending from the past into the future. How often do any of us consider our place in the larger scheme of things and wonder about what future generations will think of us?

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Mid-Atlantic Ancestral Homeland

New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. Those are the states my family and I visited recently, more or less in that order. It was a return to one of my ancestral homelands, the Mid-Atlantic region. The trip actually only involved part of my family, only one brother and one parent. My father was finally feeling nostalgic in his old age. So, he was our tour guide for much of the trip.

The last stretch involved some brief driving through Vermont and a stop at the Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Vermont was beautiful, exactly as I imagined it would be. And the Gettysburg battlefield was fascinating, similar to a tour years ago of Little Big Horn where Custer had his infamous last stand. As a side note, Custer had been on the winning side at Gettysburg and played a significant role in stopping the Confederate advance, but almost everyone remembers him solely for his later defeat and death. The guy deserves some credit. Enjoyable as it was to see some beautiful countryside and explore an important part of American history, it was the personal side of our East Coast travels that interested me the most. This was first and foremost a tour of family history.

Our first destination was New Jersey. We headed to Morristown. It was in Morris County that my father’s paternal grandparents were born. That is part of the New York Metropolitan area. Morristown itself has been a place since the colonial era that attracted the wealthy (it is still a place of money), but my family wasn’t wealthy and so they lived out in what was the surrounding countryside. Morristown was also a major center for the American Revolution, a meeting place for important figures and a headquarters for George Washington.

My paternal great grandmother is Matilda Reinthaler. Her father, Charles, escaped the Austrian Army, when he was an officer sent to Italy (I guess it was the Crimean War). His men were forced to wear heavy uniforms and, though it was hot, they weren’t allowed to unbutton to cool off. He refused to follow orders and, facing court marshall, was forced to flee, ending up in New York and then New Jersey. Matilda’s mother, Caroline Lindenmeyer, left Bavaria for unknown reasons, but probably related to the 19th century wars and revolutionary fervor.

We found their home and the one room school house she would have attended, still standing down the road. Even with new houses having been built, there was a sense of the rural clinging to the former country road. She had a more stable childhood than experienced by her husband, my paternal great grandfather, Charles Salvester Steele. His grandfather came from Pennsylvania and his mother’s family had been in New Jersey continuously since the colonial era (one line of my own mother’s family, the Hawks, also came from colonial New Jersey, but we didn’t visit that part of the southern part of the state). Charles’ mother died when he was young and, since his father couldn’t afford to raise all the children, he was sent to live with the Shakers somewhere near Rochester.

That particular Shaker village has since become part of a prison. The only way to visit the buildings my great grandfather spent time in would be get arrested for a serious crime. Later on in the trip, we visited a different Shaker village that is still standing in Hancock, Massachusetts. It was part of a complex of villages along the border of New York and Massachusetts. The Shakers were a fascinating group, highly innovative and technologically advanced, business leaders in agriculture and industry. Even the design and quality of their buildings is impressive, such as the round barn we saw which is the most practical barn I’ve seen in my life. They knew how to run an operation and they had no desire to cling to the past, like the Amish. Growing up there would have been simple, but deprivation in any form would not have been an issue. The Shakers for much of their history were successful and wealthy.

My great grandfather’s childhood was a not unusual fate for many poor kids of the time. The Shakers on a regular basis legally adopted children given to them, a practice that continued until the federal government made it illegal for groups to adopt children and thus officially doomed the abstinent Shaker communities. Once reaching adulthood, the children raised were given a choice to stay or leave. My paternal great grandfather was living at the Shaker village at a time when they were already in decline. He decided to leave and that Shaker village closed not too long later.

It seems he returned to Morristown, probably because it was the only other place he knew. He remained in contact with his family, but one gets the sense that the contact was limited. His wife was also from that area and so one might presume that is how they met, although there is no family info about this. My paternal great grandfather would have learned a trade or maybe multiple trades when with the Shakers, as they put heavy focus on practical knowledge and skills. As an adult, he probably did some farming; certainly, the Shakers were famous for their agriculture. While living in this area, he took a large wagon into nearby New York City to sell produce and it likely was produce that he had grown himself.

As part of our family pilgrimage, we headed into New York City. It’s hard to imagine what it must have looked like back then. When my paternal grandfather was younger, he would travel there sometimes, since an uncle had a grocery store in Brooklyn. My family and I only had a day in the city and so we didn’t see much, besides the standard tourist sights, although not even having enough time to visit the 9/11 memorial. The most exciting part was taking the Staten Island Ferry where could be seen the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, famous landmarks for incoming immigrants, although both from an immigrant era that came after my own immigrant ancestry.

Later on following marriage, Charles Salvester Steele worked doing professional gardening and lawn maintenance in Connecticut. He also entered into flower shows, which is where the wealthy Benjamin DeWitt Riegel met him and hired him as the estate superintendent and head groundskeeper. That is how my grandfather ended up growing up on a Long Island Sound estate where, later on, my father in his own childhood would spend his summers.

That estate is apparently known as Xanadu, but my father recalls that to his family and the Riegel family it was simply known as “The Place”. It was still in Riegel ownership until recent years. About a decade ago, my father and uncle were able to get hold of Mr. Riegel’s daughter, Katherine Riegel Emory (she remembered it as “The Place”, when my father mentioned it). She was a childhood playmate of my grandfather, until teenagehood when the fates of the classes diverged. My father and uncle knew her as Mrs. Riegel when they visited in the summers of their youth. In those last years of her life, they were given permission to walk the grounds of the estate one last time, not that they realized it would soon fall under new ownership.

Years of talking about the place was a major reason for this trip. My father has for a long time wanted my brothers and I to see the place of his fond childhood memories. There was no longer a way to get on the estate by invitation with new ownership, but there is a public road that is along one side of it and two public beaches adjacent to it. At low tide, we were able to walk the rocky beach directly between the estate and Long Island Sound, making possible a clear view across the vast lawns my great grandfather once maintained. My dad pointed to all that he remembered from his childhood, along with stories his own father had shared with him, such as the time as a child when my grandfather built a contraption attached to a cable secured to the top story of the barn and stretched taut to the beach upon which the two of them rode it down barely missing a wall in the process. By the way, an article stated that my great grandfather (referred to by his work title, not his name) used to gather the eggs from the chicken coops near the old barn, but according to my father it was in fact my great grandmother who did this — just wanted to set the record straight.

The Xanadu estate is in Fairfield, Connecticut. It is another old area, inhabited long before Europeans settled there in the early colonial era. Before the Riegels bought the property, it was a gentlemen’s horse farm and at some point an onion farm. There was a village nearby that had been almost entirely burned down by the British during the American Revolution, the British having landed right around where the estate is located. As with many places on the Eastern seaboard, there is much history there.

It was nice to finally see this place I’d heard so much about all my life. The Place! I also saw the school my grandfather went to. One time walking to school, the Riegel’s chauffeur drove by on the road splashing muddy water onto my grandfather who thought it was done on purpose. My grandfather grew up with Riegel children and lived a protected life during the Great Depression, but he had an inferiority complex living on the periphery of great wealth. He spent the rest of his days being extremely class conscious and always wanting to enjoy the good life. It was even passed onto his children, including my father who likes nice things (i.e., classy cars, large houses, manicured lawns, expensive resorts, and such), not that my family is wealthy enough afford many nice things.

It would be strange growing up as the son of the help on an estate or even visiting such a place as a child. My dad recalls as a child telling a close friend back in Alexandria, Indiana (“Small Town, USA”) that he spent the summer at an estate and his friend called him a liar. Life on an estate is not an experience most of us ever have.

One thing stood out to me. There are, as I said, two public beaches on either side of the estate. They are fairly nice beaches for the area and when we first arrived many local people lounged around on the sand and played in the water as people do. However, directly on the waterfront of the estate, there is almost nothing other than rocks. This is because the Riegel family had built a seawall that caused erosion of the sand and disallowed the beach to naturally rebuild itself. This is a great example of the opposite of the tragedy of the commons. In trying to protect their private property, they destroyed the beach along their property, while on either side are two popular public beaches with lots of sand forming popular beaches.

After my grandfather graduated college, Mr. Riegel offered him a job as night superintendent at one of his mills in order to get trained. His job was to manage the factory during the night shift. It was the Trion factory in Georgia and my grandfather was one of the fair-haired boys that Mr. Riegel sent down from New York. It was at Trion that my grandfather met his first wife and my grandmother, Billie Jean Nye, who was working as a school teacher employed by the company in the company town. You can see pictures of the mill town at this article, including a picture of the hotel where lived the unmarried employees like my grandparents, the place where they first met, and a picture of the school where I assume my grandmother would have taught.

