Monday, November 21, 2016
One of my goals for 2017 is to "hand off" some of the research projects I have started on my non-Czech lines. I wrote this piece originally sometime in 2013, and you can also read it here. It is a tricky problem that will take somebody sensitive who is not afraid of dealing with Mormon apostasy, but there is a lot of potential for finding new names to take to the temple by following these trails. It's just not what I feel like I should be researching right now. Maybe you are one of my distant Jeppson or Stephenson cousins, and this will inspire you to do some interesting family history research. -------------------------------------------------------- Written by Katherine Elizabeth Vasicek Challis, one of his fourth great grand-daughters. Nils Pehrsson and Karna Lundberg emigrated to America with their children Ane, Per, Christine, and Hanna together with a large number of Scandinavians on the S. S. John J Boyd in 1863. He crossed the plains in 1863 with his family in an unknown company. His wife died in 1863 just outside of Florence, also known as Winter Quarters, Nebraska. No grave or official death record for her has been found yet. Nils Pehrsson's eldest son, Lars Nilsson, did not immigrate with the rest of his family. He married Hanna Torstensdotter on 18 July 1863 in Vä, Kristianstad, Sweden. She officially moved to Färlöv, Kristianstad, Sweden on 3 November 1863 (and here is her move out record). His parents would not have been present at the wedding because they were on board the John J. Boyd, sailing to America. Lars Nilsson’s first son, August Larson, was born 9 July 1864 at Färlöv, Kristianstad, Sweden. This son died young. The Nils Pehrsson family and the Lars Nilsson family are listed on the same page of the Household Examination records for 1861-1868. There is a note in the margin that explains that Lars Nilsson moved down the street to a different residence (Aby 9) in 1868. There is also a note in the margin explaining that Nils Pehrsson and his family left for America in 1863. Lars Nilsson’s next entry in the Household Examination records is in the residence Aby 9, and there is a note in the margin explaining that he and his wife and two children (Carl August and Hilda Augusta) emigrated to America on 8 April 1869. Was his father already en route back to Sweden at this time? Was his father in Omaha, NE? Was his father still with the main body of Latter-day Saints in Utah? Nils Persson died in the poorhouse at Aby 10, Färlöv, Kristianstad, Sweden on 19 June 1901. We know this is the same Nils Pehrsson from the Household Examination records for 1891-1896, 1886-1891, and 1881-1885. These records contain notes in Swedish cross referencing each other, and providing some additional details to his life. Apparently he returned to Sweden in 1876 without a certificate (passport?), and by 1882 because he was living nowhere, he was sent to the poorhouse, where he died in 1901 of consumption or tuberculosis. An online family tree shows Lars Nilsson and his wife Hanna Torstensdotter with their son Carl August Larson. Perhaps these children could unlock some of the mysteries behind Nils Pehrsson’s return to Sweden. Was he upset with some specific doctrine being advocated by the LDS church at that time? Was he disillusioned by the harsh sacrifices required of early pioneers in frontier Utah? Was he heartbroken from the loss of his wife at the beginning of the journey? Did he ever have a strong testimony, or was he always wishing to return? When did he begin his journey back to Sweden? Was it before all of his daughters were married and establishing homes in Utah? Was it before his sons had begun making their own way in the world? What became of all of his children? His daughters married LDS men and raised large pioneer families in rural Scandinavian Utah. Family lore says that Christina’s brother Per (or Peter) died in a coal mine in Colorado. Is this true? Where did Lars end up? Why did he end up in the poorhouse? Did he have any family relations in Färlöv after he returned? Did he ever wish he could come back to America to see his children and grandchildren? Was he suffering from a mental challenge? How much did John Ahmanson’s apostasy (a contemporaneously infamous Swede who led a group of his fellow countrymen out of the LDS church with his anti-Mormon literature written in Swedish) after his experience in the Willie Handcart Company affect Nils Pehrsson’s?
