Saturday, May 31, 2008

Visit Poland and Scandanavia

Union arms of Sweden and NorwayImage via WikipediaMost of my ancestors came to North America from Europe in the 18th century. By comparison, my wife's family arrived much later. Her grandparents migrated from Poland, and from Sweden and Norway. Since the connection to these places is still "fresh," we intend to take a trip and see some of the places I've uncovered in researching her family tree.

The Polish ancestors have been a bit difficult to trace. If there is any advice I can give about family history, it is to try to drag the stories from your older family members before they pass. Once they are gone, the stories are gone with them, as is a wealth of knowledge locked in their heads. In Nancy's case, her Polish grandparents were already dead by the time I started my research, and getting information (especially documentation) from her parents' generation has been difficult. We knew the general area of Poland, but localization was a challenge.

Poland has an interesting history. While there have been ethnic Polish people for many contiguous years, the country of Poland been in and out of nationhood, and the land has been ruled by Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, and even Sweden at one time. You can imagine what that does to written history and recordkeeping. Through documents like Church records and Military records, we were finally able to identify the ancestral villages of her grandparents. One is a town called Krusza in Northeastern Poland near Turosl. The other is the small villiage of Kalety, ethnically Polish but located in the extreme northwest corner of the Republic of Belarus, near the border of present day Poland and the town of Sejny. This area had a large Jewish population at one time, and we often wonder if the family had a Jewish connection.

We would like to visit Poland, and see Krusza, at least, in addition to doing the touristy things in Warsaw and Krakow... and maybe extend this to some of the other former Eastern Bloc countries... particularly the Czech Republic and Hungary. Getting to Belarus may be a bit more of a challenge, considering the current political climate.

Finding points of origin in Scandinavia, on the other hand, was much easier. Thanks mostly to the meticulous recordkeeping of the Lutheran Church, we were able to trace ancestors back to Swedish and Norwegian farms in the seventeenth century. We have a list of places to visit in Kalmar in southern Sweden, Vännäs in north central Sweden, and Telemark in Norway. Though Telemark is in southern Norway, I've always had the dream of taking the Norwegian Coastal Steamer (hurtigruten) along the coast to the northern tip of Norway. Perhaps we can see some of Denmark and Finland as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

6. Make Some Music

Typical playing range of a horn (notes sounding a perfect 5th   lower than written)Image via WikipediaI've always been around music. Violin lessons at age 4... piano at 8-9, French Horn in the band in school, choral groups and choirs, and guitar lessons as an adult. So I wish I could say that I play an instrument well... but the truth is that I don't. Although, if you count the human voice as an instrument, I can claim to play that one fairly well.

So I never really applied myself to music lessons, and, since you don't see me on stage somewhere, you can safely conclude that I don't have a virtuoso gift for playing an instrument.

But, I've always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music, and have that quiet yearning to make music of some kind. Fortunately, there is still time. And technology can help. (Of course, it can never replace real skill or knowledge -- but it can help cobble together enough of the components to produce something novel, something unique, something I could call my own.)

There are those who are content to listen to others' music. There are those who are satisfied with playing well the notes born of others' inner voices... and then there are those who desire to create something for others to play and listen to. I embrace all of these perspectives, but, lately, the creative urge, which started as a periodic nagging, has become louder and more steady, sometimes breaking into daydreams with a sharp jab, here and there interrupting my happy entropy with a needy urgency, and suddenly disrupting my happy coasting down the sometimes bumpy hill of middle-age ennui.

So I shall make some music before the end comes. I only hope some muse takes kindly to my intentions.