Monday, December 30, 2013

(My)Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Left: Primrose Fitzgerald and Christine  Right: Barbara Walsh and Duncan
On New Year's Eve 1952 a future genealogist was born. Duncan was about two weeks older and never let me forget it. The picture was taken about a month later, but  I think this was about as close to a "newborn" picture as you might have gotten back then. Oddly I just noticed the picture on the wall. It's a repro of a Wanda Gag lithograph chock-a-block full of cats.  The print hangs in my house to this day. My future as an ailurophile was portended.

Thankfully my mother was a packrat. I found this tidbit as well:

The day I was born just happened to be the birthday of my grandfather Harry W. Rogers, who had passed away the previous February. Another interesting coincidence I think. A New Year's Eve birthday...well any holiday birthday...is not ideal in the mind of a young child. Today I look at it as a fresh start in every way for the new year. Happy New Years!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Traditions

Chris in 1954- Amesbury, Massachusetts
Every family passes along those Christmas traditions- open the gifts on Christmas Eve, open the gifts on Christmas Day, white elephants, gift swaps, name pulls.... and it goes on and on. But Christmas food traditions are pretty interesting. In my mother's family it was always hot oyster stew on Christmas Eve. This came from her father's side of the family and I began to wonder why.

After a thorough search of the internet I had no clear answers and apparently lots of people wondered the same thing. I found the question asked and answered in a million different ways. Some said it comes from the Feast of Seven Fishes where Catholics avoided meat on certain feast days. Somehow in Anglo-Protestant America this origin became quietly obscured. Some say the Irish brought it with them substituting oysters for the traditional ling fish. Others had the origins in Germany. My mother's family was not Catholic or Irish or German. They were Yankee, Protestant and went back in New England to coastal Maine and Cape Cod. Chances are good it was a practical decision. Oysters were cheap and plentiful. Christmas, the next day, was an occasion for a big holiday meal. It would make sense to have the somewhat lighter meal of stew the night before. My family was in good company. In the December 23, 1931 edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel I found this:
Brockelmans was a popular Fitchburg grocery vendor of the time and this was a thinly disguised advertisement. 39¢ a pint is a great price for New England oysters. I paid considerably more for mine.
One thing I did find in my search is that while oyster stew was a tradition in many families all over the country, the commenters were evenly divided between the oyster lovers and the oyster haters. After years of oyster stew, the tradition quietly died among the haters and new food traditions were born. My brother is one of the haters. I however, will make my stew, thinking of my mom as I do and upholding the family tradition for just a little bit longer.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What's in a Name?

Primrose Rogers at about 4
I've been thinking a lot about family names. Not the last names so much, but the first names.
You see, my mother's name was Primrose Rogers and her mother was Primrose Victoria Tapply.
My joke has always been "there but for the grace of God".......My mother spent a lot of years
hating and resenting her name, but in the last years of her life she embraced it. I was surprised a bit because I had heard so many complaints over the years.

There is a naming tradition in our family that has come down several generations: my great great
grandfather was Winslow Brainard Rogers. Nowadays naming in honor of someone is considered a curse in some circles, but I think it's very nice. Thus we have:

Now no one could tell me where the names Winslow or Brainard came from. I have found no evidence of anyone further back in the tree with that name, but Winslow Brainard died in the American Civil War and now we have several generations in memory of him and his family.

There are a lot of "names in honor of" in my tree, but those aren't the names that fascinate me. My grandmother's family was late Victorian/early Edwardian so Primrose and her sisters Mabel, Ethyl and Beatrice make perfect sense and yet they sound so strange to modern ears. I once heard this type of name referred to as "heavily embroidered" and I would say that is accurate. I've written about the mystery of Cassandria Hooper Harrington, another interesting name. But I have Sophronia Richardson Smith on the other side of the tree. You may not realize it, but if you read The Five Little Peppers  you've heard this name. Remember Phronsie? And one of Sophronia's  brothers-in-law was Greenleaf Smith. Wow! That's an interesting choice. The mid-nineteenth century is full of Abigails and Lavinias and Letitias and Claras. Names went in and out of style then, just as they do now.

Sadly the Irish side sounds very Catholic and pretty traditional...at least what I've found so far. I would love to turn up a good Sinead or Fintan, but that seems unlikely.

Of course the Colonial ancestors turned up some of the names one might expect...poor Thankful Ham.  I also found another interesting naming tradition which you can read about here. One of my ancestors was named Benoni Eaton Knapp. This intrigued me. I found out that the name Benoni was given to babies born "under unfortunate circumstances" such as the death of the mother, the father predeceasing the child, or an illegitimate child. The name literally means "Alas, my poor son". Kind of a sad thing to visit on a child and so far I have not discovered how this poor man was "unfortunate".

I think names are an important consideration when doing genealogy. They can give you important clues about family relationships. What stories are waiting to be told?