April 20, 2012
There was a blizzard on the East Coast in early 1977. That surely helped keep tens of millions of Americans housebound during the airing of the made-for-television dramatic series, Roots. Author Alex Haley scored a hit with his countrymen as he told the compelling story of Africans stolen from their homes, crammed into slave ships and dragged across the Atlantic in chains. The story of black Americans is a vital part of the enduring national fabric.
I thought of that series often as I attended the Genealogy Fair at the National Archives this week. Presenters from the Archives staff guided hundreds of amateurs and professionals who flock to these conferences inWashingtonand around the country.
There was great excitement about the recent release of the 1940 Census. Can there really be a hubbub about getting into musty old government forms? Yes. For these family tree surgeons, there is.
The 1940 Census is the treasure trove of information about an America we would hardly recognize. America was poorer then, to be sure. Millions of us were still without indoor plumbing, without electricity. Millions of us had never visited a dentist. Draft boards would be shocked in many instances by the poor physical shape of young men who had gone through ten years of Depression.
One thing I will be eager to learn from the 1940 Census is the state of the American family. There was no no-fault divorce then. Lets all remember Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic candidate for President. It was Dukakis and his colleagues in liberal social experimentation who pushed hard for this liberal reform. The former Massachusetts Governor and his allies can claim credit for the millions of broken homes and impoverished mothers and children across America. If you seek the monument of elitist, post-moral governance, look around you.
I once read an article in Washingtonian magazine written by a realtor. He said divorce was driving up the home prices in the Washington metro area. Then, he added this poignant detail: A house is more than a house; its a home. And he had not been to a closing on a home in years where the woman was not in tears.
A home is where memories are born and, in these cases, where dreams go to die. So lets hear more about the conservatives and their supposed war on women.
The 1940 Census will show us, no doubt, what former HHSAssistant Secretary Wade Horn has taught us: That on the eve of Pearl Harbor, fully 89% of black children were born to married mothers and fathers.
Somberly, I realize that 420,000 of the young men who are listed in the now famous 1940 Census will not be listed in the 1950 enumeration. They will lay down their lives for this country in the intervening years in World War II.
My seatmate, Deniece, at one of these genealogy sessions in an open-air tent is from New York. She took off three days from her work with the New York City Department of Education. She had been in foster care as a girl. My new friend is searching for her family background. She tells me how a girl friend included her in her familys reunions. My new friend goes on to tell me about the institution of black family reunions and how she had been included as if shed been born into that family. Theyve been gathering on family land in South Carolina for fifty years.
I quickly learn that Deniece was born in Brooklynas I was. As my Dad was. And he, too, was in foster care. From these studies, I hope to learn how it came to be that my fathers father changed the family name from the German-sounding Mouritzen to the anglicized Morrison. Was it, as my father always joked, to avoid a process server? Or was it to escape the fierce anti-German prejudice of the 1920s that caused sauerkraut to be renamed liberty cabbage and led some states to ban the teaching of German language.
In addition to Census records, there are immigration and naturalization records, a rich source of information about families. Entire workshops are dedicated to combing through these and in the process you learn that, except for the Indian tribes, everyone was an immigrant at some point. If your ancestor was denied entry, their appeal will be on record somewhere and you can learn volumes from these.
Military records are vast. I learn a lot from Ancestry.coma for-profit firm that supports all these Genealogy Fairs at the National Archives. Already, I found out that I had a North Carolina ancestor who fought in the American Revolution. One of my distant relatives in 1929 dug up the facts for his application to join the Sons of the American Revolution.
[The Mormons are most active in genealogical research. Thats in large part because of their theology, which I obviously do not share. But its a useful service for the rest of us. Ill probably take advantage of some of their extensive resources. Theres a family history center in nearby Kensington, Md. Or, I can go online at www.familysearch.org.]
When I tell them where I work, people at the Genealogy Fair obviously think this may be a new group to help them dig up family roots. Family Research Council does not, I tell them, assist individual families to search their ancestors.
I might have said: Family Research Council exists so that your descendents will be able to have ancestors. I mean that seriously. Many of these sessions are run by folks you can guess are liberal. They just have that bright and irreverent PBS manner about them.
I wonder how many of them stop to think: if the liberal project in America succeeds, will there even be families to research a hundred years from now?
For example, birth and marriage records are essential. What does abortion-on-demand tell us about births? Would people willingly kill an unborn child if they knew who that childs ancestors were? Chances are, that unborn child is descended from heroes and pioneers at some point.
Marriage records are all about husbands and wives. They have been about this for centuries before Thomas Jefferson supervised the first Census in 1790.
Todays liberals want to overturn all of that. Will we start recording Parent No. 1 and Parent No. 2? Why not Parents 3 and 4? Why list any parents at all? Maybe we will get to specify the bar scene from Cheers or the cast of Seinfeld. Not that theres anything wrong with that.
In 2008, George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley spoke to a crowd at the Newseum, just a few blocks away. He acknowledged that critics say allowing men to marry men and women to marry women will lead to polygamy. Im for that, he said, and was wildly applauded by his liberal audience.
Edmund Burke is rightly revered as the father of modern conservatism. He said it well in the 1790s. Those who have no respect for their ancestors will have no regard for their descendents. The Founders of this republic were conservative about family formation. They sought the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. We are that posterity.
Prior to this week, I had not understood how genealogy can be our ally in Americas great culture clash of today. But now I do. There is a whirlwind coming. And those trees that put down deeper roots will better withstand it.