Pilgrims, Pie and Pity: Happy Thanksgiving

Today we are reminded of the Pilgrims who “landed on Plymouth Rock”, suffered terribly due to their complete lack of preparedness and forethought, and were saved from utter destruction by the sheer kindness of “strangers”.  Well, they weren’t really strangers as the Wampanoag people had been dealing with English settlers and raiders for some time, even suffering losses themselves due to plagues of Small Pox and other disease introduced by the English.  Ultimately if it weren’t for the kindness, and cultural values, of the Wampanoag and other groups of Native Americans, the Pilgrims may not have survived at all (think of the original Jamestown colony).

Now, I am not as far as I know a descendant of any of the Mayflower passengers of 1620, although my Grandmother has told me she thinks perhaps we are.  Since I recently discovered a possible connection to a Jamestown colony member, I do wonder if that is really what she was told as a child. (See my post https://livesofserfs.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/the-tale-of-three-john-gibbs/)  But, in the spirit of the day, and the family lore, let’s talk a little about the Pilgrims as I know them after doing a little research.

  • The Pilgrims did not travel to North America to seek religions freedom.  They already had that where they were, in the Netherlands.  They had left England for the Netherlands earlier in the century to gain religions freedom.  But in the Netherlands they didn’t feel they were able to retain their cultural identity as “English”.  So they decided to pack up once more and set their sights on the New World as the place they could go and retain their cultural identity.  Religious freedom was already a reality.
  • They set sail from England in September 1620 and it took them about sixty-six days to cross the Atlantic, thus they arrived in November.  Travelling sixty-six days in a ship the size of a large yacht does not sound like fun to me.  And add to it sailing across the northern Atlantic during fall storm season?  It’s amazing they made it at all.  (I am still a little boggled why so many ships sailed during the colder months of the year.  Perhaps I should look into this more to find out why.)
  • They landed far north of their intended destination, the mouth of the Hudson River.  Instead they landed in Cape Cod Bay.  If you look at a map, this may not seem like a big difference in today’s travel times, but back then it was a huge distance.  The reason they missed their original destination was weather.  And they did make at least one attempt to continue south, but were turned back by rough seas, and so decided to stay put instead of continuing to their original destination.
  • They arrived sick.  Most likely 66 days on board the ship without access to fresh food caused all kinds of diseases, including scurvy which was documented.  Once they decided to stay put, those men who were able to did manage to get off the ship and build houses and other buildings on shore while the sick remained on board.  This probably sealed the fate of those on board.  Knowing what we know now of communicable diseases, I kind of think if they had been able to get off that ship sooner and spread out more on shore, perhaps the death toll wouldn’t have been as high.  But that is, of course, speculation on my part.  As it was, about 45 out of the 102 people on board were dead by March of 1621 and apparently only 4 adult women survived.
  • When they finally went ashore in early spring of 1621, they did apparently had seeds to plant, such as wheat, but because they settled on land not suited to the cultivation of wheat, it was not a successful crop (think seashore…how many wheat fields to you see along a seashore?).  They also had apparently found a store of corn during earlier forays to land in a mounded grave of a Native American, but whether or not they ever used this corn for planting is not clear.  What is clear is they were not prepared for the realities of survival in North America, and perhaps could be criticized for their lack of forethought, or at the very least their optimism.  Of course, as we know, it was not the first, nor last time a colonizing attempt would go wrong, and I can only think of our own attempts at sending people into space, or the people who are crowding boats desperately trying to make it from Africa to Europe as examples of woeful unpreparedness in modern times.
  • What saved the Pilgrims was not just Squanto, as we like to believe.  It was the entirety of the Native American people who lived in that area.  Prior to the Pilgrims arrival, English raiders had captured and enslaved members of the Wampanoag group in the same area!  It seems more likely from this perspective that they would have been more likely to fight the colonists than help them.  And in fact, some of them did fight!  But as the Pilgrims stayed on their ship, and built houses, maybe it became clear to the Wampanoag that these were not raiders and so they chose to let them stay.  After observing the Pilgrims struggling, they even helped them survive their second winter in North America by teaching them planting techniques for the land they occupied.  What ultimately saved the colonists was the most human of emotions: pity.  We can probably guess, but never know, what conversations were like took place in the homes of the Wampanoags and the other groups in the area about these new arrivals.  They must have had some clue that the Pilgrims were perhaps the tip of the iceberg, and making enemies may have seemed pointless.  What I wouldn’t give for a time machine.

