Monthly Archives: November 2015
By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
Did you know that Williamson County Public Library patrons can access Ancestry.com for free while in the library? Neither did I – and I am guessing that many other people in Williamson County don’t know either. Like many people in the United States, I have a multicultural background, but have never been absolutely certain what my ethnicity truly is. I have long been interested in tracing my roots and wondered when my ancestors first arrived on this continent, but without access to the proper resources, I never really looked into it. My surname suggests that I am Scottish and I have always celebrated that part of my lineage without really knowing the percentage or who first emigrated from the land of bagpipes and single malt whisky. Also, I have been told that my maternal side is of German or Austrian descent, but no one is really sure.
Census Records, Birth and Death Certificates and Marriage Records
When I first started searching Ancestry.com for information on my grandparents, the most readily available data that I found was census records. The search tab at the top left side of the home page provides users with a number of search options, but the easiest way to get started is to simply click the green “Begin Searching” button in the middle of the page. Though I was too young to remember meeting him, I know my paternal great grandfather’s full name and where he lived. By searching his name and town of residence, I was able to locate his father’s name via a combination of census, birth and death records. I repeated this process several times, and through the historical mist, I was able to find that my fifth great grandfather was born in Scotland in 1681 and arrived in what would become the United States in 1766. My family name has apparently been in this country for a very long time and the reveal of this information somewhat diminished my feelings of a connection with the Scottish homeland. I am not going to stop enjoying single malt Scotch whisky or listening to the pipes, but maybe I shouldn’t have gotten married in a kilt…either way, I had another side of my family to research.
The maternal side of my lineage has always been somewhat of a mystery. No one in the family seems to know where the names come from. The names of my maternal grandparents both suggest German, Austrian, Slovak or Hungarian lineage. I searched my grandfather’s name and with very little effort, found out that his father was Hungarian. The 1920 U.S. Census records show that he was born in Hungary and his native tongue was Slavish. While his mother was born in Pennsylvania, her parents were born in Hungary as well, with the same linguistic details. I am 3rd generation Hungarian and never knew it! Maybe that’s why I like stuffed cabbage and lekvar pierogis so much? I don’t know. Regardless, I was excited to know that I had found a relatively recent connection to my European past. And because in many cases, Ancestry.com provides users with an actual scanned copy of the documents, I was able to see that this area in Pennsylvania was a true ethnic community. The birthplaces of the majority of the people (or the birthplaces of their parents) listed on the census record were Eastern European; Austria, Hungary, and Russia. How could my mother and her siblings have grown up not knowing that their grandparents were from Hungary? The reason is probably because so many European migrants of that time wished to disassociate themselves from their past and start a new life in America. They were struggling to make a new start while making a living in a brand new country, most often doing very difficult factory work. Maintaining and passing on a cultural identity was probably not on their list of important things to do.
When I was younger, I remember being told to be careful what you look for, you might find something you didn’t want to know. I grew up knowing most of my great aunts and uncles on my mother’s side of the family. There was only one uncle that I never met, who was killed in WW II…or so I thought he was the only one. Upon examining some census data that listed the household members at my great grandparents’ residence, I read a name listed that I had never heard before. A female child that was unknown to me. This mystery aunt was 2 years older than my oldest great aunt, of whom I grew up visiting on a regular basis. Who was this person? Was she the black sheep of the family that was shunned and disowned? Was she a convicted criminal that the family was keeping hidden? Maybe she was busted for making bathtub gin during Prohibition. I hoped so. That would be so cool. I was both eager and afraid to find out. I had to know who this person was and I could only hope that there was some guarded, veiled story to go along with this ghost on the census form. With anxious trepidation, I called my aunt and asked if she knew the identity of this missing relative. Without hesitation, she said, “That was grandma’s sister who died.” Mystery solved, though, too abruptly for my apprehensive curiosity. But what happened to her and why was she never mentioned? I was told that she died from a common complication after childbirth simply because she didn’t have access to the necessary medication and treatment. Wow. It had happened so long ago that she was never mentioned in my time. No romantic tales of rebellion, crime or calamity, but a somber reminder of harder times, to say the least.
