Tuesday, 13 March 2018

My Mother’s Autograph Book

My mother kept an autograph book, Schoolday Memories, when she was very young, that appears to have notes from all of her classmates from May 1928, when she lived in Oregon, USA, to 1937, after she had moved to Alberta, Canada. The book is in the possession of my older sister.

The note on the front page indicates contributions span the years from grades six to eight. But the names actually include grade five friends and go into her high school days.

Now you would not think you could learn a lot about families from such a memento. But this one has a great deal of interesting information, about Mom and her friends.

One of the early pages shows the names of Mom’s teacher and her best friend, her interests in playing piano and picnicking and favourite flower, while attending Kenwood School in Bend, Oregon. It appears she added to the items after she moved to Canada: a sweet pea under flowers; swimming and hockey games under sport. The latter was certainly a new Canadian activity to her, although I am sure she only watched others play.

You can tell from the dates, names of people and the schools she attended just when she came to Canada. Many of the comments are precisely dated and I recognize the names of some of the people.

The first people to sign lived in Bend, Oregon, and attended Kenwood School with Mom. Altogether 24 schoolmates left some very nice messages between 10 May and 15 May 1928. The tone and words indicated that they seemed to all know Mom was moving away at the end of the school year:
·         May your memories of me be pleasant ones. Lotus M. Wilkinson
·         Remember, the world will make way for the girl who knows where she is going. Don’t forget me, for I won’t forget you. Kathleen Duffy

Many wrote short poems, like the first entry:
May 10, 1928
Dear Norma,
A place for my name in your album,
A place for my love in your heart,
A place for us both in heaven,
When true friends never part.
La Vena Conover, Bend, Oregon

Some words written by 10-year old children 90 years ago still ring true:
May 10, 1929
Dear Norma,
For whatever men say in their blindness,
In spite of the fancies of youth,
There’s nothing so kingly as kindness,
There’s nothing so royal as truth.
Your friend forever,
Beulah Vaughan
This poem was from Nobility, written by Alice Cary in 1849, and obviously well-remembered and deemed appropriate to pass on, by a grade-school girl. Beulah went on to marry a soldier, Emmit Neal Weatherly. She was living in Georgia, USA, when she died in 2010. I do not believe she and Mom ever corresponded after their school days together. I am sure Mom would have been interested to learn what happened to both La Vena and Beulah.

Mom’s teacher at Kenwood School was 25-year old Miss Esther L. Rebstock. She was born in Oregon of German and American parents. On the 1930 census, she was recorded as single and rooming with several other teachers, very possibly also working at Kenwood. She had some sage advice and even wrote in her address in case Mom wanted to send her a letter down the road.

I found quite a few students on the 1920 and 1930 Oregon censuses which gave me an idea of the makeup of Mom’s community of friends. Most lived in the city of Bend but a few, like my mother, were bussed in from rural areas. Some were born outside of the state; some parents had emigrated from other countries. From the census data it appears some of the children had moved to Bend before 1928 and then away before 1930. La Vena Conover, whose poem is quoted above, was one of those who moved to Bend from California before becoming a classmate of Mom’s. She moved to Portland, Oregon, before 1930.

Friends in Irricana and Keoma, Alberta, first signed the book on 8 January 1929. All her friends in Canada had the same feeling for her as a happy, engaging and wonderful person. Here is what Hazel Lester said:

This may have been paraphrased from a Hungarian proverb or wedding toast, although I have no idea where Hazel found it.  Hazel was my Dad’s cousin and the one that introduced my parents to each other.

The comments in the book started on the first page and continued every other page (right-hand sides) until 14 November 1929. Then she reversed the order and people signed the left-hand pages, starting on 25 March 1931 and worked backward to the front of the book. The last person to sign the book was Connie Neufeld on 18 June 1937. By that time, Mom was attending Normal School in Calgary.