What got me thinking about this today was an article posted by the NY Times about the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York and what it takes to be recognized as a descendant of a Mayflower passenger.  (See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/nyregion/persistence-in-the-genes-connecting-the-dots-to-the-mayflower.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0)  What does it take?  GOOD PRIMARY SOURCES.  Kudos go to them for demanding good primary source research.  It’s one thing for your grandmother to tell you you’re a descendant, and entirely another thing to prove that you are.  Also, with 5 generations of descendants proved by the society already, if you can make it back that far, you open up a wealth of information and history that make it worth the try.

BUT, one last tidbit for thought about the article above: “Historians say there is a dark side to what they refer to as “lineage societies.” Mayflower societies developed, at least in part, as a “reaction to immigration” that was transforming the United States late in the 19th century, said Herb Sloan, a history professor at Barnard College. Membership, he said, conferred the notion that “we’re authentic. We’re better. We were here before. Unlike these unwashed immigrants coming to America.”  I would also like to add here that even today the Society does not include for membership the descendants of the saviors of their own ancestors: the Wampanoag people.  

Something to think about on this Thanksgiving Eve as you eat your turkey, stuffing and pie.

(Please don’t start me on how these three items were NOT on the menu at the first Thanksgiving!)

*****

Some links about the topics from today’s post:

https://www.themayflowersociety.com/

http://www.indians.org/articles/wampanoag-indians.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wampanoag_people

http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/11/28/2918848/the-pilgrims-real-story-is-shrouded.html

http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Plymouth_Colony

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrims_(Plymouth_Colony)

 

Words that are Chosen: DNA and the 24,000 Year-Old Siberian Boy

Today I read  some very interesting news.  Apparently a DNA connection has been made between a boy who lived in present-day Siberia 24,000 years ago and Native Americans living in present day North America.  While the articles that I’ve read so far are a little vague about the scientific detail, it seems that this boy carried with him similar DNA that is also found in early North Americans and could point to the fact that the people who carried this particular DNA not only populated the area of Europe but also made it to the Americas in ancient times.  OR, just to be controversial, does this point to a movement from North America back to Europe pre-24,000 years ago?  Hmmmmmmmm…

Backing up a little here, in a former life I received a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology.  I was in the classroom during that momentous time of the movement to repatriate the human remains of Native Americans that were gathering dust in the basements of universities and museums (or worse!) by their present day descendants.  At the time I could see that the repatriations were necessary and the right thing to do to help heal old wounds.  I also saw first hand how the scientists (and I use that term somewhat loosely) that preceded my generation really screwed things up for the rest of us!  Even though I had no concept of DNA testing in the early 1990s, and I did know that what was done to these people for generations was absolutely wrong, I was still worried that we would lose out on scientific breakthroughs that could eventually increase our understanding of where these people came from originally.  I knew their ancient journey story would be amazing and I really hoped it would be opened up for us all to appreciate.  And because of that I raise the one finger salute to all those past “scientists” who were horrible people and who ruined it for the rest of us!

Thus when I was reading this particular article today (see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2511172/Native-Americans-come-Europe-reveals-DNA-testing-skeleton.html), I was shocked at either the subtle use of language, or the lack of skill of the writer of the article. The first line of the article got my attention: “DNA extracted from a young boy who died 24,000 years ago could prove that the first Native Americans were European“.  My mouth is still hanging open and my mind is totally reeling with how awful and totally screwed up this first sentence is.

Europe as a concept did not exist 24,000 years ago.  Europeans as a people did not exist 24,000 years ago.  The mind is boggled how “Europeans” could have populated the Americas “first” when they themselves were not a cultural group at the time!  Now…perhaps if you substitute the name “European” with “Caucasian” you’d get at what this article is really trying to point out.  Is what the author is actually saying here is that Caucasian people were the first to populate the North America?  Or if you really want to get controversial, “white” people populated North America first?  I may be misinterpreting what the author was getting at, but if that’s the case it’s the author’s fault for producing seriously crappy writing.  I felt like the entire floor under my feet was heaved up by the remains of thousands of Native peoples rolling in their graves when I read that first line.

What this sentence should really have said is this: “DNA extracted from a young boy who died 24,000 years ago could prove that Native Americans living in North America are related to today’s Europeans.”  Or perhaps what it should have said was, “DNA extracted (yadda yadda yadda) shows an ancient connection between people’s living in North America and in Europe in modern times.”  When read carefully, the sentence as written has an entirely different meaning, don’t you think?