Phone and Street Directories
My searches also produced a large number of scanned city phone directories dating back to the 1920s. When searching for a name on Ancestry.com, users are given categories on the left of the page. One of those choices is “Schools, Directories and Church Histories.” Though it was never mentioned in any family stories, I now know that the likely reason my maternal grandparents met is because their families lived on the same street. These old phone directories most often show not only telephone numbers and addresses, but also the name of individuals who were living at that address, i.e. another relative or a boarder. This is a great tool in locating exactly where a relative may have lived. And if nothing else, it is intriguing to see telephone numbers such as “WAlbridge 1154 and BLackstone 2311.”
My paternal grandfather and many of my maternal great uncles were in World War Two. I was able to locate the muster rolls that listed my grandfather’s name and the ship he was on. (Yeah, I never heard the term “muster roll” either. It is the register of the officers and men in a military unit or on a ship. Thanks, Wikipedia.) I also found out that my maternal great uncle was killed at Pearl Harbor and I located a detailed photograph of the monument that lists his name. Additionally in the military records, I was able to find the scanned copies of WW I and WWII draft registration cards for both of my great grandfathers. The documents are hand written and include the signatures of the men. To locate documents such as these, simply type in the name of the person that you are searching and after clicking “Search”, you will see all of the results for that name. To the left of the page, there is a listing of categories, such as “Census and Voter Lists” and “Birth, Marriage and Death.” The third category is “Military.” This option will produce information on draft registration, enlistment, casualties, and gravesites, just to name a few. There is also a great deal of information on Civil War soldiers and the American Revolution.
This is just a sample of the information available at Ancestry.com and a bit of my personal experience in looking for my roots. It was great fun for me searching through my relative’s collective pasts and getting just a glimpse of their lives well before I was a twinkle in someone’s eye. Whenever you are ready to do your own searching, come to the second floor of the Williamson County Public Library and log on to a computer or visit one of the staff in the Special Collections department and they will help you with your queries. Access to Ancestry.com is only available to patrons while they are physically in the library. On the library’s website, move the mouse over Special Collections on the left of the page and click on Digital Genealogy. From there, click on Access Ancestry Library while visiting the library. The Williamson County Public Library also offers free classes on Introduction to Ancestry.com once a month.
But be advised, you may find something you didn’t expect…
In Uprooted, Novik turns to her Polish heritage for a change of pace from the world of Temeraire. Don’t worry, though, another book in that world is due out next year.
Agnieszka grew up in a valley that borders The Wood. Every ten year, the Wizard Dragon picks a young girl as the price for keeping the valley safe from The Wood, which is corrupted, dangerous and unpredictable. Things that go in The Wood don’t come out, or come out changed and mad (insane, not angry.) Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is perfect at all she does. Everyone assumes that Kasia will be chosen by Dragon. Nieshka can’t keep clean, she can’t cook, plus since she knows she won’t be chosen, she didn’t bother to learn to cook or sew. She’s totally unprepared. But when the time comes, Dragon does choose Agnieszka, no Kasia.
For several months Nieshka is terrified and lonely. Dragon is brusque and either ignores her or complains about her messiness. Then Kasia’s mother frantically asks for her help; Kasia has been abducted by beings from The Wood. Nieshka runs to rescue her friend, learns that she has magic herself, and meets the prince determined to free his mother from The Wood. The Queen was taken twenty years ago – no one believes it possible to rescue anyone from The Wood.
Can Nieshka succeed?? What will the Wood do if she and Dragon can free the queen?
I listened to Temeraire, but never read the rest of the books about fighting on dragons during the Napoleonic Wars. But this book, I fell right in. It took me a while to realize that Jaga, who Agnieszka was most like, was Baba Yaga, a witch from Slavic mythology. Her mobile house walks around on three chicken legs… When talking with a friend, we both agreed it will make a great movie. Let’s see if someone makes an option on the book to make a movie.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” The Prize was prompted by his crowning achievement, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that concludes with a cycle of poetry by the main character weaving together the seasons of nature, love, redemption, and the life of Christ. While Pasternak was “infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, [and] overwhelmed,” at the award, six days later he declined the prize in a telegram: “Due to the resonance caused by my award in the society I belong to, I have to decline the Prize; don’t consider my voluntary refusal an insult.”
