Tag: bilderback

Historical Imaging 2



This follow-up post presents the historical imaging I’ve done focused on maps and location. Actually, I’d say that it’s most correct to say that this is imagery driven not by simply the “location”, but by the agenda of attempting to locate a thing; to impart a sense of how and where the thing in question is located–oriented–to the viewer.

To locate a thing so that it fits with the audience’s world.

Obviously this can’t always work.

It turns out (of course) that usually at least some sort of context is necessary. For images of a place (whether from a map, an aerial photograph or other rendering, crude diagram in the sand…whatever!), for it to mean a ding dang thing, your intended audience much of the time needs to have at least some basic geographical knowledge.

But that said, it’s a very interesting and multi-faceted challenge to try and make an image conveying a sense of place if you consider your audience consisting of people who don’t know…don’t really care. lol

When & Where… & when, again?

  1.  Basic “when & where” map for an individual or familyMD2MA-1
  2. Tighter focus on the “where” (central Massachusetts in this case; a father and son located)
  3. Placing the very specific in the macro
    1. Farmstead of 4x-great-grandad that served as homebase for 3 generationswashcozoom1
    2. City unfamiliar to coast-dwelling typesLOUISVILLE 1 copy2
    3. When the exact part of a foreign place is important (for some reason)Jura copy
    4. Using cool maps cooly. For this one, the only context necessary is that this is the east coast of Ireland, just south of Dublin and that north is to the right.
      Wicklow 3D2 copy
    5. Tighter focus–after you’ve given some context
      1. Tober Townland was directly referenced on the map above, so now  you can zoom in there to see detail. The inset maintains the tether to the broad knowledge base you’re attempting to access.TUBBER1 copy 2
      2. southwestern Wisconsin, a couple miles off the Mississippi River & 5 or 7 miles from Illinois, showcasing an original land grantee whose descendants carried on in the location; 4x-great-grandkids remain in 2017.T DUSTIN LAND copy
      3. Various specific spots within a larger, but still relatively small (and not commonly  nown) location, the Dordogne in southwestern France. In the upper right of this one is Jumilhac, the castle seen in the last post.
      4. one place, Haverhill, Massachusetts and vicinity…

        image2212 copy

        … variations on perspective

        HAVERHILL SALEM copy

      5.  One place in detail: Foley, Minnesota

        FOLEY copy

Foley sits nearly smack dab in the middle of the state, among the flat, flat fields 15 miles east-northeast of the mini urban hub of St. Cloud and the bend over which it presides of the still quite wide Mississippi River. The tiny hamlet FLC LHC FOLEY copyof Foley has given the world doctors, lawyers, Indy 500 participants, lumber, all-night jazz dances in barns once upon a time, and been home to retired farmers, aspiring capitalist fashionistas, former religious zealots & their kids, descendants of royalty and lots and lots of regular people who very well might’ve been born in other countries or been the kids of those who were.

Rockefeller had a gas station here (like 10s of thousands of of other places in these United States); women turned out nearly to a 100% here in 1924 the first occasion they GnG OGG FOLEY copywere permitted to help choose the President. Foley is a stand-in for whatever your little town is, or was. Our Town is the most performed play (or close to it) in America because 100s of millions of us came from our towns like this. “I didn’t, but my mom did”,–we’re all from it together.

These small towns, whose children and grandchildren have flocked and flown out to the gothams and metropolitanias  were in their way, factories of the ever-new, ever-renewing people, of us all–factories of Americans.

The sprawling and ever interconnected suburbs and ex-urbs where so many millions of us now reside and have for some time–they are built by the developers and they are inhabited by the dwellers on the model of the myriad iterations of “Small Town America” like Foley, Minnesota. It was in these places that generations of people learned and were taught how to be Americans. Despite the regional differences that might inculcate one attitude or another toward or about other people, the style of day-to-day interaction and pacing and level of attentiveness to the people around you, it’s all very similar in this small town substrate of our collective sense of ourselves and how and who we are.

It is from this America that in many critical ways we came. And it seems to me worth knowing in order to figure out into what America we are, might, or can decide to be going.


