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Procrastination, part 1

Posted in A Writer's Desk

See part 2 on this topic.

ProductivityNotTodayIf I were a rational human being, I'd sit and do my 4-5 hours of writing every morning without a quibble. I like writing. Being a normal human being and not a rational one, I instead find a myriad of other things to occupy me, all apparently fascinating.

So I resort to tricks. The most effective of these is to channel the desire to punt into other productive work. Better almost anything (I tell my subconscious) than just to play games or read. Best of all if I can tell myself that the alternative projects are finite.

There have been two big (but productive) writing procrastination sinkholes recently. Here's the first one; I'll save the second one for a separate post.


I was raised by wolves. Nice wolves, but still… There were no family stories around the dinner table. None. I had the equivalent of a single sheet of paper for both sides, together, and not a full sheet of paper, either.

Considering that my father had lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and that my mother was a war-bride from Antwerp, you'd think they'd have something to talk about, like the time Aunt Bertha did this, or the time Grandpa Louis François said that. Or even just the stories of how they met during the war. Not so. The only family story I ever heard about came from my father's sister. I met my two aunts (one on each side) and their children a few times, and that was about it. I couldn't name, with certainty, my own grandparents, much less their siblings.

Great-grandmother Clara Gasperov Myers, about to be re-gilded as the Statue of Wisdom on the dome of the state capitol building in Augusta, ME

When I put out that story about my great-grandmother, I sent a link to my father's niece and asked her to forward it to any relatives she knew. Lo and behold, cousins on my father's side sprouted from the woodwork. They all know each other, more or less, and haven't quite understood that I didn't know who any of them are. So when a free trial arrived for, I went to work with what little I knew.

I was able to pin down more of the connections between my great-grandparents on my father's side. (It helps that the two Jewish lines arrived from Odessa (father's father) and Germany (father's mother) at about the same time, into the land of census records and Massachusetts Masonic membership cards).

When I stumbled across someone else's family tree that included my great-grandmother Clara, I contacted them and passed along a link to the story about her. That got me connections to another bunch of cousins, as well as a professional genealogist who specializes in Jewish immigration (mother of a family in-law), and that side of the tree firmed up nicely. I didn't get any further back (some but not all of my great-great-grandparents), but it certainly got very broad with all their descendents.

Even the dry bones of demographics have interest. There's got to be a story behind the 3rd cousin who married on her 18th birthday, though I'll never know what it was.

I was startled to discover that my great-grandmother's mother immigrated with her five remaining children a year after Clara (1906). Her father didn't make it — he was killed in a pogrom in Odessa the same year Clara left. They were strong women — when Clara's youngest sister died in childbirth, her five-year old went to live with Clara's family, and the infant boy was adopted by another sister.

For my mother's side of the family I had no hope. I knew little about her family (born in Antwerp, parents from Rotterdam), and just getting the names right was both difficult (everyone seemed to have three recycled endlessly from grandparents) and insufficient (think how common “van Dam” (by the dam) is, in the Netherlands). The digital records available via for minor European countries are not broad, and my lowlands cousins are not on sharing what they know.

Through indirect suggestions, I ended up with just enough to start fleshing out my mother's father. And his parents. And their parents. And theirs…  In just a couple of day I got back in one line to my 6th great-grandfather. His daughter married a man born in 1728, so he was probably born in the early 1700s, and possibly in the very late 1600s.


I was unfamiliar with the town names for most of them (Waalwijk? Loon op Zand?), so I plotted what I knew using Google Earth, putting each generation's birth and death dates into independent layers so I could watch how they spread.

That's when I discovered that the “Rotterdam” hint, while true, was inessential. They were just about all from Brabant, the old Duchy of Brabant that ended up divided between the Netherlands (North Brabant) and Belgium (including Antwerp), a region that shared a common culture of language, food, religion, and commerce (and where my ancestors roamed unimpeded by nominal national boundaries).

I had no idea…

Duchy of Brabant circa 1350, across present day Belgium and the Netherlands
Provinces of the Netherlands (current)
The provinces of the Netherlands (current), with their portion of the old Duchy of Brabant


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One Comment

  1. Another WOW. I’m sorry my mother is no longer verbal – she was the family storyteller, knew everyone – and no one thought to transcribe her stories before she started to fade. My sisters are too busy with their lives to do much in that department, plus they all know it, because they all live in Mexico City.

    I have a volume someone compiled for a different branch of the family – and I’ve never bothered to really look at it. Lack of energy is tough.

    January 15, 2017

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