Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tip of the Iceberg

In a book such as the one I am writing, the tip of the iceberg is all that usually is usually revealed in the final draft. Not that I am quite at the place of that final draft, but I am getting there. Because I have made lots of my research public on The Silver Bowl, there is a greater amount of visible material than with most research projects, but there is still much more that remains hidden.

For starters, there are all the red herrings. Just because Great grandmother Eliza said something about her husband`s father, this doesn't mean that it always turns out to be true. I talked about this aspect of research in the two pieces that I recently posted here on memory: both personal memory and community memory. Added to these common conundrums are the distinct possibilities of clerical error, as well as the cultural tilt of the observer. But there is even more than this that can also run us off course.

I learned several important lessons when I served as an alderman a few decades ago. Firstly, the names you see on plaques on public buildings often have no correlation with who deserves credit. For example, the head name at the top of a plaque at the entrance of a library, that dozens of our town’s citizens worked to have built, is the name of a man who did everything he could do to try and block its construction. His name is there because he became mayor when all that remained was the ribbon-cutting and the glory. At first this galled me, as one of those not included in the recognition, but more recently I appreciate what it taught me. Every time I look at a plaque on a public building, I wonder about the real story. I have learned that seeing should not always lead to believing.

Then here was the earnest young man who I met at a music festival. He was doing his masters degree with a thesis in environmental planning, and didn`t know that I had been involved in the commissioning a study of a tree farm that was owned by the District. All they wanted to do was to sell it, he told me. I was taken aback, but I could sure see why it looked like that. We had indeed conducted a study on the marketability of the tree farm, not because we wanted to sell it, but because there were a couple of aldermen who did, and the only way to shut them down was to commission a study that would get the facts out to the public. It worked. Of course, the true reason for the study could never have been revealed in the minutes. That would have defeated its purpose. Still and all, it changed how I view all such written records.

Recently, I have been working with documents left by Amy Oliver Lloyd (1874-1962), one of the children of Sir Thomas Jackson. They are rich and multilayered. She kept notebooks of all her family research, and as a result I have been able to add dozens of names to our family tree that otherwise would have continued to be total blanks. Not only that, but just as importantly, it has shed light on the ways that successful intermarriages supported the business successes of the Irish and English men in the late 1800s who lived and worked in what they called The Far East

A page from Amy Oliver Lloyd's notebook

At the same time, many of the records left by dear old Amy are also deeply frustrating, as one might expect with all such piles of notes. I dread to think what would happen should any innocent researcher happen to stumble into my stash of stuff once I am dead and gone. Like her, I have version one, version two and sometimes version four or five. Heck, half the time I don’t even know which version is the best one to lay money on.

Amy did some amazing work, considering that it was all done more than sixty years ago, before we had the help of computers to help us organize our data. Even so, there is at least one spot where I figure that either she or I have bungled it. There is one link where a father dies in 1690 and a son is born in 1726. Oops. This was, after all, well before the techniques of artificial insemination were perfected.

Not that I am letting such glitches stop me. I figure that out there – somewhere – is someone who can set me straight. So, I have forged on ahead and published a great swat of the relationships between dozens of family members who found themselves in Hong Kong, South Africa, Ceylon, India and what have you in the 19th century. Most of them came from England, some from Ireland and Scotland, and some managed to boggle me by arranging their lives such that they came from all three (ARBUTHNOT would be a good example).

The MURRAY-TOLLEMAGHE-PARKE-DARE family tree, which I have been able to build using Amy’s material as well as hundreds of other sources, is complex and fascinating. There are ancestral links in this tree that reach all the way back to Gregory CROMWELL - husband of Elizabeth SEYMOUR, whose sister Jane was wife to Henry VIII. The tree starts with the father of William MURRAY, whose son was the whipping boy of King Charles I, and the footnotes do explain the concept of whipping boy.  In fact, the footnotes are where all the best stuff is.

In the generations that came after our whipping boy, who became the Earl of Dysart which wasn't too shabby, there are stories of fortunes made and lost, of pirates, bigamous marriages, and much more. In short, there are stories of practically everything that could have happened to a family such as this over the span of several centuries, a family which included members from the nobility, the merchant class and the seafaring classes, as well as a few who slid a little further down in the food chain of luck.

As always, let me know if you find this useful, let me know if you have something to add, or let me know if you have caught me with a red herring between my teeth. If you catch me with the latter, I’ll do my best to smile.

Two other pieces recently posted on my web site include the obituary of  William Ramsay Scott, as well as the history of the Dare family as written by George Mildmay Dare before he died in 1907.

Profound thanks to both Pat Roberts and Jack Stooks, who made these records available to me.

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