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Birth and Re-Birth

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

There’s a lot of pressure on American women these days to “go back” after having their babies. Back to work. Back to their pre-pregnancy weight. Back to “normal.”

What a lot of people don’t seem to see is that there is no “going back.” I didn’t really see it myself until I was on the “motherhood” side of the divide. I can start working again and I can lose the weight I gained during pregnancy, but I can’t “go back” to who and what I was before giving birth because that person and that place just don’t exist anymore. “Reclaim your body!” the doctor said at my six-week postpartum checkup. What he should have said was, “Claim your new body!” Yes I’ve lost the majority of the weight I gained, but my hips and spine will never be the same (curse you, back labor!), and my core muscles are all out of shape from being stretched by growing baby. Things I could do a year ago, I can’t do now.

And on the flip side, things I couldn’t do a year ago, I can do now (thanks, relaxin!). So while my yoga muscles are out of shape, my yoga joints are bendy in all new ways. I can survive on slightly less sleep. I’m getting the hang of what we call “winging it.” I’m getting the hang of the thing called “patience.”

River gasped the first time she really saw a tree. I could tell she was truly seeing it, not just registering it visually, from the look on her face and the gurgle-ah sound she made. She made the same sound at the tree that she makes when she gets ready to smile at mommy. Maybe I can get the hang of gasping at the sight of a tree, too.


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The Spirit of Anna Wickline Knight

First, a brief history of the Wicklines:

Johann Georg Wickline was born, just before 1700, in Alsace or the Black Forest of Germany. He immigrated to Philadelphia, by way of Rotterdam, arriving on the Palatine German brig John in October of 1736 and married Anna Christina Rietenauer, also of Alsace, in 1741 in Berks County, PA. We can tell that Johann Georg was literate, because he signed his oath to the American government with his signature, not an X mark. All of the Wicklines in America are descended from Johann Georg, my line through his son Jacob George, born 1750 in Montgomery County, PA, and Jacob’s wife Maria Catharine Spahr of Berks County, PA.

Jacob and Maria moved their family south to Sweet Springs, Virginia, right on the border between present-day Virginia and southern West Virginia, where the Wickline family stayed until the late 19th century, when Anna Mazuria Wickline moved to central West Virginia and married William Clinton Knight of Braxton County.


Though she is not a grandmother to either one of us, my mom and I both call her “Grandma Knight.” She’s my grandmother’s grandmother, my mother’s great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother. And she was a West-Virginia-hills-country homestead-woman, who shot her own meat, chopped her own firewood (and probably called it “fahrwood”), quilted, gardened, and boasted a canning cellar that was apparently quite a delight to visit. Her whole front yard-patch was nothing but a flower garden. She must have been the embodiment of the old saying about “idle hands,” because I’ve never once heard of her sitting idly. And I could probably deduce that my pricklyness is an Annie Wickline trait, diluted by a couple of generations and tempered extensively by a recent injection of Avery good humor.

If there’s one really great thing about knowing the oral history of both sides of your family, it’s that you can recognize when you honestly come by certain traits in yourself. It’s the old nature versus nurture argument, but as a small-time genealogist that’s half the romance of digging up these old stories — not just figuring out whence a dimpled chin or prominent nose, but personality traits or interests shared with long-gone, unmet ancestors. And sometime last summer, I became possessed by the spirit of Grandma Knight, or at least her DNA. The desire to plant something, and make a mark on my tiny landscape, became an undeniable itch. I finally got Jim to build first one and then a second raised bed, I put in berry bushes and flowers, started planning fall bulbs,* and got Jim to rip out most of our lovely-but-blah box hedges and call in a landscaper for new stone edging and perennial summer and fall bloomers. I honed home-canning skills and plotted out a year of grander canning designs. I tried to figure out where (and how) to start a small vegetable garden. I bought a share in a friend’s farm CSA, and started to research summer fruit and veggie CSAs.

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5 essential women’s biographies

I love, love, love reading historical women’s biographies. They’re history, art, science, anthropology, and gender study all in one convenient little package. I wouldn’t consider myself an ardent student of women’s studies, and in fact avoided the admirable Women’s Studies Department at my college like the plague, but reading about women and how they’ve been portrayed in and how they’ve adapted to society over hundreds or thousands of years is, quite possibly, the thing I enjoy the most about being an avid reader.

Do you like art, history, society, and women too? Then you might enjoy these books (all the links go to the book’s GoodReads profile):

American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante It calls itself “The Dramatic Story of America’s Founding Mother,” and while the story is little-known and indeed dramatic, there is so much to Anne Hutchinson’s life — her philosophy, her religion, her social ideas — than can be contained in one volume such as this. What this is is a bare introduction to proto–Colonial New England society, with all its attendant issues and intrigues, that just whets the appetite for more. The story of Hutchinson is clearly, cleanly, and very well told. Do no blame me if you suddenly find yourself wanting to reread The Scarlet Letter.

