Friday, November 18, 2011

A little genealogy

Miriam's 6th grade history class assignment to make a family tree (Stammbaum) had us looking into a file folder labeled "Family History." Markus is a good filer, and over the years he's stuffed the folder with various documents representing both sides of the family.

While I was busy rehearsing and performing Mendelssohn all weekend, Markus and Miriam spent some time looking at the file. A neat tracing of the Vodosek line, in my father-in-law's handwriting, formed the basis of Miriam's project. I later found a piece of scrap paper in Markus' hand showing the mathematical progression backwards into a staggering number of ancestors: 1 Miriam, 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, then 32, 64, 128, to 256 direct ancestors 9 generations back. Being a pragmatist, Miriam was satisfied taking each grandparent back one or two generations (her great-greats and/or great-great-greats) and copying 10 generations of the Vodosek line back to Stefan Vodosek I. Stefan Vodosek I (1647-1707), Jakob Vodosek I (1693-1762), Martin Vodosek (1745-1816), Gaspar Vodosek (1762-1843), Jakob Vodosek II (1795-1857), Stefan Vodosek II (1831-1889), Stefan Vodosek III (1872-1953), Alfons Vodosek (Markus' grandfather, whom I knew, 1912-1996), Peter Vodosek (Miriam's grandfather, 1939-), Markus Vodosek (1966-), Miriam Craig Vodosek (1999-)! Of course, each of these men had a mother with names like Katharina, Jena, Mezo, Maria, Rosa. The one great-grandparent whom Miriam met in person was Marianne Kollik Vodosek (1914-2006), married to Alfons.

Although I had run out of time to help Miriam decipher the Craig/Williams side of the family for her assignment, I couldn't resist taking a closer look into the file anyway. I knew of the pride and fuss in both my grandmothers' families as descendants of the Lee family of Virginia. It is part of the family lore that General Robert E. Lee is the most famous ancestor in our predominantly Southern family tree. With organizations like the Society of Lees of Virginia, one has access to considerable information.

As for my grandfathers, the family roots are more humble and scantily recorded. My paternal grandfather, David Norman Craig (1898-1986) of Massachussetts, was son of David Craig, Jr., who arrived on a boat from Ireland as a child around 1887. This is the one branch of my family tree that is decidedly non-Southern, having been established in the U.S. in the North after the Civil War. We lose track of the Craigs in Ireland before his father, David Craig, Sr. (1835-?). There are a lot of David Craigs--including my brother!

My maternal grandfather, the Reverend Melville Owens Williams, Jr., stems from Virginia's middle class (e.g., an architect, a soldier "In Lee's Army" and tax collector, a butcher (on his mother's side)): Melville Owens Williams, Sr., David A. Williams, Edward Williams, Wilson Williams (one generation after the Revolutionary War).

Teasing out the Lee pedigree, traceable through both of my grandmothers, became the most interesting part of trawling the various photocopies of handwritten and typewritered documents. Because here is what I found.

In the mid-1600s, a man named Richard Lee "The Immigrant" came with his wife, Anna (Constable?), from Britain to the Virginia Colony. The second eldest of their eight children, Richard Lee II, married Letitia Corbin, and they had seven children.

One son, Colonel Thomas Lee (1690-1750), had a son named Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730-1778), who had a son named Thomas Ludwell Lee, Jr. (1761-1807), who had a son named Francis Ludwell Lee (1786-1848), who had a daughter named Nancy Eveline Ludwell Lee (1808-1884), who had a daughter named Sara Frances Wills (?), who had a daughter named Sallie Lee Angle (1855-1931), who had a son named George Osby Young (1877-1949), who had a daughter named Annie Lee Young Williams (1899-1996), who was my maternal grandmother.

The Robert E. Lee connection for my Granny traces through a brother of Colonel Thomas Lee in that first Virginia-born generation. I think that means Col. Thomas Lee was a great-great uncle of the famous general.

While puzzling over the document that traces the two lines (the one leading to my maternal grandmother alongside the one leading to General Lee), I noticed a name in the general's line that I thought I had seen before: Edmund Jennings Lee. And indeed I had.

Letitia Corbin and Richard Lee had a son named Henry just one year younger than Col. Thomas, and here's one of the lines that flow into the present day from Henry. Henry Lee (1691-1747) had a son also named Henry Lee (1729-1787) who had a son named Edmund Jennings Lee (1772-1843). Edmund was the younger brother of another Henry Lee, nicknamed "Lighthorse Harry Lee," whose many claims to fame include being the father of Robert E., which establishes this Edmund as the general's uncle, just by the way. Edmund Jennings Lee had a son, the Reverand William Fitzhugh Lee (?-1884), who had a daughter named Mary Morrison Lee (1830-1891), who had a son named Robert Allen Castleman II (1857-1936), who had a daughter named Frances Funsten Castleman (1897-1981), who was my paternal grandmother.

