“Bartleby and Me”

One of my favorite stories to teach college freshmen was Bartleby the Scrivener written by Herman Melville in 1853. Here our central character simply refuses to work any more, repeatedly stating “I prefer not to.” Of course this supplied those same students with an ongoing chance to excuse their lack of preparation for class. They calmly would say, “I prefer not to.” At least they will never forget Bartleby.

But my great great Aunt Lucy, also born in 1853, has become the source of my research and writing lately. I have discovered much that fascinates me about her, the places she lived and the work she began in middle age that took her from rural Wisconsin to the Chinese section of San Francisco and on to China itself.

I have become so engrossed in aspects of this research that I realized that I had the makings of a book. In order to make some semblance of order out of the myriad of bits I am collecting, I chose to buy the software Scrivener to help me put the pieces together. For the last couple of days I have been learning how to use the application. Rather than following my usual practice of leaping straight in and missing 95% of what any given product has to offer, I have been systematically learning how to apply it to my particular purpose. Endlessly flexible, Scrivener will help me in a way that I find unexpectedly necessary.

I will continue to blog, but probably more about life in general, as I did before I found Lucy. Please let me know if any of you have used Scrivener for a large project and what hints you might share with me.

“Archaeologist At Last”

When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. I loved the idea of uncovering lost civilizations and the items of their everyday life. As an 11 year old I gazed in wonder at the treasures excavated from Egypt on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While I found the mummies unsettling, I did like the jewelry.

In high school I passed on the opportunity to go to camp in Eastern Oregon on fossil digs. That part of the state gets sizzling hot and the reward of rock held insect specimens held no appeal. But well through my teens I harbored a secret desire to travel to some exotic place and dig. Needless to say, that never happened.

In college I became seriously ill my senior year and was unable to complete the optional thesis project in my field. I had a lingering sadness about never having had the chance to spend countless hours in the Harvard library stacks acquiring arcane knowledge to bolster some original idea about poetry between the world wars.

Now, however, I find that doing this work with Lucy Durham seems to be satisfying both previously abandoned passions. Working as an archaeologist I am uncovering things long tucked away in files and on microfilm. As an avid researcher I am able to peruse academic journals at my leisure, enjoying such titles as She Hath Done What She Could: Protestant Women’s Missionary Careers in Nineteenth-Century America.

It turns out it is never too late to have dreams come true!

“Genealogical Hunt”

Beloit, Wisconsin High School

While the large internet web sites can be full of mistakes, they do make available images of the United States Census reports. Although they can have incorrect spelling or errors from the interviewed family members, they are fairly close to primary sources. In the 1860 census I first found Lucy Durham in Beloit, Wisconsin. William Clark Durham’s account of our family history fleshed out this entry for me.

He had told me that she had been born June 13, 1853, in Beloit, Wisconsin, the 12th child of Benjamin and Elizabeth, attended Beloit High and then went to Chicago to the Chicago Art School. Here she took special training and stayed in Chicago from 1873 until 1892 working as an artist. For the next ten years “she gave herself to missionary labors among the Chinese in San Francisco, learning the language and preparing herself for work abroad.”

From these two initial bits I was given an opportunity to explore her life further. First, what was the “Chicago Art School” in 1873? Secondly, where would she have been for those ten years in San Francisco? My current primary source research is exploring those two openings.

I have located the school of the Chicago Art Institute, perhaps the forerunner of the Chicago Art School. The internet provides access to numerous archives, such as that of the Art Institute, and I am currently connecting with the archivist there to see what was offered in 1873 and also what “special training” might have entailed. I enjoy the connection with my own history of years teaching at a museum connected art college.

I also found an address in the 1900 census for Lucy in San Francisco. Using Google to locate the address, I learned that it is currently the home of the American Chinese Presbyterian Church. It also now houses the American Chinese Presbyterian Missionary Society. This would seem to validate the comment about the “missionary labors among the Chinese in San Francisco.” Now to ask the archivist at the American Chinese Presbyterian Missionary Society what they may have somewhere about Lucy Durham.

The first time I read Durham’s book I had merely skimmed over these details. Looking back now I see the first two major clues pointing me toward further pieces of the story of my great-great-Aunt Lucy. As you can tell from this post, there is nothing quick about research. But I delight in the work and look forward to being able to resurrect more of the story of this intriguing woman.

“A Mixed Blessing”

A genealogy site

When I began researching my family’s history I relied on print sources and microfilm. This was time consuming, but it ensured that the information I found was as accurate as possible. I was able to note the source for each discovery as I went. I also wrote back and forth to historians in small towns and they xeroxed things for me and I for them. In the case of Lucy, one correspondent let me know that there was a compiled family history of the Durhams written in the late 1940’s and available in reprint.

In “The Name and Family of Durham.” assembled by William Clark Durham, I came across my second mention of Lucy Durham. Here he chronicled a good deal more of her story. However, at the time I was still trying to reconstruct a broader picture of the family and I set the resource aside for several years.

In the meantime internet based genealogy took off, led by the Family Search site of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints(commonly called Mormons) and a paid resource, Ancestry. I began to use both extensively and was able to get a more fully fleshed out sense of several of my family lines.

