28 September 2011

Camel Adventures, Wadi Rum

If you could have but one camel ride in your lifetime ~ should you be so inclined ~ I strongly recommend you book yourself to Jordan and the Wadi Rum desert. If camel rides were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, trust me, it’s a 10.
Police Band, Jerash; Photo BDM 2008
The germ for this post preceded recent widespread events in the Arab world. Beyond my obvious sympathies, the blogger in me self-centredly regrets the sadly diminished camel opportunities. Yet somehow I have faith that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will retain its stability in the unpredictable Middle East volatility.

Better scribes than I have written glowingly of Jordan’s magnetism. A relatively new nation, the country includes some of the world’s oldest inhabited sites. It’s not only on the ancient Fertile Crescent, it’s also on the Rift Valley. If you are into archaeological, if you are into biblical, if you are into cultural, if you are into photography, or just plain scenic awe, the country amazes from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea. Truly majestic.

At Petra; Photo BDM 2008
One could spend days in Madaba absorbing the local flavours, the celebrated mosaics. Or pondering the recently uncovered site of  Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. Aqaba is still a small town, not yet a developed tourist destination apart from savvy scuba divers. Fabled Petra is a magic time warp. Few would go so far as Married To A Bedouin but I was pleased to meet her son.[1]. The warmth of the people is evident ... with little of the vendor hassle experienced elsewhere.

Wadi Rum desert is in the south; descending into it from a plateau is spectacular, certainly one of the world’s most extraordinary places. We cross the railway famously bombed by T.E. Lawrence, to access the modest Welcome Centre in the protected area. One of the local women’s co-op handicrafts shop is here. The tiny support village is full of camels. I know because it’s my second visit here and each time was different.
Photo BDM 2007
What do most tour companies offer, encouraged by entrepreneurial young village men? Careening across the sand in a 4-wheel-drive jeep or truck lacking shock absorbers. Go figure! Environmental irony. Camels were not on the agenda but I had persisted.

Like most Jordan women, my guide Nadine spurns the hijab. Myself is wrapped up more than she is, against the sun and the possibility of blowing sand. We go well beyond any sign of civilization and on my behalf she haggles fiercely with some camel handlers in Arabic. Nadine does everything fiercely, including telling raucous jokes.

Finally. The others tear off in their kidney-splitting jeep to bash some dunes and inspect ancient inscriptions. I get a couple of hours as Queen of the Desert. The arrangement involves a female and her baby who must not be separated. This tells me the colt is less than five years old. The boy who leads me is very serious with responsibility for the animals. Good thing he’s along because he knows where we are going. All is sandy desert in every direction to the horizon, with gigantic mystical rock outcropping here and there. If by some flight of imagination I were allowed to trek alone—unthinkable of course—no question I would be lost, wandering from one isolated cliff to the next, until someone finds my dessicated corpse splayed across the hump of the steadfast camel.

Photos, BDM 2008
The boy-who-won’t-tell-me-his-name (not under-standing my question) disapproves whenever I lean to touch the baby. Experimenting with saddle positions also earns me scowls and rapid verbal orders. I am so relaxed I don’t even try to interpret. Nevertheless I emulate the leg-hook favoured by bored camel police. Baby’s hair on the hump—which is as far as I can reach without falling off and disgracing myself—looks bristly but feels soft. Of course! That’s why we have camel’s hair coats in North America.

Photo by Jerome Enger, 2008
My guide stops remonstrating with me. I am one with the stately undulation of my steed and her sidekick. “Oh the desert is lovely in its restfulness. The great brooding stillness over and through everything ...”.[2] We are in the heart of silence. Separation from everything in routine life! No cares. Just be.
Photo by Jerome Enger, 2008
Bedouin tribal memory still reveres Lawrence here in places where he camped. “To those bred under an elaborate social order few such moments of exhilaration can come as that which stands at the threshold of wild travel. The gates of the enclosed garden are thrown open... and behold! the immeasurable world.”[3] Yes. “Wild” in that special sense of the unfamiliar becoming an unsuspected, thrilling gateway.
Photo Mary Ann Waring, 2008
It had to end. Dismount at a Bedouin camp. Until the next camel experience, insh’allah.

Camel Adventures continue from here on anotherfamdamily.blogspot.com.

[1] Marguerite van Geldermalsen, Married To A Bedouin ( London: Virago Press/Time Warner Book Group, 2006). 
[2] Terry Kelhawk, “Skirts on Camels: Early Women Travel Writers,” The Huffington Post  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com : accessed 24 October 2010); citing Lilias Trotter, Journal 1885.
[3] Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown, (London: William Heinneman Ltd., 1907). 

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2011.