He had felt socially obligated to accept that job. Mr. Riegel, after all, was not only his father’s boss but also the owner of the house his father lived in. It would have been an offense to decline an offer of such a good job, at a time not long after the Great Depression when the economy was getting back on its feet. Still, my grandfather hated the job, as it was his responsibility to pick the workers for the week out of a crowd of men desperate for a job, deciding who would get work and who wouldn’t. During the Great Depression, my grandfather had lived a protected existence on the estate. Before working at Trion, he probably had never seen much extreme poverty and unemployment. Also, that company town would have still been recovering from recent conflict. In 1934, a year or two before my grandfather arrived, the town had been the site of labor conflict and violence:

“1934 marked the 3rd closing of the plant for any length of time. Throughout the South unions were making a strong push to organize factories and mills. “Flying Squadrons” of union activists were sent into mill communities to gain support. The large group of employees working in Trion was high on their list. Led by a group of people from the Rome Foundry, along with some local people, a mob literally tried to take over the mill. Trion’s Chief of Police, Mr. Hix, was killed attempting to protect the mill. Others that had come on to work that day were beaten or roughed up. Eventually the National Guard was called in. The mill remained closed for approximately six weeks.”

It was the kind of clash of the classes that happened in places like that. In controlling employment, the company had total power over people’s lives. It was the largest employer in the area and still there were more people looking for work than there were jobs available. As an interesting side note, this was all going on in the last years of Mr. Riegel’s life. He had contracted some disease, maybe polio, and was kept alive with an iron lung. In 1941, back on the estate, a storm had hit and the power went out. The iron lung was run on electricity and apparently they had no backup generator. My great grandfather was sent for and he tried to hook up the iron lung to the engine of a Model A truck, but it was too late. Mr. Riegel had suffocated to death. Along with the ending of his life, it was the ending of an era.

Anyway, in those remaining years of Mr. Riegel’s life, my grandfather didn’t last long at Trion. He realized there weren’t many respectable ways he could quit without offending Mr. Riegel. He could join the military or he could become a minister. He chose the latter and took his wife with him to Indiana. But Mr. Riegel was still immensely disappointed, having given this son of the help such a rare opportunity to move up in the world.

I could imagine the sense of expectation and conflict. While at Trion, my grandfather managed the mill during the evening shift. Some new advanced machinery had been installed and, along with another guy, my grandfather had to learn how to operate it and keep it running non-stop. The problem is no one had been sent to show how it all worked and something went wrong, destroying the equipment. My grandfather was horrified about the incident, but after an investigation no one was blamed. Mr. Riegel had put immense trust and responsibility onto my grandfather’s shoulders, and he obviously looked to him with great promise. After all of that, it must have seemed ungrateful for my grandfather to quit.

Even so, the training my grandfather received didn’t entirely go to waste. There was a tomato canning factory in Geneva, Indiana where the family (including my father as a young child) lived for a time. It operated seasonally after the tomato harvest and my grandfather, while not doing his ministerial duties, worked there as a temporary factory manager.

My father without realizing it followed in his footsteps when he later became a factory manager, a family tradition that began with with the Riegels. Then my father also fell into the same pattern when he refused career advancement in order to look for other work, initially having considered the ministerial option as well until he decided to become a professor in order to preach at students instead. Like his own father, he found stressful the cutthroat world of business and the harsh reality of controlling the fate of workers, in personally determining who would be hired and fired. My family apparently doesn’t have the right kind of personality traits to be part of the wealthy business elite.

Later on, my great grandmother died on the estate in 1954, when my father was twelve years old. A few years later, the Riegel family asked my great grandfather to leave the property. He was around eighty years old and had spent half of his life working and residing on the estate. It was his home and, from the way my father talks about it, I get the sense that he was heartbroken. Mr. Riegel had promised that he would always be taken care of, but Mr. Riegel died in 1941 and had never wrote anything down. His word-of-mouth promise apparently meant nothing to the heirs of Mr. Riegel or maybe it never came up. Whatever the case, my great grandfather wasn’t given any retirement package or even a place to live. He  was just told to immediately leave the home he had known and loved for so long.

As a comparison, on the other side of the road was the estate of Harold Gray, the comic strip artist of Little Orphan Annie. My great grandparents were good friends with some of long term help at that other estate, only a few minutes walk away. When Gray’s long term help retired, he bought them an expensive house. My great grandfather was probably expecting something similar, as the Riegels were surely even wealthier. Instead, he was forced to move in with his son and died shortly later.

That part of my family has always felt distant to me. This trip was the first time, since I was a baby, that I’ve visited this part of the country. There are still some of the extended family living around there, but we’ve had a hard time contacting them. My father hasn’t seen his extended family on that side since he was a kid. Yet that part of the country is so key, both to my family history and to American history.

As I mentioned, one line of my mother’s family (originating with Sampson Hawk) came from colonial New Jersey. Like my father’s family, they were likely of Germanic ancestry. The difference was that they early on headed for the frontier, whereas the New Jersey lines of my father’s family didn’t venture far. The German-American Riegel family were also from New Jersey, along with Pennsylvania where Mr. Riegel was born. My own surname has an early Pennsylvanian background, although I don’t know the ancestral source of it.

Like the Midwest, the mid-Atlantic region was ethnic American (i.e., non-WASP) territory. Specifically, it was one of the areas where German-Americans were the majority. But none of this comes up much in official histories and collective memory, as cultural amnesia is almost complete. My father has a vague memory of his grandparents having some kind of accent, whatever it was. They weren’t that far from the immigrant experience and they lived in a place where the immigrant experience should have been close to the surface. Even so, my father doesn’t recall anyone ever discussing such things. The oppressive world war era had stigmatized and erased so much of the former ethno-cultural diversity. That makes me sad, as it is a loss of part of the ancestral history that shaped my family.

Visiting New Jersey, in particular, gave me a glimpse of the world that once existed there. I have more of a sense of the place. But family history came to life even moreso in our visit to Connecticut. My father doesn’t get too excited about genealogy, maybe having to do with particular disconnections over the generations. Talking about the estate, though, allowed me to see another side of him. The estate was something personally real and important to my father’s life, one of the fondest connections he has to his family history. And for me, the stories I’ve heard for years suddenly had physical locations that I can now see in my mind’s eye.

Family Connections and Disconnections

I’ve been working on genealogical research. I’ve spent most of my time on my mom’s family. That is largely because my mom was more interested in her own family.

Growing up, we spent more time visiting my mom’s family and my mom’s family spent more time visiting us. We also would visit more often the places of my mom’s past and that of her family. We went to the parks that she went to when she was younger. And on numerous occasions we traveled to the places where many of her ancestors settled in Indiana, including a place that became a state park and working village. I’ve seen the old homes where they lived and, in some cases, were born. I’ve walked on the land that they walked on and I’ve stood before their gravestones.

I have a tangible sense of my mother’s family and the world they came from. Many of the states they lived in are states I have lived in, visited, and traveled through. My mother’s family is a product of the Upper South and Lower Midwest, most specifically what some refer as Kentuckiana. I have a personal sense of that place. It feels like my ancestral homeland.

My dad’s family is different, though. I’ve become aware of this as I’ve tried to get motivated about doing genealogical research on his side. I realize I have so little personal connection to his family and so little sense of where his family came from.

My dad’s father and siblings rarely visited in the past. His father is dead now, but his siblings are still alive. My aunt lives on the West Coast and so it is far away. My uncle, however, has remained in the area. He recently visited my parents and that was the first time I’d seen him in more than a decade. The only family member on that side that used to visit regularly was my paternal grandmother, but she died when I was young and so I barely remember her.

My paternal grandmother came from the Deep South. And my paternal grandfather came from the East Coast. Besides a trip when I was an infant, I’ve never visited the parts of the country where my paternal grandparents were born and raised. Even the part of the Deep South I lived in (South Carolina) was a world away from the part of the Deep South my grandmother’s family was from (Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississipi), although many generations before her a line of her family lived a short distance from my home in South Carolina, a fact that my dad didn’t know until recently.

For some reason, my dad’s family isn’t close. Maybe it makes sense, considering the family history. He and his siblings were born and raised far from where their own parents were born and raised. Unlike my mom, my dad didn’t grow up with extended family living nearby.

Also, there were other sad breaks from one generation to another. His mother’s father disappeared when she was a girl and it traumatized her for life (records apparently show that he abandoned his family and started a new life, including a new family—a fact that would have broken my grandmother’s heart, had she known about it). Almost nothing is known about him or where he came from. As for his father’s father, he was given away as a child to a Shaker village and he never fully reconnected with his family. Then, when my dad was hitting young adulthood, his parents divorced with his father heading back to the East Coast and his mother leaving for the far away West Coast, taking his sister along with her. So, there were multiple generations of broken families.

This probably explains a lot. My dad and my uncle would go back to visit their father’s childhood home. It was on an estate on Long Island Sound, where their grandparents lived for most of their lives, their grandfather having been the head gardener. Yet it never occurred to my dad to bring his kids to see the place of his fondest childhood memories. We never even took trips to that part of the country, except for that one time in my infancy. I guess it didn’t seem important to my dad at the time. We are finally planning a visit later this year to visit. But we won’t be able to get onto the estate, because there are new owners.

I recently contacted a long lost relative on that side of my dad’s family, a cousin that is maybe two times removed. He never knew this person, although he does remember some of the same East Coast relatives and places that this person remembers. I got my dad to email this guy, but that was it. The guy gave his phone number months ago. My dad has yet to call this guy. He told me that he didn’t know what to talk about, if he did call. I found that bizarre. This guy is family and so you’d talk to him about family. It’s not complicated.

The real issue is that my dad lacks the motivation. This has been true even for the genealogical research. Trying to get my dad involved in looking into his own family history has been like pulling nails. It seems that part of him doesn’t want to know about his own family, not that he would ever admit this.