Here, however, I discovered a major difference between my early paper based research and on-line information. I soon learned that to a great extent people were simply copying other peoples’ findings without bothering to site sources. Not surprisingly, bad information was interspersed with good information. For instance my great-grandfather was mistaken for his father based on a faulty assumption that “he couldn’t have started a hotel in his 20’s.” (He did in fact do this.)

Now that I have settled on a thorough exploration of Lucy Durham and her work with both American Chinese and those in China, I am back to original source material. It is slow going but much more satisfying. As I come across such findings, I will share both the source and the findings with you. For those hoping to compile accurate family histories, I hope my current practice will prove a useful example.

“Attention Must Be Paid”

I will write about Lucy from time to time, continuing to chronicle my genealogy story, but I also want to intersperse those posts with others. Today it is to tout the book pictured above Stolen Focus:Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari. (His previous books on addiction incuding Chasing the Scream are also worth reading.)

If you have ever wondered why there has been so much focus on “mindfulness” lately, Hari will help you understand it is in reaction to how scattered many of us are under the constant barrage of information coming at us from many directions. Rather than treat it as a problem faced by the individual, Hari places it in the context of our currrent society.

Basically Hari contends that under the guise of informing us, large corporations have stolen our focus. Previously they had to pay for our attention. Now they gather our thoughts, purchasing habits, preferences, concerns and associations for free as we move from tweet to breaking news. As individuals we continue to think that it is our own problem, that somehow we have lost the ability to focus. But doing that ignores the larger changes that have taken place for many of us. As Hari delineates them he makes suggestions on ways to combat them on both the personal and societal level. On a personal level he suggests such ideas as restricting email checking to once a day. On a social level he has a wide range of ideas from getting kids outdoors to increasing privacy on the internet.

If you have ever wondered who gains from keeping your mind flitting from one source of entertainment to another, wonder no longer. It isn’t us! (On the other hand it has been a boon for the “mindfulness” industry.)

“Beginner’s Luck”

Multnomah County Library

In 1948 my parents packed up and moved across the country from New York City to Portland, Oregon. They intentionally moved far away from any family members so that they could reinvent themselves. Genealogy and family stories didn’t interest them when I was growing up. They were part of the post-War West Coast immigrants making a break from the ethnic enclaves of the East.

However, my grandfather in Buffalo, New York was very intrigued with the history of his family. He had known both his father and his grandfather very well and undoubtedly knew many family tales. Sadly, by the time I inherited what little research he had done, he was no longer alive. I had caught the bug from his rough notes and decided to take up where he had left off.

Before the internet, research could only be done in person or in the library. I went to the local library to its genealogy section and grabbed a bound volume of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society Journal off the shelf. I looked in the index for his name “Carpenter” and for my grandmother’s maiden name “Durham.” To my astonishment there was a lengthy article tracing the descendants of Major Benjamin Woodward. And at the end of the article was my grandmother. There I learned for the first time of her Aunt Lucy who had gone as a Presbyterian missionary to Canton, China.

I was hooked. But that was the last time that such a wealth of information came with so little effort!

“Looking For Lucy”

A while back I mentioned that I wanted to learn more about my grandmother’s Aunt Lucy Durham. While I had never heard anything about her, I was intrigued as I began my genealogical research to see that Lucy had taught at a school for the blind in China. Beyond that I knew only that Lucy, born in 1853, was the 12th of 14 children, my great grandfather, born in 1855, being the 13th.

I have spent the last couple of weeks building the story of her life as best I can from sources available on line and in the published stories I already own. In future posts I will chronicle my search and some of its results. I hope that her story will engage you and that delineating some of my research steps might inform any who are trying to dig deeper into family history of their own.

There are two types of genealogists. One genealogist tries to trace her ancestry back to the Middle Ages. The other genealogist tries to find as much as possible about a couple of ancestors including their family relationships, vocations, education and migration patterns. I am the latter, intrigued by some specific women forebears.

Enjoy the picture of Lucy taken when she was 48 newly arrived in what was then Canton, China in 1901.

“Hedging Their Bets”

Out walking we saw this warning sign next to the former ice rink. I appreciate the knowledge the park workers possess. No point having to put the sign back up if we get a final winter storm!

Robert Frost knew New England best when he wrote in ”Two Tramps In Mud Time:”

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

“Sight For Sore Eyes”

The news has been an unending source of pain as we are reminded of the horrors of war. Human beings seem capable of doing grievous harm to one another. Meanwhile, many onlookers seem to be astonished at the cruelty of war. There is sadly nothing new about depraved behavior in conflict, and Americans have taken part in it ourselves. We can claim no moral high ground, but merely weep with those who weep. Beyond that, pontificating about atrocities by the light of the television screen helps no one.

This week we took a break to be reminded of the enduring beauty of the natural world as painted during the nineteenth century. Called “The Hudson River School,” these artists, tired of the ugliness of so much of the recently industrialized Northeast(particularly New York and Connecticut,)left their portrait studios and went “plein air”, carrying their tools into the forests.

Our local New Britain Museum of American Art already displays a sizable collection of these works on a permanent basis. But this spring they are hosting many additional works from the New York Historical Society’s collection. We went to soak up these new works, a true feast for the eyes. In a text from my faith we are told to focus on “whatsoever things are lovely.” This week we were able to do just that. Humans are capable of astonishing works of beauty. We aren’t only a murderous race.