Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More On Why I Blog: The End of Oral Tradition

I recently read the book "Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It begins when she was a little girl in Africa and required to learn her (male) ancestors by heart---a Nigerian oral tradition. I also have learned oral histories of my family. But they are stories; some funny, some tragic. Certainly I know few family names. One of my uncles was interested in genealogy and has traced my father's family back to about 1783, in Virginia. The best written record is a delightful diary kept by some ancestor or another who records his adventures hunting for gold in Australia. As I recall, the diary begins as he jumped ship in Istanbul when some war began that he was not interested in! My mother was not very interested in her family history. I know her family name was Poulson; her father was a Swedish sailor who met her English mother in Yorkshire. Now there's a story: but I don't know it. Anyway, they left England together to come through Ellis Island about 1910 and ended up in Illinois, where eventually my mother met my father and they married, which brings us to 1940. I was born in Springfield in 1942.

But to return to the oral tradition: Mom told me stories of her mother and father---just a few. I learned that her father died of a heart attack at age 53, leaving her mother with eight children to raise. Grandmother Poulson (I don't even remember her first name and never met her; she died before I was born) took in boarders and did laundry for the nuns. I'll try to post more stories that I remember of my family. I'll be doing this mostly because the oral tradition ends here, pretty much. Our family is so scattered now that I doubt my grandchildren will ever hear of it. My hope is that by writing it down, they may find it and enjoy some of it.

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