So, Thomas and Henry Lee, born one year apart in 1690 and 1691 in the middle of a pack of second generation Virginian Lees, gave rise to both sides of my family. I imagine the two of them arguing over a toy or angling for the last slice of pie. According to a small write-up on Wikipedia, they lived near each other as adults. At one point, after a fire destroyed the home of Thomas, Henry took the family in until Thomas could rebuild. What would the two of them think about my generation's random re-intersection of the Lee line? I say random because there are other more obvious intermarriages in the Lee line--cousins, I believe.

I knew all of this, vaguely. That my family has the lap desk used by William Fitzhugh Lee around the time of the Civil War (a dark wooden box that looks like a silver chest). That my parents had a common ancestor at some point. But it was a thrill when I spotted old Edmund Jennings Lee's name on the document about my maternal grandmother and figured out the connection to my paternal grandmother's line. Interestingly, the Castleman/Craig side takes only 12 generations to get back to Richard II and Letitia, whereas the Young/Williams side follows 14 generations. It appears to be a function of parental age, with many of the fathers in the Craig line being over 40 and many of the mothers on the Williams side being in their twenties.

Miriam's family tree was pretty impressive even without the copious material from my side of the family. She'd assembled seven sheets of paper and gone back to an ancestor born in 1647. Her teacher had set the assignment as a competition to see who could go back the farthest. I figured European families would know their lineages back to Charlemagne at least. But it turns out that the Austrian-American girl in class, with a historian grandfather of Slovenian origin, won the distinction of longest family tree.

Stefan Vodosek I was born 13 years before Richard Lee I died in 17th century Virginia. Wouldn't it be fun if they could see Miriam.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going biblical

Sunday's performance of Mendelssoh's Paulus ran smoothly, filling Heilbronn's Kilianskirche with people and melodious sound. The choir never did drop the exaggerated pronunciation of the word "Jerusalem" (see post of November 5, 2011), but you can't say I didn't make an attempt at correction. I think that word presents a legitimate point of debate because many of the German speakers I polled were either uncertain how to say the word or pronounced it the "wrong" way themselves. What that all means is that Hochdeutsch (especially as used in theater, broadcast, and music) is an artifice. One choir member told me after the performance that the Swabian dialect is especially challenging for those who train themselves to be radio broadcasters and the like. According to him, no matter how hard they try, they can never quite erase the Swabian lilt and twang.

In preparing for the Mendelssohn concert, I decided to something about my lack of knowledge of the story of Paul. Was he one of the twelve disciples? I didn't think so. I skimmed the full text of the oratorio, including its many recitatives and arias for soloists. About a third of the way in, there's a character named Saul who is "spoken to" in an eerily beautiful women's chorus. After that, there's a character named Paul. I asked Markus, who had been to catholic religion class growing up. Hmm, he said. Is that the one who turned from Saul into Paul? From there, I decided to have a look in the Bible.

For two semi-lapsed Unitarians (lapsed due to lack of our denomination here in Germany), we have a lot of Bibles: two revised standards, one Good News, one Die Bibel, and one Das neue Testament. According to the explanatory note in the Peters Edition of Paulus, the text is all taken from Bible verses, especially the Acts of the Apostles, with the exception of the chorale texts that came from the hymnal of Mendelssohn's day, the most prominent being a delightfully bombastic "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" with full brass flourish.

When I sat down with the Bible on my lap, I indeed began to find the story of Paul. As I read, I became slightly less uncomfortable with the oratorio's generally negative and/or dismissive attitude toward "the Jews" and "the Heathen." While it's good dramatic fun for the choir to play the part of the nasty crowd crying things like "Stone him to death!" it's also unsettling to see lines drawn so Christo-centrically. Taking a fuller look at the context helped me get a more nuanced view of the historical impact of Paul.

Here's how I understand the story. Saul was a Jewish man living in Jerusalem in the first century after the death of Jesus (Wikipedia has his date of birth as AD 5). Saul also happened to be a Roman citizen, a circumstance that not only afforded him certain benefits but also seems to have played a significant role in the spread of Christianity. In Saul's Jerusalem, followers of Jesus went about preaching their gospel and facing persecution, among them Stephen, whose death by stoning occurred under Saul's approving watch. Saul had made a name for himself as a persecutor of Christians, and he asked to be sent to to Damascus to round up people who were speaking out against Jewish faith and tradition. On the famous road to Damascus, he had a vision, immediately followed by a loss of his eyesight. The vision instructed him to go to Damascus and await further word. After three days of solitude and prayer, he was found by Ananias, who was also following a vision. Ananias baptized him as Paul, upon which he became fully devoted to the Christian path and regained his eyesight.

