Saturday, January 22, 2011

What's with the weird blog name?

Is there a contest for weird genealogy blog names? If so, I might have won it for this month.  I can hear people asking, “What’s ‘Saint Cross Upheaval’ supposed to mean??”

A brief story: several years ago, I was visiting an ancestral town in Europe, translator in tow. I was fortunate that we (“we” = my translator) were able to find the parish priest, who unlocked the small Baroque church for us and spent some time telling us a bit of the local history.  Back home a few weeks later, I realized that I had not noted the name of the church. Now, to some extent it didn’t really matter—it’s the only church in town, and in that area the churches are generally referred to by the town name, rather than by the name of the saint or event which they commemorate, such as Saint Paul’s or Immaculate Conception.  But still, I wanted to know.  So I emailed my translator, and asked if she had noticed the name of the church.  She hadn’t, but she was kind enough to call the church (far from where she herself lived), and then she emailed me her translation of the name of the church: Saint Cross Upheaval.

I was puzzled, to say the least. I didn’t feel I could ask her for clarification, because I didn’t want to embarrass her by implying that her translation skills were not up to par.  Fortunately, one of my sisters has a master’s degree in theology, so I called her and asked what this could possibly mean. “Triumph of the Holy Cross,” she immediately replied. “It’s a feast day in September, a bigger deal in Europe than here.”

Why choose this for a blog name?

First, let me say what my reasons are NOT.
  • I am not making fun of my translator or her skills.
  • I am not making fun of the church or its name.
  • I am most definitely not equating genealogy with a religious experience, nor am I into ancestor-worship.

I’ve studied several languages. I’ve spent over 30 years hunting for and learning about people who lived in times and places very different from my own. I am constantly striving to interpret.

It is so easy to misinterpret. I have made mistakes, some hilarious, some embarrassing, in speaking and writing a language that I have not fully mastered. I have misunderstood the ways of the past because I assumed that attitudes and options were like those of my own modern American experience. I have gone around, mental dictionary in “hand,” translating what I see into “Saint Cross Upheaval,” not having the knowledge to make the leap to “Triumph of the Holy Cross,” sometimes not even knowing that my interpretation has missed the mark.

“Saint Cross Upheaval” is where I stand. My goal is accurate translation, understanding the lives of others through their language or their history, honoring their lived experience by interpreting it in a way that they would understand and agree with.  “Saint Cross Upheaval” is where I’m at; “Triumph of the Holy Cross” is my goal.

Friday, January 21, 2011

And so I begin

So, it’s time for me to jump into genealogy blogging. Not because I consider myself especially insightful, creative, or even a particularly good writer (alas). But over the years I’ve gotten many questions about the Michutka family, which I’ve happily answered to the best of my ability.  I’ve tried writing up the family history a few times, have not been entirely satisfied with the result and didn’t finish (but someday must). And so perhaps a blog will answer my needs better: short bits, more informal, with the ability to carry on a dialogue with family and readers in the process.  I could benefit too from the exchange of ideas, instead of just handing out a finished product. 

I also see blogging as another and valuable way to interact with my fellow genealogists, and hope that I can use this venue as a way to contribute to the field. The genealogy blogging community has a number of interesting and helpful themes and prompts, such as Methodology Monday and Tombstone Tuesday.  My goal is to blog weekly on the topic of my own family research—Michutka Monday.  My hope (a “hope” being a step down from an actual goal!) is to also blog once a week or so on another topic, either using one of the other genealogy prompts, or writing about a document I’ve come across, a genealogy or history book, a local repository, or my mother’s or husband’s ancestry.

My previous attempts to write up the Michutka family history included starting from my grandparents and working back to earlier generations, and then starting over from the earliest known Mičutka ancestor and working toward the present. After giving it some thought, I’ve decided that this time I will start in the middle. Instead of identifying a “first” or a “last,” I’m choosing a nexus, someone from whom I can branch off in various directions.  That nexus will be my grandfather, who was born Juro Mičutka in a Slovak village in 1891 and died as George Michutka, an American citizen, in a small Michigan town in 1967.  Standing (virtually) in George’s shoes, I’ll look back at our European history, and forward at the first decades of the American experience. George will also be the link to his wife’s (my grandmother’s) family history, brief as that history currently is!  Polyglot George, child in Europe, adult in America, will provide me with touchpoints for discussing family, language, culture, and history.

Well, this might make it sound like I have book-length material, documents and family stories of generations past. The truth is, I don’t. We’re descended from ordinary folk in a small village. Or, if some were more-than-ordinary, then from extraordinary folk who left no stories behind.  But I’ll make the most of the records I’ve found and few stories I’ve heard, and do my best to place people into context. Please feel free to be a part of this, with your own stories, questions, and thoughts.

Tomorrow: What’s with the weird blog name??