Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

My connection of the clean water theme of Blog Action Day to genealogy is easy:  My husband and I both served in the United States Coast Guard, which -- among its many and varied duties -- is responsible for enforcement of federal clean-water laws in federal waters.  I had some connection to this in some small ways.  As the officer in charge of a sub-unit of reserves who manned the Jacksonville, Florida, Marine Safety Office during the 1980s, I was in charge on my weekend of pollution response.  There were a few small incidents of "a visible sheen on the water," the principal sign of pollution.  It mainly came from factories along the St. Johns River or from the ships that called at the port of Jacksonville.  We never had any serious pollution problems on my watch.

Currently I'm taking a class on the environmental history of the St. Johns River, for which we in the class will be taking oral history from people involved with the river in one way or another.  I am not on a team that is looking into the varied sources of potential pollution to the river, or the history of that aspect of it.  My subject is how artists have depicted the river over time, and how that depiction has changed.  Or not.  I have not yet encountered any visual arts representations of St. Johns River pollution.  Though I have as yet found no artistic representations (paintings or art photographs), there are news photographs of such things as the periodic algae blooms the river is unfortunately subject to, and historical photographs of channels of the River or its tributaries choked with water hyacinths, which at one time constituted a hazard to or at least an obstacle to navigation.  They are pretty much under control these days, though it is a continuing battle.  The explsotive growth of the hyacinths through much of the twentieth century, and the problems they presented, is an object lesson in the hazards posed by invasive species here in Florida.

The algae problem is due to the introduction into the river of hypernutrients, via runoff from agricultural fields and residential properties.  The nutrients spur the algae growth, which uses up the oxygen in the water.  In consequence, fish and plants die.

These problems are not a direct threat to the population hereabouts, for very few areas get their drinking water from the River.  They get it from the Flroidan aquifer, a large system of underground limestone caves.  However, with the population growing, especially in the central part of the state, some municipalities south of us (which is actually upriver, not down, as the St. Johns flows north) have their eyes on diverting many hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the river for their drinking water.  This prospect alarms those of us living downriver (i.e., north), because of the real harm it could do to many aspects of life on the river, including commercial fishing and recreation, as well as the problems it would cause with salt-water intrusion into the river itself.

The problem is more severe in other parts of the world, where climate change, war, and other conditions have altered the availability of water in drastic ways, threatening populations with actual extinction.  There are ways to conserve water, keep it pure, and provide for these peoples who need it so much.  That is what this year's Blog Action Day is all about.  Even in my own very small way, on a very local level, I've helped through my service in the Coast Guard.  It is a problem we all need to be aware of.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When it is Difficult to do Family History

I am wondering about this subject because in the county where I live, tonight there is a little toddler who is someday going to find out, probably after he is grown, that his father was shot dead by his uncle.  This happened Monday night, and the killer shot not only his own brother, but the brother's friend and his own parents.  His parents survived and are now in the hospital; the other two did not.  At this hour, that uncle is still on the loose.  One of the places they think he is is in the state forest that our lot backs up to.  Not an event that will lead one to sleep very soundly, and I'm not.  So I am up wondering.

Black sheep can present a very thorny problem at times.  They can present family history investigators with a dilemma:  How does one  record this black sheep whose actions still cause pain in the family?  Or does one  even bother?  Would it not be better to just forget about that one?

While I can understand the motivation to sweep a really heinous black sheep under the rug, that is not the best policy.  At the very least, one would record the basic genealogical information.  If one does not want to go further than that, because of the pain this person has caused in the family, that is all right.  That is what I tell my audiences when I give my talk on black sheep.

On the other hand, if one does want to find out about a black sheep one has found out existed, perhaps a hundred or so years ago, where does one look?  Some state archives have prison records.  I've blogged here about the prison records at the Florida State Archives.  Like those in the Florida Archives, these records in other state archives are likely to be restricted in access.  For more current information, including those presently incarcerated, the State of Florida's bureau of prisons has a website with all the information on it.  Other states may have the same kind of information posted. 

Newspapers are a great place to look for information about a black sheep.  They make good copy.  Likewise, you may find out about an infamous ancestor in a local history.  And don't forget the censuses: prison populations are enumerated, too.

But tonight I wonder about that little baby, and what he is going to wonder about his father's fate, years from now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mappy Monday: Property ownership? Why bother?

That seems to have been the question my parents asked each other.  Today's blog post comes from the Mappy Monday mene from the Ravenna (Michigan) Area Historical Society's blog.

My parents never owned a house.  When they married, my father was in the Navy, undergoing flight training at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, where my mother grew up.  The peripatetic nature of military life, and their penchant for moving in civilian life, brought them to the decision, apparently, never to buy a house, but just to rent.  Therefore, the avenue of tracing their exact whereabouts at any given time through county or municipal property records is not available to me.

I have used some city directories to find them, but that is chancy, as coverage is sometimes spotty.  The variety of city directories of the nineteenth century got pared down in the twentieth.  I have looked in many of the digitized directories online, and not found them.

Some tracking of their residences is in my father's Navy service record, which I obtained from the National Personnel Records Center.  That has been a big help.

My own memory helps somewhat for the period during my cognizant life (from about four or five years of age onward), but sometimes an address is not to hand, even then.  I remember our address when I was six and seven, when we lived in Tarzana, California.  With that address, I have seen the house on the "street view" of Google Maps recently.  Funny that I do not remember the house seeming as small as it appears on the street view photograph, nor do I remember the houses being as close together as they look in the photo.  I guess everthing looks bigger when we ourselves are small.

The places where we lived in Pensacola, Florida, when I was four and five were rural in nature -- one of them being a working farm where we actually had crops of corn, watermelons, and blueberries.  But they had rural-route or post-office box addresses, which I never did know.  I only know them by the names attached to them by virtue of where they were located, but I have not been able to pinpoint them using Google Earth or Google Maps.  I have found approximate locations where I think they were, but I cannot be sure.  No correspondence addressed to my father or mother at those houses survives, and I have not found us in the city directories for Pensacola.

It is a little frustrating not to be able to go to county property records and find information about my parents, but I have used these other ways to glean a little more information, and once I finish my college degree, and the book I'm working on, I will get back to further searching for where they were all along the way.

I just wish they had stayed put a little longer!