Sunday, March 13, 2005

Yankee Doodle Dandy

My mother was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. Her family had lived there since the Civil War, but they also had holdings downstate in Fulton County between the Wabash and the Tippecanoe where my grandfather was born. While not rich by any means, her family had been reasonably prosperous until the Great Depression, which began before my mother reached school age. All four of my grandparents were college graduates, as were both of my parents.

I've been to Indiana several times, but only twice that I remember. We went there on family summer vacations when I was six for about a week and again when I was thirteen to visit my grandparents and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws, but I haven't been back since. The last time I was there was almost forty years ago. My grandparents had a house in South Bend where my grandmother had run a nursery school for many years, on a street lined with elm trees that led directly to the golden dome at Notre Dame. They also had a cottage out in the country at Lake Wawasee where we went fishing with grandpa and waterskiing with my uncle. We also pulled mussels out of the creek, ate watermelons, shot B-B guns with my cousins up at the gravel pit and went swimming at the old hotel where my mother had worked summers as a lifeguard years earlier.

My grandparents came to visit us a number of times, once or twice while we were still in Kansas and several times in the '60s in western Washington. One of those visits was shortly after my grandfather died and that's when my grandmother told me about Welfley's Steele family genealogy. But I had never actually seen the family tree until just a few years ago when I found it online. The link to it is on my sidebar. If you'd like to have a look you can pull it up, but you have to fill in a few blanks to see it. Just type Steele on the surname line, George on the first name line, Bedford County PA for place of death and 1801 for year of death. Hit search and a page will come up. Scroll down to the George Steele posted by PA State Genealogy and click enter.

When I was nine years old we lived out in the country in the Skagit Valley, a mile or two from a mental hospital where my father worked as a project administrator. The nearest road was a quarter of a mile away, but shortly after we moved in my mother thought she saw someone peeking in a window at her through the curtains one evening. Probably just a harmless Peeping Tom, but my folks decided it was time to get a watchdog. So we went shopping for a German shepherd. We found one through a local dog breeder, a six-week old pup that we named Schar von Regental. My father claimed it meant Star of Rain Valley, but my New Cassell's tells me now that Schar was probably short for 'der Scharwaechter', which is German for sentry. Scharr with a double r means scratcher or scraper, which was aptly descriptive as our fierce guard dog would urinate and scratch furiously at the screen door anytime a visitor approached. But selecting a name was important as she was a pedigreed pooch, a direct descendant of Rinty von Rin Tin Tin, and the purchase price from the kennel was contingent on obtaining a pedigree and making her available for breeding at the kennel's request. Schar developed hip displasia, a genetic defect common in overbred shepherds and had to be destroyed. We exchanged her at six months for another pup from the same litter. The story I was told was that she'd chased after a bear one day and never returned. All I remember now is how fascinated I was by the extent of her very detailed pedigree.

I've never been to Ohio or to Pennsylvania. In fact, I haven't been to any of the states east of Michigan and north of Virginia. But I've been to all the rest except for Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee. I flew over Ohio on a flight from Detroit to Atlanta three years ago, less than a month after 9-11. I drove from Georgia through both the Carolinas to Virginia and back on that trip. All the pick-up trucks on the highway still had shotguns mounted in their cab windows, but they were flying Old Glory instead of the Southern Cross. I visited the monument at Stone Mountain, a place that I've since learned was where someone wounded in battle one hundred and forty years ago may have been my great great grandmother's brother. Union sacrifices, though, aren't usually associated with Atlanta. For those you have to go to Pennsylvania.

I spent some time today looking at Pennsylvania. But I wasn't looking at Gettysburg or even at the Civil War. When you aren't from the east coast and haven't ever been there, the battlefields of the American Revolution seem pretty remote. You learn in school about the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill, "one if by land and two if by sea" and "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes", but when you come from the western U.S. the landscape and the timeframe of the revolution is all just a blur. At least it is until you start looking at the pedigree and realize that one of those ancestors may have fought in one of those countless battles in one of those obscure places that can't be found anymore because the landscape has been so drastically altered over the past 230 years and the names of all the places have been bent, twisted, stretched and mangled into so many other times and places that it is all just a hopeless tangle. But then perhaps it's not all that hopeless after all. Nowadays we have computers.

My pedigree, 'The Descendants of George Steele', says quite plainly, "George served as a private under Captain Charles Maclay in the 1st Battalion of Cumberland County, Pennylvania Militia during the Revolutionary period." Nothing beyond that or at least not much. But how much more do you need with a computer at your fingertips. Who was Captain Charles Maclay? Google him up. His brother, William, was the first U.S. senator ever elected from the state of Pennsylvania. His other brother, Samuel, was also a senator. Charles didn't get involved in politics because he got killed along with many of the men in his company at the Battle of the Crooked Billet, fought near Hatboro, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1778, about halfway between Philadelphia, then occupied by General Howe's Hessian mercenaries and his British regulars, and Valley Forge, where General Washington and his troops were recovering from a long, hard, cold winter by doing close order drills under the the expert tutelage of our new 'Old Europe' allies, the Marquis de Lafayette of France and the Baron von Steuben of Prussia.


Tammy said...

Hi Craig! Michele sent me....neat blog!

Craig said...

Is that neat like tidy? Thanks for coming by drop a line and do give my regards to Michele.

Last Girl On Earth said...

I Craig. Wow, you are really interesting. I used to live in Va... everywhere you looked there was history. We used to skip school and hang out in the battlefields!

Anyhow, thanks for the linkage. I've added you to my roll, adn now we can share the love! See you soon.

Craig said...

Hi Deni

It was fun getting rolled by you. I know someone in the music business, out on the upper west coast where things move a little slower than you do. She plays fiddle, but mostly sings folk. She's also done Lilith Fair and LRTs. Closer to my age than yours. Thanks for stopping by and sharing the love.

Webmiztris said...

don't worry - you're not missing much out here in PA. Just a bunch of potholes and Amish people. ;)

Craig said...

Does your husband know you're over here with me?