Brain teasers

A garden in Colonial Williamsburg VA, 1992

A garden in Colonial Williamsburg VA, 1992

When reading a long history book which I do frequently, I read at least one chapter a day to keep the brain cells going.  I’m happy to have discovered audio books, because I can listen even when I have a migraine or am preparing a meal, loading the washing machine, etc

Empire of Cotton is an awesome book and everything you wanted to know about the origins global capitalism. Sven Beckert is a Marxist historian, so how the people at the lowest levels of society fared is featured in his version of this period in history. This means discussing the worst aspects of economic change: war capitalism, the expropriation and sometimes the destruction of land and people, slavery, and the exploitation of labor, particularly women, etc.

You realize reading history that each step of the process was quite logical for those concerned at the time, which reinforces the notion that history is nothing but one damn thing after another.

Every step taken by these individuals, no matter how horrible some of the consequences for others at the time, advanced us collectively to where we are today, for better or worse. You also realize and accept we cannot change the past, it is dead, that progress is an illusion, and that the past suffering of individuals will never be addressed.  Never.  There is no way to undo past atrocities, let alone hurts and slights. Forgiveness is the answer. This is the lesson of Hamlet.


Sorting through several folders of material I received from various relatives, I uncovered some important documents including my Mom’s birth certificate and high school diploma. The first, handed to me by my Aunt Audrey before she died, must have been in my grandmother’s papers. My Dad sent me the latter after Mom died.  I now know Mom spent her childhood, excepting a year or two in Michigan near her grandparents, in Wisconsin Rapids where she graduated from high school in 1934.  This information allows me to fill in some missing gaps in my Mom’s tree and it also means my parents (Dad grew up in Fond du Lac WI) grew up in small towns less than 100 miles apart.

The other item I uncovered this week is an unexplored branch of Mom’s many limbed family tree containing a fourth great-grandmother with the last name Patmos.  I used to work with surnames at the Census Bureau (to cross check ethnicity), so I know the name is probably Greek, and I ask myself what’s a Greek doing in my tree?

She appears to have been born on the island of Tholen in Zeeland, and she married a man from Zeeland with the last name Stoel.  We had long wondered about Grandma Minnie’s ancestry. Was she Jewish, French, Spanish?  Mom recalled her grandmother Minnie was “small and dark and swarthy.” Minnie’s grandparents were Huibert Stoel and Pieternella Patmos.  What a puzzle.

20 thoughts on “Brain teasers

  1. I tried the audiobook, but I kept falling asleep.

    I’m amazed at all you’ve learned about your family tree. There have been times when I heard something about my family background that gave me this eerie feeling. I don’t know how to explain it.


    • I read the text while the audio book plays. Sometimes I find inconsistencies in the audio. I only have a couple of the audio books. If I use one, I can take it in the kitchen while I do other things. Later, I catch up the text.

      Re ancestors…I have the distinct feeling that certain spirits guide me. One genealogist wrote a book about this phenomena.


  2. I’ve always said, when historical events are cast in today’s light, that was then, this is now. It was a different place and a different time with different people. We cannot remake history to our own liking. Soon, we too will be gone.


  3. “History is one damn thing after another.” Simply profound. That saying ranks right up there with “No matter where you go, there you are.”

    I’m not entirely sure about your statement that past sufferings will never be addressed. With the way this administration is going, slavery reparations are just around the corner.


    • The problem of course is that the folks who suffered are all dead, and their children and grandchildren did not suffer those atrocities. Also, many, including both Barrack and Michelle, are descended from the people who enslaved them. And Barrack and Dick Cheney are cousins you know, or so wrote Liz Cheney.

      I think I will scream if I find either one in my tree.

      Besides, reparations is a pipe dream. Hillary said so.


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