Monday, February 6, 2017

My Media Memoir 2017

My Media Memoir 2017

It's not uncommon in New England or probably most parts of our country to have parents of different religious affiliations.   In fact, I have a first cousin twice removed who has the same story that I do. She had a Catholic mother and a Protestant father and we both ended up going to Protestant divinity schools in Massachusetts. But in her case her father practiced and in my case mine did not.  And that has been one of the ingredients in the recipe of my life and cultural heritage that for years made the taste seem slightly off.  Eventually, one nut would be added back into the recipe to get the taste to be refreshed and understood anew.

So I have lived all of my life in Massachusetts but that lone fact or the brief vignette above has not necessarily helped me answer the question of “who am I?”  

As a young person I had been familiarized by the traditional media of signs, monuments, and other markers that helped me get a glimmer of my own Anglo-American cultural identity because I knew growing up that my near namesake and great-great grandfather Daniel Luther Tucker and his father-in-law Conrad Spraker were buried across town in Spring Brook cemetery.   But compared to the many other ethnic Americans I have encountered in Bristol County, USA, I do not feel that I have had enough to go on in terms of having a solid identity.   I have had soup and bread at many a Portuguese festivals and similar events with local Greek, Egyptian and Italian enclaves but never had the sense of what it means to be an Anglo-American (working middle class person).   It doesn't help being mono-lingual also.   While I know the answer to this might be that dominant culture groups act and form this way and so there's no identity to find but I think that is an oversimplification.

I knew the name of Daniel Luther Tucker's son George Spraker Tucker and knew that through his wife Edna Delano our family was distantly related to FDR.  But that was about it.   My father's aunt Edith lived until 1999 and was a  pleasant person but we never talked about anything related to family more than her generation or one back from her.   My dad's first cousin Bob, only gone a fews years now, the aforementioned  Protestant father in my introduction, had a unique story of competing loyalties in his life so the Tucker side of his heritage was eclipsed by the Foster side.  But growing up I had two competing stories of cultural and religious commitment.  Bob and Edith, and a few others aside, we didn't see to much more of my dad's side of the family on a frequent basis. And despite my mother being an only child, it was the armies of French and Irish Catholic relatives, all of the Rheault's and Conroy's, that we regularly visited or were visited by during my childhood and early adolescence.   It was a full cast of characters.  Anna Conroy, my Irish great grandmother died in 1977 at the age of 99, just at the time by which I had locked in vivid memories of visiting her and my great aunt at their home in Roslindale, located at the highest point in Boston, on a side street off of the great incline that is Metropolitan Avenue.   I met Madge there, an Irish cousin, who visited two three times during my early years.  I met the majority of my grandmother's eight brothers and sisters and saw them again at the various funerals and anniversaries that followed rather quickly after my great- grandmother's death.  

On the French side of my mother's family we saw cousins and aunts and uncles on a less frequent basis, as they all tended to live in points north of Boston and we had always lived south of the city.   But it was my grandfather and grandmother's involvement that would be vital to me being a Catholic and by all accounts a zealous one, all the while bearing this English (Protestant) last name. Visiting my maternal grandparents and staying overnight with them for a day or two was the full on Catholic media practice and production.   We bolted to Daily Mass  Saint Anne's Church in Hyde Park right out of the starting gate (pre-breakfast of course!).   We sat in the second row behind the middle aged man in the red sweater who had wobbled in place during the whole liturgy.   We returned home for breakfast in Dedham and went about the regular routine of a few chores in the house and a bike ride through the hills of Dedham and everyday was closed by the recitation of one mystery of the Rosary while kneeling beside my grandparent's bed with the massive gold colored Douay Challoner Catholic Action Edition Bible open to some page with a fully painted picture of a New Testament miracle on one side of the page or the other.  

Despite this Catholic media immersion my grandfather was the one who bankrolled my nursery school tuition at the only available location in Mansfield, the Congregational Church. Granted, I was not going to be swayed by Protestant doctrine at the age of three, but this was an a
choice from the  same man who sent my mother to Catholic primary and secondary schools out of a sense that failure to do so would be the loss of his own salvation.  Were he to know that it might be a portent of things to come and that the other bookend of my formal education
was Andover Newton Theological School, the Congregational seminary, he might have felt differently.   

But I grew up, attended Sunday Mass all along the way, and I was eventually encouraged to attend a divinity school by a Catholic priest while at college (thinking I could teach or be a good candidate for the State Department) and eventually began my teaching career in Catholic high school theology departments.   Now it was there that it became clear it that it would mirror parish life in that I would be the only one of a few at most who's last name was clearly not Irish or Italian.  Not long ago I taught with three Italian American's in the same department and one of them joked that the department should just be renamed "Goodfellas".  