From Campbell to Kidder to Donnersberger

Here’s a link to the pdf. Right click and “Save as…”


Here’s her descent from our shared Campbells:


Ella (1910-2006) compiled and wrote the book (linked above), comprised mostly of letters from and to her mother Lulu (1882-1965), chronicling her life from leaving her mother, also known as Ella (1856-1898), eldest child of Thomas B. (1830-1907), himself the eldest child of his parents, and several letters from whom are included in the book, letters to his granddaughters, Lulu (primary subject of the book) and her sisters Florence and Nettie. (FYI, Florence married but had no kids, Nettie had a few whose descendants today live between Iowa and Florida.)

Movements of Some Grandpa’s…Movements of the Nation


Genealogy — family history — is ever but a small rear-view mirror on the collective history that brought us all here, now. Like the small mirrors on the sides of cars, the objects reflected to us through the “mirror” of Fam-tracking may indeed be closer to us (in time and importance, in this case) than they might appear, or seem to be, given their being framed, not only as “the past”, but even more so, as our personal and individual(ized) *family* history. I think most people perceive the pursuit of family history (genealogy) as quite self-absorbed, and it’s perfectly self-evident and not at all shocking why and that they would. But even though it might be admitted that by 15 to 20 generations back, one’s ancestors are entirely no longer merely one’s own, but shared with 100s of millions of others (and thus genealogy skeptics might admit that studying them pretty much equals studying history), because of the characteristic tight focus on individual lives it’s easy to forget that everyone — parents, grandparents and our grandparents’ grandparents — was and in their lives’ doings enacted events, trends, material culture and more that define and describe the history that gets studied and continually rewritten in the halls and annals of academe.

Yes, this 1828 campaign item says: “Protector & Defender of Beauty & Booty”.

And so this post begins a bit of a summary of the movements around America of my surname-sake 3X-grandparents and their kids. They launched from southwestern Pennsylvania in 1830 (two years after Andrew Jackson was elected 7th US President), crept across the Midwest and landed in southwestern Wisconsin 14 years later, (two years before Abe Lincoln was elected to the US House of Representatives). As these two parents’ choices to change life & work venues correlate to A, B & C aspects of widespread goings-on in America, so, too do the subsequent movements of their sons. Two of the five relevant kids left to California at first opportunity, starting in 1851, and the three others all ended up leaving the family’s landing spot in southwestern Wisconsin after making hay for as long as they each could, departing in 1869, 1879 and 1880, to California, Colorado and northern Wisconsin, respectively. (A previous post details the one and only reuniting of those three in Colorado in 1905.)

Again, the facts tracing these isolated individuals turn out to be illustrative of qualitatively and usually comparatively quantitatively similar  facts and characteristics of altogether larger and generally widespread trends. So even though there are perhaps only 500 to 600 or so people alive today descended from this particular guy and his particular wife, (Geo Campbell & Rachel Bilderback) there were about 194,000 other people who moved from some place in America to the same place they did — Wisconsin — at the same time.

I’m a very poor mathematician, and thus no statistician, but going on very rough guesstimates, if we assume about half of those 194 thousand (domestically born) people added to Wisconsin’s Popspopulation from 1830 to 1850 were kids, that’s about 97,000 adults. And dividing that # in half to account (very roughly) for married couples, we come up with about 48,000. (Which turns out to be incredibly close to the actual figure of 44,190 males of voting age and right in 1850 in Wisconsin. What ever accuracy my guesswork held would be a function of my having spent far too many hours with this kind of material over the years…so that you don’t have to! lol )

So even though only 500 to 600 or so people are descended from the man and woman in question, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 million living Americans are descended from the people who were doing the same thing in the same place at the same time. And since it also turns out that this story correlates to the populations of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois at least, we’re talking about the lives of more like 215,000 people back then that share general reflection with these particular gr-gr-gr-grandparents of mine.

In other words, their story is relevant to roughly 107 million living Americans, or about a third of our country.