My dad’s lack of interest makes it hard for me to get interested as well. I’d like to have a better sense of my dad’s family, where they came from and what shaped them. But at present the personal connection is lacking. There is no living sense of kinship. It’s an emotional dead end, which is sad.

Black Families: “Broken” and “Weak”

“I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”
 ~ Steven Steinberg, quoting a black friend

Many of my unconscious assumptions have been challenged over the years. One example of this are the mental habits I’ve had when hearing the frame of “broken families”. Part of me has always known that there are many kinds of family structures and social networks, but that part of my mind was unintentionally divided from the part of my mind that normally deals with ideas such as “broken families”.

I hadn’t previously been forced to become aware of this bias I had, partly because of a lack of knowledge. Books I’ve read in recent years have both given me new information and new contexts in which to think. In the past, I took the idea of “broken families” at face value without fully interrogating the assumptions behind it. I was just being a typical American in thinking this way.

As my views have shifted, I’ve become more self-questioning. I don’t just want to understand others. This is personal to me. This is about the society I’m a part of. My family ties to America go back to that first Virginia colony and that particular family line began with a slave owner. That puts my identity as an American in perspective. It also puts my views on the American family in perspective.

I am who I am because of who my ancestors were. There is a continuous link between their lives and my own. Unlike the descendants of the slaves owned by that ancestor of mine, my genealogy on that family line is well established. My ancestor, all those centuries ago, brought his own family to the New World and along with them he tore away Africans from their families. In that, the seed of American culture was planted.

My parents, white of course, both came from families where there was much fighting and in my mother’s family also abuse. My paternal grandparents divorced when my father was in high school. Neither of my parents’ families were ideal nuclear families and my father’s family ended up as a “broken family”. Interestingly, my maternal grandmother had an absentee father (her maiden name was Peebles, the same as that early Virginia plantation owner). Her father disappeared one day, never to be heard from again.

But I’m not sure how my parents’ would label their families. They both are conservatives with strong family values and both would criticize blacks for their supposed weak and broken families. They have remained married, my dad having avoided his own family’s curse of single parenthood. They take this as proof that no one can blame previous generations for their own ‘failures’.

However, the difference is that my parents grew up white in relatively well off communities at a time when this country offered immense opportunities, especially for white people. The family problems they grew up with were less problematic because they weren’t compounded by endless social problems and racism. That makes a big difference. As Khalil Gibran Muhammad explained in The Condemnation of Blackness (pp. 6-7):

“One of the strongest claims this book makes is that statistical comparisons between the Foreign-born and the Negro were foundational to the emergence of distinctive modern discourses on race and crime. For all the ways in which poor Irish immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century were labeled members of the dangerous classes, criminalized by Anglo -Saxon police, and over-incarcerated in the nation’s failing prisons, Progressive era social scientists used statistics and sociology to create a pathway for their redemption and rehabilitation. 27 A generation before the Chicago School of Sociology systematically destroyed the immigrant house of pathology built by social Darwinists and eugenicists, Progressive era social scientists were innovating environmental theories of crime and delinquency while using crime statistics to demonstrate the assimilability of the Irish, the Italian, and the Jew by explicit contrast to the Negro. 28 White progressives often discounted crime statistics or disregarded them altogether in favor of humanizing European immigrants, as in much of Jane Addams’s writings. 29 In one of the first academic textbooks on crime, Charles R. Henderson, a pioneering University of Chicago social scientist, declared that “the evil [of immigrant crime] is not so great as statistics carelessly interpreted might prove.” He explained that age and sex ratios— too many young males— skewed the data. But where the “Negro factor” is concerned, Henderson continued, “racial inheritance, physical and mental inferiority , barbarian and slave ancestry and culture ,” were among the “most serious factors in crime statistics.””

As this shows, there are deeper issue of cultural assumptions. It isn’t just about failure of some ideal family standard, but how that ideal came about and is used as a basis of judgment. We should think much more carefully, with greater self-awareness and less self-righteousness. Conservatives are partly right in pointing out the importance of family. Where conservatives fail is in their lack of understanding about what family, in all its forms, signifies. It is never just about families.

* * * *

Reading Africa into American Literature: Epics, Fables, and Gothic Tales
by Keith Cartwright
p. 70

Adding racist insult to the nation’s pathological history of racist injury, the Moynihan Report (1965) labeled the black family “a pathological `matriarchy”‘ that had fallen into a “deterioration” explainable by “the rampant sexual debauchery among the black population, by the instability and violence of black men, and by the pathological dominance of black women” (Hirsch 142-43). Issued at a time when heroes like Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, and Martin Luther King Jr. (along with women like Selma’s Marie Foster and Amelia Boynton), were taking to Southern streets and spilling their blood there, the Moynihan Report’s maligning of the black family avoided America’s core pathologies. As might be expected, its critical focus upon an alleged “black matriarchy” energized black nationalist efforts to restore the father to his “proper” familial location.

* * * *

Poor Reason: Culture Still Doesn’t Explain Poverty
by Stephen Steinberg
Kindle Locations 59-74

Far from having a chilling effect on researching and thinking about culture in relationship to poverty, the debate over the Moynihan report spawned a canon of critical scholarship. For the first time, scholars came to terms with the economic underpinnings of the nuclear family, which tends to unravel whenever male breadwinners are unemployed for long periods of time, as was true of white families during the Depression.

No longer was the nuclear family, with its patriarchal foundations, the unquestioned societal norm. The blatantly tendentious language that pervaded the Moynihan report — “broken homes” and “illegitimate births ” — was purged from the professional lexicon. More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.”

Yet even Moynihan’s harshest critics did not deny the manifest troubles in black families. Nor did they deny that the culture of poor people is often markedly at variance with the cultural norms and practices in more privileged sectors of society. How could it be otherwise? The key point of contention was whether, under conditions of prolonged poverty, those cultural adaptations “assume a life of their own” and are passed down from parents to children through normal processes of cultural transmission. In other words, the imbroglio over the Moynihan report was never about whether culture matters, but about whether culture is or ever could be an independent and self-sustaining factor in the production and reproduction of poverty.

* * * *

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
by Ira Katznelson
Kindle Locations 409-439

Lyndon B. Johnson gave a famous speech at Howard University where he discussed the Negro problem. It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who helped write that speech and provided the information that was cited. In that speech, Johnson asked about the widening gulf between whites and blacks. He put this in context of the also widening gulf between minority of middle class blacks and the majority in the black working class who were becoming a permanent underclass (or rather had never stopped being a permanent underclass, despite the mid-century economic growth of most Americans).

Why were so many blacks unable to escape the permanent underclass that had been sustained by systemic and institutional racism for centuries? Of course, Johnson didn’t phrase the question that way, because then the question would have answered itself. Instead, he assumed the old racial order had ended and therefore something else must be sustaining the continued inequality. One of the explainations he gave is as follows:

With the identification of this growing gap between black and white Americans, the president advanced an uncommonly analytical explanation for a political address. “We are not completely sure,” he confessed, “why this is.” But among the “complex and subtle” causes, he singled out two for special mention. “First, Negroes are trapped —as many whites are trapped— in inherited, gateless poverty.” Such poverty is deeper and more distinctive. “Negro poverty is not white poverty.” The differences, he hastened to explain, “are not racial differences. They are solely and simply the consequence of ancient brutality, past injustice , and present prejudice.” Unlike blacks, the white poor, many of whom had escaped its shackles, “did not have the heritage of centuries to overcome , and they did not have a cultural tradition which had been twisted and battered by endless years of hatred and hopelessness, nor were they excluded—these others —because of race or color— a feeling whose dark intensity is matched by no other prejudice in our society.”

The second cause, embedded in the first, he identified as “the breakdown of the Negro family structure,” which he attributed to “centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man.” Here, of course, the president echoed the findings and arguments published just two months earlier in Moynihan’s controversial Department of Labor report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. A self-perpetuat ing “tangle of pathology ,” marked by “the deterioration of the Negro family” and produced by “three centuries of injustice,” it had argued, blocked black mobility. For this reason, Moynihan advocated that “a national effort towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards the question of family structure.” 26

Neither of these arguments can be dismissed . The barriers to black advancement indeed were more pervasive and deep as a result of the country’s long history of racial oppression. No doubt, too, families with one adult tended to be more poor than those with two. Still, these explanations were insufficient. Other possibilities were ignored. A radical decline in agricultural employment in the South and the start of deindustrialization in the North combined to limit opportunities at the bottom of the economic structure. Lags in skill training, more limited access to higher education, and persistent private discrimination by employers, banks, landlords, and other suppliers of economic opportunity also blocked black mobility. 27 Even the most successful fraction of black America—professionals, small business people, white-collar workers in public life, and industrialized workers in union jobs— faced new stresses. The end of Jim Crow, migration northward, and the start of desegregation in education wore away their insulated niches, and left them with fewer assets and greater insecurities than their white counterparts. 28

Yet even more important , and entirely absent from the president’s account, was the set of causes that will be highlighted in more detail in the chapters below: how the wide array of significant and far -reaching public policies that were shaped and administered during the New Deal and Fair Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s were crafted and administered in a deeply discriminatory manner. This was no accident. Still an era of legal segregation in seventeen American states and Washington, D.C., the southern wing of the Democratic Party was in a position to dictate the contours of Social Security, key labor legislation , the GI Bill, and other landmark laws that helped create a modern white middle class in a manner that also protected what these legislators routinely called “the southern way of life.”