So granted, I had been steeped in the Continental and Hiberno European cultures all of my life but had felt that there was something missing in my self-understanding about my heritage.    But that started to change quickly seven years ago when I visited my parents one afternoon.  
They had come into possession of a document that would set me off on a mini-media adventure that recast myself understanding and relationship to my surroundings.    As usual that afternoon my mother put the kettle on for me as she did for my Irish American grandmother when she lived with us in her declining days.   Tea seems to have always been the linking theme between my Irish and English ancestries.  What else would or could be?  Well as I said earlier, it was a nut.  It was Almond Tucker.   As I’ve said before I knew about all of the recent Tucker generations at least in outline form.   But I had at the time a limited sense of my own abilities to find anything else and a few dead end searches online seemed to cement this barrier to further knowledge.  Ironically, the nut, Almond Tucker, cracked that prematurely cemented barrier.    

The document in question was Daniel Luther’s death certificate and listed his father Almond on the document.   That was a new name when it rang in my ears.  I immediately got a sense of what was possible in returning to research I had given up on not long ago.    My curiosity was now at a fever pitch and when I returned home I was eager to look up his name and did indeed find that there was substantial reference to him in local history and quite an amount of work done by those who shared him as a common ancestor.  

So in about five months I was able to visit numerous websites to trace the Tucker lineage in many directions.  Importantly, it became clear to me that I could shift from being a digital reader or consumer by finding this information to becoming a digital author.  I recall from last semester’s Digital Literacy Seminar with Dr. Julie Coiro that an internet reader reads and creates a new unique text into existence by taking his or her own course throughout the various hyperlinks he or she chooses to follow in the pursuit of knowledge.   I knew this would be the case for me also as I would be creating a genealogy that would include its own unique subset of persons (my children)  and that it would be a unique document in that I would be likely emphasizing a set of relationships no other person could make.  

So yes, I confess, and I realize now seven years after beginning the genealogy there is unquestionably a degree of self centeredness in the approach I took to making it.  
For while I modelled my work on that done by others, distant relatives, who were comprehensive in their work I choose not to focus on any cousins, aunts or uncles.  Yes, I found delight every time I would use the internet or the genealogical records to find a direct ancestor either through patrilineal ar matrilineal descent.   And more to a point, I was looking to find as far back as I could with direct descent with the Tucker line. I have to admit it was a sheer genetic greed that possessed me when composing the genealogy and attempting to believe it was possible to go back to pre-Reformation times in England.  That would of course mean I would be looking at Pre-Reformation Catholic Tuckers.  They may have been Lollards (followers of Wycliffe) but I do not want to think that.   So when it comes to the year 1678 and the origin of the first Tucker’s in America I wrestled with which other genealogy to follow and even accept some contradictory or ambivalent evidence that would ensure my landing back in England with an intact Tucker line.  Yet some of those webpages and other sources spoke of this or that Robert or John Tucker being born in Weymouth or Milton, Massachusetts but dying in places like Bermuda.  As memoir has creativity and a bit of license, I know genealogy really cannot be constructed in that way.  I have this sense that the temptation to have the various records be something that I can master for my own ends as opposed to letting the facts master me I came face to face with the true nature of critical literacy as really is.  Buckingham states that it involves, analysis, evaluation and critical reflection.  (Buckingham 2003, 38)   In all my years of divinity studies I never really felt the need to dispense with any one or all three of these critical processes.  But it was now apparently all worth it to make this genealogy right.

That all being said, it is clear as I reflect on this now and  that I have given a position of privilege to my own last name it is only  a way to direct one’s attention to an accident of history.  Who am I?  Yes, I’m a Tucker and a Priestley and Delano and a Hathaway, Eddy, Allen, Weed, Davis, Hinckley, Spraker, Newland, Simmons, Hunt, Copeland, Eddy, Hinckley, Samson, Standish, and Alden, etc. etc. etc. etc…..

And before I continue on with the last name on that list, Alden, I want to address the new media frontier for me in all of this.   Since I was focusing primarily on direct descent and I am most certainly a visual learner I decided that putting everything I found on a single spreadsheet page.  The web of relationships to me was the main attraction to be seen.   Granted, I found much information from the work of distant cousin (probably an eighth or ninth cousin) and I was impressed by the thoroughness of his work and his genealogical procedural precision.   He has properly numbered everyone as one should in composing a genealogy online, using proper pages to distinguish generations.  It’s clearly an impressive and comprehensive work.     I found that I wanted to use Excel because it meant a visually striking and complex web could be viewed on one page.   Of course I discovered there are trade offs in doing this.  It means drawing a bunch of lines off of various lines to capture the complexity of different lines or going ahead and making patrilineal or matrilineal lines branch down from previous rows with the flip side of that gambit being that the spreadsheet would be enormous and unviewable in another way.   Either way, my consciousness as a writer and author.  Granted, I was happy to learn about my own personal narrative, expository and poetic strengths when I took the course Writing from Soul with Nita Penfold at Andover Newton in the summer of 2008.    But in this case becoming an archivist, a researcher, an organizer, and somewhat of an editor seemed to be empowering and ennobling in a new way.   In the early 2000’s my only experience with MS Excel was limited to being the debate league statistician and manager of our household finances, both of which were about cultivating new types of headaches than it was about getting acquainted with a new type of knowledge and a new type of data organization. Since I first laid   my eyes on that death certificate to the time when I retitled the file I was storing all my information on was about five months.   At the time my youngest child was five years old and the house was a busy place filled with the laughter, energy and conflict you would expect in house with three little boys.   But when I carved the time out to keep generating the spreadsheet genealogy after the boys were put to bed, I had a keen sense of flow in putting it all together.  