Now, if you go to the very end of the article, the author refers to Kennewick Man.  As if the first line wasn’t controversial, now you have the author ending the article with the very white-centric reminder that the remains of this 9,000 year old man were considered by some to have “European” features.  (Again, substitute “white” here and you can see why someone might be offended.)  If only the stupid scientists hadn’t said anything about the way this person looked in real life (European, Native, Asian…you be the judge: http://www.newswise.com/images/uploads/2006/04/20/fullsize/Kennewick_man_skull.jpg) perhaps the Native Americans wouldn’t be fighting so hard to put him back into the ground, which quite frankly (and regrettably) he should be based upon current laws and history!  Enough is enough.  As I was taught by a very good professor back in the day, you cannot infer culture, skin color, nor physical origin just by looking at a skeleton.  The idea of Kennewick Man having “European” features is flat out a racial bias.  Only DNA testing would reveal a portion of his roots, and even then could not disprove any other connections.  The whole thing is disturbing.

The Native American people have fought a long and arduous battle to retain intellectual, spiritual and physical control over their culture and land they call home.  They have lost almost everything.  And they WERE here first.  Europeans (again, I’m talking about the ones that lived in much more modern times) came to the Americas and immediately started searching for “proof” that white Caucasian “European” people had made it here before the “Indians”.  Why?  So they could relieve their consciences?  Or maybe just to prove they were right in the land grab.  Add to that the centuries of murder, slavery, destruction of hundreds if not thousands of Native cultures, and you can see why the Native Americans today want to keep their “first” status.

(As an aside, I do find it fascinating that a fundamental part of human nature is ultimately to carve out a space for yourself and your closest friends on this planet and then hold on to it for dear life against all odds.  This is played out in the workplace (think cube space), sports arena, and in the ultimate theater of war.  The need to be “right” is ingrained in our being and is perhaps key to our survival as a species.)

We need to stop looking at DNA as a way to make people feel less or create an atmosphere that is destructive and dangerous.  Remember that DNA can only prove connections, not disprove!  Perhaps there are DNA strains in the Americas that are ancient and point to an interesting and unexpected origin for the Native Peoples here.  Perhaps there was a heck of a lot more movement of peoples than we think.  (I do think it’s fascinating how we constantly underestimate our ancestors’ abilities!)  And perhaps there will be some surprises along the way that make us all think and rethink our assumptions.  None of that is bad!  None of that lessens the epic story of these people who lived here for tens of thousands of years.

But it’s articles like this that continue to assert, and reassert the idea of “European” domination of the world both today and in ancient times that are wrong.  I am proud of my heritage, but it does not come at the price of thinking mine is any better than any other person’s origin on this planet.  I hope that the Native Americans of North America, and oppressed people everywhere, will take this kind of thing with a grain of salt and not think we “Europeans” are a bunch of morons.

We are all, after all, related to each other.  When will the family in-fighting stop!

What do you think?

Charlemagnia, Part Deux

Let’s pick up where we left off.  (If you haven’t already, please read “Charlemagnia, Part One“.)  As I stated, my Barnett line potentially leads to a marriage between John Bernard (1437-1485) and Margaret LeScrope (1440-1496).  It is through Margaret Le Scrope that a possible link exists to the Plantagenet Kings of England, and ultimately Charlemagne.

The thing is, I’m not sure.  I can research all I like online, but is that enough?  I suppose once you get to the children or grandchildren of royalty, you’re probably safe.  But it’s the 6 generations between John Bernard and Margaret de Clare that are “unproved” in my opinion.  And that is because I have not yet seen the documents that prove this connection to satisfy my standards.  Is it probable?  Yes.  But proven?  No.

But for the sake of conversation, let me continue the line that leads to Charlemagne:

10. John Barnett, b. 1437 and Margaret Le Scrope, b. 1440

11. Henry Le Scrope, b. 1418 and Elizabeth Le Scrope (her actual maiden name), b. 1417

12. Richard Le Scrope (father of Henry), b. 1394 and Margaret Neville (Um, yes, Neville again!)

13. Ralph Neville, b. 1364 and Margaret Stafford

14. Hugh de Stafford, b. 1344 and Philippa de Beauchamp, b. 1344

15. Ralph de Stafford, b. 1301 and Margaret de Audley

16. Hugh de Audley, b. abt 1291 and Margaret de Clare, b. 1293

17. Gilbert de Clare, b. 1243 and Joan Plantagenet (Joan of Acre), b. 1272

18. Edward I Plantagenet, b. 1239 and Eleanor of Castile, b. 1241

Let’s pause for a moment here.  If all proves out, Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile are my 23rd Great-Grandparents.  If this is true, it’s like the mother lode of information about the times, the places, the people that lived over 700 years ago.  And because of the good documentation you get a sense of who these people actually were, which is rare when you’re doing genealogy.

