My research interests

I’m going to write a little bit about what I’m doing at uni, purely to document what’s happening. I am obsessed with documenting personal history, so this is part of that. So if you find academic stuff a bit boring, click away now!

One of the pages of the first edition Alice I had the chance to study
 
As I have mentioned, I’m doing an MA Italian Studies and a collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. This means I’m doing six courses this term! I remember finding three or four a heavy workload, and that was during my undergraduate studies when I had no children or responsibilities. I didn’t even have a job!

Anyway, just as a bit of background, I mentioned previously what my journey to this masters program has been thus far. I went on to do a Graduate Diploma in creative/professional writing and got part way through another one in editing and publishing but it wasn’t really stimulating me so I didn’t re-enrol. I kind of wish I’d stuck that one out as maybe I’d have gotten some more editorial work. Anyway.

An illustration by Maggie Taylor from a 2008 edition of Alice
 
So upon planning to give Canada a go, and realising the easiest way to do that was for me to study, and given I’d wanted to do a masters for years, ten years actually, I set about deciding exactly what to study. Initially I planned for creative writing but I very quickly realised I didn’t have what it takes. Not only were my English marks shockingly poor during my BA, I didn’t do particularly well in my postgraduate writing studies either. I think the best word to describe my achievement level is “mediocre”. Marks in the 50s and 60s amounting to a Credit average. In addition to this, there was no way I could get the required two academic references from professors who probably didn’t know me during my study, let alone over a decade later… I found one program I could apply to using a portfolio, so I did that. I also applied to a comparative literature program, an English program, and an Italian program. I’d done well in Italian and my professors were only too happy to give me references, despite not having heard from me in about 13 years. I was a bit sneaky and asked them for references for the non-Italian programs too. I actually thought I might have a shot at the literary/writing programs and somehow they’d overlook my dodgy grades. Yeah right!

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat, original printing of first 1865 edition
 
I ended up getting into only one of the four programs I applied for, the first one I’d applied for, the one I least expected because it was the most prestigious university of the lot. UofT apparently has the largest Italian department outside of Italy! Not to mention world-class teaching staff and amazing facilities. I must admit, though, as soon as I realised I was in, I developed a lump in my throat which I swallow at various intervals but which has remained since. I didn’t feel true drive and passion for Italian. But I was excited, and knowing how well I do with languages I knew this was the right choice as it would be easier for me than something literary. Little did I know that in fact it was a literary program I’d gotten into! Just Italian literature! Uh oh… my undergrad was pretty much straight language… and no, reading “Spotty va al circo” and a bit of Italo Calvino doesn’t count!

Anyway, I was excited. I had some time to think about my research interests and I had a vague idea that they resided in two areas: a kind of editorial/textual area, which involved loving words and books and language structure; and the other is about migration and cultural identity, how we come to know where we belong and find peace with our culture. So two totally different areas. My main goal through this program is to nail down exactly what my research interests are and specialise in one area. Not as easy as it sounds for an all-rounder lazy person like me.

When I finally worked out how to enrol in courses and that I’d be doing six of them (what?!?!), I found there wasn’t a big pool to choose from. I had to choose one particular introductory course for book history, then what was described as a “pedagogical” compulsory course for Italian. The other four courses were up to me, although there was only five to choose from. I opted out of studying Pirandello, given I’d never heard of him before and the prospect of having to read an entire book in Italian freaked me out. So I ended up enrolling in one about film and perceptions of China and Italy from both camps, one about something I’d never heard of before but that I got extremely excited about (philology), one with an extraordinarily long title that had something to do with new ways that Italian language and culture is being mixed into Canada and vice versa, and the last one was about a migratory diaspora from a particular part of Italy that I’d never heard of. Very exciting but very scary given how little I knew about what I’d be doing. I felt both thrilled and terrified.

Another stunning Maggie Taylor illustration from Alice
 
So this is supposed to explain my research interests. Well, I’m halfway through the first part of the program now, and I can safely say that my interests still lie in those two areas but I think I’m leaning more towards the migrant diaspora stuff. And not necessarily Italian. I’m finding the textual stuff interesting but there is also a lot of boring stuff that seems like much ado about nothing sometimes, whereas the cultural identity stuff feels like me, I want to know more, and my personal connection to and experience with these issues means it is somewhat cathartic for me to study this stuff. There is purpose there. I absolutely adore the philology, it’s amazing, but it feels, I don’t know, kind of abstract. Like it’s great but it doesn’t relate to me enough. Gee, that sounds so self-indulgent! Oh well.

I think I want to tell stories, those of people I know, myself, but also others. I want to create connections with culture and investigate the concept of home and belonging. It’s something I’ve been looking for in my life and I daresay there are many others in the same situation with less capacity for or interest in finding the answers. So that’s where I’m at. The density of information that I’m absorbing, the sheer volume of it, is surely going to mean I’ll be clear on exactly what I want to do after this, whether it’s a PhD or something else.

