About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecting Past to Present via Music

In 1966, singer Pete Seeger began plans to literally launched a project to clean up the Hudson River in New York. He and a group of supporters and workers put together a period sloop - named the Clearwater - which would sail up and down the Hudson, bringing music and a message to the folks along the waterway. The message: "Let's return the river to its former, clean, state." They funded the project through donations and sales of sails - people could (and still can) join in the fun by taking a sail up the river. And meanwhile, the whole thing inspired folks to create cleaner waterways. Getting a first-hand look at the need to keep the environment protected has made a great impact and the Hudson is looking great! The Sloop Clearwater, launched in 1969, provides an educational, enjoyable, and exciting experience that continues to inspire into the latest generations. The sloop is fashioned after those that brought goods up and down the river in the 1860s and earlier years.

I first learned about the project shortly after fund-raising began. I was in high school and followed Pete Seeger's career fairly closely (his father, Charles, was the first person I'd heard of with a PhD in folklore and so was my inspiration to get the same, which I did in 2008). For reasons I didn't understand at the time, Pete's desire to clean up that particular river (which I had never, to my recollection, ever seen and which was far away from where I lived in suburban Chicago) really touched me.

I hosted a mini-folk festival in my hometown of Wilmette, Illinois in August of 1968, sponsored by my church. The sloop had yet to make its maiden voyage and I made a plea for the proceeds of our little event to be donated to the project. The church committee turned me down for two reasons: 1) the project might never come to fruition and 2) it was not connected to our community in any way. I reluctantly chose another (local) charity to receive our small profits and sent my own donation to the Clearwater project. I was headed into my last year of high school so I imagine my donation was rather small, but it was heartfelt. (Say, if they could conquer the Hudson, maybe they could turn attention to the Chicago River next . . . or, maybe not.)

Pete had a column ("Johnny Appleseed, Jr.") in the folk music magazine Sing Out! and there he encouraged young singers and songwriters to keep messages and stories flowing in our music. At one point, he featured a number of alternate verses to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Even Woody had many additional verses that never made it into the mainstream singing of his song. I had played around with the song myself and had written a verse inspired by Pete's beloved Hudson River. By that time, the Sloop had launched and I was excited to learn that the first voyages were well-received (hoping some day to have my own opportunity to witness this event). I decided to add my verse to Pete's collection (if I would be so lucky) and sent it on to him at his home in Beacon, NY. He sent me a lovely reply. That was in October 1969.

So now we fast forward to about 1978, when I began to research my family roots. It took me a number of years to trace my German immigrant ancestors to the shores of New York and their trek to a new home . . . on the shore of the Hudson River. That family (surnames: THENEE, MUELLER, WOLBERT) lived in various places in New York and New Jersey, but were rarely far from the shores of the river. Could this be why I felt such a connection to the project begun back in the 1960s? Perhaps it was an ancestral memory and my own forebears whispering to me that it was a worthwhile cause and something that required my attention. And maybe one of those people (perhaps musician, great-grandpa Fritz Mueller) was my muse when I wrote the words that were in my mind's eye, but described something I had never seen for myself. I don't know.

Here are the words:

"As I was sailing, that Hudson River
I saw around me, the tow'ring timber;
I saw beneath me, all New York's litter,
Still this land is made for you and me."

Now, I have to confess here that I had forgotten all about that verse. I have written a lot of "additional verses" to already well-done songs, often fitting a particular theme or event. Pete's little note was a nice acknowledgment, but that was about it. Life moves on.

But in my world in Illinois, I didn't know what was happening in New York. In 1971, Pete wrote an article for The Village Voice in which he details a number of alternate verses, collected over the years, for Woody's immortal song. I do not subscribe to that weekly publication out of New York, nor does anyone I know (or I am sure I would have been contacted with the information that my verse had been immortalized).

In 1973 I moved from Illinois to California and was busy with work, a divorce, a remarriage, a conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, getting myself acclimated to being a step-mother, returning to college to get various degrees, etc.; all encompassing the next decades. Pete Seeger, in 1993, published a book on the history of singalongs from the early years (long before I was born) through the era of the turbulent '60s (my real education in music) and into the next generation and the one after that. The music survives. It's titled Where Have all the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir and is a great overview of the world of (folk) music (available through Amazon, of course). And, on page 144, there are two verses, attributed to Jean Wilcox, Illinois. To set the record straight: only the second verse is mine; I am sorry that the person who wrote the first one was lost to obscurity, probably in Pete's filing system or recording process. I wrote about this back in August of last year, with a slightly different take, so to read that whole discovery process, check my blog from then.

