Nesters and Wanderers

Should I stay or should I go?

Are you the person who never wanted to leave the place you were born and/or raised? Or were you one who knew you were inevitably going to leave? Did your family ever share stories of why your family left the old world or moved from one state to another or migrated west?

I come from a very long line of people who leave. Wanderers. There are people in my immediate family who are not wanderers: people like my dad, who was born in Washington, and with the exception of childhood moves with his parents, has remained in the Washington area most of his life; or my dad’s maternal line, who mostly stayed in Washington as well; and my brother. Specifically, I come from a line of women who leave, and my daughter is continuing the tradition. I also married a wanderer who descends from wanderers.

I never really thought about it too much until I started working on my genealogy lines. It was then that I discovered it just might be in my DNA. Going way back, my ancestors picked up and moved.

Almost all of the time, the reasons people left were income/jobs, land opportunities, political climate, and religious persecution. I think the first two are pretty relevant today.

When I first left Virginia for California in 1988, most people thought I was crazy. I moved to Northern California, where I knew NO ONE. Not one soul. I took a job and just left. I didn’t think twice about it. I felt compelled to leave, and had felt that way since I was young. I have never second guessed my decision, though periodically I do entertain the idea of moving back because I miss my family and friends. Especially now that my daughter lives there. There were times when I felt like a freak.

I often wonder if my ancestors had similar motivations? Why would my 6th great grandfather, born and raised northwest of Boston, who lived in New England most of his adult life, leave for Ohio via New York at the age of 60 and ultimately die in Detroit? I’ve found his narratives and he indicated that things got rough. Some of that rough was political (he fought in the Revolutionary War–and was a member of the Boston Tea Party– and the War of 1812, among others), and other “rough” was financial. I will be writing about him all by himself at a later date, because my journey with him and his descendants has taken me places I never imagined. I’ve met some wonderful people in Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin on my quest, and I will tell that story soon. Thompson Maxwell is probably my favorite research subject. I am fairly certain that this has to do with the fact that he’s the one ancestor I’ve researched without my dad’s help.

I wonder why his wife, Sibbill Wyman Maxwell, who was born in Billerica and lived in New England all of her life as well, would agree to leave her entire family at the age of 67 and head to Ohio? A place she had never seen? I wonder how her family felt when she died in Ohio and was not buried with her people? That trip had to be difficult, especially for seniors.

Last summer, Valerie and I flew back east to spend the 4th of July with Victoria, who was living in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, at the time. We flew to Albany and then drove over the mountain. It’s a beautiful 45-minute drive. On that drive, you might blink and not see the sign for Stephentown (NY), the birthplace of my 4th great grandmother, who married the grandson of Thompson and Sibbill Maxwell. I was traipsing the path that my ancestors did. The funny thing is that 3 years ago, when Val and I drove that same road with Vic, I had absolutely no idea that my ancestral past and her new home were very well acquainted.

Vic knew I wanted to research while I was there, so she indulged me by taking off and driving us to Ashfield, Buckland and Chesterfield. We stood on the ground that my 6th great grandparents and their children and grandchildren knew very well. The landscape is stunning. Victoria is quick to remind me that winter is horrible there. I know! But as we had lunch in Shelburne Falls and looked around, I asked her if she could imagine putting all of her belongings in a covered wagon, and making a move from Buckland to Albany and beyond? We both decided that our ancestors would be disappointed in our wimpiness (is that a word?). We wouldn’t last more than 3 days in the conditions in which they did.

Before everyone agrees with me on that point, let me say I think our ancestors would be absolutely overwhelmed at the pace of our lives in 2019. I don’t think they would be able to fare well with all the distractions that are in our faces on a daily basis either.

One side note: people who live in Massachusetts celebrate the 4th of July like no others I’ve ever seen. Their outward displays of patriotism are impressive. These people deck out their homes, streets, churches, government buildings and businesses. It was so fun to see these little townships put their celebrations on display. I digress.

I’ve been helping one of my oldest and dearest friends research her lines back to the Revolutionary War for her DAR application. While she has mainly lived in Northern Virginia, her parents and ancestors were nesters in Pennsylvania. Her father’s people were eastern European immigrants who found work in the coal mines. Her mother’s people were German immigrants who were mostly farmers. While she lamented that they were “boring”, I quickly corrected her: “They’re nesters! Nesters have their own contributions, and they sure make it a lot easier for me to research them!” I hope she takes solace in the fact that her people have left an indelible mark on the land their forefathers plowed, and that’s something to admire. She’s very connected with them, and I believe this is why she’s never had the slightest itch to leave. Which is a decision I hope she doesn’t regret either.

I now have a deep appreciation for the choices our ancestors made, both nesters and wanderers.

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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