Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not Doing Nano - Doing History

I have decided not to do Nano. 

This is partly because I realized something about Nano -- it promises a fun and fulfilling time - the joy of Just Writing, and the Fulfillment of Finishing... but the rules take all the fun out of both things by mashing them together.  The joy of finishing has to do with pulling a great and satisfying plan together - to see it come to fruition.  Requiring that the novel be started and finished in the same time frame undercuts that satisfaction completely. (Even with a novel that happens to write itself in a couple weeks.)  In the meantime, they also ruin the zen joy of just writing without thought to that ending.

So I have come to the realization that I will likely never do Nano.  It's the wrong time of year, and it hinders more than helps and for all that it sounds like fun, it really isn't.

In the meantime, I really am too wrapped up in this nonfiction project.  I just needed a couple of weeks of break from it.

Genealogy is so often a recitation of facts.  So-and-so begat So-and-so.  Or So-and-so was born on a certain date in a certain place.   Maybe he was in the army or she attended a certain school.

Sometimes you can make a story out of it by learning about the time and the place, but it still seems pretty dry....

Unless you can get _enough_ of those dry facts.  When you do get enough of them, a story emerges.  Often a fascinating or heart-breaking or exciting story.  If you are lucky enough to be able to connect those dry facts with bits of oral history, or newspaper accounts, the story really takes off.  Every new little fact adds to the picture.

And it's hard to stop digging, once you hit that point.

It's a puzzle, really, and I love puzzles.

I first found my great great grandmother, Nancy Ann York, in the 1870 census for Richland Township, Michigan. She was living with an unidentified pair of relatives, not her parents, and her older brother Luther was living around the corner with an unrelated family, the Raymonds.  Two years later she would be married to Frank Vinson, a Canadian, who in 1870, was 100 and some miles away, working in a lumber camp in an even less settled area.

How did she get where she was? How did she get together with Frank?

Well, her father died in the Civil War, and her mother remarried a few years later, so that's why she was living with relatives, right?

That's what you assume when you have the simple genealogical facts, but when I dug further, and further -- going into the other relatives, into the neighbors and their history -- I discovered another story.  Nancy was living with her Uncle Elias York, who had invalided out of the army in the Civil War soon after joining with a bad heart. (And maybe he had a figurative bad heart, too, because he had at least five wives in his lifetime, and only one child I can find. Both of whom might have died or might have left him and changed their names back to maiden name.)

But one of these wives was a cousin, Irene Brown -- who had family who moved to Michigan early on.  The Brown family and the Raymond family had a bit of a child exchange going in earlier generations, so it was perfectly natural for them to take in Irene's step-nephew Luther in this new settlement in Michigan.

But here is the kicker: By 1863, Elias and his new wife and in-laws had moved to the wilds of Michigan, and Nancy had disappeared from the family of her mother and siblings in the New York census of 1865.  So...

Nancy moved when was only seven or eight years old, not the budding teen she would be in 1870.

And she and her brother left home before their father died, and long before her mother remarried.  They were already living with their uncle and cousins and neighbors to the wilds of Saginaw County.

So she didn't move because her father died and her family broke up.

And when you look deeper at the community and the generations that preceded her, it appears she was sent along because that was standard operating procedure in a multi-generational "frontier or bust" sort of family.  A seven-year-old is old enough to apprentice out, and is old enough to go along in the first wave of migration to a new wilderness.

Hey, Nancy's oldest daughter (my great grandmother "Great") was washing dishes in a lumber camp at 3 years old. You start life as soon as you can grasp it.

Sure, there may have been more drama going on in the family, that caused her to be sent or to want to go.  Things that didn't make it into the record. (For a while, due to errors in the transcription of the faded, handwritten census, it seemed like there must have been a lot of drama in that family... but most of it was just a mistake. Someday I'll write up the story that didn't really happen.)   There are maybe some hints of it in the very small amount of oral tradition that I heard from Gramma, but not enough to draw conclusions.

And interesting as Nancy's life is, the generations before her are even more so. And you can't tell her story without knowing theirs.

So I'm off to nail down a little more information on her grandmother, and also see if I can get a handle on Elias' mysterious second wife, who is said to have come from the Cheezman family. (What an interesting name!)

See you in the funny papers.

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