Sunday, June 10, 2018

Arriving in America

One of the great things about studying history is that there is always something new to discover, simply by asking a different question. As I work on a fictionalized account of historical events, I find myself asking very specific questions that I would not have asked otherwise. For example, it's generally known that German immigrants in the 1740s would most likely arrive at Philadelphia, but what was that experience really like? If you put yourself in their position, what were the logistical details of arrival?

I had casually assumed that everyone disembarked as soon as the ship docked, and that the ship would dock as soon as it arrived. The truth is far more complex.

"Philadephia in the Olden Time," print by F. J. Wade, circa 1875
Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Deciphering a Name

One of the bigger challenges for genealogists is figuring out what a family name used to be, before the immigrant ancestors had their names Americanized. The further back in time you go, the more difficult it becomes. During the early to mid 1700s, names were recorded in government documents only if the individual was a property holder, passed through the court system, or was a government official. Ministers kept records of every baptism, marriage, and burial they performed, but not all of those records have survived. For communities without an established church, dependent upon annual visits by itinerant pastors, the records might not include individual names, just the number of people baptized.

For the family that forms the core of my book, there are varying opinions about their name. It was eventually Americanized to Poe. Some researchers have decided that the original spelling was likely Pfau, but I am inclined to think that it was actually Pau or Paü. The use of the umlaut seems unlikely, as "Paü" is used today in Turkey, while "Pau" is a German word that is pronounced like Poe. "Pfau" was often Americanized to Faw, indicating a clear phonetic difference between the names.

I decided the best approach would be a search for any documents signed by members of the Poe family. The earliest I found were land deeds in the collection of the Maryland Archives. The family patriarch appears to have signed his name Georg Jacob Paü. I'm still not sure what to make of the apparent umlaut over the u.

Georg Jacob Pau signatures on the official copy of the deed of sale for a portion of land he owned, dated 18 November 1761.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Researching 18th Century German Immigration

Genealogists are some of the biggest history buffs on the planet. An initial online search for information about the German family I'm researching, who arrived in America sometime around 1742, pulls up a ton of research posted by genealogists, as well as a couple of self-published novels about German immigrant ancestors. Unfortunately, there is no single authoritative source about the family in question -- even within one or two generations, there are differing accounts of where they came from and when they arrived. I've had to make educated guesses to reconcile conflicting information and come up with what seems to be the most likely origin story.

Since Germany did not exist as a cohesive nation until 1871, it's not entirely accurate to call them German immigrants. Most of the colonial-era immigrants from the future Germany are referred to as Palatines, a reference to the region controlled by the Elector Palatinate, but this too is inaccurate. Looking just at immigrants coming from the Rhine River valley, there were numerous other territories from which they originated. Württemberg, for example, was a large region on the Rhine which was occupied by French troops during the winter of 1741-42 (one can easily imagine that people living in Württemberg may have been very motivated to emigrate to the new world after the French army finished ransacking their towns). However, for a variety of reasons, "Palatine" has become the generic term for immigrants from this region during this era, regardless of their actual point of origin.

Detail of map of Germania published for Benjamin Hederichs in 1742.
From Geographicus Rare Antique Maps

Monday, October 9, 2017

Writing Update

I started writing my novel five weeks ago, and today I hit 10,000 words! Yay me! In theory, that means I'm about a tenth of the way done with the first draft. I'm also finding that I'm writing faster now than I did when I started. Research still slows me down--I'm not even remotely as familiar with daily life on the Rhine River during the 1740s as I am with daily life over here during that period, so I'm spending a lot of time reviewing scholarly works on the subject, trying to be as historically accurate as possible.

My feline research assistant, asleep on the job.

I'm finding that my many years of training in the visual arts is very helpful for writing this book. In drawing or painting, there have been plenty of times when I've gone back over my work and erased entire sections of the composition, reworking them until I get them right. It's something I'm comfortable with, something that doesn't intimidate me, because I've done it before.

I keep reminding myself that writing is the same. The first draft has the broad gestures and lays out the overall structure. The second draft is when I will fuss over the details. That mindset is keeping me from getting bogged down over specific scenes or sentences.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Switching Gears

It's been two years since I posted on this blog, and it's been a very busy two years. Although I am still painting (updates on that soon), I've also launched a new creative endeavor: writing fiction.

When I was six years old and was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I declared that I wanted to make pictures and stories. Somewhere I still have a copy of my first effort at an illustrated book about a blue jay, started when I was six. Now, nearly forty years later, I'm making another effort at a book.

I've made several false starts at fiction over the years, mostly during my teens and twenties. I've been successfully writing nonfiction for decades, and I feel very comfortable with it. Two years ago, I decided to try fiction again, this time using my nonfiction experience to help me make the creative leap. In some ways, I felt like my writing style was as constrained as my painting style: very literal, unable to depict the world of imagination or fantasy or emotion. Rather than bemoan this as a weakness, I chose to use it as a strength.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Old Skool Picnic Pavilion

After a two year hiatus, I am officially back in my painting groove. I had to relearn a few things and, as always, learned some new things along the way.

Old Skool Picnic, Lakewood Pavilion, 6 x 12 inches.

I forced myself to leave my comfort zone with this painting, deliberately tackling the challenge of painting deep shadows using only warm colors--no blues allowed! I went back to what I learned in 9th Grade (cool colors recede, warm colors come forward) for setting up contrast between the distant landscape and the foreground pavilion.

My next painting will be only slightly larger, 9 x 12 inches, allowing me to finish relatively quickly. I still feel like I need to "warm up" to painting. I want to do another 48x36 inch canvas--I have the scene for it picked out--but I don't feel up to it yet. Still rusty.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Back to the Old Easel

It's been almost two years since I posted to this blog, and very nearly as long since I've done any art. I was sidetracked by unfortunate family matters, but I think (I hope!) I'm ready to have art return to my life.

I'm about to start painting a scene from the 2011 Old Skool Picnic at Lakewood Park, using a photo I took as the source of inspiration. I laid out the sketch on the canvas a few days ago.

It's a small canvas, only 6 x 12 inches. A nice size for shaking off the rust from my brushes.