So   just    *listen*! 😉

It’s the story, after all, of how we got here, now, all of us. Cuz even those also here, now, who come from people who came here later and/or differently, they arrived in to circumstances resulting from what was engendered in America by the grandkids etc of the people I’m talking about. We are all connected.

Ok, the historico-demographic rant is over, now on to the meat!

George and Rachel, as reflected in previous posts, are a pet project within my wider and general genealogical interest. They’re the source of my last name, they’re the 1st ones I sorta knew about, so I feel some weird, semi-arbitrary affinity for them and their goings-on.

We don’t know the details yet of George’s origins. But a meticulously kept and copied “family record” consistently shows him having been born just after xmas, 1800 in Pennsylvania. A bio of one of his sons in one of those late-19th century county boosterism books relates that George’s dad immigrated from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and this is corroborated in a hand-written note from another of George’s sons.

We know more about his wife. In the same “family record”, Rachel’s related to have been born in mid November WashCoZoom1in 1812 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. And indeed there’s a lovely record of her dad getting a 250 acre plot there in 1809. They appear to have married on Aug 16, 1829, and about 10 months later become parents to a baby boy in the same location. And indeed, the 1830 census shows them living as the next family after Rachel’s dad, Thomas Bilderback (and after whom that 1st baby boy was named). I think it’s safe to assume that they were on his property. And this assumption comes after having had the chance to briefly visit the area, and w/ the later help (admittedly) of GoogleEarth, to note that there are only a certain number of places anyone can have a house or farm, cuz the area is really hilly and wooded.

The next kid’s born Feb 2, 1833 only about 10 miles away, but we haven’t isolated the location in or near GC Ind Land loc-1Wellsville, Ohio, yet.

However, thanks to the availability of records from the General Land Office, we GC Ind Land loc-CUhave (I believe) accurately located their next homestead in Indiana where their next two sons were born, George P.B. and Columbus (1835 & 1838).

The Story Behind a Reunion Photo!

Above is a photo that both returning readers and relatives (a lot of overlap, there, too 😉 will recognize.

There are a few copiesof this picture floating around amongst those of us descended from the fellow on the right, George P.B. Campbell (1835-1910). From the date written on them, we’ve always known the picture was taken the summer of 1905 in Georgetown, Colorado. And from written “records of the family” we’ve known three things: 1) that Georgetown, Colorado was at that time the residence of the fellow on the left in the picture: Thomas B. Campbell (1830-1907), eldest of the group of siblings; 2) that he and the rest of the family had lived in southwestern Wisconsin from 1844 to around 1880; and 3) that in 1905 they were the last living of what had been a brood of seven.

Seated next to Thomas (in the middle), Henry R. Campbell (1843-1913) was the second youngest of the seven, and at the time of this picture lived in Stockton, California, where he’d lived since 1874. Only George (on the right) remained living in Wisconsin, but not in the extreme southwestern part of the state where they’d all lived as boys, where their parents had died, where they’d all grown, married and had families, where their only sister and baby brother had both died some 40 years earlier, the area that even for the two brothers who went west to California was without question the family crucible and launch pad. Henry and George had served together in the Civil War in Company H of the 25th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. (Here’s a narrative I wrote of that: GPBC CIVIL WAR1) In fact, it was an event oif the Civil War veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, of which they were both members, that occasioned this reunion. Meanwhile, The 2nd oldest of the siblings, John A. Campbell (1833-1873) had gone overland in 1851; the 4th son Columbus A. (1838-1900), had sailed via Panama in 1858.

Thomas had had 8 kids, remarried after his first wife died and had three more kids before leaving to Colorado around 1879. George also had remarried after his first wife died and had had three kids prior to himself then moving to northern Wisconsin. Thomas had been a bookkeeper and shopkeep in what had started as a mining boom town. But New Diggings never made that critical transition away from economic dependency on mining. In the mid 1870s if mining boom towns was what you knew, the place to go was Colorado. Henry was also a bookkeeper, living just two doors down from Thomas; he left sooner (he had only three kids, so perhaps was able to save the money to go more quickly than Thomas) and opted for the help (possibly) of their brother Columbus out in California’s central valley (John had died the year before; perhaps Henry was to assist with John’s kids, too). George, on the other hand, had followed in the work of their father: he was in the lumber milling business, and by the mid 1880s one of the places to go if that was your thing was northern Wisconsin.