Sunday, November 6, 2016
I'm reading a translation of Rustic Baroque by Jiří Hájíček. In this book, the Czech genealogist protagonist has an interesting internal dialogue:
“I put the laptop on my knees and turned it on. I was compiling a tree of some family line that I couldn't care less about - granddads, great-granddads, great-grannies, names, surnames, dates of births and deaths… Then I stopped to stare at the leaves above me. The sun shone through them and I spotted pieces of blue sky and torn white bits of cloud, and all of the angst of that moment which I could not get a grip upon even for a second flowed into me. Deep sadness and a feeling of futility as to what was really the point of it all… The dim monitor displayed the names of people who no one knows anymore, who no one living today ever saw. They have no faces, most of them even have no story. Only dates of birth and death, cradles and graves, cradles and graves, all over again, and I bring them out into the light from the moldy books of archives and people pay me for that…”
Mormons don't relate to this attitude very well. “The” purpose is frequently repeated at church: it's about saving your ancestors. It's almost like genealogy is gamified by temple work: you do the research for the purpose of taking the names to the temple, where you stand in proxy for these people in ordinances (e.g. baptisms). When you can go back another generation it's almost like a “level up” in a video game.
What I have often wondered is why non-Mormons would ever be interested in genealogy. What is the appeal to people if there is no (apparent) higher purpose? Why do you study these dead people if you aren't going to DO something with the names?
You don't have to bring your own family names to the temple in order to attend and do ordinance work; there are always names there waiting. Around 2009 (I think) the LDS church completely stopped doing the name extraction program (basically, they used to submit names they indexed from records), and now it relies only on patron name submission. Many people live too far away from a temple to attend frequently, so they submit the names to an internal system which shares them with every temple in the world.
After I was first endowed, I quickly realized that I did not want to spend ~2 hours doing proxy endowments for people who were not real, or for whom the ordinance had already been performed. I remember going to the Provo temple once and being given a random name that was meaningless to me, and thinking, “How do I even know if this person is real, or just a sloppy duplicate? I want my time to matter. This person needs to be REAL.” Since then, I have tried to always bring my own family names to the temple. That means spending time researching and finding them.
Here's the box of names that I have taken to the temple since ~2008.
A really interesting internal change took place because of this process of seeking my own ancestors. The more I learned about the details of their lives, the more I loved them. This makes a huge difference in the experience for me. It is no longer a mere task or duty to fulfil in order to be obedient; it is a meaningful act of service and love.
It is like giving a Christmas gift. Who benefits in gift giving? Both the giver and the receiver. You can give because it's expected, and it's your obligation. Or you can give because you really care about the receiver. There is an innate joy felt from giving something from your soul to someone else. It is deeply personal and meaningful. I feel this way more and more, and it is a powerful motivator behind why I do family history.
What I think is so fascinating is that non-Mormons seem to feel this way, too. They have discovered that genealogy is an addictive euphoria: finding and connecting with your past, learning the details of your ancestors’ lives, knowing your own identity more fully. I think that Mormons need to experience this joy much more than we currently do. I think it's a sad and egocentric pride when we think of the dead people of the past only as, “people to save.” The truth is that these dead people do a large measure of “saving” us. Malachi 4:5-6 discusses this principle of the hearts of the children turning to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children, lest the earth be smitten with a curse, or in other words, utterly wasted. The purpose, the very reason for our being on this earth, is connected to our relationship with our families. There is much for us to learn from those who came before us. It makes the experience much more real when you can do ordinance work for a woman whose life and story you can imagine, whose name you have read a hundred times, whose identity you know relative to the others in your pile of names.
Today I did sealings and baptisms. The sealer was an old man with a half broken hearing aid. He noticed that some of my names said “Brosch” and others “Brož.”* He said, “oh, this is an example of the name getting changed at Ellis Island.”
I was probably impertinent but I couldn't let that ridiculous myth go unchallenged (nobody's name officially or legally changed at Ellis Island). I said, smiling, “Well, actually, this person is from the 18th century, the 1760’s, so...no…they did not go through Ellis Island…” (I could have also pointed out that they lived and died in Silesia, Central Europe, but that was going a little too far.) The room erupted in laughter. The sealer’s eyes twinkled as he leafed through my stack of card names until he found one. “Well… This one is from 7 years before the 1800’s, so it's almost the 19th century.” I nodded and conceded that tiny useless fact to be true. Later, my friends laughed about it with me, “only you would say that to a sealer, Kate.”
I think that we all have a lot that we can learn through the process of building relationships with our dead relatives. I'm much more impressed and encouraged by my non-Mormon genealogy friends’ efforts in this regard: they understand that this process is about the immense joy found in gaining knowledge and love for their family.
Mormons should follow the example of those people seeking their dead for its own sake, because the reward for all of us, the living, is priceless.
*I wish I knew the “right” way to handle this problem.
Friday, November 4, 2016
I started to calmly start tracing my tree,
To find out, all the possible the makings of me.
