"Life is short. But the procession
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon recently in Central Park, my son Ben, tending to his very ambulatory 15 month old, Maggie, asked: "What do you find so compelling about all this [genealogy] stuff?"
I found it hard to answer him in a few sentences, knowing that I would only have time for sound bites because Maggie's tipsy motion that required constant vigilance. Exigencies would not allow a deep, philosophical discussion. (Always my preference. )
What precipitated this query?
On September 14, I drove to central New York state for a Daughters of the American Revolution ceremony to honor my ancestor, Lot Bolster, who had just recently been sanctioned as a bonafied patriot of the American Revolution. Twenty years ago, when I began this quest to find out about all of those who had come before me, I could not have imagined standing in an old cemetery outside of North Pitcher, New York, with weather-stained white markers from as early as the 1700s on both sides of me.
A little genealogy.
Lot Bolster ( 1752 ) was the younger brother of my ancestor, John Bolster ( 1749 ). They were born near Boston, the sons of Richard Bolster and Anne Tucker. Their grandfather, Isaac Bolster ( 16_), along with several hundred Englishmen under the aegis of the Duke of Monmouth, tried to kill James II. The band of resistors were Protestant, concerned that James was a Catholic sympathizer. All of the Duke's men were tried for treason in 1685 in southern England ( Devon, Dorset, Somerset counties ) before Judge Jeffries ( notorious for his stiff penalties ) in what would become known as the "Bloody Assizes".
Most men were drawn and quartered; then hanged. But Isaac Bolster was spared, probably because of his age ( a 1600s teenager ). Instead, he was sent to Jamaica as pretty much an indentured servant. Eventually, he was pardoned, and wended his way to Boston.
I steep myself in the paths of these amazing, real people ( Bolsters, Lawrences, Whalen, Holloway, Dwyer, Dull, Smith ), and can begin to imagine someone whose DNA still exists in my cells, who was a part of history.
Now, Ben, do you see why I love researching those who came before us?
In just this one case, I find inspiration.
Lot Bolster ( and, I am aim to prove, my direct ancestor, John )-- were patriots during much of the battle to create this nation from 1776 until 1781-- leaving farmland and family to create freedom. How can you beat that?
In the search for my Bolster ancestors, I've "met" many people on the internet who were Bolsters ( it's not like Smith, for heaven's sake--hard to come by a Bolster in many phonebooks!) One of them, Lot Bolster's descendant, Sally Bolster Holcombe, has been helping me with my research, since 1990, well before Ancestry.com decided to start hawking information ( some of it bogus in my view ) for a fee. Another, Barbara Bolster, still lives in New York state, not far from what was Fort Albany when New York was barely older than an Indian territory.
So, there was something just plain right about standing on that grassy spot where Lot is buried nearly 200 years after his death. Something right about Sally and Barbara next to me. Something right about the five American veterans , long in the tooth, who made up the color guard and provided the 21 gun salute, marching from the stipled light of the hardwood trees into the September afternoon sunlight toward Lot's new gravestone.
200 years later we are finding our way in a time of terrible, albeit exciting change as a country. 200 years later, I am searching for meaning from those who came before to illuminate my own journey.
It's at once a public search for meaning. And a private one.