The Case of Two Families: Who is Thomas Lewis?

If you have done or plan on doing genealogy research, you might find this interesting. What I discuss here is an example of the difficulties and confusions a researcher can come across. What at first appears correct sometimes turns out to be false or uncertain. And at other times, the apparent confusion only exists in your own head.

Previously, I showed another example, even more perplexing than what I’ll present here. Both examples are also connected, which demonstrates how problems overlap.

* * *

Mildred, Grandma Eliza Lewis Wininger.,Pete, Cleo

My maternal grandmother, Mildred Wininger, on the left with her paternal grandmother, Eliza or Elizabeth.

I’m preparing for a visit to Kentucky. I’m excited to go. I have been there before, but I’ve never spent any time exploring the state. It is mostly a foreign place to me. I know of it from history books and from genealogical research. For this trip, I want to get a more personal sense of the place.

I’ll be traveling to the areas where much of my mother’s family comes from, mostly the central region of the state, from Jessamine County down to Pulaski County. The main preparations I’ve been doing involve clarifying the locations of where my ancestors were living and when. I need to know which records I lack in order to know which records I’ll need to look for locally and the precise counties in which to look for them.

The past week I’ve been focusing on the maternal side of my mother’s family. I already knew the paternal side had many lines that came through Kentucky because I’ve spent most of my time researching those names, but it seems many lines on the other side may also have come through there as well. This maternal side I’m less familiar with for the family tree we have for it came from someone else, my second cousin, who researched it years ago.

I don’t have access to all the records and orally-shared information. He was able to speak directly to a number of people on that side of the family because, living in Indiana, he grew up around them. I’m not entirely sure about how he went about doing his research and what he was relying most upon. I need to verify his research on ancestry.com in order to get this all more clear in my own head. I need to see the connections in terms of what is available to me.

Most of this research isn’t difficult, just tedious. I’m being systematic about it. I go down each line looking for possible links to Kentucky. The genealogical company ancestry.com simplifies this process by offering hints and showing related documents. My second cousin didn’t have access to ancestry.com or anything similar when he was doing research. He was forced to do a lot more traveling than I’ve had to do. I’m not sure I’ll find much new info by visiting Kentucky, but it is partly just a vacation to see the area and to hopefully get some pictures of headstones.

Thomas Lewis_1

Thomas H. Lewis

The difficulty arose when I got to Thomas H. Lewis. According to the previous research, he was married to Sarah Wineinger/Wininger (I’ll just use the Wininger spelling for the sake of simplicity). They had a daughter named Eliza Elizabeth Lewis, the name Eliza I assume being a nickname for Elizabeth, although I’m not sure.

The Wininger aspect is what interested me previously. Thomas supposedly married a Wininger; and, likewise, his daughter Eliza also married a Wininger who was a convergence of two Wininger lines. The three Wininger lines then converged in Eliza’s children, including Flossie Shipman who was my mother’s maternal grandmother.

George Wininger 1855-1919 & Eliza Elizabeth Lewis 1856-1926

George Alexander Wininger and Eliza Elizabeth Lewis

What confused me was that I kept seeing the same names as I went back. It took me a while to realize that all three lines descended from the same original line. It was all the same Wininger family marrying back together after several generations. They probably didn’t know they were related. There were a lot of Winingers around in the area.

It turns out that one of these lines may not be my family, after all. I came to this suspicion by looking at federal census records, marriage records, and headstones. There were many people involved and I was trying to see what matched and what needed disentangling. There were many records for a Thomas Lewis sometimes with the last spelled ‘Louis’ and sometimes with a middle ‘H.’. A few of these didn’t seem to be the same person. Even though they were all living in nearby locations, the places of their births were different and the places of their parents births were different. It wasn’t just that an individual person was being counted multiple times in the census.

However, a researcher should take census records with a grain of salt. Who gave the information to the census taker may have not been the person in question. The informant could have been any of the people in the household. They may have not known or could have misremembered such details as the age of a person or their birthplace. Two different census records, even when the information isn’t exactly the same, could refer to the same person.

The most confusing part in my research was the marriages. Three marriages I found in southern Indiana were between a Thomas Lewis and women with three distinct names and at three distinct times: first with Sarah Wininger (1840, Dubois Co. IN), second with Eliza Jane McGregor (1856, Clark Co. IN), and third with Lavica Pinnick (1877, Orange Co. IN). Dubois and Orange are adjacent counties and Clark is one county over from Orange. Was this the same Thomas H. Lewis who remarried? It is possible. The marriages with Sarah Wininger and Lavica Pinnick were both with a Thomas H. Lewis, which strengthens the case that it was the same husband in both cases, just at different times.

For my purposes, I’ll ignore for the time being the marriage with Lavica Pinnick (who, as a side note, is probably the same as Levisa Giles in the 1840 Orange Co. marriage to Isaac Pinnick). Her marriage to Thomas H. Lewis is too late to be relevant. Even if she did later marry the Thomas Lewis of my ancestry, my family line doesn’t descend from her. Looking at her records would only be helpful if it clarified who this or these people who went by the name Thomas Lewis, but old marriage records offer little in the way of useful info.

Also, I’ll be ignoring lots of other records and narrowing my focus. In the mid-to-late 1800s, there were possibly hundreds of people in Indiana going by the name Thomas Lewis/Louis, some with middle initials and some without, of varying ages and locations, and quite a few with daughters named Eliza or Elizabeth. One early federal census for a Thomas Lewis (or Louis, depending on how one interprets the handwriting) is from 1840 in Dubois Co, and it doesn’t say much beyond that besides mentioning that a few other unnamed people were living with him. This is problematic for research purposes and daunting for even the most intrepid of genealogists. These early censuses show almost no information beyond the name of the head of the household. It is near impossible to determine that you have the right person. The 1850 federal census is the first to show all the names at a particular residence along with other useful points of reference. So, let me skip forward to that more genealogically profitable era of 1850s onward.

One 1850 census record shows a Thomas Louis (age: 30; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: cooper) living in Monroe, Clark Co, IN with apparently no wife present, at least on the day the census was taken. He is living with an Emily Louis (7) who likely is his daughter, a Martha Louis (73), and a Thomas Sparks (18). That doesn’t give me much information to work with. This could be a Thomas Lewis, as spellings of names wasn’t of great concern of many people back then. There was the Thomas Lewis who in 1856 married Eliza Jane McGregor in the same county and even the same town. That would make sense if he was without wife in 1850. In the 1860 census for Thomas and Eliza Jane Lewis (same location), there is no record of the previous child, Emily, who would then be 17 and likely either married or otherwise living on her own.

I’ll discuss that 1860 census further down a few paragraphs, but let me first consider a different record that fits some of the data claimed in my tree.

Another 1850 census record shows a Thomas H. Lewis (age: 29; birth year: about 1821; birthplace: Kentucky; occupation: farmer) living in Orange Co. IN with a Sarah Lewis (age: 29; birth year; about 1821; birthplace: Tennessee), presumably his wife who was born a Wininger, and a bunch of children: Amanda M. Lewis (9), Elizabeth Lewis (8), William F. Lewis (5), Thomas Lewis (4), George Lewis (3), and Bara E. Lewis (1). At first inspection, this seems to match what is known about my family, including Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The complicating detail is that this Elizabeth Lewis is eight years old in 1850, but the Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family apparently wasn’t born until 1856 or so it is claimed on her headstone:

Eliza Elizabeth <i>Lewis</i> Wininger

Emmons Ridge Cemetery, Martin Co. IN

What appears to be this same family is found on the 1860 census for Martin Co. IN (adjacent to Orange Co.), although Thomas Lewis is listed without the middle ‘H.’. Also, some other info is different for him (age: 46; birth year: about 1814; birthplace: Missouri; occupation: farmer) and different for his wife, Sarah (age: 43; birth year: about 1817; birthplace: Indiana), which is significantly different as according to the previous census they should both now be 39 years old, but I wonder if people didn’t keep track of ages very closely back then, especially of older family members. As for the differences of birthplaces, that is much more difficult to explain away. Looking at the original documents on ancestry.com, I suspect there is a lot of error going on — the ages could have been informant error, if the census taker was talking to an older child who happened to be the oldest adult home at the time, and that supposed Missouri (Mo) birthplace easily could be transcribed as a sloppy Indiana (Ind).

I would doubt it was the same family, if it weren’t for the almost exactly matching info for the children. Most of the same children, all ten years older, seem to be present along with some new children that were born since the last census: Amanda Lewis (19), Delphia A. Lewis (18), Wm Lewis (16), Thomas Lewis (14), Geo Lewis (13), Borbara A. Lewis (10), Sarah A. Lewis (9), John Lewis (8), Eliza Lewis (6), Lucy A. Lewis (3), and Thomas Self (21). The Elizabeth Lewis who was eight years old in 1850 would be eighteen years old in 1860, and so it is unsurprising she is no longer living there. Interestingly, there is now an Eliza Lewis listed who is closer to the age of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis in my family. This Eliza is stated as having been born about 1854 which isn’t too far off from 1856.

