I just finished reading A Scattered People: An American Family Moves West by Gerald W. McFarland. The author writes about various lines of his family who immigrate to the “American” East Coast in the 1700’s, travel to the Mid West and end up on the West Coast by the early 1900’s. His family were movers, leavers, people with optimism and belief that the grass really is greener in the next pasture. Sometime it was true and sometimes it wasn’t.
My daughter was married last Friday to a wonderful guy who comes from family of people who have stayed primarily. We are definitely a family who goes….you have to go back to generations in the early 1800’s to find anyone who stayed in a place for a 2nd, much less a 3rd generation! And this has made me ponder what this will mean for them and the next generation? Will they stay or will they go?
Genealogists are taught to pay attention to the push and pull motivators that cause people to move. Was it war, famine, religious freedom or economic opportunity? But I find myself looking a little deeper into character and temperament. Is it genetic or environmental, this inclination to move or stay in the same place? By our very definition of American’s we have all come here from different places (unless of course you are a Native American). Has the American cultural belief in the “promised land” and new opportunities shaped our DNA?
I think in our particular family, we are extremely independent, have a need to be individuals and make our own way without the very strong personalities of our parents and family (in every generation!) influencing our life path. My great-great grand father moved from England in 1872 to Chicago to work in the steel mills, most likely for financial opportunities and a better life for his family. His son was a retail entrepreneur and moved to Los Angeles in the 1920’s to open his own store. My earlier ancestors on other lines came to New York in the 1600‘s and Pennsylvania in the 1700’s, each generation continued to move up and down the Eastern seaboard, then to the mid-west and the south, to California and finally ending up with me in Seattle. Whether it was cheap farm land or new types of industry opening in a different city, many of our ancestors were not tied to the land or people from which they were born. Are we the type that are more susceptible to creating our own particular alchemy of people, place and time?
And what about those that stay? Humans have always been amazingly mobile, yet there are many who stayed in the same place. Europe and Asia are still populated with those who didn’t feel a need to cross the pond. People on the East Coast and Mid West are the descendants of those who finally found a place to call home and didn’t see a reason to leave. They seem to have the ability to root. They have found places that resonate in their soul and see no good reason to leave. They are satisfied. This doesn’t mean they haven’t had financial, personal or even political challenges, but still they stay. They are risk takers and entrepreneurs too, but they have strong roots that do not pull up easily and take the risks in their home town or state.
So what will happen with the grandchildren I hope to have? Will they stay in the place of their birth or will they have the itch to move on? Which genetic or environmental influence will end up winning out? I don’t know, but I know that I will keep making the trek back to New York regularly to see my daughter and her new family. The space between us is smaller with air travel and I have even thought of buying a place there. Of course that is because of who I am, one who moves more easily.