So, as Earth Day approaches, it occurs to me that taking out some of those old songs and verses, dusting them off, and singing to/for the environment is not a bad idea. And, if the muse hits, I may just pen another lyric or two to bring things up to date. Oh, and one more thing: next time I am in upstate New York, I will see that sloop, which is still going strong!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April showers . . . well, we have Rain here

It's hard to believe that we are into the second quarter of 2012. I am glad I didn't put up Christmas decorations in 2011 or I would just now be taking them down. It has been a crazy 3+ months since we flipped the calendar page. Much has been good, some has been great, and some has been the sort of stuff we just need to do (and not all of that has been accomplished!). Much has also been neglected in the maelstrom of "stuff." This blog has been one of those things. I am a firm believer in "if you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything," but I will take that a step further: "If I don't have anything to say, I'll also keep my mouth shut." With the unveiling of the 1940 census, I have been kept busy with so many projects that other "stuff" has been shoved into a corner. Well, that corner is now overflowing and pushing into the room, so I will let you know the biggest news around here, then will enter a new blog post on an old (and favorite) subject: me. No . . . music!

January found me in Salt Lake for the Salt Lake Institute for Genealogical Studies. I learned a lot - most importantly that my Lee ancestry is likely to be fraudulent. I mean, the family existed and my family was connected to them, but I discovered that there is no familial link. I am grateful to the Lees of Decherd, Franklin County, Tennessee (later of Dallas, Texas) for taking in my great-grandmother and, later, my great-grandfather, but I find no proof of a Lee line in my tree. I'm OK with it; just have to go back to the drawing board (and make some adjustments in my RootsMagic file!).

February found me again in Utah - this time in St. George for the Family History Expo. Great people there; lots of fun, networking, and helping at the Ask the Experts table. I do love those events and, not having a table that I was responsible for, I got to sort of kick back instead of run from place to place. Yay!

March found me on the road again - to the Glendale Folk & Heritage Festival in Arizona. I love that event, too. The day before the festival I gave a mini-seminar in Mesa and we had a nice crowd. The dogs were along for that trip and enjoyed all the activities of the weekend.

Of course, April 2 was the unveiling of the 1940 census and I was busy throughout March giving presentations on what to do with it once it was released. I've been hearing great reports from folks and am thrilled to see the indexing progress by so many groups. We need to keep up the momentum.

But I have noticed, especially since January 3 (the first anniversary of the passing of my beloved dog, Buddy) that I really missed having a 4-legged companion to wander cemeteries and be my genealogy helper. Don't get me wrong - I love my little Alaskan Klee Kais (miniature huskies), but they don't have much interest in cemeteries and are really not as "into" the whole "stay still while mama talks about dead people" (or dead dogs, for that matter). So I think that "funk" I was in was just needing a little boost from a pup. Last week, while my husband was clicking on some links he was sent on Facebook, he went from one site to another until he was staring at a rescue dog, in need of a home, that was the spitting image of our Buddy. She was ready to be adopted the next day from a shelter only a 40-minute drive away (but not one we had ever heard of so we would never have looked there on our own). We went out to meet her and, two days later (with her minus a few female things) she walked into our home. The shelter had named her "Rain." At first we just planned to rename her, but she seems to personify Rain, in all the good ways - she has rained down an amazing spirit in our home. She is like a rainbow the way she smiles and bounces around the house. So we have named her after the Civil War song "Lorena" and nicknamed her "Rain." She sits and listens to me talk about my ancestors and doesn't move a muscle. She gets along well with the "Klees" and they all travel around the house as a pack, but she has claimed me as her property. We have yet to visit a cemetery, but I plan to arrange for that ASAP. Did Buddy or one of my ancestors send her to me? I don't know. I believe that there are things at work beyond the realities we are aware of in this world and I think that things happen for a reason. I'm just going along for the ride!

Funny how the addition of one thing in the home can change an atmosphere (positively or negatively). The wrong influence in a home can change the attitudes and communication styles of the entire household. The inclusion of a positive influence can make a tense atmosphere calm again. And Rain has been a great influence on my writing, so stay tuned . . . I should be doing a lot more blogging. But don't be surprised if a lot of it includes my little Rain dog (and probably the others, too . . . if they will stand still long enough).