Thomas H. Lewis

Wininger Cemetery, Dubois Co.

To challenge this claim for our ancestry, there is the other 1860 census I mentioned above for Clark Co. IN. This record also has a Thomas Lewis who is around the same age and same place (age: 40; birth year: about 1820; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: laborer), and that matches perfectly with the 1850 census for Thomas Louis. He was then living with an Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 24; birth year: about 1836; birthplace: Pennsylvannia) who probably is the Eliza Jane McGregor who married a Thomas Lewis in 1856, also Clark Co. (As a side note, an Eliza McGregor from Pennsylvannia can be found in the 1850 census record for Ohio where she was then living with her parents.) The children listed for the 1860 census are all under four years old which matches the 1856 marriage date. What catches my attention most of all is the oldest child who is also named Eliza Jane Lewis. This Eliza is claimed to have been born about 1857 which is even closer in birth year to the headstone of Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. Also, this Thomas Lewis has a closer matching birth year.

I wasn’t able to find an 1870 census for Thomas and Sarah Lewis. However, there is one in Monroe, Clark Co, IN for Thomas Lewis (age: 51; birth year: about 1819; birthplace: Indiana; occupation: farmer), his wife Eliza Jane Lewis (age: 35; birth year: about 1835; birthplace: Pennsylvannia), his daughter Eliza J Lewis (age: 13; birth year: about 1857; birthplace: Indiana), and four other children: William B. Lewis (10), Martha E. Lewis (7), Georgetta Lewis (5), Thomas H. Lewis (2). It basically fits the previous censuses, other than Thomas changing professions.

Now onto the 1880 census. This year seems to be the deciding factor.

I know that my maternal grandmother’s paternal grandparents are George Alexander Wininger and Eliza Elizabeth Lewis. The marriage record shows a George W. Wininger and a Eliza Lewis being married in Martin Co in 1876. The ‘W’ is probably a transcription error, but I’m not sure as I don’t have access to the original document. There is an 1880 census record that lists a George A. and Eliza E. Wininger living in Martin Co. with their first two children, and all of those named are definitely my family.

Sarah Wininger supposedly died in 1876. If that is true, we shouldn’t find her on the 1880 census with Thomas Lewis. I couldn’t find such a census record, which doesn’t absolutely prove anything. It would be nice to have a death record for her or a picture of a headstone. Even lacking that, I do have other interesting records. There is that 1877 marriage between Thomas H. Lewis and Lavicka Pinnick (or Louisa, once again maybe transcription errors). The middle ‘H’ is an important clue. The case for this being the same Thomas H Lewis who first married Sarah Wininger is strengthened by the fact that the Lavicka/Louisa marriage happened a year after Sarah Wininger’s claimed death. The 1877 marriage happened in Orange Co. Next door in Martin Co, the 1880 census shows a Thomas H Lewis living with a Louisa Lewis and a child with the last name Pinnick. Like the 1850 census for the exact same name with the middle ‘H.’, it is stated that Thomas (then living with Sarah) was born about 1821 in Kentucky.

We at least have connected the two marriages for a Thomas H. Lewis. More importantly, it is shown that in 1880 his daughter Eliza was no longer living with him. And at the same time, it is shown that my great great grandmother Eliza was married and living in her own house at the time. This seems to confirm that this Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor.

Let me verify this further. Also, in the 1880 census, it is found that the other Eliza daughter was still living with her parents, Thomas and Eliza Lewis. Based on that simple fact, she couldn’t be living at home while also living with her husband and children. I can’t see any way that this other Eliza and her parents can be of my family line, unless there was a single Eliza who was double-counted, but that doesn’t make sense as the one living with her parents is listed as single while working as a teacher whereas the other is a married housewife. Even so, it is odd that both Eliza daughters were 23 in 1880 and both of their fathers were also around the same age.

That is the confusion, but my certainty has grown to the point of dispelling any reasonable doubts. The most probable conclusion is that, as was originally claimed on my family tree, Thomas H. Lewis is my ancestor along with his wife Sarah Wininger. The other Thomas Lewis and his daughter apparently was just a strange coincidence of a parallel life. Of course, I could try to spice up my family tree by claiming that he was the same person who was a bigamist with two wives simultaneously in nearby counties and who used the same name for two of his daughters that were the same age. That is an interesting theory that technically can’t be disproven, but life is already complex enough without the need for multiple wives.

It seems I was on a wild goose chase. That is the way genealogy works. It was worth the effort, nonetheless. A researcher should never accept any unverified claim. I found the data to back up what was already in my family tree. I’ve presented my evidence and made my argument. Case closed.

To keep the practical in mind, the whole point of all this research was my upcoming visit to Kentucky. This Thomas H. Lewis was born in Kentucky. After all that work I did, I’d definitely like to find some local records or headstones in Kentucky that are related to him and his family line. Unfortunately, the county he was supposedly born in won’t be close enough to where I’ll be spending most of my time. Maybe I’ll have to do another trip sometime.

“Think twice and don’t do it”

I was having a discussion with with one of my second cousins, Jason King (I guess his mom and my mom would be first cousins). Anyway, we share the same great grandfather, Rollie Franklin Wininger.

It is nice as an adult getting to know some of my extended family. It is nice for various reasons.

One reason is simply getting to knowing people who I don’t normally associate with.

I get the sense that Jason is some variety of a right-libertarian and, as my mom told me, was raised in a fundamentalist church. I’m somewhere on the left and was raised in a liberal church. He grew up closer to Southern Indiana culture (the Hoosier part of Kentuckiana) and, besides brief visits, I grew up entirely outside of that culture. Yet we are both of the same generation and both have a love of Star Trek. Despite our differing perspectives, we both wouldn’t mind living in a Star Trek future.

Another reason is it gives me a better sense of my family and so a better understanding of myself.

I didn’t grow up around extended family and it didn’t occur to me how strange this was. I’ve been doing genealogy work in recent years and it has been a process of discovery, but Jason has been doing genealogy work since he was younger and had the opportunity of living near extended family. It was because of genealogy work that I finally met him, never having known of his existence before that. Most of my extended family is completely unknown to me, strangers from the past. Genealogy work has been my attempt to make up for this.

In our discussion, the topic was the death penalty. I explained part of my motivation. I wrote:

“About this case, there is one particular way I’m very conservative-minded. I’m a firm believer in the precautionary principle. It is easier to do something than to undo it. It is related to the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” The precautionary principle isn’t very popular in our society. We Americans prefer to just do it and deal with the problems later.”

He responded with this bit of info:

“Our Great Grandpa Wininger was even more cautionary–to the point of inaction. His saying was “think twice and don’t do it.””

I’ve heard some stories about our great grandfather. I’m not sure he was expressing precaution or just regret. My view is definitely not regret, more directed toward the future than the past. But in both cases it is about how the past informs the present and the decisions therefrom shaping what will come or what we strive to make happen.

The precautionary principle is what is central to so much that is important to me, so much that makes sense to me. It is easier to do than undo. It is easier to emotionally invest in a belief or cognitively commit to an idea than to retreat from the same. It is easier to create a bureaucracy than to dismantle it. It is easier to pollute and destroy an ecosystem than to restore it. It is easier to knock a building down or bomb a city to oblivion than to build it all over again. It is easier to create a problem than find a solution.

I don’t know about “think twice and don’t do it”. But I’m all for thinking twice or even thrice. After that, one can make an informed decision to do or not do; and if do, then what and how to do. It sure would take a lot of doing if we are ever to get to the future portrayed in Star Trek or, for that matter, if we are ever to move toward any kind of positive vision of society.

Westerly Migrations

My research on genealogy and family history has shifted gears, that being the proper metaphor to describe my recent family road trip.

The traveling party included my parents, my second oldest brother and myself; although my brother only came for the first half of the trip. It was a long trip, but I didn’t mind too much. I get along well enough with my parents and it was nice to spend some quality time with my brother who, these days, is usually busy with his own family.

It was a trip with family and largely about family. There was much discussion. I prodded my parents with many questions and took extensive notes. My motivation to learn about my extended family is that I didn’t grow up around them nor did I ever see most of them on a regular basis. They are strangers to me, strangers because of distance and time. Some of them, specifically three of my grandparents, were dead before I had become an adult.

I grew up feeling detached from family. As I wasn’t raised with extended family, I wasn’t raised with the belief being overtly instilled in me that there was much value to extended family, my own parents willingly having left their families behind other than for brief visits. There was never a sense of closeness. No big family reunions and holidays. No grandmother next door, no cousins in the neighborhood, not even distant relations in nearby towns.

My parents didn’t consciously choose this, but on some level I’m sure they understood the choice they were making for their children. They had conflict-ridden or even distant relationships with their own family, especially their parents, and so they did the opposite of prioritizing extended family. Career always came first, a choice that was easily rationalized out of a sense of parental responsibility and duty to self-development. This just makes my parents normal according to the standards of modern American society.

