Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why did they stay and why did the others go?

I've long pondered this one point: why did my direct ancestors stay in a very narrow geographic vicinity while other of their relatives moved away? Sometimes they went way out west and far away, likely never to be seen again. I've had the great pleasure of making contact with some of my more distant genealogy cousins and invariably their branch of the tree moved away a long time ago. Why? Why did we stay put?

I guess I should take a moment out of pondering and explain. Going back along each of both Mom and Dad's ancestral lines to the first person who came to America, when you map their progress out there is an obvious conclusion. They plunked down in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and moved only about a couple of hundred miles through five or more generations. Now this is a big country but up until my generation, Mom and Dad's direct line pretty much stayed put in and around the vicinity of Western Maryland. Cousins drifted but our people stayed. Why? Was there something the matter with our folks? Were they less adventurous? Less ambitious? Heaven knows, they were not the blessed few who inherited family lands and home places, so they easily could have picked up and moved on. But they didn't. Even Dad and Mom, when they moved away to Cleveland, moved back after 11 years.

For a long time I speculated that maybe we were less adventurous than the others who moved on. Not a bunch of risk-takers. Maybe after the big trip over the ocean our people came to the conclusion that this land was pretty good and the trip had been a lot of bother so why not stay put? (Even today I really dislike moving!) But I don't think the answer lies in lack of motivation or a dearth of adventure. I think maybe it lies elsewhere.

When I examine the generations that I personally knew and with which I'm most familiar I can see that they held in high esteem the virtues of security and comfort. Mom thinks so too. If you had enough work that paid the bills, could grow vegetables in the garden and a few flowers to brighten a table and perk up the outside of the house, a pen with chickens and a good season hunting and fishing, well what more could you yearn for?

I'm wondering about the composition of character in individuals who stay versus those who move on. Those who moved on, at least from what I know of them, were the ambitious who accumulated wealth or tried to. The ones who stayed preferred comfort and security to all else. My Zeller ancestors who were written about here recently fall into the ambitious group which can be seen in their shared love of setting up businesses and buying property, first in Frostburg, Maryland and then in Chicago. By contrast, Dad's direct Irish ancestors immigrated and then stayed put in Frostburg and Eckhart through five generations.

But there's another aspect of why our direct ancestors might have liked to stay put, and for me it's the truer answer. They loved their connection to family above all else. Both Mom's family and Dad's family were the focus of much day to day activity. A day never went by that Dad didn't stop to visit with his mother. He wouldn't think of living a day without a visit to his Ma. And Mom and her sister were the best of friends who were often seen about town at their weekly lunch.

And then there's the community of faith that connected each family to others in town. Some of Mom's family, Aunt Betty in particular, still goes to the Welsh Congregational Church that was attended by all of her family back three generations. And the Kelly and Zeller bunch all went to the Catholic Church, St. Michaels, right there on Main Street.

Now I'm not being judgmental here or putting one value system above all others or painting my relatives in some superior light. Not at all. I'm just trying to figure out why they stayed put. I dunno, maybe I've got it all wrong. All I know is that they thought the very best thing was being with family.

The Ladies Aid Society picnic about 1930. This group was attached to the Welsh Congregational Church where my Williams grandparents attended. Mom even sang in the choir.

A Kelly family picnic, mid 1950s.

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