Out in California, Columbus died in 1900.

Thus, just from the barest knowledge that these three were the last living of the siblings–of a family that had been born and raised on the wagon roads through the Midwest, orpahend as kids (ranging from ages 19 to 3)–and that these three lived in truly far-flung locales (California, Colorado, Wisconsin), it was obvious that the picture was something of a big deal, or rather, had been taken full of intent to remember, notate, commemmorate.

Well at long last and sort of out of the blue, we now have–and I am tickled pink to present…

The story behind the picture,

told in first person



the oldest brother,

Thomas B. Campbell, himself

Here, then, is the account, told by that alert-looking little man on the left of the picture, of these three brothers’ reunion in the Rocky Mountains just over a hundred years ago, as he recounted it in a letter to one of his granddaughters, who was at Catholic boarding school in Nebraska.


December 11, 1905

Dear Granddaughter,

Thomas B. ~ ca.1874

I had quite a reunion last September with my brothers, George P.B. and Henry R. at the grand army meeting in Denver at that time. We three are all there is now living of the original seven, six brothers and one sister.

We three had met together at New Diggings, Wisconsin in July, 1874 at the time Henry was about to leave for California and we had not seen each other since then.


Henry ~ ca.1874

Brother Henry of Stockton,California was a delegate to the grand army [of the Republic] meeting and Besides, we found that brother George had a son – George D. …in Denver. This I did not know until the past summer, when a man on one of the excursions, inquired of the bystanders for me and I happened to be at the station at the time and he made him known as son of my brother George, and when brother Henry got to Denver, a letter of mine to him in the care of Mrs. Duff informed him of the address of our nephew George D.

George D.

Brother George (of Chetek, Wisconsin near St. Paul, Minn) did not intend to come to the grand army meeting, but brother Henry arranged with nephew George D. to have brother George come to Denver and he came…..

So we three brothers made our head quarters in Denver with nephew George D. and his wife. They gave us entertainment to the Queens or anybody else‘s state. We had a great time. Brother Henry and his wife were up here and went back to Denver before Brother George came out, and when George came, I went down to Denver and after brother Henry left for home, brother George came up here with me. The Denver relations appear to be nice people and we now hope that we can become better acquainted.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, I am very truly yours,

Your grandfather,
Thomas B. Campbell


The letter is taken from a privately published book available through the LA Family History Library that chronicles the life of Thomas’s oldest grandchild, Lulu Donnersberger (nee Kidder) via letters written by and to her over the course of her life, beginning when she was 8 years old, and includes some, like the one above, between various other family members. The book was written and edited by Lulu’s daughter Ella Laub (nee Donnersberger) in the 1970s.

  Click here for the post that links to it.

1905, Georgetown, CO
L to R: Thomas B. (75), Henry R. (61), & George P.B. Campbell (70)

A Bicentennial for Gramma!

(Great-Great-Great-Gramma, that is)

The usually scheduled post for this time of year (click these words for Veteran’s Day) has been pre-empted by the following regarding Monday’s date.

It just so happens that yesterday, Nov 12, 2012 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of my gr-gr-gr-grandmothers, a lady named Rachel Bilderback Campbell. The picture up top is of a farm home that is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the property owned 200 years ago by her father, Thomas Bilderback. It’s conceivable that it’s the same location as the family home back then, but even if that’s not the case, the picture above is within the bounds of the property where she was born in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1812.

Her dad had been born somewhat close by around 1764, perhaps 30 or so miles south of this spot. By 1800, however, he appears with his family in the census at what we can presume safely to be this location. (He secured the patent for the property in 1806 from the General Land Office.) And on that spot he remained until he passed away at the end of 1831.

He’s buried less than half a mile from that land, just a couple of ridges to the east.

