Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Origin Stories

It's some sort of sign of old age that I've suddenly become interested in genealogy.

(In my defense, it's grown out of the recent upsurge of my interest in local history, which has grown out of parenthood.)

I've been dragging my kids around to Revolutionary War reenactments, and I went to the William Johnson seminar last fall in Johnstown.

About 15 years ago we buried my mother's brother in the Catholic cemetery directly behind Fort Johnson; as his cortege passed the Fort, I recall thinking, "Hmmm, sometime I should learn more about Wm. J." So I did.

And that led me to the American Revolution here in the Mohawk Valley. Which led me to the Herkimer House, and to the Battle of Oriskany. Which led me to this book:

(insert cover photo of "Forgotten Allies")

about the Oneida Indians in the Revolution: the Oneidas broke the Six Nations Confederacy to stand by their Patriot neighbors against the British - and against the Indians allied with the British, including their own Mohawk brethren.

Now, the Oneidas are still right there at the west end of the Valley; and they've been pressing their land claims to that part of the world - which (theoretically, at least)
would include my sister's house, a few miles east of the Oriskany battlefield.

So I got to thinking about MY house, here on Mohawk land, and started looking into the solidity of my own deed. And wondering about the days when the Dutch wrangled my lot from the original owners, and wondering about the first contact between the natives and the Europeans. So I read some books on the Dutch settlement of the neighborhood, and some books on the Iroquois.

Now, my aunts had always claimed that their mother's line entitled them to DAR-status.
And it turns out that not only were they correct - we do go back before 1783, and at least seven of my ancestors served on the Patriots' side. But, more interestingly, my grandmother's people go back to the original Dutch settlers, before the English.

One remarkable aspect of this part of the world - which I suppose is little different from any other part of the world - is that you read the names on the map, you read the histories of the earliest settlement - and those same names used to sit next to me in school. I lived across the street from the DeGrafs, we lived around the corner from the Fondas. I went to Bradt School, for goodness sake, where I was taught by Mrs. Viele. In high school I dated a girl who lived next door to the Mabee farm. And there were still Mabees living there at the time, just like there had been since the 1680s, when it marked the frontier of European expansion. And those Old Local Names that I went to school with? Now it turns out that I'm probably connected to half of them. Being Americans , and so many of us recent immigrants, we never talked much about this back then. (Everyone being blue collar - with no particular desire to put on airs - probably had something to do with it, too.)

All of which is neither unusual or nor especially interesting - but it was startlingly new to me.

Labels: , , ,