OK. let’s continue:

19. Henry III Plantagenet, b. 1207 and Eleanor of Provence

20. John Plantagenet (Angevin Line), b. 1167 and Isabella de Angouleme, b. 1188

21. Henry II Plantagenet (Angevin Line), b. 1133 and Eleanor of Aquitaine, b. 1122

23. Geoffrey of Anjou (Henry’s father), b. 1113 and Matilda of England, b. 1102

Pause again.  Matilda of England was the granddaughter of William The Conqueror, and at one point was poised to be Queen of England in her own right (she ended up settling with an agreement to make her son, Henry, heir to the throne.)  I’m sure there will be a post about this another time.  Also, The romantic side of me would love to think that perhaps my g-g-grandmother, Viola Matilda Barnett, was named after Matilda of England.  Most likely this was just a coincidence.

24. Fulk, King of Jerusalem, b. 1090 and Ermengarde of Maine, b. 1196

25. Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, b. 1043 and Bertrade de Montfort

26. Geoffrey, Count of Gatinais and Ermentrude of Anjou, b. abt. 1018

27. Fulk III, Count of Anjou (father of Ermentrude), b. 972 and Hildegard of Sundau

28. Geoffrey I, Count of Anjou, b. 940 and Adele of Meaux, b. 934

29. Robert of Vermandois (father of Adele), b. abt. 907 and Adelaide de Chalon

30. Herbert II, Count of Vermandois and Adele

31. Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, b. 848 and Bertha de Morvois

32. Pepin, Count of Vermandois, b. 818 and an unknown mother of Herbert I

33. Bernard, King of Italy, b. 797 and Cunigunde

34. Pepin (Carloman), King of Italy, b. abt. 770 and an unknown mother of Bernard

And the ultimate find:

35. Charlemagne, b. 747 and Hildegarde of Vinzgouw, b. abt 758

Over 1200 years of history there, from Charlemagne’s birth to mine.  Charlemagne and Hildegarde would be my 39th Great-Grandparents, with 42 generations of time us.  But, is it real?

Mathmatically speaking, yes.  If you go back 10 generations, you have 1024 potential ancestors (ancestors are exponential, you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents and so on).  If you go back the 42 generations from me to Charlemagne, you’re looking at many trillions of ancestors.  Which is impossible when you consider the entire world population was a lot smaller at the time of Charlemagne’s birth in 747.  What the supposition states is every living European will have, among others, at least one line that leads back to Charlemagne.  (See http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/07/charlemagnes-dna-and-our-universal-royalty/)

It’s complicated and I don’t fully understand it myself.  After reading about this for many years, I know that it has not only to do with the size of the past population. You also have to take in to consideration things like major epidemics (like the Black Death which some think may have killed off up to 60% of the population), natural disasters, war.  There is a genetic term, “bottleneck”, which refers to a substantial reduction of members of a species, in our case the human species.  When you have a bottleneck and a reduced number of people survive to continue the species, you can see how all descendants from these people would have the same ancestors in common.

Another way of looking is to stop thinking of our ancestry as a tree, with an unlimited number of branches that divide indefinitely.  What we should do is start thinking of our ancestry as a road system, as in the idea that “All roads lead to Rome”.  If you start from Berlin and make your way to Rome, as you move south you have more and more roads to choose from, but as you move closer to Rome itself, those roads start to converge until ultimately only a few roads lead into the city itself.  And then again as you move out of Rome towards another destination, the road choices begin to multiply again.

The trouble is, of course, records.  Written records are rare prior to about 1400 when it comes to common family lines.  This is why I find it so exciting to find that perhaps the Plantagenet family, William the Conquerer, and Charlemagne are my ancestors. It’s the sheer number of records that survived about these that will help me imagine my family living in the Medieval world that I love to research so much.

But my ultimate take away is this:  I still need to validate these connections by doing my own research.  I cannot succumb to the glamour of having a series of celebrities in my tree.  This may simply be checking on sources to validate they’re OK, or I may need to start contacting librarians in far away places to find the records I need to prove, once and for all, that these people were really my ancestors.  And even in this age of the internet, you still occasionally need to pack yourself up and go to some tiny basement library to find that one document that proves (or disproves!) a family link.