Mom was not through with her autograph book when she finished school, though. She went back to pages signed by friends and classmates in later years and added notes about them, such as on the note from Hazel Lester above and Harvine McCune below: where they attended post-secondary school, what they trained in, where they travelled, who and when they married and whether they had children. Incidentally she did the same thing with her yearbook – adding notes about people she had attended school with.

Harvine was Harvine Zelda McCune, daughter of a local farmer and preacher. She married another farm-boy, Arvid Gilberg, who had come to the area with his family, from Sweden, in 1924. Harvine was also a close neighbour of Hazel Lester. Mom’s notes indicate she knew Harvine well and followed her family’s events.

Interestingly, in a book about the Kathyrn-Irricana-Keoma history, KIK Country, there is a photo of a class at Irricana School which I believe was taken in 1929 and has my mother with many of her friends who signed her autograph book. The people are not identified, but I am sure Mom is the little fair-haired girl in the middle of the third row holding the flowers. I am trying to track down some people who may have more information about the picture, the school and the area to see if I can tie the photo to the autograph book and hopefully get a better copy. I do know who some of the children are, having got to know the people in later years.

The things people said about and to Mom gives a very clear indication of the kind of person she was and what her friends thought of her. Their comments are no surprise to us as she was a warm and loving person, one who greatly valued family and friendships her entire life.

The principal of Irricana School, T. A. Bickell, shown in the class photo, wrote in Mom’s book, “I wish you every good gift that you may aspire to in life. ‘There is no one that the world needs so much as a cheerful human’” We were blessed with having that lovely, cheerful lady as our Mom.

Addendum: Here is the autograph book mentioned in the comment from Alick, below.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Divine Right of Kings

Many genealogists search, sometimes elusively, for a connection to Royalty in their ancestral lines. I have had a number of discussions with an experienced and prominent family history expert about whether, or if I can expect to eventually find someone of Noble birth in one of my lines. She is quite sure I will find an individual of such “importance” but, so far, I have not been successful.

A few family researchers very often declare themselves to be related to Charlemagne (742-814). He seems to be the one individual most mentioned by authors of family history stories who try to trace their lines back hundreds of years. I think that is probably due to the fact that he was central to the unification and organization of much of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was a time period when records of the Christian church began to be kept in many regions. Most of the modern royal families appear to stretch back to Charlemagne. If you can find a relative in one on these families then somewhere along the line you must be related to this king.

The singular lack of information on the lives of the general populace lead people to wish to tie their own history to a particular royal family, which inevitably leads back to Charlemagne. In places like the United States, historically without such people, there seems to be a wishfulness to find connections to heroes, celebrities or famous political personages. The idea is the same.

It’s intriguing to think that we might have such people related to us as we plod along in our research of our ancestors. But I wonder if these are individuals we really want to be associated with.

In past centuries, members of the highest ruling classes, in many cases those that were part of the nobility or royalty, nations have been led into conflict, people enslaved and millions killed, all in the pursuit of some “national” objective.

Since the dawn of civilization after the last major ice age, the power of certain individuals or groups in societies has come from their ability to influence economic activities in their local communities. As these collections of neighbourhoods grew in number and population there developed overall organizational and/or governing processes to insure the efficient production and distribution of food. Along with that came the need for protection from other, similar groups who might be bent on taking that food or at least controlling the means of its production and distribution. That would have been particularly true if the marauding groups were unsuccessful in their own food-producing activities.

In the earliest civilizations, in all parts of the world, control was largely in the hands of what came to be quasi-religious minorities who claimed to have the approval of their gods in their undertakings that would insure bountiful harvests and protection from predators. That actually worked for thousands of years, when climatic conditions were favourable for continued and prosperous farming activities. As can be observed in almost every instance, though, there was a marked decline of such power when Mother Nature turned against them, through the imposition of droughts, diseases or famines on the general populace. Those in charge very quickly lost their political or regal power when people realized their leaders were not able to forestall the devastating living conditions that accompanied detrimental changes to their environment.