20 September 2011

Frasers Part 18 (Perthshire)

Little baby steps after long bleary hours of Internet searching. As per my last post, my Fraser goal was to return to the preliminary writing I'd done, revising and plugging holes as I go. But quite out of chronological order, I wanted to pursue a long delayed hunch. Plunging right into frenzied database searching brought some promising but fragile results.

Results … not for my missing-in-action John Fraser the blacksmith of St Andrews East, but maybe for two of his other kids. Per the Presbyterian church register (which gives dates of birth) John had two daughters, my great-grandmother Catherine (1833-1914) and Eliza (4 Feb 1839), two sons John (25 Jan 1835) and Duncan (10 Nov 1837). Those last three kids have also been missing in action. Quebec censuses and the Drouin Collection have not yielded anything hopeful. The hunch was—of course—that they left la belle province. Why not start with Ontario? Their sister Catherine went to Renfrew in the late 1850s.

First up was Ontario marriages on Ancestry.ca. The name Duncan is way easier to search for than Eliza/Elizabeth/Elisabeth/etc but nothing rang any bells there. One, only ONE, marriage presented itself for an Elizabeth Fraser whose parents were John and Ann. While her mother was commonly known as Nancy, it's a nickname for Ann, her baptismal name. Parents' names and the location look promising although Elizabeth's age was close, but not exact, for an 1839 year of birth. The Ancestry entry is a transcription only, not a digital image, so the original (microfilmed) register must be consulted—more details like place of marriage and religious affiliation may be forthcoming.

Elizabeth Fraser of Renfrew, born “in Canada,” age 19, daughter of John & Ann, married Alexander Gordon of Pakenham, born in Canada, age 25, son of George Gordon & Isabella Murray, on 30 October 1860 in Renfrew County;“Ontario, Canada Marriages, 1801-1928,” database, Ancestry.ca (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 17 September 2011), Gordon-Fraser marriage (1860); citing Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 248 reel 14.

Meanwhile, it was time to scour census returns. In 1861 and 1871 the Gordons lived in Pakenham, Lanark County, which is on the southern border of Renfrew County. Alexander was a merchant. From 1881 to 1901 they were in the town of Pembroke, Renfrew County; Alexander was a lumber merchant. In that period, Elizabeth's place of birth was thrice given as Quebec, once as Ontario. IF she is “mine,” she was consistently knocking two years off her age. The couple more or less seemed to follow Highland naming tradition: their first daughter was Isabella, the second Ann; the first son was George. The name John (for Elizabeth's father) does not crop up until the fourth son.

Alexander Gordon was a widower in 1901, so there was no chance to see what might have been written then as Elizabeth's date of birth. Ontario deaths on Ancestry.ca brought me:

Elizabeth Gordon, wife of Alexr Gordon, died in the town of Pembroke on 1 October 1891: age 49+ 8/12; born in Quebec, Presyterian; cause of death pulmonary consumption during two years, Dr. W.W. Dickson; “Ontario, Canada Deaths 1869-1938,” digital image, Ancestry.ca (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 17 September 2011), Elizabeth Gordon, no. 014427 (1891); Archives of Ontario, MS 935.

 Next, the Ontario Cemeteries Finding Aid and the exceptional Canadian Gravemarker Gallery. The latter with its on-site photographs is a wonderful and probably under-used resource. Yes; in Calvin United Church and First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Pembroke, Elizabeth is buried along with her husband and three children. The gravestone does not add to her information, but thank you Murray Pletsch and all your amazing volunteers!

Another search brought forth hundreds of cemeteries where the name Fraser occurs, in their Eastern Ontario section alone—I was looking for Duncan. Maybe I found him:
"In Memory of DUNCAN FRASER Departed this life May [7?] 18[6?]1 AE. 24 YRS."
The stone is in St Fillan's Cemetery, Beckwith Township, Lanark County. The location is not far south of Pakenham. If the year is 1861 (what do you think??), his age is spot on with my Duncan. The 1861 census shows him as a farmer with a wife Ann, no children, in a household headed by an elderly McGinnis couple. I will have to look on the microfilm for a following page (not all have survived) that would clarify the household composition. Duncan is also shown as born in Scotland (ditto marks from lines above) so I can't get too hopeful. Newspapers of nearby Carleton Place or perhaps Arnprior or Renfrew might be available for potential reference to a young man's premature death. So where is his darn marriage?!

Elizabeth Fraser Gordon's alleged age at the time of her death leads appropriately to a February birth, but still a couple of years (1842) off. Pembroke newspapers are calling me for that one. Call me fanciful, but I like to think Elizabeth Gordon named her fourth daughter Kate after her sister Catherine who was always known as Kate in the family.