Pasternak reflected on this moment in a poem entitled “The Nobel Prize,” which asks, “What sort of dirty trick I’ve done, am I a murderer, a villain? I, who made the whole world crying of my homeland’s beauty.”
Pasternak was neither murderer nor villain; however, his book challenged the presiding Russian-Soviet ideological vision of the world. He was given a strong indication of how Doctor Zhivago would be taken when he received a 10,000 word rejection letter by the Russian magazine New World saying that “the spirit of [the] novel [was] that of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution.” Explaining further, the magazine felt the novel’s main character, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, to be “an essentially immoral man who refuses to do his duty by the people and who is interested only in his own rights, including the alleged privilege of a superman to betray with impunity.”
It is at least obvious that the editorial board read his book. Following are some not so subtle statements that Pasternak made through his main character about those of whom it could be said, “We are the children of Russia’s terrible years”:
- “It turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil: that’s their native element.”
- “And do you know why there is this incessant whirl of never-ending preparations? It’s because they haven’t any real capacities, they are ungifted. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself – the gift of life – is such a breathtakingly serious thing!”
- “They always talk of ‘remaking life,’ but “people who can talk in this way,” claims Zhivago, “have never known life at all, have never felt its spirit, its soul. For them human existence is a lump of raw material which has not been ennobled by their touch.”
- To Yuri, life “is always out of reach of our stupid theories.”
- “They are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility, that they do their utmost to ignore the truth.” Yet, “They had the boastful, dead eternity of bronze monuments and marble columns.” (Series of quotations from the poetry foundation and Geoffrey Hosking)
Pasternak was just as clear in his own poem, “After the Storm.” He closed with this stanza: It is not revolutions and upheavals / which clear the way to a new life / But the revelations, storms and bounties / Of someone’s spirit on fire.
Like other intellectuals at the time of his country’s Revolution, Pasternak held high hopes that change would work for a new and better Russia. But life 40 years “after the storm” gave him such extended and overwhelming evidence against the socialist utopia, that he went from disappointment to disillusionment to a “new birth” of sorts that included his taking seriously once again his Christianity. Pasternak was part of the intellectuals who could be called “pre-Soviet; post-Marxist.” This helps make sense of two statements Pasternak made during the Doctor Zhivago controversy when he requested his closest loved one to write “that I was born not in the Soviet Union, but in Russia,” while he wrote Premier Krushchev to avoid deportation, with this explanation: “Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work.”
While Doctor Zhivago was censured in the former Soviet Union, the novel escaped to the West in 1957 through a publisher in Milan, Italy, who refused to return the book “for revisions.” By the next year the novel had been translated into 18 languages, including English.
Meanwhile, The Union of Soviet Writers (of which Pasternak was one of the some 800 members) took swift action. It is important to understand that the Writer’s Union was indoctrinated and in full concert with Soviet Socialist Realism. “Socialist Realism is the officially sanctioned style of art that dominated Soviet painting for 50 years from the early 1930s. The style and content was laid down by the state with the purpose of furthering the goals of socialism and communism. The result was a huge body of work by thousands of artists, the majority of which is stultifyingly boring and which has been mocked in the West ever since as “Girl meets tractor”. (This description of Socialist Realism and policy quote below from http://www.russianartdealer.com/socialist-realism/)
Applying Socialist Realism to literature, The Union of Soviet Writers stated in 1934 that “Socialist Realism is the basic method of Soviet literature and literary criticism. It demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism.”
It is hardly surprising that Doctor Zhivago inspired hostility from those committed to the spirit of socialism. One Union representative called Pasternak, “a literary whore, hired and kept in America’s anti-Soviet brothel,” while a government official called him “a pig who has fouled the spot where he eats and cast filth on those by whose labor he lives and breathes.” Not only was Pasternak excommunicated from the Union of Soviet Writers, but some demanded that he be banished from Russia altogether.
Pasternak did not have to leave Russia; however, his being cut off from the Union of Soviet Writers meant that his many translations of the classics into Russian could no longer be published. This made it impossible for him to make a living as a writer. The love of Pasternak’s life, Olga Ivinskaya, said “The easiest way of dealing with intellectuals like us was simply to starve us into submission.” Ironically this did not silence Pasternak, and neither Ivinskaya. Another way of getting to Pasternak, however, was pressuring Ivinskaya. She was taken away to prison in 1950 while pregnant with Pasternak’s child. While there she experienced a miscarriage.