While religious authority had predominance in most early societies, political power eventually was transferred to those who could control economies – initially food production and later trade as well. These individuals became the heads of the aristocracy. Their influence expanded over the centuries, with political control passed down through generations of their families. Over time “noble” families linked up through strategic marriages or economic unions, firmly establishing a unique ruling class.

In every region and time period where ruling classes developed, the majority of citizens were subjugated. Those higher up in the chain gained support by “granting” certain rights or favours to those below them. This was most rigorously defined in the feudalistic period of the middle ages. Those at the lowest end of the scale were no more than slaves. At the top of the pyramids were those called referred to as Royalty. The concept was to become accepted as the Divine Right of Kings.
Introductory pages to Patriarcha; or the Natural Power of Kings, by Sir Robert Filmer, Baronet, in 1680; book written as a defense of royalty after the fall of the “Commonwealth” under Oliver Cromwell and Royal rule had been restored. 

There is nothing in the history of these people or families that is naturally or inherently noble. Their position was achieved over time through power, politics and the suppression, sometimes by force, of all other elements of their society.

With regard to our genealogical pursuits, would we rather find a relationship to people with courage, intellectual prowess or statesmanship or the brutal suppressors of freedom? Personally, I get a big kick out of finding blackguards among my ancestors, though they are few, particularly if they got what was coming to them. It’s fun discovering a story about an individual who had a conflict with the law or their neighbours. It is even more satisfying to learn that they may have reformed and moved on to greater accomplishments.

I have ancestors who were land-owners and people of influence in their community. What information I have found about them indicates they were good neighbours who recognized a responsibility to assist their community. In that respect they were “noble” but in no case have I found any that were part of the aristocracy.

I am not sure I would want to find out that I was a descendant of a despot! Or a tyrant whose main claim to fame was the infliction of great harm on his subordinates as, unfortunately, many in the royal or noble classes did.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Generations with few children

I heard a program on the radio (yes, there still is radio) the other day about the current millennial generation choosing to have fewer children than their parents had or no children at all. I don’t know if that is true or not but I suspect it might be as this current generation is considered to be very self-focused (selfish?) and not as tuned into procreation as their predecessors.

In Canada, according to the 2016 census, for the first time in the country’s history, the population has more seniors (16.9%) than children (16.6%). The gap is expected to widen in the future.

Another apparent trend is that people are waiting longer to have children – particularly females – than was the case with their parent’s generation. Fertility is declining. In Canada it is 1.6 children per woman (in the US it is 2.0 children per woman). The trends for most age groups, since the post-Second World War years, is noticeably declining. This is true in the UK as well where women who had turned 45 in 2016 had an average of 1.80 children compared to 2.21 for women who had turned 45 in 1944.

Some analysts attribute the outcomes to increased housing costs and slower wage growth that would certainly affect people’s abilities to raise a family. Job security may also be a factor. Many readers of this will relate to the difficulties their offspring have encountered in establishing themselves and reaching economic security.

What we are seeing may be unique in human history, where one generation decides not to produce a subsequent generation, or produce fewer children such that their own generation may not be replaced. It will be of especial consequence to western civilization as there certainly appears to be families in other parts of the world who have no problem with spitting out children one after the other.

Older people might be concerned about this trend as their own retirement and pension programs may depend on there being a large workforce contributing to government authorized retirement schemes.

Our economy and well-being cannot continue without a healthy labour force paying the bills through their taxes, particularly where social programs for seniors are in place. For just the public-sector pension plans in Canada, the unfunded liability that will be passed to future generations, with no additional people added to the rolls, is already in excess of $300 billion. Many private companies have fallen on hard times recently with the result that employee pensions have been reduced or even scrapped. Bloomberg recently reported that the pension plans of the 200 largest S&P 500 companies also are unfunded to the tune of $382 billion.

For most western nations, the answer will have to come from immigration. Families of the future may look much different – certainly than they did in past centuries. Besides being smaller they will undoubtedly have a greater mix of cultures and races necessitated by the influx of people from all over the world.