My parents have always wanted normalcy or a close approximation to it. They grew up with the nuclear family fantasy of those early black and white tv sitcoms. That is what they internalized and then modeled in their own adult lives. They just wanted to be good people, responsible adults, dutiful parents. It was a role that society told them to play and they played it well. I make these observations with deep empathy for I understand the pull of wanting to fit in and be accepted, to be perceived as a worthy human being and a valued member of society. It just so happens to be a role I’m not very good at playing. If not for depression, I very well might have followed right along with a career, house, wife and 2.5 kids.

The destination for the road trip was California. It was a journey that followed in the footsteps of family members before me, some of the family I never knew or barely knew. California is a state that for some reason was where several lines of my family ended up in or passed through, not unlike many other Americans. California, the land of new beginnings, the birthplace of the suburban dream.

While in California, my mom visited a cousin she hadn’t seen since childhood and I visited a cousin I hadn’t seen since childhood, two reunions from each side of the family. Along the way, we stopped in a town where my dad recalled visiting a great uncle (where a great aunt also lived nearby) and we stopped in another town where he once visited his mother after his parents divorced.

All of them had their reasons for leaving their families behind. My mom’s cousins ended up there either because their father was escaping debts or because it was suggested that a change in climate would be beneficial for some illness in the family. My dad’s mom simply went for the supposed perfect climate of the bay area, illness not being the motivating factor. My cousin has been there because he has a good job in Silicon Valley. My dad’s great uncle and great aunt moved there for reasons unknown.

California is a place that hasn’t held any personal significance, but this trip has changed that. Starting in the most southern area and heading up just past the Bay area, I was able to get a glimpse of what life is like there — the geography and history, the culture and ethnicities, the settlement patterns and imperial remnants. No doubt it is very much symbolic of America and the American Dream. A society on the move. A people of progress. Keep going West until you can’t go any further. Then what?

Sense of Place, of Home, of Community… or lack thereof

As I work as a cashier, I always have plenty of time to read and there are often newspapers available. Otherwise, I’d be mostly ignorant of old media. There is something quite relaxing about reading a paper. Anyways, the pleasure of physical reading material isn’t the point of this post. I just wanted to give credit to the dying old media.

The real reason for this post is an article I came across in the Wall Street Journal:

The Homeward Bound American
By Jennifer Graham

[taste.graham]

That article is about the data from recently published research:

Residential Mobility, Well-being, and Mortality
By Shigehiro Oishi and Ulrich Schimmack

The research is about moving and the impact it has on children (family being a topic that has been on my mind recently: Conservative & Liberal Families: Observations & Comparison). I guess it does relate to old media and to the world that once was. It may be hard to believe that there was a time when moving was uncommon. Once upon a time, every town probably had at least one if not several newspapers offering local perspectives on everything. Could you imagine reading the same newspaper your whole life which was reported by and which reported on the same local people you knew your entire life?

In the United States, though, the stable community has always been more of an ideal than a reality. We are, of course, the land of immigrants, the land of a people constantly moving Westward. At this point, it might be in our very genetics. All the people with homebody genetics stayed in their homelands while their restless family members ventured to the New World. Those who weren’t given a choice in making this ocean trip, such as slaves and refugees, often had their entire culture destroyed and their connection to their homeland lost. Americans are a rootless people, whether by choice or not (which I’ve written about before: Homelessness and Civilization; in that post, I point out the Christian theology of homelessness).

It took Americans to create something like the internet which has challenged old media and traditional communities. Even the media Americans create tend towards rootlessness. A lot of good things have come out of this American attitude of embracing innovation, of embracing the new. It’s easy for us to rationalize our national character as being a great thing. Americans idealize optimism, but optimism can’t deny reality. No matter how willing we are to move (with about half the population moving in their lifetime), the above linked research shows that it doesn’t necessarily lead to healthy results. I intuitively felt this to be true, but until now I haven’t had hard data to support my intuition.

My thoughts on the matter are influenced by my own personal experience. I’m an American and I think I’m a fairly typical American in many ways. I moved around some while growing up. By the 8th grade, I had lived in 4 states. The place I spent my high school years in was a large city and so it wasn’t conducive to developing a sense of home and community. I actually ended up longing for the previous town we had lived in because I had many friends there and it was a small town with more of a stable community. In the different schools I went to, there was always a core group of kids who had known each other their entire lives. I could see the immense difference between them and I. This may have been made even more clear because I spent my early years in the Midwest before having moved to South Carolina. Along with the sense of having loss my home and my friends, I experienced some major culture shock. The entire time I lived there, South Carolina never felt like home. My brothers and I moved back to the Midwest as soon as we had an opportunity. I suspect this somewhat transitory childhood has had long-term impact on myself and my brothers.

Let me first point out some of the results of the research. Here is from a Science Daily article about the same research:

Moving Repeatedly in Childhood Linked With Poorer Quality-of-Life Years Later, Study Finds

The researchers found that the more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being at the time they were surveyed, even when controlling for age, gender and education level. The research also showed that those who moved frequently as children had fewer quality social relationships as adults.

The researchers also looked to see if different personality types — extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism — affected frequent movers’ well-being. Among introverts, the more moves participants reported as children, the worse off they were as adults. This was in direct contrast to the findings among extraverts. “Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships,” said Oishi. “This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends quickly and easily. Less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends.”

The findings showed neurotic people who moved frequently reported less life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being than people who did not move as much and people who were not neurotic. Neuroticism was defined for this study as being moody, nervous and high strung. However, the number and quality of neurotic people’s relationships had no effect on their well-being, no matter how often they had moved as children. In the article, Oishi speculates this may be because neurotic people have more negative reactions to stressful life events in general.

The researchers also looked at mortality rates among the participants and found that people who moved often as children were more likely to die before the second wave of the study. They controlled for age, gender and race. “We can speculate that moving often creates more stress and stress has been shown to have an ill effect on people’s health,” Oishi said. “But we need more research on this link before we can conclude that moving often in childhood can, in fact, be dangerous to your health in the long-term.”

My brothers and I all have some predispositions toward such things as introversion, depression and anxiety. I don’t think any of us deal with stress all that well. Of course, I can’t know how we would’ve turned out if we hadn’t moved around so much. The only comparison I can make is with my parents. Unlike their children, they had relatively stable childhoods at least in terms of growing up in a stable communities (I know my mom even lived in the same house while growing up, the house that her father built). The difference is that they chose to move after they had become adults and their relatively stable childhoods seemed to have provided an internal sense of stability that allowed them to adapt well to moving to new places. If they hadn’t wanted to move or decided they didn’t like their first move, they could’ve chosen not to move away from their home or they could’ve chosen to immediately move back to their home community. As children, my brothers and I had no such choice because our parents chose for us.

I’m of mixed opinion. I don’t know how much parents can be blamed, especially in the past. Much of this research is recent and so people didn’t used to know about it. On the other hand, my parents knew stability and have always stated a belief in family values. So, why didn’t it occur to them that a stable home and community might be an integral part of family values? To generalize beyond just my parents, why do conservatives (and other Americans as well) idealize the nuclear family as an isolated entity with extended family and community simply being nice things to have around if convenient? Part of me wants to pick on the conservatives because they particularly seem obsessed with the 1950s sitcom ideal of the suburban nuclear family. But to be honest I have to admit that this warped view of family cuts across ideological lines.

At the same time, Americans are obsessed with the idea of community maybe for the very reason we lack a traditional sense of community. I’ve heard Europeans note that Americans are very social in that we constantly like starting and joining groups. In the Midwest, there is even a popular type of group whose sole purpose is to welcome new people to the community. Over all, Midwesterners have more of a real sense of community because early farming communities were so isolated. Midwestern pioneers, quite differently than Southerners, were highly dependent on their neighbors for survival. My observation is that Southerners tend to base their sense of community on their sense of family rather than the other way around. As a general rule, beyond mere formalities, Southerners (in particular middle to upper class Southerners) aren’t very friendly with their neighbors. For example, when a Midwesterner invites you over for coffee they genuinely mean it, but when a Southerner invites you over for coffee it may just be a formality.

As for myself, I internalized from a young age the Midwestern sense of community and neighborliness. It’s not that I live up to it in my personal behavior, but it does form what feels normal to me. Because of this, my disjointed and rootless sense of the world somehow feels wrong. It seems to me the world shouldn’t be this way… and yet it’s the way my world feels. I’m not as close to my family as I wish I were, but I feel that a disconnection has formed in my family that can’t be bridged. One of my brothers became married and had kids. He ended moving away to a nearby town, but he is busy and is incapable of disentangling himself from his wife and children. My other brother has moved around following his career. He essentially has become like my dad in not settling down. Part of him values family and part of him likes the distance moving around provides. None of us in our family get along perfectly well and I think we all value distance to some extent, but I can’t help wondering if it could have been different. If our parents hadn’t sacrificed family and community for career (we were latchkey kids with both parents working), would our family have been much closer than it is now?

