Thursday, January 26, 2012

What political animals lurk in your genealogy?

I am sitting at an outside table at the food court at the student union at the University of North Florida.  There is chaos on campus today because CNN, the Secret Service, local and campus police, and all sorts of subordinate supporting personnel are swarming all over the campus.  Tonight, CNN's latest in their series of Republican presidential debates (a term that is used loosely these days) will be here.  So it seems appropriate to discuss the search for the political animals lurking in our family trees.

None of my family, that I know of, has held political office of any sort since my eighth great-grandfather Samuel Packard was Surveyor of Highways and Collector of Minister's Rates (i.e., the tax man) in colonial Massachusetts in the mid-1600s.  I guess we're not much in the way of political activism.

Knowing how one's ancestors swung politically can help to flesh out the full picture of their lives, especially if they did hold local, state, or national office.  Politics informs our social views, and certainly today there are many ways in which peoples' political and religious views intersect.  Economic status may not be a good indicator at times of one's political views.  Sometimes, people's political views do not seem in concert with their real economic situation, but as the "John Dickinson" character in the Broadway play and movie 1776 said, "Most men would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor."

Do you have among your family's effects any political memorabilia?  Campaign buttons, literature, an autograph of a famous person or any of the Presidents?  My aunt graduated from Columbia University during the time Dwight D. Eisenhower was the university's president, before he became President of the United States.  I have her diploma, and thus I have Eisenhower's signature.  I have signatures of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, too, but they may have been machine signatures.  I have more optimism that the Reagan signature is the real deal, as it was in a personal note.

Obituaries are good places to look for political affiliation.  I have several ancestral obits which say what their political affiliation was.  There also may be meeting notices mentioning your ancestor, or feature articles in the newspapers, which might indicate political affiliation. 

'Tis the season for politics.  If you, like me, are up to the gills with the nasty advertisements and the sniping, turn off the television, get down to the library or online, and take this opportunity to research your ancestors' political affiliations.

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