As Pasternak completed the translation of many tragedies of Shakespeare, it seemed his real life was just as tragic. Pasternak’s reaction to times of suffering is formulated, naturally, in poetic verse:
The order of the acts has been schemed and plotted / And nothing can avert the final curtain’s fall / I stand alone / All else is swamped by Pharisaism / To live life to the end is not a childish task.
Yet, Pasternak’s determination to stay the course, is neither simple defiance nor resignation. He expressed, “If there is suffering anywhere, why should not my art suffer and myself with it? I am speaking of the most artistic in the artist . . . of the sacrifice without which art becomes unnecessary.”
The insight of literary critic Mitzi Brunsdale is surely significant here. Explaining the novel’s point of view, she writes:
“Zhivago” itself derives from the Russian verb “to live,” lending irony to the opening scene of the novel, the funeral of Zhivago’s mother: “’Who’s being buried?’ – ‘Zhivago’ [the living one].” The name also has a wealth of religious connotations stemming from the risen Christ’s question in the Orthodox Easter liturgy, “Why seek you the living [zhivago] among the dead?” In his search for truth, the thinking man Yuri Zhivago at first naively embraces revolution as the natural result of the czarist repression of the people, only gradually realizing that enforced collectivization under the Soviets means the spiritual slavery of the very souls it falsely purported to free. The truth at which Yuri Zhivago at last arrives, after his long journey through the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the savagery of World War I and the Civil War, and the struggle for survival that faced his people during the 1920s, is the old truth of humanity’s youth – that an individual can be fulfilled only by free choice in pursuing his own creativity, his own love, unhampered by political or social stricture.” (from the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Volume 6, pp. 3464-3465)
Pasternak, “presented Zhivago’s inability to influence his own fate not as a fault, but as a sign that he was destined to become an artistic witness to the tragedy of his age. The author closely identified Zhivago’s predicament with that of the suffering Christ.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/zhivago/ei_pasternak.html)
Professor Brunsdale ends her critical consideration of Pasternak by refusing to ignore the strong religious aspect of Pasternak’s work. The cycle of poetry concluding Doctor Zhivago speaks not only of nature and love, but also the meaning of life and the life of Christ. She explains: “Pasternak exercised . . . intense awareness of all cosmic and human reality as ‘life in Christ,’ and the consequent plunge into love as the only dynamic and creative force which really honors this ‘Life’ by creating itself anew in Life’s – Christ’s – image. In the glorious healing lesson of Doctor Zhivago, that modern man’s renewal lies in identification of his sufferings with those of his Savior, undistracted by selfish materialistic desire, the poet of Doctor Zhivago thus is “the living one” against whom godless history cannot prevail.”
In 1987 Pasternak was posthumously reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union. In 1988, thirty years after its censure, Doctor Zhivago was published in Russia. The New World, which had rejected Doctor Zhivago, went on to publish Solzhenitsyn. Pasternak’s house was made into a museum. In 1989, Pasternak’s son accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of his father.
Geoffrey Hosking (from The Cambridge History of Russian Literature), observes, Pasternak’s “novel and its accompanying poems . . . were to be very influential, for they helped to revive a concern with the human personality, with morality and with religion, which had been largely submerged within the majestic state sponsored collective certainties of the Soviet era.”
It is only appropriate to let Pasternak conclude with his poetry, the last three stanzas of HOLY WEEK from the “Poems of Yuri Zhivago.” Pasternak became the suffering artist he had mentioned, with a profound artistic message for his Motherland. His message neither suppressed nor submerged the suffering, but rather offered the highest social realism, transformation, and hope for the Russian people he loved so much.
March scatters handfuls of the snow; Like alms among the lame,
As though a man had carried out
The holy Ark outside the church,
And gave its all unto the poor.
They sing until the sunrise hour.
Then, having wept their fill,
Their chants of the Psalms and Acts
Flow with an air serene
Into an empty lamplit street.
All creatures hear the voice of spring
In the still of night, believing
That when good weather comes
Death itself shall be destroyed
By the travail of the Resurrection.