I suppose it doesn’t matter. It’s too late now. My parents made their decisions and the time lost can’t be made up. They had been down South for a couple of decades and only recently moved back to the Midwest. My brothers were at one time all living in the same town as I am now living in, but that hasn’t been the case for a number of years. The brother that has been moving around quite a bit did for a time move back to the area before moving away again just as my parents were moving into town. Even though my parents used to live here and used to have many friends here, they’ve been away too long and my dad in particular left behind the community he felt a part of in South Carolina. When you spend so much time apart in different communities and in entirely different regions of the world, you lose the basic daily experiences on which personal relationships are built. The people my parents know generally aren’t the same people I know. In chasing money and career, why didn’t my parents consider the clear possibility that it would undermine our entire family? People always think there is time later on to develop personal relationships, but then after retirement one realizes that some things once lost can’t be regained.

It pisses me off. I always wanted a family I could rely upon, but on an emotional level (which isn’t rational) I don’t have a sense of trust towards my parents. I don’t fundamentally believe they would necessarily be there for me if things ever went wrong. I understand it isn’t entirely rational. My parents do value family and they are caring people. It’s just that I have this very basic sense of disconnection. I’ve lived in this town longer than anywhere else and I love this town. It’s my home. Still, I don’t feel entirely connected to even this place, to the community that I’m surrounded by. My sense of place is always in the past, in the memories of my childhood in this place. It’s hard to explain. When I moved away after 7th grade, I spent years going over and over my memories of this place. Once I returned, everything had already begun to change. So, my sense of place is only loosely connected to the place itself. My suspicion is that it would be different for someone who lived in the same place their whole life because the place would have changed as they changed. One’s personal changes would be grounded in the changes in one’s sense of place. Once you move away, you can never come home again. So, it’s more than a desire for a stable sense of family. It’s a desire for a stable sense of community, a stable sense of place, a stable sense of personal reality. My whole life I’ve wanted to fit in, wanted to feel like I was accepted, like I belonged. Instead, I feel broken.

Of course, I’m not special. Everyone grows up and everyone loses their childhood, but it seems particularly traumatic for those who have moved around, most particularly if they have certain personality traits. Even so, this sense of malaise seems to be a common factor of modern civilization. From my studies, it’s my understanding that indigenous tribal people don’t share this sense of malaise… not until they’re introduced to modern civilization. We moderns are extremely disconnected from the world around us. Even the person who has never moved is unlikely to have a deep sense of place as was once common when all humans were indigenous.

I noticed the above research was mentioned in an article in The New York Times (Does Moving a Child Create Adult Baggage? By Pamela Paul) which led me to another article:

The Roots of White Anxiety
By Ross Douthat

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

The reason I mention this article is because rural areas represent the last communities that have maintained some semblance of stability, although it’s eroding quickly. These poor, rural whites maintain their communities and their poverty by not moving much. That is what the author of this article didn’t fully comprehend but which some readers made note of in the comments:

dc wrote: “The issue is class, not race, not political affiliation, and certainly not religion.”

Yes, class AND culture… the two being inseparable.

Poor rural people (of any race or religion) are less willing to sacrifice family and community for social advancement in terms of education and career. They’re less willing to play the moving game. But, in a society that doesn’t value the rural culture, such stable cultures aren’t likely to represent the best of society. Loss of family farms and the decline of small towns has caused rural communities to become impoverished and so they have tons of social problems, but these communities once were relatively good places to live and to raise a family… and they still are in some ways. The article does make a point that whites have reason to be worried, paranoid even, about the undermining of this traditional rural culture. Still, no one in particular is to blame. What America is becoming is an almost entirely inevitable result of how America began. It’s noble that these rural folk self-impose (consciously or not) an isolated sense of community. They choose to homeschool their kids and send them to state schools or community colleges. By doing this, they maintain their family ties.

My parents, on the other hand, were willing to make sacrifices that many rural people are unwilling to make and because of it my parents have been more successful in their careers. My parents apparently weren’t contented to just be working class or to otherwise limit their careers to one specific community.

It makes me wonder about the future, my personal future and the future of society. I don’t feel optimistic about my own family and community. My depression and introversion combine in such a way that I lead a fairly isolated life. What really saddens me is that I’m far from unusual. Are people like me merely a sign of what our society is becoming? What is the future of communities and families? As a society, will we ever again collectively value community more than career, family more than success? Will we ever stop building ugly, soul-destroying suburban neighborhoods? Will the warped ideal of the nuclear family ever be brought back into alignment with concrete realities of the world we live in? Is there any hope for modern people to regain the sense of place without which “home” becomes a mere abstraction?

Like Father, Not Like Son

Like Father, Not Like Son

Posted on Nov 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

I got annoyed at my dad during a phone conversation the other day.  I hung up on him which is the first time I’ve ever done that in my life.  And now I don’t even feel like talking to him at all.  My mom’s family is known for their ability to hold long-lasting grudges and I can almost feel that desire in me.  I’m willing to bet that I’m capable of it.

I don’t know if he was in a bad mood or what.  He was determined to be crtical about everything which in and of itself is something I can sympathize with, but what bothered me was that he was doing it in a self-righteous way (with an implication that my opinion was worth less than his).  He was arguing that there was only one truth and he so happened to be in possession of it. 

At first, I tried to point out the positives for sake of balance and then I tried to be conciliatory, but he just wouldn’t have it.  He wouldn’t leave it as simply a differences of perspectives… because, as a moral conservative, that smacks of moral relativism.  Someone has to be right and therefore everyone else must be wrong (Extraverted Thinking types I tell ya).

He was complaining about the lazy selfish kids these days (not like the good ol’ days when kids were obediant and submissive to authority… sure).  Basically, he was coming off as a bitter old man who has forgotten what it was like to be young.  He is a moral conservative and seems to think that Obama (who mobilized all those lazy selfish youngsters) is one of the first signs of the end of the world.  I’m the last to argue against the imperfections of this existence and the failings of human nature, but I’m not usually one of those that will try to pin it all on a specific group of people.

The thing is that he can be one of the nicest people.  He seems to genuinely like people and he is always helping others.  At the same time, he can be one of the most arrogantly judgmental people that I know.  He sees himself as a self-made man and arrogance is often the flaw of this type of person. 

He has had his struggles in life like everyone, but he has never known really hard times… such as involving racial prejudice, poverty, major illness, or long-term depression.  I don’t get the sense that he has a deep understanding of or compassion for the suffering of others which are the very things I value above all else.  This isn’t to say he isn’t compassionate.  He is a caring person in a patriarchal fatherly kind of way.  He cares about the poor as one who has never been poor, but he does care.  He goes to great effort to make a positive difference in the world.

His morality seems to be primarily based upon intellectual principles and a sense of social obligation.  He does have a more accepting side that is very much genuine, but his righteous side is never very far away.  It can actually bother me even more sometimes when I sense him trying to hide his righteous side.  If someone is going to feel judgmental towards me, they might as well just get it out in the open.

What I was thinking about is how people can have such contradictory sides of their personality.  I’m the same way.  I can be extremely compassionate and understanding, but there is another part of me that is severely misanthropic.  Despite or because of my understanding of suffering, I can simply get stuck in my suffering… even selfishly stuck.  My dad, because he isn’t overwhelmed by such an intimate knowledge of suffering, is much more able to actively help others. 

Theoretically, balance is always possible and to that extent desirable.  However, experience has shown me that this ideal of balance is rarely a reality.

I’m not in a morally superior position to judge my father.  I guess what my annoyance comes down to is that he wants to put himself above others as an example of superiority.  He wants to be admired and looked up to.  He has a side of him that feels quite the opposite of superior, but this is the side that he rarely shows.  I know that it bothers him that he feels his sons don’t respect him, but I’d respect him more if he’d let that more vulnerable side show more.  However, maybe that is the same as saying that I’d like him better if he was more like me.

From the perspective of the societal standard of morality, he is a much better man than I am.  He is a respectable professor and church leader.  He has high expectations that he strives hard to live up to.  He gives of himself constantly in that his life revolves around others.  He is one of those people who needs people to need him.  That is what our society values.  He is an admirable representative of our society’s aspirations.  He is the American ideal of ambiton (with its concomitant shadow of the advantages and privilege of being a middle class white male… which my dad would deny).

He is an Extraverted Thinking type which has been the ideal male personality type of our society.  He is a very well developed person in terms of his personality inclinations.  He even has come to sense the more Feeling side of life in his older age, but of course this gets subjugated to his dominant function of Extraverted Thinking.  His moral righteousness may even be an expression of his being in the grip of his inferior function of Introverted Feeling.  Our inferior function becomes stronger as we age which can both be good and bad.

I’m the opposite of him as my dominant function is Introverted Feeling.  My being raised by two Extraverted Thinking types has left a lasting impression on me.  I sense that a significant element of my depression is how much I’m drawn into the grip of my inferior Extraverted Thinking. 

Our weaknesses are simply the other side of our strengths.

The practical purpose of my thinking about this is the consideration of my relationship with my dad… what it could be and what I don’t want it to be.  If he was always as righteous as he was the other day, I very well might gladly refuse to speak to him for the rest of my life.  Fortunately, he rarely behaves in such an overtly righteous manner.  Most often he tries to be kind and friendly.  When he is in a good mood, which is more often than not, he enjoys being humorous and entertaining.

