Sentimental Sunday: Musical Legacies

As someone who can’t imagine life without singing and playing music, even as the stalwart amateur I am, I think one of the nicest heirlooms a person could pass along would be a musical instrument.

I am the owner of a pretty good piano, as well as a totally mid-range guitar that for some reason has a really nice sound that impresses people who own much more fabulous instruments. I hope someday that someone in the next generations of our family will like the idea of owning them after me.

But most of all, I hope they’ll be played by somebody, anybody. Silence is not golden where musical instruments are concerned. There’s a mystique around a fabled antique like the “The Messiah,” a 1716 violin made by Antonio Stradivari that is said never to have been played, and was left to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with the condition that it will continue never to be played. Which seems sad, but then, I don’t really get the attraction of a gorgeous violin in a glass case.

Yesterday we struggled through a January snowfall to hear my younger daughter play in her winter violin recital. The program contained a poignant footnote. One of the other young violinists was playing a three-quarter-sized violin once owned by Tyler Clementi, a young man whose tragic death made national headlines, but who is also remembered hereabouts as a gifted violinist who had an awful lot of music left to play.

It is sad beyond belief that we can’t hear more from the former owner of the beautiful smaller-sized violin. But the instrument sounded undeniably lovely yesterday, as the snow fell quietly outside the hall, and its current owner played selections from Handel’s Sonata No. 3. There is comfort, and no small sense of wonder, at the lasting power of music to touch hearts, and endure.

What I Am Reading Right Now

I am going through a fantastically interesting and useful set of posts over at The Legal Genealogist called How old did folks have to be (that link is Part One; here are Part Two and Part Three).

It reminds us that in the absence of a birth record, the legal framework in which our ancestors operated can provide important clues about their age. Knowing how old a person had to be to marry (among many things) can help us narrow the range of a search considerably.

Judy G. Russell is providing so much good information here it’s unfair to single out any one paragraph, but since this one involves my home state and really is a very good example, here goes:

In East Jersey, the 1683 Fundamental Constitutions required the ruling Proprietors to be 21 years old in order to vote (section XIII), jurors were required to be age 25 (section XIX), and whenever any names were to be drawn by lot for elections or jury service, the drawing was done by a boy under the age of 10 (sections III and XIX).

Where you find a name, and at what point in a place’s legal history, can point you to some very specific age frames, as Russell’s posts amply illustrate. Great stuff.

Links, 1.19.12

Free roaming: Kansas residents with a valid driver’s license can get free access to more than 8 million Kansas records on Ancestry via an agreement with and the Kansas Historical Society. (Although I feel bad for Kansas residents who don’t happen to drive, for whatever reason.)

Village, revisited: Can you go home again? Journalist Alex Weisler had reason to ponder the question when he visited Shatsk, the shtetl in western Ukraine from which his family emigrated. A nice summary of a complex but ultimately rewarding trip.

Growth: The Family Tree app is in the top 20 of fast-growing Facebook apps, according to Inside Facebook. At No. 9, it’s several spots behind Birthday Calendar but one step ahead of TripAdvisor.  Somehow that sequence seems appropriate, I don’t know why.

Have you raised a ruckus about SOPA and PIPA?

If you want to know how to contact your Congressional representatives,  go here (for the House) and here (for the Senate).

If you want to know a little more about why SOPA/PIPA  stinks, go here  (and scroll down to click on the Read More link).

Links tomorrow!

Good Reads: ‘William Cooper’s Town’

Mr. Archaeologist has long been urging me to read Alan Taylor’s majestic 1995 William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. He keeps saying it is especially interesting from a genealogical perspective.

Indeed yes. William Cooper’s Town is a biography of the man who fathered one of America’s first popular novelists, James Fenimore Cooper. It is also an eagle-eyed look at how America’s social order turned upside down in the years after the Revolutionary War.

Genealogists will find many moments of recognition  in the story of how Cooper, the son of a poor Quaker farmer, parlayed early connections among wealthy Friends in Philadelphia and New Jersey to become a land magnate in the early frontier of upstate New York. I’m sure many researchers will be familiar with the post-Revolution migration that Cooper helped foster. (Most of his pioneer tenants were displaced New Englanders hungry for plentiful, fertile land.) Students of Loyalist families will be interested to see how Cooper’s early successes were, in part, the product of Loyalist misfortunes and exiles.

All of that is quite awesome, but where Mr. Taylor earns the Wish I’d Thought of That Research Award™ is in his exploration of William Cooper’s early career among the Quakers of Burlington, New Jersey.

Investigating William’s attempts to better himself, Taylor turns to … the library. Not just any present-day library, but Cooper’s library: the records of the Library Company of Burlington, “the town’s preminent social club and cultural institution,” which still exists, as New Jersey’s oldest library.

Taylor mines the Library Company’s circulation records to show how young Cooper embarked upon an energetic course of self-improvement, checking out an average of 46 books a year between 1783-89. “He must have burned a lot of midnight oil,” Taylor comments. He also points out that as Cooper’s reading material grew increasingly ambitious, so did the frequency of joking comments like “Cooper the Learned” scribbled next to his name in the circulation records. It was an early sign of Cooper’s uneasy fit in the social circles to which he aspired.

It is also a textbook example of the rewards that await when research moves beyond the basics of censuses, vitals and church registers. Not all  research efforts will be rewarded with such meticulous and well-preserved records. But this little gem from Taylor’s book is a great example of how the imaginative use of a source can reclaim the lost details of a long-ago life.

Whaddya Call It?

Geneabrarian’s thoughtful post on genealogy/hobbyism/professionalism/identity, along with equally thoughtful commentary from Elyse Doerflinger and Thomas MacEntee, really got me thinking, even with a sinus headache raging in the background.

Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with genealogy-as-hobby, I hate that word. I have a totally personal dislike of describing serious concepts with words employing that “-y” sound. For instance, I also hate the term “bullying.” In workplaces, you’d call it harassment. In school, we call it “bullying,” which gives out a cuddly, nursery-school vibe. It minimizes. Similarly, “hobby” sounds trite as opposed to, say, “avocation” or even “pastime.”

And yet, from very early on I have shied away from calling myself a “genealogist.” For one thing, as I wrote a while back, it could get people’s backs up, and wreck perfectly good parties. Then, too, there was the little matter of the complete lack of credentials. Without a C.G., was I a genealogist? Could I be? If not, what was I?

Thinking over Geneabrarian’s post, I realize that for years I have been sidestepping this issue by describing what I do, not who I am. “I’m tracing my ancestors in upstate New York,” I began saying not long after starting in genealogy, in the early 1990s. I was still a working journalist at that point, and this sort of language clicked with colleagues. But this method has continued to be useful in that it expands to fit the situation. “I write family histories.” “I help people retrieve records for their genealogy research.” And so on.

Yet a unified brand makes sense. So much of communication today revolves around the instant sense of connection, the strong first impression. But this is a challenge when applied to the world of genealogy. Some of us are trying to earn an income from genealogical research. Some are not. Some are thinking about it. Some are combining genealogical interests with other professions.

Right now I’m at a loss for a noun that works for all of it.  Maybe a phrase — like “people who rescue the history of everyday citizens.”

Unfortunately, that would look like hell on a logo.


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