Some things

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California.  December 2002

Mission Carmel is one of the oldest buildings still standing in California. December 2002

“We know some things they didn’t know in the past, but they knew things that we’ve forgotten.”Ashleigh Brilliant

Here’s something to ponder: if you were to time-travel and suddenly swap places with a person of your age, gender and ability who lived two or more centuries ago, which of you would have a harder time functioning independently in your new surroundings?  It’s a safe bet that either of you would need a good bit of help from people who might be baffled at your ignorance.

In any case, we have one distinct advantage over our ancestors: we have the option of learning some of the things they knew.  Whether we learn and practice age-old skills on a camping trip, at a living history center or in a classroom, it might be strangely calming to focus our attention on something not requiring electricity, climate-control or a tight schedule.

The California missions are among many places all over the world where bygone ways of life can be studied.  It has become popular to look at the past through a harshly critical lens, but future generations will have ample reason to do the same to us, equipped with the benefit of hindsight.  In our determination to rise above the mistakes and wrong actions of those who lived long ago, let’s not forget that people who lived in past centuries also have positive things to teach us.

If you could spend a day with your great-great-great grandparents, what would you most want to learn from them?


  1. Why they lived in New Jersey!?!

    • Did they really? I never knew that. If they did, maybe that young soldier whose details I photographed at Appomattox (8th New Jersey Infantry, Army of the Potomac) really is a relative! If we have relatives from NJ, that would explain certain facets of my personality…

      • …all good ones, of course…

      • Yes. I am working on a pedigree for Everett that goes back to the 1600’s. See if Sheila can help me understand why our ancestors went from South Carolina to New Jersey over 200 years ago! (Hint – it couldn’t have been the “snowbirds”)

        • Could it have been for economic opportunities? Most Southerners were not slave-holders, as you know, and if they were seeking paid jobs at manual labor, it might have been easier to find in states where the laborers were not “owned” and treated as property. Just a guess.

          • Since this was long before the Four Seasons or Bruce Springsteen, that’s all I could come up with :-).

  2. Sometimes I long for simpler times….

    • As do I, and I think many more of us do! I try to keep reminding myself of all the amazing opportunities that are available to us today. While that’s a blessing, it can also throw some of us (including me) into paralysis by analysis, as we try to choose from among too many good things!

  3. MaryAnn

    Since I have Cherokee ancestors, I would learn how to live off the land, in harmony w/ nature; not destroying it. Watch all the things made by hand come together. Sounds to me like I am in tune w/ you: seeking calmness, peace.

    • Mary Ann, I’m told we also have Cherokee in our family, through both my mother and father (as is fairly common in that part of the South, near the original home of that nation). Supposedly we have more Chiricahua than Cherokee, but I think all Native Americans had a better understanding of what is now called “sustainable” practices (pardon the use of an overworked trendy term here) in terms of farming and hunting on American soil. I used to love to visit the missions in CA where they would sometimes have demonstrations of skills learned and adapted from the Chumash and other indigenous cultures. Obviously there’s a lot of controversy about the missions and the ways they harmed Native Americans, but the history is interesting from any standpoint.

  4. Everett Ryan Eric Carlyle Albert Abraham Calvin Eleazer Abraham Gilbert Joseph Edward John (John was born in 1640)

    • WOW, thanks for this interesting list. I didn’t know anything past “Albert.” Two Abrahams; interesting, given that at least one of them was something of a “desert wanderer” according to family lore.

  5. Ann

    Why they left Wales in the late 1600s and how did they survive living in Maine at that time? All of my ancestors came to the New World very early, it’s hard to imagine ‘why”.

    P.S. for Eric..I live in South Carolina and would be happy to see what I can find about events in SC at th time his ancestors moved, assuming they moved for reasons other than personal. When did they leave and where did they live in SC? You may give him my email address.

    • Ann, that is quite interesting that your ancestors came from Wales way back in the 1600’s – considering how dangerous and uncomfortable it was to travel in those days, “why” is an ever-present question. SC is well represented on this blog – we might just have to plan a “meet up” there someday! I will certainly pass your details on to Eric. Thanks for being here.

