Maritime Monday: Any Sea Captains? Go Fish.

The Flat Sea

The sea was so flat yesterday. I couldn't put my finger on what was weird and breathtaking about the view until Mike said, "Look, no waves."

Tide change? Proximity to amphidromic point? (Thanks, Google!) Equinox?

I love living by the ocean. I have little interest in boats (save cruise ships) or scuba diving or surfing, and if I think about it, the inherent pollution and some of the marine life freaks me out (so I don't think about it), but just seeing the sea is an instant mood-changer. (And as a sometimes-moody person, I'm ridiculously grateful to have such an easy cure at hand.)

Growing up in Michigan, I was never more than 40 miles from Lake Huron or Lake Erie (and the not-Great-but-still-large Lake St. Clair was even closer), but I have no memory of these places.

Down in Texas, with most of my adult life spent in Houston or Victoria, I was generally perhaps 25 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. I can't remember if I went to the Gulf four times or if it was five.

Maybe all my childhood memory-dreams of being a mermaid were based on some idea of freshwater or even chlorine-favouring merfolk.

Maybe I never really yearned for the sea in practice until we lived in dry, dry Las Vegas and started taking regular trips to California. I don't think I knew that about myself until just now.

And now I can walk to the shores of the Indian Ocean in a matter of minutes. It's magical.

This morning I feel like blogging about genealogical things. Never mind that we had a wonderful Saturday driving around Harvey that's worth writing about (with the bonus of a few cell-phone photos to distract from any lacking prose), or that I have so much to say at the moment about dyeing eggs with homemade vegetable concoctions (and the lies the Internet tells about them). Instead, I'm running with the geneablogger prompt of "Maritime Monday."

After our trip to Salt Lake City a few years back, a trip that netted generations of new ancestors for Mike via undigitized microfilmed records, Mike said, "So where are my royals?"

Whenever I talk about having royal ancestors, I spend twice as much time reminding everyone that this in no way makes me special. Most Euro-descended people are just as connected to the monarch side of Euro-history as I am - they just may not know it yet. (So, not only do I get annoyed with the people who breathlessly tell everyone that they descend from Charlemagne, but I get double-annoyed with those who think such genealogies are all scams. Some are. Many aren't. It's true of all family history. And as with all family history, always consider the source.)

I bring this up because I don't know why Mike even cares his token smidge about royals when he has Captain Morris Levy for a great-great-great-grandfather.

Morris, later the "hero of Opotiki," was born 1830ish in the Isle of Guerneyish. (His cemetery record suggests a birth in 1821, and a quotation I'm about to paste says Isle of Jersey, but his marriage record steers our course back to 1831, and a birth record docks it and locks it at 18 May 1830 in Guernsey.)

Morris married Sophia Mordecai Levi in the summer of 1852 in her native Devonshire, near Plymouth. I could whine about the trials of researching a Levy who married a Levi, but the real whine to make is the lack of surnames one starts encountering in Jewish genealogy about this time. Morris and Sophia are My First Jews(tm), so I'm grateful to them for the opportunity to learn about this angle of research, just as I'm grateful to them for the entire chain of events that led to the birth of Mike. I suppose that includes how they disowned their son Mark, Mike's gg-grandfather, for marrying a gentile.

When son Mark died, his father's occupation was listed as "Retired Ship Master." Well, I should think so, considering that when Mark passed away in 1929, Morris had been in the cemetery for 28 years.

Mark was born in and lived most of his adult life in Australia (where he met and married Harriot, the Anglican cause of his familial exile), but Mark was raised in New Zealand. So how did his father Morris get from Blighty to the Down Under?

"[Some person] had also won the respect of two Jewish brothers, Morris and Samuel Levy, who had established a store there. They were born in the island of Jersey, and during the Australian gold-rush had journeyed to Melbourne where they had bought city property and lighters for work in Port Phillip Bay. Morris Levy had gone to sea as a boy and possessed a master's ticket. Attracted by the New Zealand gold-rush, the brothers sailed for Otago in 1861. Discovering gold-digging to be harder than his own calling, Morris Levy settled in Invercargill, where he lightered and acted as a pilot to warships from his coaster, the Eclipse. During the depression in 1863, he moved north to Opotiki, where he joined with his brother Samuel in conducting a store and running the Eclipse between the Bay of Plenty and Auckland."
-The History of the Jews in New Zealand (Lazarus Morris Goldman)

Events in Opotiki are what put Morris Levy in the Illustrated London News in 1867. However, this is where I leave a cliffhanger because even though I scanned the article as a precaution before I moved (thanks as always to Mike's distant cousin Susan for sending it to me about 15 years ago), apparently I didn't attach it to my database, and my scans are too disorganized for a day when there's marking to do. (The original is nearly visible from where I sit, but despite great progress, I can't bend and lift stackable storage containers yet.)