On some level I do not share the priorities with that distant cousin who provided me with so much work but his work did also help me reach my goal of having a deeper meaning for the Anglo-American identity that lurked beneath the surface of my conscious life.   And even though I would find numerous Anglo-American ancestors as he did,  I came to understand that the Protestant heritage was actually more determinant in my existence in spite of all the Englishness.   I saw that just a few years generations back that my families of origin had regularly been willing to be intermarried with Germans, Swedes and notably, as I will explain later, the Dutch. And of course all of those peoples in the nineteenth and twentieth century were Protestants.  

However, so while my Anglo-American identity has not been clarified with these discoveries and connections, I have now come to realize more concretely what it means to be a New England Yankee.   For it was easy to find the Delano line online and trace it back to before the time Delano was Anglicized from De Lannoy, the last name of the young Dutchman, Phillippe, who came over on the Fortune in 1621.    And more importantly, when checking my distant cousin’s work it took a number of days to get through my thick head that John Alden was a name that should have been more familiar to me.   That was the big one!  A Mayflower ancestor, in light of his many children and illustrious career, THE Mayflower ancestor (or so I thought for a brief time).  But as it turns out I could find and organize more and more names. When all was said and done I could identify six distinct Mayflower names of people who were my direct ancestors; Chilton, Samson, Standish, Cooke, Mullins and Alden.   Of course if there was one it makes perfect that there were six.   So I placed them on the spreadsheet and set them off as unique by labelling their names in red.   I had done similarly when accounting for immigrants the best I could with a line extending top to bottom of those who crossed over from England (or in this case,  the Netherlands).

I had add further red to the genealogy as the well known John Alden did not provide me with a daughter to be my great xth grandmother but three.   So Elizabeth, Sarah and Ruth Alden all married men who would eventually have descendants who would intermarry with other cousins to produce me and thousands of others.  I mention this because I think it’s with this  visualization of the data on a spreadsheet it seems to make sense of my Anglo-American, specifically Yankee, identity.    I don’t call Framingham and Natick Central or Western Massachusetts as some do in the eastern half of the state but it makes it clear to me the degree of rootedness I have in this area.   Since the Mayflower landed 397 years ago I’ve been able to move my ass all of thirty one and a quarter miles to the west of the Alden House in Duxbury.   This rootedness may be inescapably deep.   After putting this all down electronically has motivated me to get a closer lay of the land and just now to measure out things I knew were significant.  I was baptized at St. Mary’s in Norton all of one mile away from where Almond Tucker was buried in 1865 and his father Benajah was buried four years prior.   I have read Kevin Leman’s books on birth order and I always had the impression that as a first born son I was meant to most likely “stay in orbit” around my parents and be family oriented.   Yet when I look at the Tucker genealogy and the patrilineal descent and compare it with the online resource I could find such as Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts: Containing Historical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and Genealogical Records of Many of the Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts. Vol. III.  it became clear that with exception of my father, grandfather and great grandfather, the Tucker men have been in northern Bristol County since arriving from England in 1678.   When my wife in and I moved in 2014 within Bristol County I joked that even though we looked at houses further north, somehow an invisible barrier prevented us from leaving Bristol County.    We are now just about four miles west of where Almond and Benajah lay resting.    

I think that one final insight that comes to me from creating this spreadsheet genealogy to share with family and interested kindred spirits has been to know the continual enduring power of privilege.  I am a white man living in the twenty first century studying mainly white men going one, two or three centuries back.  And so I now have about two hundred people listed in the genealogy and I do want to revisit it again to make some organizational streamlining.    Yet ironically the male privilege that I possess in life today and those of my forefathers came into sharper focus in attempting to give Almond Tucker’s wife, Betsy Hathaway, the same due diligence I gave to others in the list.   Betsy was from Dighton and had eight children with Almond, but nothing is available on her origin whatsoever.   This motivated me enough to be as multimedia oriented as possible and use every public website and the archival books and town records of the Dighton Public library, which one would surmise would have a little more information in it’s Vital Records collection than other towns.   Alas, it was not meant to be.  My first thought after running into dead ends in search of Betsy was that it may only make sense that daughters were simply not as valued equally to sons in tracing lineages because of property rights and the social customs of the day. I gather that being an amateur genealogist and professional information scientist in the twenty first century along with being this hybrid Euro-American Catholic believer Yankee Protestant cultural warrior all call me to be a dignitarian who will attempt not to discount anyone, especially in a day and age when women seem to have a new fight for equality brewing that needs allies and equal partners.  

Buckingham, David. "Media Literacies." Media Education: Literacy, Learning, and Contemporary Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003. 38. Print.