Baby steps on eggshells. Dare I hope this is progress? Pembroke cousins, where are you? I'm working my way through the gravemarker lists and photos, not optimistically, for their father John who could have died any time from 1838 on.


13 September 2011

Frasers Part 17: Buckle Down

The family histories I have been working on have revealed my own particular bent. Apparently I am more interested in pushing back than plunging forward. Thus, a few of the descending branches from Scotland and Latvia peter out with no further information known. The investigation of those branches is ongoing, despite a lot of negativity from the usual sources, just at a reduced priority level.

Not to suggest that I don’t welcome the discovery of new cousins and branch twigs. Please keep the new information and connections coming! For one thing, unlike other lines in my ancestry, the Frasers leave me bereft of family photographs.

I’m more obsessed with where they trod—the ancestors who gave me and my siblings and my children some share of their DNA. I love to investigate the locations. For the most part I’ve had success with both North American and overseas origins. But the difficult Frasers continue to bedevil me. It’s a good time to stop the research, temporarily, and buckle down to writing. Putting it in writing is always the best way to find coherence, defining the problem areas.

Besides not knowing exactly when or how each emigrant arrived in Lower Canada, never mind the miseries of common-forename proliferation, some of the main research weaknesses and gaps among my Argenteuil ancestors are:

Inverness-shire John Fraser:
● his parish of origin in Inverness-shire is unknown;
● most Inverness-shire parish registers are far from comprehensive for the 17th-18th century population (cannot confirm his Scottish-born children, his first marriage, his own baptism);
● his date of death and place of burial are unknown;
● next to nothing is known about his first wife (Fraser) and second wife (McIntyre);
● children who left St. Andrews East also left no discernible tracks.  

Perthshire John Fraser:
● the blacksmith disappeared from St Andrews East between 1839 and 1842;
● three of his four children disappear from the radar after one census (when they were teenagers);
● his widow’s later life has no clues to his fate;
● his Robertson mother in Scotland is still a cipher;
● the Killin burial ground (Scotland) is in bad shape, not helping with probable earlier generations. 

Eons ago I began the Fraser family history in a folksy way, thinking it would be less confusing for uninitiated family members, because of the serial Frasers. Now, I’m revising to treat it in more acceptable genealogical form. As I go, one problem at a time can be addressed. Maybe the above lists will shrink!

There’s an incomplete feeling without more locations and dates to hang my hat on, figuratively speaking ... a bit of existential angst in my genetic code. Nevertheless, I am descended from a multitude of Frasers. I am as Fraser as they come.

06 September 2011

Morphic Resonance


Searching for words to describe unexplained gut responses, inherent empathetic reactions, intrigues me. I've been calling it tribal memory ..racial memory .. subconscious cognition .. etc. Well hogtie me and take me to market; a biologist has a scientific term for this: morphic resonance.

Yes. His name is Rupert Sheldrake and being slightly sidelined from the mainstream he is not exactly a household name like Darwin. “Sheldrake has proposed that memory is inherent to all organically formed structures and systems.”[1]

Sheldrake says, “... memory is inherent in nature. Most of the so-called laws of nature are more like habits. My interest in evolutionary habits arose when I was engaged in research in developmental biology, and was reinforced by reading Charles Darwin, for whom the habits of organisms were of central importance. As Francis Huxley has pointed out, Darwin’s most famous book could more appropriately have been entitled The Origin of Habits.[2]

“The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are likewise inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species.”[3]

That last sentence rings sinister: what are we (inadvertently?) contributing to the universal life force in the family memory pool? Five hundred years from now, will my descendants have an inexplicably irresistible craving for buttered popcorn?

Much as I like his terminology, the man seques into telepathic studies explaining why your dog knows you are coming home before you get there. It's hard to say, from a decidedly unscientific stance, if the test of time will prove his theories. Maybe only his/our descendants will know. Thanks to Mark Rabideau for bringing this to our attention.[4]

This sort of post more properly belongs on my other blog, away from the immediately pressing world of ancestor research, and will be repeated there.

I still maintain that instinctive swooning to the bagpipes is morphic resonance. Cuidich!

[1] “Rupert Sheldrake,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake : accessed 20 August 2011).
[2] “Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields,” Rupert Sheldrake, Biologist and Author (http://www.sheldrake.org/Articles&Papers/papers/morphic/morphic_intro.html : accessed 20 August 2011).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Mark F. Rabideau, “Morphic Resonance and Genealogy,” APG Members Only List, 28 July 2011. Mark's website is Many Roads, http://many-roads.com.

02 September 2011

The Big Lake they call ...

Celebration of an awesome summer. Amethyst is more than a colour.
Nanabijou from the Terry Fox Monument; photograph CDM July 2011

Photograph BDM August 2011