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Chase family – NOT American

So, I’ve been doing my genealogical research seriously for about a decade now.  I have had periods where I’ve done virtuallyl nothing for ages, so that’s why I’m only up to about 250 people in my tree (I haven’t included living relatives like my parents’ siblings, due  to privacy, but also because that doesn’t really help me get further back… so I’m missing about another 14 people there…)

The Chase branch in my family is pretty interesting, well I think so. But the annoying barrier I’ve run up against time and time again, well perhaps not so much as a barrier but a frustration, is that Chase is always assumed to be an American surname. So when I search on various genealogical forums and whatnot, people ALWAYS ask me if I’m related to some Chase individual from Massachusetts or something!  I’ve gotten back to about 1790 or so on that branch, and so far they’re all east end Londoners, with the family moving slowly further east, so beginning in Shoreditch and Hackney (central east London, zone 1 on the Tube map now), and eventually ending up in Essex (off the tube network). 

Because there are so many Americans doing family history, and the Chase family must have literally exploded when Thomas and Aquila Chase went out there sometime in the 1600s or something, it’s near impossible to rein in the research and concentrate purely on UK Chases.  It’s quite possible that I’m related to these Chases who went out on the Mayflower or something like that, but I know that the branch of the Chase family that I come from is totally British.

It was fun, the other week, when Google Street View came out and I was able to have a look at the church where my 4x great grandparents were married in 1828 – St Leonard’s Shoreditch, in case you’re wondering.  Although really, looking at it on Google is pretty silly when I live in London and could go and have a look at it any time.  It’s quite an important church for the Chases, as there were numerous children baptised there too.

Now’s the time to spend a day (probably turn into weeks) at the London Metropolitan Archives and get a hold of these parish records, get some parent details for Daniel Chase and Charlotte Robertson (my 4x great grandparents) and find out once and for all, a) if Charlotte was Scottish (just a hunch I have), and b) if yet another generation of Chases comes from central east London.  I always see all these Chases from places down south like Portsmouth, but the ones from London are few and far between. Are we special? I think so!

My dad always mentions the information we got when we ordered the Chase heraldic crest. The print out we were given says that the first mention of Chase was, I think, in the Domesday Book, or some such early Norman record dating back to the 1300s at least. Ironically, he was the Earl of Essex I believe! The name is Norman in origin, from the French for ‘hunter’, chasseur. 

But before I do any of that I must get my partner’s family tree sorted out to a point so his 94 year old granddad can check it out before he goes off to meet all the ancestors in person!

Other stuff happend in the war too you know…

So you always hear about World War II and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps etc.  There’s been so much written/spoken/filmed about it all, and why not, it’s such a historically significant period, such important events which changed the world.

But other stuff happened too, stuff that was connected to the Nazis and probably at some level the Jewish plight, but it wasn’t all about Nazis and Jews.  What about the people who lived in the places that constantly changed borders as a result of the goings on during the war? I can’t say I know a lot, as I was born over thirty years after the war ended, but I’m learning…

What I want to talk about and research is what happened to the Danube Swabian people (known in Bavarian German as ‘Donauschwaben’) who lived in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia), right near the border of Hungary. These are an interesting group of individuals. They originally came to the area from Bavaria, and not really of their own choosing. I haven’t done a lot of research yet into what exactly happened, but as far as I know, the Austro-Hungarian Empire got their hands on that part of the world and realised that no one lived there (this was in the 1700s). So they decided to populate the area by bringing in some of their Germans. They gave them an incentive to go, setting up some houses, giving them food and money to help them establish in their new home.

So these Donauschwaben spoke German, and were very Germanic in their customs, but they actually lived for generations in what is now Serbia. I am descended from these people. My grandmother was one in fact. She spoke Serbian as well, but apparently the Serbs in the area were considered beneath them, or like peasants, and it was frowned upon to fraternise with them.

My grandmother was wilful, and probably quite spoiled. The family, by 1914 when she was born, lived in a large, pentagonal dwelling, with a courtyard garden in the centre, and were obviously doing quite well for themselves. I’ve since found out the name of the village was Torschau (Torzsa in Hungarian, Savino Selo in Serbian), and it was located in the Batschka, an area in or around the Banat.

Being, as I said, wilful and full of confidence, as a young girl of 14 or 15 often is, my grandmother wanted to do what her friends were doing – get married. She told her father she intended to marry, just like the others, and have babies etc. Luckily my great grandfather wasn’t standing for any nonsense and he told her there was no chance she’d marry now, just to be with the ‘in’ crowd. To deter her and make it easier for her to steer clear of an early marriage, he arranged for her to start working as a nanny in nearby Belgrade. She went to live with a family there, no doubt fairly well off, and in what was then quite a cosmopolitan city. Little did my great grandfather know, but his plan to educate her in fact brought her to her future husband.