To wrap this all up, I’ll end with some questions for you.

1. If you’re of European descent, have you found Charlemagne in your tree yet?

2. If you’re not of European descent, is there someone in your tree or heritage (like Genghis Khan) that you know or suspect may be your ancestor?

3. How do you feel about the idea that we all are related?

4. How do you go about “proving” your family connections, especially when you find a potential link to famous person

More reading:

A decent explanation of the population problem:

http://www.olivetreegenealogy.com/misc/ancestors.shtml

Articles about bottlenecks in human population history:

http://news.discovery.com/human/genetics/human-diversity-bottlenecks.htm

A guide for good research in Genealogy:

http://www.sog.org.uk/learn/education-sub-page-for-testing-navigation/hints-tips-six-standards-and-good-practice-in-genealogy/

Organization for Charlemagne descendants (to help you with leads if you suspect Charlemagne in your tree)

http://www.charlemagne.org/

Charlemagnia, Part One

If you are of European descent, and have been at the genealogy game for some length of time, you may have heard the theory that all Europeans alive today, statistically speaking, are descended from Charlemagne.  In fact, just this season on “Who Do You Think You Are”, Cindy Crawford’s family tree was traced back to Charlemagne and Hildegarde of Swabia.  As a gal from the Midwest myself, I thought this episode was really interesting, especially since it aired I have discovered that I may also be a direct descendant of Charlemagne as well.

(See clips from Cindy’s episode at http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/videos/who-do-you-think-you-are.htm and http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/videos/cindy-crawford-a-shocking-connection.htm)

Before I begin the story, let me reiterate once again that I am never “looking” for royalty in my family tree.  I’m not going to accept a suspect link in order to “prove” my connection to the Kings and Queens of England, nor any other royal family or gentry.  To me the stories of the common folk are a lot more interesting for their bravery, adventure and perseverance.  But, it seems that perhaps my friends are correct when they teasingly call me a “Princess”.  It seems that in a way I could actually be one, genetically speaking. (This, by the way, completely cracks me up.)

And in my other pastime as a historical researcher, one of my favorite topics is leadership and power on a social level.  The question of how does a President, Royal, Dictator convince the masses that he or she should lead, and why does everyone else should follow this person, has always fascinated me.  Especially when the leader started life as a social underdog, such as a woman or a minority.  Because of this interest I have a good feel for the families that shaped English history, and have always been aware that my own tree didn’t have any of these family names…until recently.

OK, I’ll stop teasing now and get to the nitty-gritty of what I have discovered.

Through one line of my tree on my Mother’s side, I happened upon British relatives that may have been minor landholders by the last name of Barnett, a variant of the French “Bernard”.  The trail began with my g-g-grandmother who had the wildly romantic name of Viola Matilda Barnett.  Her story will be told in another post, but let me just say here that finding her records was a huge win for me, and led me through the Barnett line to Viola’s grandfather, John Barnett (1807 – 1870) and his wife who was variously known as Cena Merriman and Ceney Merryman (you all know what I’m talking about here as far as name spellings go!).

John and Ceney lived in Adams Co. Indiana during the mid-late 1800s.  Even though the census records out of Indiana pointed to John’s birthplace as Culpeper County, VA, I sat dead ended on this particular John for a few years, thwarted by the many John Barnetts living in VA during this period.  Finally I contacted the Culpeper historical society in Virginia and I was lucky enough to find that there was only one John Barnett born in the county during the right time frame.  AND, more importantly, I was able to find a marriage record for parents, James and Mary (Spinny) Barnett, and finally, the name of James’ parents, Ambrose and Judith (Neavill) Barnett.

The name Neavill stopped me in my tracks.  Since I knew that the “Neville” family was a fairly affluent and influential family in England, I wondered if I would finally happen upon my first link to royalty, either because someone was a valet to a King, landed gentry, or perhaps most influential of all, actually related to an English royal family.  After all, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III was Cecily Neville.  Plus, I found this link at the same time that Richard III’s body was discovered under a car park in England, so I doubled my effort to research this line.

Unfortunately so far the Neavill/Neville line has been a dead end with Judith’s father George.  What happened instead was I found that Ambrose Barnett is included in multiple family trees of various credibility that leads directly to the Plantagenet family.  As in the Plantagenet Kings of England.  As in, well…read on.

