On Ancestor Appreciation Day, I'm struck by the insights of Alison Light, in Common People--In Pursuit of My Ancestors. She writes:
"As I have written this book, many questions have weighed on my mind but one more than any other: why do we need these stories of people we can never know? What is it we are after and why do we so regret not talking (or not listening) to our elders when they were alive?"Her answer is that we want "to apologize to them for not realizing that they too had lives like ourselves--fallible, well intentioned, incomplete--and to understand how mistakes were made that resulted in our lives; how much was accident, how much choice." She adds that we might seek to see our parents as young again, "full of possible futures."
An eloquent and poignant passage that resonates with me on this day, in particular. I appreciate that my ancestors may not have always acted out of choice but out of necessity or desperation or simply severely limited options. Each ancestor had any number of possible futures but one that actually became his or her path and ultimately my past.
If these ancestors had gone down a different path my husband and I would not be here today. Not infrequently, their paths were arduous (braving dangers to come to America, never again returning to their country of birth, making sacrifices to survive). Not infrequently, their personal dreams had to be put aside for the sake of their siblings or parents or children. In another age, who knows what possible futures they would have chosen for themselves?
With possible futures in mind, I want to recap what I know about the earliest ancestors identified in my husband's tree.
- Mayflower ancestors. The Wood family has four Mayflower ancestors (Degory Priest, Mary Norris Allerton, Isaac Allerton, and Mary Allerton) and a Fortune ancestor (Thomas Cushman, who married Mary Allerton). Talk about limited options and possible futures not foreseen! Two of the four Mayflower ancestors didn't survive the first year...but the others did, and the rest truly is history.
- Wood ancestors. Thanks to wonderful genealogist-cousin Larry, we know my husband descends from the Wood family of Little Compton, RI, whose ancestor was John Wood Sr. "The Mariner" (b. about 1590 in England, d. 1655 in Portsmouth, RI). John "The Mariner" was married to Margaret Carter on Wednesday, January 28, 1610 (see marriage record above). Given the Wood surname, it's not surprising these ancestors were shipbuilders and captains, carpenters and homebuilders, and others who worked in wood--the name was the family's destiny until well into the 20th century. In fact, even today, some Wood relatives have chosen the path of becoming carpenters and builders.
- McClure ancestors. James Andrew McClure is the earliest McClure ancestor we can identify, married in Raphoe Parish, county Donegal, and father of the McClure journey-taker (Halbert McClure) who brought the family to America in the early 1700s. The McClure family realized its dream of owning land in America and giving members a stake in this new world.
- Larimer ancestors. The family legend is that the journey-taker, Robert Larimer, was sent to sea by his father, with a trunk of fine Irish linen, to seek his fortune in America. Alas, a shipwreck ruined that possible future and caused Larimer years of servitude before he could choose his own path and acquire his own land. If Robert's ship hadn't wrecked, what would he have chosen to do when he arrived in America? Who would he have met and married? What possible future would he have forged if the accident had not changed his life forever?