And all that I had was my great granddad’s name
Not knowing his wife or from which way he came.
I chased him all over a long line of states
And came up with pages and pages of dates,
When all put together it made me forlorn,
I’d proved my great grandfather had not been born!
One day I was sure that the truth I had found,
Determined to turn this whole thing upside down,
I looked up the pages of one Uncle John
But found the old man to be younger than son.
Then when my hopes were fast growing dim
I came by a record that must have been him -
The facts I’d collected then made me quite sad
My dear old Grandfather was never a dad!
I think maybe someone is pulling my leg
I’m not at all sure I’m not hatched from an egg
After hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on my tree
I can’t help but wonder if I’m really ME.
Adapted from Mrs. Charles Dean, Stevens Point, Wisconson, ca ~1985, Tama County Museum News
I am tired of aspiring to a pinterest-perfect house. It doesn’t stay that way for more than five minutes.
I am tired of having my identity center on being the childcare provider. I love being a mother, and I’m very good at it; it’s not the relationship that bothers me, it’s the limits of the job description. Basically, I don’t want to be the family house elf. I don’t want my identity to focus on what I do for my children. I want to have an identity that is separate from “homemaker.” chief entropy manager.
Basically, I want my brain to matter.
This is probably a huge reason why I have really jumped into genealogy recently with all the force I can muster. It’s almost like a job description change: moving from baby producer to baby deducer: the relationship inventory specialist, the designated family historian.
Baby Cora at IGS
I took my little baby to the Iowa Genealogical Society yesterday when I went downtown to vote early. Of course, every person who works in genealogy seems to automatically be interested in children. They were all super friendly to her. They were all astonished at me when I told them she is my fourth.
I think that as I grow older, I will miss that astonished expression. It was and still is a huge part of my identity: being young and completely covered in children. I recently figured out that 30 wasn’t very old in the past, just as it isn’t that old now. But unless we start suddenly producing more and more children back to back (which isn’t going to happen) I will definitely lose that reaction of shock and awe: “You have four kids and you’re only 28?” “Wow, you have your hands full!” “You know how this happens, right?” I roll my eyes and pretend to be annoyed, but really those things have become a huge part of what defines my identity. So what happens when those things are gone, who will I be then?
My kids are not tokens in some kind of board game. They aren’t things to be collected and displayed. They are human beings to nurture and teach - humans with whom to connect and develop lasting relationships. And it’s really hard to do that well if my brain feels atrophied. I gave up my career willingly, but it was really sad for me. I like working hard and am in need of a challenging mental outlet, which thus far, homemaking "head of chaos control" has not been able to satisfy.
I had a long conversation with my dear friend Jennifer today. First, she assured me that she has never once thought of me as a “baby producer” - that on the contrary, when she looks at me, she thinks of all my many talents and abilities. This reminds me of Danny, who says, “Kate, you don’t need to wonder who you are. You’re a daughter of God, and you’re my wife, and a wonderful mother.” These things made me feel better.
Jennifer understands this identity situation perfectly well. She is a master gardener in every sense of the word. She has a degree in landscape design, and her deep abiding interest is in permaculture. She and her husband have worked hard to make it so that their backyard is beautiful, functional, and highly productive. One time, to repay her for something last summer when I knew she would never accept any money, I paid her in a blueberry bush, which turned into 7 more (because the one was lonely), and now they have a beautiful blueberry patch with blazing red foliage.
People come to visit Jennifer and they become immediately intimidated by her garden. They start to think, “Oh. I didn’t realize she was that into this.” They defer to her for all the advice but do not offer her into their own confidence for tips and secrets that they have learned. They either become overwhelmed and afraid of her knowledge and intense interest, or they laugh and think, “I will never be as good as her.”
Jennifer continues to constantly seek new knowledge. Plants are really important to her, and there are always at least 5 library books about them checked out under her account name at any time. She loves to discuss what she’s learned, and she is not averse to learning new things. She does not consider herself to know everything: she is extremely open to learning more. She gets understandably frustrated with people who think they know something, but are really just fools. She has invested the time, energy, and effort necessary to gain real knowledge on this subject.
It’s hard for her to find a friend who appreciates this part of her. While my garden is not as big or ambitious (it’s still very large for American standards), I genuinely love and respect my friend. I care about her interest, and love to listen to what she can share with me.
