Friday, January 22, 2010

A Week in Review

The good news is I’m not dead yet. In fact I just took a walk in the fresh cool air, cleared my head, and feel ready for A Week in Review.

As most of you know I like history, especially British history. The stories are fascinating, and I love to put all of the pieces together, with the people in their places, and see how it all fits, and then see what comes next. Each generation builds on the last. Sometimes it’s hard to see the connections. You can look at today, and then at an event from 500 years ago, and the past doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the present. But if you can see how that one event lead to another and then another, creating a domino effect right up to today, then you begin to realize that everything we have is the result of the work of many people over many years. It’s brilliant.

I suppose most history nuts have specific people that they are especially interested in. For me two of those people are Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth of England. Going to London was something that I’d wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I think that’s common, too, having a place in mind that you’ve always wanted to see. Mine was London. I read travel books and studied maps for years, so when Melody and I went in 2008 it was almost like going home. I know that sounds strange (although the countryside does look just like Minnesota), but the place had been in my head for so long that it was familiar. A huge and overwhelming and mind-blowing city, yes, but still familiar.

Our first evening there we decided to spend some time in the National Portrait Gallery.
It's just what the title says – a portrait gallery. Every portrait done of every king, queen, noblemen, statesman, writer, artist or person worth mentioning in England is in that gallery. We went to the section dedicated to the Tudors, Kings Henry VII, Henry VIII (and his six wives), Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Anne Boleyn was one of Henry VIII’s wives, so her portrait is included in this part of the gallery. It’s a picture that I had seen in books many times before, but standing in front of the original was completely different. It drew me in. I studied every feature, the colors, the expression, and when I’d stood there more than long enough and walked away, I kept looking back until I’d rounded a corner and couldn’t see her anymore. None of the other portraits affected me like Anne’s did. Who knows why.

The next day we went to the Tower of London, a very famous landmark for lots of reasons. Anne Boleyn died here, and Elizabeth was jailed here by her sister Queen Mary for a short time (I won't go into the whole story). Again at the Tower I felt strong emotions, like the people who'd lived there for the 1000 years that it's been standing were still all around. There’s a set of stairs that go from the river up into the Tower, and it’s said that when Elizabeth was taken there she sat on those stairs and, either out of fear or anguish, was frozen to the spot until the guards pulled her up. You can see those stairs now through the gates, and I stared at them for a long time. I actually teared up. Seems silly now. The stairs and I shared a moment.

The Tower of London
A marker on the Tower grounds where Queen Anne died.
Traitor's gate, where Elizabeth was brought into the tower. You can see the steps through the woodwork at the top.

So what’s my point with all of this and what does it have to do with this week? Well I’ll tell you. Some time ago a guy in my ward told me that we can start using the new Family Search program that the Church has been building for years. I remembered that this morning and decided to log on and see what it was all about. I think I’ve mentioned before that I've dabbled in family history. My sister-in-law, Andrea, is our family expert (every family has one), and all of what I have to work with I’ve gotten from her, including my enthusiasm. I had looked at our pedigrees enough to see that my Mom’s side of the family needed some work, so I’ve spent time on that off-and-on over the last few years ago. In a few different searches on a few different websites I found that someone else (a very distant relative) had done a good deal of research on this part of my family and had posted it! Hooray! The line took our family all the way back to Virginia in the 1600s. I downloaded the information and shared it with Andrea, and I think that she loaded it into the church site.

That’s where I started looking on Family Search today. I found those ancestors in Virginia, and then started going back through the line into England, and then I saw a name, Thomas Howard. The Howards were a powerful family in the court of King Henry VIII, but I wasn’t sure that this man belonged to the same Howards. I clicked on a few different links and there it was - Thomas Howard had a sister named Elizabeth who married Thomas Boleyn, and they had a daughter named Anne Boleyn. Anne eventually married Henry VIII and they had a daughter, Elizabeth. We're related. A very, very distant relation, yes, but still there’s a connection. My great, great, great, etc, etc grandfather was Anne’s uncle and Elizabeth’s great-uncle. Can you believe that? I can’t believe it, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am.

History is more than a bunch of names and dates, it’s the story of the lives of real people, and of how their lives connect to ours. And family history is the same but with a more profound effect. I have felt something for these two women for YEARS, and today, today, I learned that we come from the same family. They are a part of my personal heritage. Of course, every person has countless ancestors, and my heritage comes from Norwegians and Belgians along with the Brits. There’s a little piece of all of them in me, and all of their lives have come together to create mine. It really is brilliant.

And speaking of connections
I have a nephew named Andrew (aka Drew) who likes to pretend that he is characters from his favorite shows, and when he’s being one of these characters you have to call him by that name or he’s outraged. Courtney (my brother, his dad) will sometimes get after him about something and say, “Drew you need to do this” or “stop doing that”, and Drew will look at him and say, “I’m Hammer Head”. Nice. Please disregard everything that was just said. Dad was addressing the wrong person.

Sidenote - You all know what the missing link is, right, in science and evolution? It’s a term used for the phase of evolution that connects the creatures, like apes and humans, for example. The missing link is the final gap between the two. It’s also the name of a character on “Monsters Vs. Aliens”.
Back to the story. Today I was talking to Andrea (Drew’s mom) on the phone, and Drew wanted to say hi. So he got on, and I said, “Hi Drew!” and he said, “I’m The Missing Link”. Really?! You know, now that I think about it, Drew does have a large forehead and likes to plow through a room like a gorilla on a rampage, so maybe…

Well, I think that’s enough for today. Thanks, as always, for your continued attention.
You are loved.


Tiffany said...

My favorite line: I've dabbled in Family History.

Sounds kind of like an illegal drug. :)

Kelli said...

I always knew you were of royal blood! However distant! I love that you are related. Now you know why London feels like home.