But — almost symbolically — it was due west from this spot that his daughter, Rachel would travel…accompanied, of course, by America, right? Indeed, since she and her husband, some neighbors, cousins on both her parents’ sides and even her maternal grandmother all embodied the very growth of this new nation to be summarized, lionized and otherwise collectivelly classified by later historians.

Two years before her father Thomas died, and about two-&-a-half months before her 17th birthday Rachel had married a 28-year-old local boy, son of Scots-Irish immigrants, named George Campbell. She successfully bore a baby boy the next summer — June 11, 1830 — who was duly named Thomas Bilderback Campbell. And after her dad’s passing at the end of 1831 it seems like the nascent family made its home base some 10 miles away on the Ohio side of the river so named, for it was there, when their baby Thomas B. was just past two-&-a-half years old, and Rachel was 20, that she bore their second boy, John Alexander Campbell (Alexander being George’s dad’s name).

Since their third boy — and great-great-grandad to me and many others — was born in northern Indiana in July, 1835, I think it’s somewhat logical to imagine that they must have departed from their native home  in 1834; point being: to get an accurate picture of the situation, what we need to imagine is being a 21-year-old girl with a year-old baby and a 3-year-old, being in a wagon for some weeks. Now she was hardly alone in this. George Campbell was following work, and from a range of sources including census records, land patents, and legal documents we know that they were with a veritable community of cousins and cohorts from the area where they’d grown up that were moving right along with them together. (In fact, one of Thomas B. Campbell’s sons bore the middle name “Causland”, which was a remembered version of the last name of Thomas Bilderback’s neighbor, George McCausland.)

George, who from sources we know plied the trade of millwright, seems also to have been a bit of a civil engineer — which means he must have been tossing up lumber mills to facilitate the clear-cutting required by the construction of roads, canals and towns across the Midwest, and that he almost certainly contributed a hand and/or a plan to the actual building of various bridges, roads and canals as necessary. The fact that the family’s land in Indiana was in close proximity to Logansport, Indiana for precisely the duration of bridge and canal building   there, would indicate this rather strongly. As you can see in the map, above, and though I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, since we’re commemmorating her 200th birthday it bears repeating, Rachel was having babies along their slow route westward. Rachel bore a third and fourth son in Indiana, then they moved to southern Illinois where she bore a daughter and another son. They moved in July, 1844 to the spot that would be the end of the line for Rachel and George: just a few miles from the Mississippi River, on its eastern banks, in the extreme southwestern corner of Wisconsin, and two years later Rachel bore their seventh baby, a sixth boy they named William. She was two months shy of her 34th birthday. And I can imagine you know what’s coming next.

Rachel died about two weeks later, on Oct 8, 1846. Their oldest boy, named for her father, remember, was 16 by then. John was 13. George — my ancestor — was 11, Columbus was 8, the girl, Amanda, was 5, and her little brother Henry was 3. And there was a 2-week-old baby boy, as well. The obvious benefit of large families comes to the fore at this point, since the older boys were of immediate value as labor to their dad, and/or to others who would pay them, while the younger kids must have been of some help in caring for the baby. What ever scheme they had only lasted three years, when the mill-building father George Campbell departed this life, Dec 2, 1849, just shy of his own 49th birthday. The then orphaned kids are found 9 months later in the 1850 census in various locations nearby, but clustered to some degree near each other.

But I’m not posting this as a tale of woe. Every one of the 7 kids would make it to adulthood, and 5 of them went on to have kids of their own. Three of those five ended up in California. Thomas, the eldest, landed in Colorado, and through George P.B. remained in Wisconsin, his kids and theirs spread about the nation. Although neither George or Rachel got to see or meet any of their kids’ kids, they were eventualy the grandparents of 43 grandchildren. The last two of those 43 died in 1972 and 1973; one was a daughter of Thomas, the other a son of George P.B., 160 years after their grandmother had been born. To me, that’s wild.

No accounts have surfaced that directly relate anything about this great-great-great-grandmother; no pictures, of course, either. To get any idea of what she or at least her life was like there are various very general resources about, for instance, groups in which she fit, like Pennsylvanian American Protestants, and there are things one might reasonably infer about her from such sources, as well as from what we know of how other similar people responded to the “challenges of daily life” in that period and place. But one should be intellectually honest enough to admit that we can never (most likely) really know much at all about this person.