She told me that someone she knows once told her that there are three kinds of friendships: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for life. (To this, Danny says, “no, no, the third one didn’t rhyme.” me: “friends for a...treason? Friends for a pleasin’? Friends for a cheese-on?” We were in the middle of helping our neighbors move in to their new house, and our friend Briant piped in, “Yeah! You would only share your best cheese with your true friends.”)
I suppose part of this identity crisis/melancholia comes from realizing this past week that most of my friends right now just don’t “get” it, or they are in the first two friendship categories. I crave long lasting, close friendships. I crave being able to show the embarrassingly obsessive and nerdy sides of my brain to people who will not laugh or become intimidated by my enthusiasm. But this is a two way street. I realized I need to be willing enough to actually share this part of myself, that I need to get over the irrational fear of being unlikable. I am likable.
Danny and I always joke that turning 30 makes you a “real” adult. Maybe it’s a sign of maturity that I am finally able to admit that I’m not very satisfied as a full time homemaker housekeeper and that I am a person “qui [a] besoin d’un ami”. On the other hand, maybe it’s immensely immature that I can’t find the innate joy in this; that I need something else. Whether mature or immature, I’m so grateful that I live in a time and a place where I have the technology and education I need to seek more learning. It would have been impossible to integrate a genealogy “career” (or whatever this is) into the life of a homemaker even just a decade ago, but with the internet, today it is very possible. I can write about my discoveries, I can learn more, and I can feel satisfied that I’m doing something outside of being slave to my house modern day robota. I have confidence that I can continue to find close and lasting friends who appreciate and even understand my intellectual pursuits.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
This is not a wallow post. This is a vent post. I am not miserable. I am furious.
My Vasicek grandparents were extremely interested in the education of their grandchildren. It is in large part thanks to my immigrant ancestors, Joe Vasicek and Agnes Steffek, that I have this education. My own Grandpa Vasicek went into the oil business and financially set up his posterity for a bright and hopeful future. It is the reason that I was able to attend a private school, live abroad twice, go to University without going into debt, learn two foreign languages, etc. As I have studied my own ancestors, I have discovered that my Czechs cared more about my education than any other side of my family, more than any of my other ancestors.
If they cared so deeply about the education of their posterity, why did they fail so utterly in preserving the Czech language? Did they consider it useless/worthless? IT IS NOT USELESS. IT IS NOT WORTHLESS. IT IS PRICELESS. Why must I face this enormous obstacle - český jazyk - alone!?
The very first time I saw this word (jazyk, “language”) was in a used bookstore in Prague. I remember feeling confused. I thought we were in the language section, not the music section. What does Jazz have to do with Czech? (It turns out, actually, Czechs love Jazz just as much as us Americans, and why wouldn’t they? Its great!)
Of course I bought several Czech language books when we were there. One of them is a grammar. But it is literally as if there was some kind of key missing: I can’t even access the basic information without a little bit more of that obnoxious meta-speech: “learning about how to learn”, “what do these labels mean,” etc.
I try to parse my way through an extremely dry wikipedia article on Czech grammar, and my brain nearly explodes because everything is from a different perspective. It’s like suddenly finding out that you can see the world from a different dimension. Really, your parts of speech and sentence structure fit together that way? This is how you Czechs understand the world?
There has never been and never will be the possibility for me to obtain any kind of formal Czech language education in person. I have looked into it, many times. If it were not for the internet, I would never have this opportunity at all.
Our good friend who served his mission in Slovenia told us that the miserable pathetic Czech 301 class offered at BYU to returned missionaries turns out to be a seminar that has nothing to do with languages and everything to do with people presenting about different pieces of Slovene, Croat, Slovak, Bulgar, Hungarian, Czech culture. Then they take a nice test and merrily skip away with a nice new feather in their GPA if they did well.
I never served a mission in the Czech Republic. I have no access to this language. My way into the castle is barred all around by a giant reverse iron curtain.
I feel overwhelmed by the patheticness, the humiliation, and the frustration. And, frankly, the anger directed squarely at my (otherwise) beloved Czechs. Why?! Why the hypocrisy!? Why couldn’t you have left me a linguistic legacy instead of forcing me to attempt this alone? And it is so lonely. I want to have this access now.
Is the block that I feel facing the prospect of learning Czech the same feeling some others get when they face the handwriting challenge? Am I just being a big, whiny baby?
I need to channel this intense fury in a positive direction. I need to make a plan. How am I going to gain the Czech language proficiency I crave?
Fortunately, my major is in foreign language education. Fortunately, or providentially?