In the past, it seemed I was closer to him than my brothers.  I’ve tended to be forthright in speaking about my life to my parents whereas my brothers tend to keep the personal out of their relationships to them.  Nonetheless, my brothers get along with my dad better maybe because of that formality.  My brothers interact with him through more neutral subjects such as computers and finances.  I’m the only one who will debate with my dad about what he deeply values (we both love to debate), and I seem to be the one he feels the most comfortable with being honest about his opinions (which was what did happen during the recent phone conversation).  Even so, we’re usually both good at coming to a middle ground (which is what didn’t happen during the recent phone conversation).

My famly isn’t all seriousness.  My brothers and I learned our humor from our dad, and so humor is a major aspect of how we all relate.  However, its my oldest brother who has the most similar personality to my dad and also the most simlar of a sense of humor.  They’re both more congenially entertaining in their humor.  My humor, on the other hand, goes between the extremes of inanely silly and cynically dark.  My dad often uses his congenial nature to try to manipulate people… manipulate in a good-intentioned kind of way.  But, good intentions or not, I’m stubbornly resistant (a trait from my mom) to being anyone who tries to change me or my mood.  I’m what I am and that is just the way it is.

Because of all this, my dad is an extemely more likable person than I’d ever hope to be.  I’m not much of a people pleaser whereas my dad is the gregarious type who is the life of the party.  In his adult age, he has gained the confidence and popularity that he feels he lacked as a chld.  He is proud of his accomplishments and the person he has become.  He is very capable in what he does and he is very knowledgable.

I’ve learned a lot from him.  I too have become a knoledgable person in my own way.  And one aspect I’m superior to him is in my obsessive compulsion to see all sides to every situation… which he sees as moral relativism.  His knowledge is highly specialized and focused, but my knowledge is randomly wide-ranging and motivated by undirected curiosity.  I learned my rationality from him, but as an Extraverted Thinking type rationality comes more natural to him as being a well developed attribute of his everyday behavior.  His rationality is usually focused on practical matters of living a responsible life (even his humor has a tinge of social responsibility to it).  My rationality, because its more of a learned attribute and because its ruled by my Introversion, is more detached and neutral.  I don’t try to conform my rationality to any particular moral belief system as he does.

My dad and I live in very different worlds, and yet there is quite a bit that we share.  My base personality might be more of my mom’s contribution, but my dad has had an immense impression on me. 

He is the standard by which I feel judged in my failure to live up to his example, and he is the standard of our society that just doesn’t make sense to me personally.  He has all the proof on his side, the respectability, the “hard-earned” money.  He lives his moral ideals.  When he dies, there will be a long line of people wanting to make grand statements about what an admirable fellow he was. 

I have nothing tangible to show for my life besides who I am as an individual, but to him what matters is what you do and what you accomplish.  Its obvious from his perspective that his opinions are superior because the life he has lived is superior.  The proof is in the pudding. 

I’m sure he’ll want to reconcile, but I’ll always know his true opinions even when he hides them.  He wouldn’t judge me directly, but I represent what he sees as problematic in the world.  He wouldn’t say it that way to my face.  Still, those are the facts.  And that is what erupted the other day in that phone conversation.

I really don’t know how to relate to him.  If we weren’t father and son, there wouldn’t be much to base our relationship upon.  That seems to be the way family is.  The close friendships I seek are with people who aren’t like anyone in my family.  I get along with my family actually quite well, but family is what they are.  At one time, I almost had a friendship-like relationship with one of my brothers, but even that has mostly dissipated with his own family responsibilities and stresses.

My family is there for me in a distant kind of way.  If worst came to worst, they’d help me out.  But my life would have to be horribly bad before my family would intervene.  I’d have to be homeless or suicidal or something.  I mean what could they do?

For all my dad’s accomplishments, any good advice he could give me would most likely be worthless to me.  He cares about me as a father… in the way that being a father is a social obligation… but he doesn’t know me.  And I’m sure that I don’t really know him either.

As I get older, I start questioning who it is that I would turn to in times of need.  I’m starting to feel that I’d more likely turn to a friend than to family.  I have sincere doubts about the support my family can offer.  Then again, I have sincere doubts about the support anyone can offer anyone else.

Access_public Access: Public 3 Comments Print Post this!views (95)  

about 12 hours later

AB517 said

LMAO … I have no insight … let us be clear on that.
To doubt humans is human. 
Hey Marm.  Good to see ya.  I have been reading your stuff and I am sorry I have no responses. This one caught my eye.
I can not believe this would/could cause the rift Marm.  This sounds exactly like my relationship with my father.  He did not “know” me nor I he.  It is the way for most of us.  I loved my dad and he was the smartest bravest man I knew. 
I know as a father that I talk to my children at times as if they were property and I work on that.  They also do the same to me.  The statements of “kids today are ….” Is as old as humans themselves.   My niece and nephew are in their mid 30’s and have children.  I still have to stop myself from running up to them, picking them up, and kissing them like they are five.  They are people now … just regular ol’ people … with the same flaws I have … but boy I love them.
Some days we are not in the “mood” for them on exactly the same day they are not in the “mood” for us.  You have stated many nice things about him so focus on them and be vigilant of yourself.  I say these things on the bases of a “normal relationship” (what ever that means) between parents and children.
My sister gets hung up on “yeah, but how do you know”.  Nobody knows … ease up on the gas … to stop spinning the tires … pick a direction … and move.  Data collection is a tricky business, not enough leads to horrendous mistakes and taking to long ends up in nothing getting accomplished or so scattered it is meaningless.
Just because you ask advice does not mean you have to use it.  Do not feel bad that you can not turn to your family … that is ok … it is you that wishes you could.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 20 hours later

Marmalade said

I don’t normally think about who might be following blog.  I sorta remember telling you about this site.  I’m glad my blog was interesting enough for you to read even if you had nothing to add.

I can understand why this one caught your eye.  Its more personal than most of my blogs  I considered not posting it as its mostly just me venting.

Yeah, this by itself wasn’t the cause of the rift or the sense of rift.  It was just symbollic of our relationship.  I know its not anything unusual.  Its common among family, and its common in all kinds of relationships.  Its hard to remember people are just people.  I’m almost incapable of thinking of my father as anything other than as my father.  That is just who is to me.  Our roles in life become very clear in our close relationships.

I generally focus on the the ways we get along.  For the most part, we get along just fine.  I am grateful for all that I’ve learned from him.  He is a pretty good father.  I have no major complaints of how I was raised.

The difficulty I have is our roles get in the way.  I don’t really care about him as the role he plays  My interest in him is in the person who he is.  I usually enjoy relating to him even if it isn’t at the same level of a friendship.  I’m not sure if I act like a son, but I feel that he acts like a father.  He is a person who seems to like roles.  I don’t.  To him, its his duty to act as a father and so any discussion between us always has an inequality of power.  We can’t just talk. Often talks with him can feel like negotiations of our relationship.

Whatever… that is just the way it is.

By the way, I just tried to visit the Agnostic forum.  It seems no longer to exist or something.  Was it closed down?  If so, that is too bad.  It was a fairly nice group where discussions were mostly civil.

2 days later

AB517 said

Yeah it is down.  POOF … it was gone.
Do not negotiate, let him be him and you be you.  If he is locked into a role, so be it.  You can understand he is talking as if he is still your caregiver.  This puts you in a position where you understand him.  You do not have to agree with everything thing he says nor do you have to address every point.  To him you’re still his “young” son and, how I know you, I would think he loves you an awful lot.
Maybe he is not a touchy feely guy.  My dad was a WW2 paratrooper, he never changed a diaper.  He missed out, and so did I, but that does not diminish the respect and love for him.  He did the best he knew how.  I tell my kids now ‘Hey this is our first time being parents … we are learning and will make mistakes too”
It is good to talk to you again Ben.  I know you know this stuff already and you will move past it.

Efficiency in Service of Laziness

I only want to make a quick observation.

I barely knew my grandmother and she died when I was a very young child, but for various reasons I have a strong sense of who she was… partly just from hearing about her.  Even when she was a live, I rarely saw her and she had little direct influence on me.  However, I feel I inherited some traits from her.  This is interesting because they aren’t traits my parents have and so I assume they’re genetic.

She was a sensitive creative chaos type, and so am I.  She was into spirituality and alternative subjects, and so am I.  She loved learning, and so do I.

My parents, on the other hand, are very responsible and sensible types.  I did pick up some intellectuality from my dad and some thinking traits from my mom, but neither of them are artistic.  One of my brothers also picked up this artistic bent.

My grandmother was and I (along with my older brother) am somewhat lazy with a tendency towards clutter.  One specific aspect of this caught my attention.  My dad spoke of how his mother didn’t like closing kitchen cabinet doors because they wasted time and effort.  Efficiency in the service of laziness.  Pure brilliance!  I do a similar thing with my microwave.  I set the timer at the longest time and just hit start every time I want to use it.  I only have to set the timer once ever month or so.  I didn’t learn this habit from anyone, but it’s precisely the type of shortcut my grandmother would’ve done if she had ever owned a microwave.

How does such a trait get passed on genetically?  It’s a rather strange tendency and apparently it’s regressive as it skipped my father.

I find it fascinating that such minor behaviors can be determined at birth by the random variables of inheritance.  If my parents didn’t talk about my grandmother, I would’ve never thought anything about it.  I would’ve just assumed it’s just the way I am.  I might even have thought I was unique or that I had chosen this tendency of my own freewill.  lol