I think more might be gained by looking at the things, the consequences, the results, the patterns of actions that she left behind. It’s super easy to feel a helluva lot of compassion for this lady — I do — this girl who died when she was 33 years old, after bearing 7 babies while moving house and home via horse, wagon and barge every year or two. And it seems hard to match “33-year-old woman” with “grandma”, much less with “great”-etc-grandma. But such as it is, that 33-year-old lady was our gr-gr-gr-gramma, and there are effects in the world of the people she left behind which make her legacy not a light one. I can’t know what precisely, but something of this woman came down through time to her descendants.

I am one of a group of 7 first cousins descended from Rachel and George; we’re in the 5th generation of their descendants. But there are 213 others in the 5th generation, at least 100 in the 6th generation, similar numbers in the 7th, and most of the 4th generation are still alive, too; 124 of them at last count. (Note, that count is definitely still incomplete, but not far from what’s likely to be the total.)

What ever it is that I’m suggesting can be known of Rachel may not be directly noticeable in the 500 or so living descendants. But I don’t think it’s ridiculous to posit that what she imparted as a mother (above and beyond the obvious genetics), and as a person, could be discerable in the lives of her kids and her 43 grandkids. I never would have had such a thought until recently, and it emerged after I’d collected a large batch of new life stories. I’m referring to the lives I’ve discovered within the last six months of the fellow descendants of hers and George’s as I’d set a course of trying to track down all lines of their descent and have had greater success than I really thought possible. Story after story piled up, and I began to see a pattern.

From the stalwart perserverance of the sickly oldest child of George and Rachel’s oldest child and of her daughter after her, to the care and raising of a grandchild by their youngest (who went on to have kids), there are similar and often identical threads, themes, tropes and stories of triumph in the face of odds that were challenging to the say the least. Can that be isolated as a trait? Can we say that it came from Rachel and not from George, or elsewhere? No, we certainly cannot make such claims. But I think that something of it, something of strength of character in spite of it all, some yearning for something better might be in her legacy.

If nothing else, I’ve recently learned through genetic testing and meeting another person descended from Thomas Bilderback that I inherited a gene from him through his daughter Rachel that confers exceptional resistance to bacterial infection. (And indeed, I almost never get sick; maybe once a year, if that. Thanks, gr-gr-gr-gramma! 🙂

Anyway, the stories of her grandchildren are marvelous and thoroughly American. More next time. For now, I’ll depart with this funny thought that (I hope!) helps to collapse those 200 years and make her life more tangible:

Since my kids (in the 6th generation of Rachel and George’s descendants) are well acquainted with my mom, and since she was well acquainted with her grandpa Campbell, and he was a grandson of R and G, that means my kids know someone who is only seperated by two degrees from someone who was born when James Madison was re-elected for a 2nd term!

Part 2 in a jiffy… plus, here’s a link to a video I made about my cousins’ and my descent from the past, specifically, from Charlemagne et al… Enjoy!

An Old Face Rejoins His Siblings

This past weekend I spent an afternoon with a 4th cousin I’d never met. We’re both repositories of sorts of famtracking lore, and regaled each other with tales of yesteryear.

Among his many fascinating things, tales, and objects he had the above picture.

It is a photograph of one Mr. John A. Campbell, my great-great-grand-uncle. And until I saw this picture Saturday I’d never seen his face.

He was the second child (and son) of my 3rd great-grandparents George Campbell & Rachel Bilderback, and one of two older brothers to my 2nd great-grandfather, George P.B. Campbell. I’ve recently been tracking down with pretty much amazing success, I must say, the descendants of Geo & Rachel. They had seven kids, and so far we’ve had pictures of four of them: Thomas, the oldest, George P.B., and the younger siblings Amanda and Henry.JOHN A brite1

But now, lo, and behold we can add brother John for a reunion that never occurred (they’re not pictured in order of birth, btw).