Once Paul is an apostle, the remainder of Acts reads a bit like a road movie. The Mendelssohn piece makes it clear that, frustrated by his lack of progress in converting the Jews (my Bible says Hebrews), he turns to the Heathen (my Bible says Gentiles). Paul seems to be credited with loosening rules about circumcision and Kosher eating, a necessary compromise, I imagine, when appealing to Greeks and others for new converts. He travels with a variety of companions far and wide, a true traveling missionary. He nearly always evades persecution. Late in his life, he is captured in Jerusalem and imprisoned in Caesarea. As a Roman citizen, he claims his right to be tried for his crimes in Rome. Thus, courtesy of the Roman authorities, he enters into his final voyage.

The oratorio ends with Paul conquering the world in ecstatic praise. (Vocally speaking, you have to save a few high A's for the final moments of a 2-hour performance.) The Book of Acts also gives no details on Paul's demise (perhaps that is elsewhere in the Bible). Wikipedia informs me that Paul was put to death in Rome by beheading (a more merciful form of execution on account of his citizenship). And although Paul met a bad end, it seems quite clear that his voice must have been one of the first and most convincing to reach Rome and plant the seed of Christianity. It is strange to picture Rome and Italy without Christianity's central presence, as a place where no one revered Jesus, the Pope, and the Virgin Mary. Yet it all seems to have come about as the result of real people taking real trips and telling others their stories.

Why on earth, you might be wondering, am I blogging about the Book of Acts? Well, for one thing, I am amazed myself that I read an entire book of the Bible. It was not an easy text to read, but it wasn't as difficult as I anticipated. It's not at all unusual for me to check sources and do background reading on topics that grab my interest. But it is unusual for me to interact this directly with a Bible story. I really did need to know what was going on in the oratorio I was rehearsing hour after hour. That's a personal requirement. The fact that I came away from my reading with a moment of historical wow (the vagaries of the life of Paul just happened to transport Christianity to Rome) may have been teased along by my current reading: Geoffrey Blodgett's Oberlin History. That book is about many, many things, but most vivid to me is the keen sense of history, its making and its telling, that infuses every word.

Would you believe that, when I sat down this afternoon to blog, there was a different question altogether that had me reaching for a Bible? I was wondering about the word "begat" because I am working on some intriguing genealogy. He begat him, who begat him, and so on seems to be a rather efficient way of listing out a lineage. And I didn't want to imitate the begats without knowing my source. But, as it turns out, that formulation is a thing of the King James version. My reader-friendly mid-20th century Bibles say "had a son named so and so". Wordier. Anyway, I didn't end up blogging about the family tree stuff today, did I?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Skill Set

While rehearsing this afternoon for an upcoming choral project with Mendelssohn's oratorio Paulus, I had a chance to help out in a way I might not have expected. I joined Heilbronn's Vokalensemble in April, and next weekend's performance will be the first major work, with orchestra in Kilianskirche, that I will perform as a member of the choir. Together with a second and slightly larger group, we are about 120 voices strong.

During rehearsals, I have been puzzled at times about pronunciation, always tuning my vowel color to that of my neighbors. After all, they are native speakers, and we are singing in German. Now and then, particularly on "e" vowels, I've had the feeling that I learned a different pronunciation, back in my diction classes at Oberlin Conservatory in the 1980s.

Whether you're singing on an "eh" (as in "head") or closed "e" (not found in English, but like the second syllable in "obey" without the drop into the diphthong) makes a big difference in terms of vocal color and resonance. Apparently, as I learned in the spring, people with the local Swabian dialect throw in some closed "e" sounds where they don't belong (that is, according to the rules of Stage German (Bühnendeutsch) that I was drilled in during college). So, I went home from rehearsal in the spring and spent some time with my dictionaries to clarify vowels for myself.

During a break today, I had pointed out two vowel questions to our conductor, who seemed a little too harried to work on the finer points of diction. But he diligently made note and said he'd see what he could do. He is not from the Heilbronn area, although his Black Forest roots don't necessarily bring him closer to the Hochdeutsch of the Hannover region. To my ear, his spoken pronunciation is spot on, but (like many conductors of my acquaintance) he hasn't learned the code (International Phonetic Alphabet) and lacks the vocabulary to describe the sounds. Which is usually just as well, since most choral singers go cross-eyed when I bring it up. (Here's a quick test: did you like that link? If it looks like magic, you're with me. If your eyes are crossed…well, I've seen that look before.)

But to my point. Toward the end of rehearsal, we came across the word: Jerusalem. In English, dzeh-ru-suh-lemm. In German, ya(y)-ru-za-lemm. But in Swabia (where I live), apparently ya(y)-ru-za-la(y)m. It was one of the words that had bugged me, and I'd looked it up. So, when my German choral conductor cast his eyes toward the choir for verification on the final vowel sound, he looked at me, the American in the second sopranos. Lemm, I said. Like "Bett" (bed) or "hell" (bright). I'm sure about that. I looked it up.

Little Miss Diction hasn't lost her touch.