My grandfather – a native Serb and apprentice bootmaker – was short and stocky but a handsome, open-faced, charistmatic young man. He and my grandmother courted in secret, and he would walk ten paces behind her down the street in case they were ‘seen’ together. I’m sure my great grandfather wasn’t impressed that his daughter was now keen not just to marry but to marry a Yugoslav; but by this point almost ten years had passed and perhaps his daughter, now a twenty-three-year-old woman, was quickly becoming an ‘old maid’. They married in 1937 and lived in Belgrade to begin with. My great grandfather visited them and was appalled to find they didn’t have bread in the house – for him, the quintessential sign of a properly domesticated household.

My grandmother was actually able to claim German citizenship, with documentary evidence of her Danube Swabian ancestry, even though her family hadn’t actually lived in Germany for many generations. She managed to get my grandfather out of a work camp during the war because of this.  But that’s another story…

What is interesting to me is that these Donauschwaben were uprooted and deposited – granted in a very organised and calm manner – to another country first of all, developed such a sense of pride in who they were and where they came from, their Donauschwaben identity. They were actually content in their German village in the middle of Yugoslavia; but being quintessentially German, and the Germans knowing this, the children were recruited into the Hitler Youth Movement, just like any German young person of the time. It was a good thing at first. But of course we all know what happened…

Finally begun blogging…

My first blog, my reasons for blogging, and some tasters of my current intriguing genealogical mysteries.

In the beginning was the Word. And the word was… ‘curious’. Well either that or ‘inquisitive’. Took me a while to decide which was best, but anyway, you get the idea. I was trying to think of why I do what I do – all this researching and writing. And I decided it’s because I’m generally curious about… stuff. I want to know why things are the way they are. And I don’t mean in a basic philosophical way – all that ‘what’s the meaning of life’ and ‘why are we here’ stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I always thought those cocky, intellectual philosophy dudes at uni were really wasting time. Perhaps for them it was fun, but for me it wasn’t; maybe I just felt intimidated by their intelligence.

Anyway, whatever it was, I am interested in life in terms of people; I’m curious about what makes them tick, how events unfold and the issue of conincidence versus kismet; ‘synchronicity’, as my great auntie Gwen says.  So that’s why I do all my genealogical research, not just because I want to know where I come from, but because I want to know how people’s lives unfold. So I do other people’s genealogy too, unravel the mystery, like a detective.

At the moment I’m trying to find out the details of an Irish ancestor, born 1857 or thereabouts, who went to live in Carlisle (in England, right near the border of Scotland). He went to America, apparently to Detroit, Michigan, in the late 1880s and had two children there with his wife – I can’t even work out where they were married, perhaps it was even on board the boat! The family then returned to Carlisle, two kids in tow, and had another two there, then this guy apparently went back to America without his wife and children and never returned. By 1915, according to his son’s marriage certificate, he had died. There are some odd things about this guy. He is shown as a Blast Furnace Foreman on a couple of different records, but on the marriage certificate, where he’s listed as deceased, he’s shown as a Master Hairdresser (whatever that is!) I wonder if he reinvented himself when he returned to the US alone.  Did he remarry? Did he have other children? And now I have evidence to suggest he went back and forth between the US and Carlisle in 1895, fathering children with his wife either side of that trip, both born in the UK.

The other mystery I’m keen to solve is that of my ggg grandfather, who was born about 1828 in Shoreditch, east London, UK. He married, had a few children, and then died suddenly in 1880, at the age of 52. Even for those days, this was fairly young. When I got his death certificate, I was intrigued to discover the cause of death was ‘violent fracture of the skull – accidental’. He was a bricklayer, so perhaps a brick fell on his head. Or maybe he fell off a building site. The certificate mentions an inquest was done at the time, but I’m yet to find records of it. His wife and youngest son (my gg grandfather), who was eight when his father was killed, seemed to disappear – they were nowhere in the 1881 census. Out of desperation I eventually checked the 1881 Scotland census, only to find the mother and son living in Edinburgh, working as servants in the house of some grand-sounding widow and his bachelor son. Why did they go to Scotland from east London – it was a long way in 1880! Could it be that there was some family connection there? Is that why my great grandfather’s middle name was McDonald? Or is it connected to the mother of this bricklayer ggg grandfather, who I suspect was Scottish? How I find this out, I really don’t know. But it fascinates me!

So when is a blog over? Whenever I choose, I suppose. Curiosity didn’t kill this kat… or at least it hasn’t yet!