The seven kids had been born as their parents moved from southwestern PA to southwestern WI between 1830 and 1846. Their mom died only a couple of weeks after delivering their last baby, William, and their dad died three years after that. At that point, the eldest was 19, and already lived and worked at a store he’d later own. John was 16, and along with another brother, Columbus, who was 11, lived with the family of one of their mom’s cousins. George P.B., 13, and Henry, 6, lived near each other on other nearby farms, and Amanda, 9 years old, lived near Thomas, the eldest, which to me seems like the exact right thing for him to have done to take care of his baby sister.

JOHN A brite2

As soon as John hit is 18th birthday, though, pyeeooow! that guy was outa there. See, what’s particularly fascinating about John, here, is that at 18 he took the overland route to California. What’s more amazing is that a good portion of the journal he kept of his walking journey across America is still extant!

So, at last, here he is.

That  super-steady little grin  and  what   seems to me to pour out of the photo:   true self satisfaction could have something to do with the fact that this guy walked–WALKED!–across this continent. Dude flippin’ walked from the  northern reaches of the Mississippi River across the Great Plains, right through the  chiseled windscapes of high Wyoming, into, through and over the Rocky Mountains,  amongst the scraggy  cliffs of the Utah and Nevada rock wonderlands, across the surreal, scorching dry alkaline lake beds   on the desert tenderloin before transecting the final mountains of the great rolling American immensity,  the Sierra Nevadas, and walked himself right down that slope of excitement (why excitment? because it’s the final concave curve of fault and bend of rock, of the continent) to the land’s very destiny under the lapping and endless waves of the Pacific Ocean.

You’re  looking at a guy who walked 2,100 miles with just a few, maybe up to a couple dozen people, from Old Man River to the splashing edge of the world’s most massive ocean, a guy who when he finished landed in the newly minted town of San Francisco just at the moment when it had found itself, its ebullient staggering legs. This guy presumably  experienced the raw decadence that is part of the DNA of San Francisco and California.

There are plenty of tales of those who also made the trek he made and who rode the boom wave right into the snares that await in those places built to cater to all of our desires. But I like to look at this awesome portrait and  based on the facts that we know about him, bask right along with him in the suchness of his weathering that storm, too, on top of the million affronts that trekking across a partially hostile continent is heir to.

Six years after his arrival in San Francisco this guy you see in this picture got himself married to a slightly younger girl from Germany, and by the time of that swirl of events when the 16th President of the United States took office and Southern states seceded from the United States of America and started a war, John and his wife Sevilla had a baby boy and another one on the way. He also owned and managed a hotel/saloon and was what we’d call a veterinarian. Did he order more than one print of this picture of himself…to send back to Wisconsin to his older brother and brood of younger brothers and baby sister? to his mom’s cousin who’d taken him in for a year before he high-tailed it west? I hope they saw this picture. It’s triumphant, but not at all showie about it.

Anyway, the newly found cousin who owns this picture also had some pix of John’s kids, of course.

He also had this one of the other brother’s — Henry’s — three daughters, which I’d also never seen.

I mean, take a look at these ladies. Smart, together and confident. One imagines they were quite bonded. And it looks it!

Good stuff!

It’s 241 for US!! July 4, 1776

Ah, yes, the presence of the past.

A big topic, actually.

Take July 4, 1776.

And with that heavy duty date, take this:

Q: How many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in the United States?

A: None!

(waaait for it…)

The United States didn’t exist yet, silly!

Yes, a silly trick question, but it nails what happened that day 241 years ago and why it’s still worth celebrating (indeed, to spite the circus currently being run in our government).

Nowadays, the room you see pictured above–where elected representatives from the 13 Amer0024_-_Flickr_-_NOAA_Photo_Library.jpgcolonies convened as the Second Continental Congress and voted to declare themselves independent from Great Britain–that room in the Old State House in Philadelphia sits empty except for stand-in furniture selected to look like what was there in the 1770s and the click, flash and whir of camera phones dutifully snapped by the well-controlled parade of tourists, who are coralled safely along the edge so as not to damage this bit of history.