The line as I’ve been able to trace so far, is as follows:

1. Ambrose Barnett, b. 1741 in Virginia and Judith Neavill

2. John Barnett, b. 1704 in Middlesex, Virginia and Marran Gibbs, b. abt 1708 in Virginia

3. John Barnett, b. 1694 in England and Ann

4. William Barnett/Bernard, b. 1658 in England and Loretta Pannell

5. Richard Bernard, b. 1608 in England and Ann Corderoy (also a last name that appears in Tudor records later)

6. Richard Bernard, b. 1580 in England and Elizabeth Woolhouse

7. Francis Bernard, b. 1526 in England and Alice Haselwood

8. John Bernard, b. 1490 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Cecily Muscote, b. 1500 in England

9. John Bernard, b. 1469 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Margaret Duadelyn, b. 1470 in Duddington, Northamptonshire, England

10. John Bernard, b. 1437 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Margaret LeScrope, b. 1440 in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, England.

OK, let me pause here and explain a few things.  First I was able to find credible records for John Barnett (2) that link him to a John and Ann Barnett as his parents, through his birth record in VA.  It’s John (3) where the records get a little sketchy.  There is a database on Ancestry called “U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560 – 1900” that cites a marriage between John Barnett and Ann Barnett, but I don’t normally like using this as a source.  Originally this database was more trustworthy, but in recent times they have begun using family tree data to fill out the database.  And as we well know, family trees are filled with bad data.  And since Ancestry does not give me any info on where the record was obtained, it needs to be filed in the “To Be Researched” file.  This would be the first thing I need to confirm directly with records in VA, if they exist

Second, the link between John (3) and William (4) is taken from family tree data.  This obviously has to be researched further.  BUT, the reason I am taking this link as mostly truth is because I have run across some very well-cited documentation online that has this connection.  As a researcher, it is then up to me to check sources from this documentation and also attempt to come up with citations of my own to prove the connection.  So for now let’s just go with it as it serves the story I am (eventually) trying to tell.

Which, as you have probably already figured out, will be continued in my next post titled “Charlemagnia, Part Deux”, coming out yet today.  Stay tuned!

Until then, here are a few links to more information about the theoretical mathematical descent from Charlemagne for you:

http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/07/charlemagnes-dna-and-our-universal-royalty/

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/05/the-royal-we/302497/

http://gcbias.org/european-genealogy-faq/

Political Bounds

I’m sure many of you have run across the same problem I have during your documentation: What place name do I use, historical or current?

I have troubles also with the boundaries of France and Germany, the many Kingdoms that Sicily was ruled by, and do not get me started on the ever-changing Italy.  Even today I sometimes wonder how Italy stays together as one united nation!

I run across this quite frequently, especially with my own Grandfather.  My father’s father immigrated to America in about 1904 from what was then called the Austro-Hungarian Empire (See http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/44386/Austria-Hungary).  The political boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1904 included all or part what we today know as The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine.  (See http://etc.usf.edu/maps/pages/6700/6750/6750.htm)

This place name meant nothing to his children, my aunts, uncles and Dad.  They always identified themselves as Bohemian or Czech.  I have even heard the place referred to as “Bohemia-Austria” which as far as I can tell never really existed (wishful thinking on my family’s part?)  Czech was spoken in the home (especially when they didn’t want the children to know what they were saying!), and the two oldest girls went to school without knowing any English.

Today I know that my grandfather was born near or in Drahobudice in what is now the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic.  I have always embraced the romantic idea of Bohemia, even though the kingdom itself had been swallowed up in the mania to create empires long before my Grandfather was born.  My Dad’s generation embraced Czechoslovakia, which was the combined the historical kingdoms of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia, and on some maps Sub-Carpathian Rus or “Ruthenia” after WWII. (See http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/ethnic/czechs/images/cz-4-map.jpg)  Even I had a hard time switching over to the name “Czech Republic” after the breakup of the country in 1989.

So, the question is then when I have to indicate where he was born, do I use Drahobudice, Austria-Hungary; Drahobudice, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire; Drahobudice, Czechoslovakia (like my family still does!) or Drahobudice, Central Bohemian Region, Czech Republic?  Do I default to the place name used at the time, or go use the modern name?  The good news is Drahobudice does not seem to have been called by any other name for at least a few centuries, so I don’t have to deal with a changing village name on top of it!  But this has always been a question that I have yet to resolve in a way that is comfortable for me, but not difficult to decipher for other researchers.

So, how do you deal with political boundaries and place names in your research?  Does it drive you nuts or do you have an easy fix?  Let me know by commenting or sending me a note through the links on this page!