So, more on Captain Levy some other day, when I'm less likely to stuff up the fine print. (If you really feel frustrated, there's always Google, particularly the "Trove" database of newspaper articles.) In any case, Mike has to admit that while many of us have William the Conqueror, not everyone has a heroic Jewish Sea Captain from New Zealand.

Now, if Morris were the topic of my "Maritime Monday" post, I'd expect a few demerits for copping out, but really he's just a gateway musing to my actual topic, which is to pause for a think about just how sea-linked my own ancestry is.

"Not very," is my suspicion, given that every generation seemed to have itchy feet moving west, and so many generations go back to the early colonial days. But let's see.

For the purposes of this data trek, I'll restrict the ancestors to about eight generations. That may seem pretty distant to some, but I barely have any immigrants until that point, so maybe it feels closer to me. Also, I still know at least half of my relatives by that generation.

Given the transportation limitations of the time, I'll only look for ancestors who lived in counties that touched the sea (minus those who were known to live on the far side of said counties).

Parents (2)

100% landlocked. (With the same Great Lake and Gulf proximity I had growing up, of course, plus travel, but that's not what we're looking for.)

Grandparents (5)

My (step-)grandfather was in the Navy during World War II, and my other grandparents went on several cruises and often took the kids to the Gulf and Florida, but no, all inland. My maternal grandmother actively dislikes boats, actually.

Great-Grandparents (8)

Burnett and Pearl lived in Port Arthur, Texas, for a few years during the Depression. But they were neither raised there nor stayed there, so...

GG-Grandparents (16)

Likewise, Burnett's father Henry lived near them in Port Arthur during that time, but his stay was also brief.

Mary Stark lived in her late teens near the Mississippi, but we're not counting rivers. Apologies in advance to all my colonial Swedes who lived near the entrance of Delaware Bay.

GGG-Grandparents (32)

Eastern Mississippi. Missouri. Kansas. Nebraska. Arkansas. Oklahoma. Northern Louisiana. Central Louisiana. Southern-but-not-southern-enough Alabama. Central Georgia. Indiana. Kentucky. Illinois. Tennessee.

It's almost as if my people hated water.

GGGG-Grandparents (64)

Now we start seeing some missing branches. (Fifteen percent of the tree.) Perhaps someday I'll find a Jewish Sea Captain here in my own Bermuda Triangle.

Otherwise, still nearly nothing.

GGGG-grandpa William Thompson (beautiful name to try to research, just beautiful) did try to make it out to the Pacific Ocean via the gold rush, but he died on the trail in Wyoming.

And GGGG-grandpa John Bloomfield Williams (believe me, the "Bloomfield" doesn't make it any easier) traveled from the West Midlands of England across the Atlantic to New York and points beyond as a tot, but that was a one-off.

GGGG-grandpa Thomas Williams (I can't make these names up) and his wife GGGG-grandma Susannah Carroll were probably both born in the barely coastal Colleton District of South Carolina, but they were also probably born near the county's furthest point from the ocean.

In the "getting warmer" category: Anthony Montpelier (later a deputy sheriff in Louisiana, owned dueling pistols, died young) was born in the Port of Mobile in 1798. Did he grow up there? Were his parents from there? (That slap-slap noise you hear is the sound of masons mortaring up a brick wall in front of these answers.)

GGGGG-Grandparents (128)

My family tree looks lush on paper, but only because the eyes are good at combing over bald spots. (As always, if you take a DNA test, keep all of your missing people in mind before you dismiss someone as not being a relative just because you can't see the connection. Those combed-over gaps quickly multiply.)

Missing ancestors: 56 (43.75%)

Missing ancestors with known birthplaces across the ocean, so at least they can count their sea voyage: 1

Known ancestors with known birthplaces across the ocean, but who lived either in landlocked areas or who-knows-where: 5

Cooking with gas: Morris Witham and Rebecca Billings were both from Saco and/or Biddesford, in York County, Maine, which from there is three miles right down the Saco River to the Atlantic. (But then their families up and moved to Ohio, so we're still not looking at a salty lifetime beside the waves.)


Eight generations to the nearest adult immigrant, eight generations to the big water. But now here's me, an immigrant living by the sea.


I'm the twist ending!

24 March 2014 |