  6. Sheila

    Julia, I hope you had safe travels and also a good report regarding Matt. I pray that Jeff continues doing well and that week by week those cells will be squelched. It’s tough, but I know y’all are tougher! In considering a time swap, I think one could adapt to simpler times easier than the reverse, more complex living. I would be interested in their cooking skills for the times and the needlecrafts of my ancestors. Eric, do you think they were weary and stopped shy of New York? Snowbirds are the first to complain about EVERYTHING here!
    Always enjoy the friendship here….. Sheila

    • Hi Sheila, thanks so much for your continued prayers and good wishes. I do think that it would be easier for us to learn past ways, but on the other hand, I think it would be MUCH easier for them to get used to clean, hot and cold running water, flushing toilets and air conditioning, than for us to learn to live without those things! 🙂 I am really interested to learn that some of our ancestors lived in NJ, as the soldier whose photo I mentioned finding at Appomattox (who has our rather rare last name) was from that part of the country. Genealogy is fascinating and is on the list with hundreds of other things I hope to have time for someday. A dear friend (now deceased) used to say that she imagined heaven as being a place of no limits, where we would have endless time to love and enjoy all those dearest to us, and to do all the good things we longed to have time for on earth. I hope she is right. 🙂 Or as the old spiritual we sing at church goes, “I’m gonna sing and never get tired, one of these days.”

  7. Thank You for sharing BeLOVE Julia. Reminds me that daily we can choose … The desire to live in simplicity ~Tis a choice…

    • Thanks, Kate…and you’re right; we make the choice daily — in fact, often several times a day. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the shiny and sparkly things out there! Thanks for being here. Hope all is well with you and your family!

  8. We’ve done some family history hunting and actually are attending a ceremony tomorrow at the Ukrainian Village near Edmonton where my great grandparents names have been added to a monument (with many others) to celebrate them settling the area in the early 1900’s. I’d ask them about their childhood and brothers and sisters. Where they were raised and what their parents did for a living. They came from an area in Austria and I imagine they survived many hardships to come here as they were very very poor.

    • That is so cool! I loved the Russian/Ukrainian influences we saw in Alaska and also in the Sacramento area (in fact I bought a beautiful ornament at a Russian shop there, which I still treasure). I never thought about the possibility your folks could have come to your area via Austria, since it would have probably been a closer journey going the other direction — or would it? Hey, did you ever learn to make psanky? Those eggs are so gorgeous! I met a woman nearby who knew how to do the wax-resist style. She made it look so easy and worked so quickly, but the egg she gave me is beautiful. You are so good at crafts, I thought maybe you might know how to do it. If I’m ever going to be near Edmonton, I will have to ask you their names so I can visit the village and look the monument up. (I am hearing one of my favorite Disney songs, “It’s a small world after all” playing in my head.) Thanks for sharing this!

      • I had no idea there were Ukrainian/Russians in Alaska, that’s interesting. The reason many came to Alberta to settle was the Railroad. They wanted the railroad to go west so the Canadian Government (Alberta wasn’t a province yet) gave a free 3 acre parcel with the caveats that you were 18 years old, worked the land for 3 years and developed the land (all by hand mind you). I guess in Austria, only the eldest son inherited land. It was mandatory for the younger sons to serve their country in the army. There was years of unrest in the area and to avoid this, many came for a ‘better life’ to Canada.

        I have tried to paint the Psanky long ago. I have a few from family and my Grandpa bought me one once. But never excelled at it. I love the modern ones with bright colours. Each design or symbol has a meaning to tell the story on the egg.

        Julia, if life ever brings you this way, you will absolutely be met with a giant hug. I’d be tickled to host you around Edmonton and have a day out at the Ukrainian
        Village. We’ll have a ball!

        • After reading your reply, I thought, “Hmmm, maybe I’m imagining something?” so I looked it up and found this interesting statement (which I have no idea how reliable the source is): “The Ukrainian population of the United States is thus the second largest outside the former Soviet Union; only Canada has a larger Ukrainian community.” At this same source, I found this VERY interesting statement: “The first Ukrainian immigrant to America, Ivan Bohdan, sailed with John Smith to the Jamestown colony in 1608.” WOW, that’s right up the road from our York home, where I’m sitting right now! It really is a small world after all!

          • Oh, really cool you live so near by. What a lot of history in your neighbourhood. Amazing! Thanks for sharing that information. 1608 is 300 years b4 my great grandparents found themselves in central Alberta. They arrived here in 1899. That’s what I really enjoyed on the east coast, so much history and I love history.

            • Yes, I always thought California and Texas had a lot of history (and they do) but here on the east coast it goes farther back – of course, folks in China and Europe and other places might laugh that I think 1600 is in the distant past! I hope you will head this way sometime and do some more exploring. The eastern half of this continent is not quite as stunningly beautiful as the western half (in my opinion) but it certainly does have its charms, and a beauty all its own.


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