And it would be hokey if there were actors populating the room, accurately recreating the debates and vote calls meticulously curated for just such re-enaactments…wouldn’t it?

inde-hall-pano4 copyMaybe with holograms or VR or AR it could be ok. But the briefest of reflections makes such literalism perhaps unnecessary.

We the living, breathing people of the United States of America–from our countrymen-and-women serving in US armies around the world to home-renters in Modesto and all the rest of us–we are all the immediately compelling, real, hard and fast evidence of what went down in that room 241 years ago:

People who had been selected by the people they lived with in each of 13 different 13_colonies copycolonies to represent them in a collective and collectively minded ruling committee unanimously agreed to and did declare that together as a unit the 13 colonies they represented were as of then to be independent of the authority of England (aka Great Britain). And with that Declaration of Independence, the United States of America came into being, and we are all here now as a result.

The past is, in that sense, quite present.

It can also be a an interesting experiment to find out if or how many of your ancestors happened to be living here in America in one of those 13 East Coast colonies that July of 1776.

For my kids, they had 142 of their ancestors living here then! 18 of whom fought in or otherwise participated in the Revolution. But more on this later.

      First, this:

Why July 4th?

It is altogether fitting to deal up front with the whole date of America’s birthday issue. As the history geeks out there already know, August 2 is arguably our nation’s BDay…as is July 2 and or July 4. Cuz different aspects of the things that were required to make this a legally binding act all happened on those various days in the summer of 1776.


July 1776: the USA’s Birthday Month

July 2, 1776 — in Philadelphia, the 2nd Continental Congress approved a motion from Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee (and drafted by Thomas Jefferson with Ben Franklin, John Adams and a couple others, and debated on by all) that thereby, forthwith, and evermore a certain 13 British colonies on the mainland of America would be no longer part of Britain, but their own, independent and united states, such as they were. A nation of its own. This, a Tuesday, was the day the USA was born. (Massachusetts delegate John Adams was certain for a time that July 2nd would henceforth be the massively revered and celebrated holiday for generations to come.)

July 4, 1776 — Congress voted on and approved the document announcing this new independence and the reasons therefore, that had been drafted by its committee created to draft such a document. It was signed and endorsed by only the President of Congress, John Hancock of the Massachusetts delegation, and the secretary, Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia.

July 8, 1776 — in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence is officially read aloud publicly for the first time in the town square in front of the State House where Congress met.

July 9, 1776 — General George Washington has the Declaration read to his troops in New York City. A German translation is published in Philadelphia (analogous to a Spanish or Chinese translation being published if it were happening in California, today).

July 20-August 1, 1776 — a fancy-schmancy permanent version of the Declaration is printed again on parchment

August 2, 1776 — the document is formally endorsed by the 2nd Continental Congress with each delegate signing his name to it (a few adding their signatures later.)


Part II

So since obviously none of the Signers were born in the United States since it didn’t exist, the valid question is how many of the 56 men who signed the Declaration were not born in America? And it turns out the number is eight, or 14.3% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were not born in America.

26 of my kids’ 142 ancestors in America in 1776 were Fresh-off-the-Boat immigrants, or 18.3%, which happens to be statistically exceedingly close to the proportion of the Signers (8/56) …which also happens to be close to the proportion of the whole population of this place that’s born elsewhere since 1675 (clearly not including 100% since the arrival of Europeans to begin with! :-o)

That’s kind of amazing.

Of the 142, one was a quarter Native American. She was a 68-year-old widow, and with her son and his 13-year old boy represent the line that’s been in America the longest: the widow’s grandmother was of the Lenni Lanape people.

Here’s the interesting breakdown on those 142 ancestors, comparing them to the signers of the Declaration:

John Adams


Samuel Adams

1 was 2nd cousins to John and Samuel Adams

1 was 3rd cousins to Samuel Chase

1 was 2nd cousins to Dr. Josiah Bartlett

18 (38% out of 47 eligible) served or fought in the Revolution (vs. 17, or 30% of the Signers)

13 (22% out of 59 eligible) owned slaves (vs. apx 33%, or 18 out of 56 of the Signers)

I have met America. And it is us.