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel We all know about Galileo, right? And how he was a scientist in Renaissance Italy, and he said he thought the Earth revolved around the Sun, not vice versa, and the Pope got mad at him? But I’ll bet no one knows the name of Suor Maria Celeste, born Virginia Galilei, until they have read Galileo’s Daughter — and then her name will be written in your heart. Committed by her father to a convent near Florence at age 13, Maria Celeste kept up a voluminous correspondence with her father that illuminates not only her own intelligence — a rival to his own — but also the mental and spiritual struggles Galileo endured as a result of his quite-literally-Earth-shattering scientific work and his conflicts with the Church through the end of his life, and the comfort and support which Maria Celeste gave him in his darkest hours.

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster by Alison Weir My especial favorite! Katherine de Roet sits at the root of an enormous and powerful family tree, and Weir’s work as a documentary historian shines here in her reconstruction of Katherine’s life and times. Through her life-long love affair with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Katherine gave birth to the Royal Houses of York, Tudor, and Stuart, and her descendants continue to shape the world stage today. And yet we know so little about Katherine, and much of what Weir puts forth here is very well-informed conjecture. But she lays out her proofs and her documents with a clear purpose and says with confidence what she can in all fairness say, points out where she disagrees with other historians and why, and admits when the evidence is sketchy and she’s building puzzle pieces as she goes.

Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope by Eleanor Herman As a young girl she barely escaped the cloister; as a woman, she dominated the ear of Pope Innocent X and as much as ran the Papal States — to her own ends, of course. Olimpia’s life was chock full of adventure and intrigue, and Olimpia herself was full to bursting with life and vitality, and it shows in this lush bio by Eleanor Herman. Here was a woman who wasn’t about to let life (and men) tell her what to do, SHE told THEM. Do I think she was her brother-in-law’s mistress? In the sexual way, a resounding No; but in the social way, an emphatic Yes. She knew her social powers and was not afraid to use them in any way that would keep her secure and protected. Herman’s prose paints vivid pictures of Olimpia, the Papal Court, and the influence Olimpia held over the Papacy and therefore over all of Rome and the Holy Roman Empire, for she who holds the purse-strings controls the world.

The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Katherine, Mary and Lady Jane Grey by Leanda de Lisle Speaking of women controlling the world… Many people know the name of Lady Jane Grey, the “Nine Days’ Queen,” so called because her reign, if it could be called a proper reign, lasted only 9 days. De Lisle’s biography of the three Grey sisters turns the traditional view of Jane Grey and her sisters on its head — instead of as victims, it paints Jane, Katherine, and Mary as rebels and real women who were very clearly aware not only of their power, but of what they could do with it. Being a woman with royal blood in her veins — and her uterus — made these girls into dynastic pawns. Not for them stable lives and love matches. Jane, the oldest sister, was Edward I’s legitimate heir by the terms of his will, and she knew she had a legal leg to stand on — even though she wound up on the block for her troubles. She was in the right, but the Tudor side simply had more brawn. If things had gone differently for the Grey sisters, the last 500 years would have looked radically different and even today, we’d be living with the aftereffects of Jane, the First Queen of England. It is time we saw Jane Grey and her sisters through a proper lens — contrary to degrading the three women, de Lisle’s work lifts them up to their proper places as women and royals.

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Remembering the Ladies

Dear Genealogists, Amateur and Otherwise:

Remember the Ladies. I know we live in a patronymic society here in the West, so the default for genealogists is to follow the line of the surname — the men. This is great, but were there no foremothers among our forefathers? Did the Founding Fathers have no Founding Wives? For the most part, the women in our modern genealogies are just names, sometimes birth years, sometimes birth dates, sometimes birth places. They themselves have no parents, no siblings, no histories, they just pop fully formed in to our family trees. But having inherited a basically complete paternal family tree, I felt there was not much I could do besides just keeping it updated with marriages and babies — not much I could own, no digging I myself could do. Until I thought about the women, and decided to find out who they were.

If you are a family genealogist and you want to try to find the women in your family tree, I have one excellent piece of advice for you: Look among someone else’s sisters. Often a genealogist will have the names of all a person’s siblings recorded, but they usually only focus on their own (male) ancestor. That leaves a lot of siblings floating around, and after women marry, they tend to fall out of their family trees forever, having lost the patronym. Frequently you can break out of a genealogical doldrums and find the woman who married in to your family languishing among someone else’s “lost” sisters. Look for matching birth dates and familiar names — if you know the names of a woman’s children, look for similar names among potential maternal relatives. Usually the second son will be named after her father or a brother. Or a daughter may be named after the mother’s mother, grandmother, or sisters. I was working on a female line and discovered that an Alice of mine probably got the name from her mother’s mother and grandmother, also Alices. This convinces me I probably have the right line.

I also discovered a woman I am descended from twice over. From one of her sons, a daughter married in to my dad’s patronymic line, and from another son, a line of men resulted in a woman who gave birth to a woman who married in to the same patronymic line. I wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t tried to trace my foremothers’ families. Hello, Avis Deacon Reed, I am your many-great-granddaughter twice-over, it’s so nice to finally know about you.

Dear Future Genealogists: I’m trying to help you out. I’m making sure that any of the records you’d be looking for — like my marriage record — are as full of pertinent information as I can make them be. I made sure full birth dates and places were filled in, and mothers’ maiden names. My husband didn’t know why I was insisting he fill in his mother’s maiden name, and I said, “Two hundred years from now, a genealogist will thank you.” You can’t forget the ladies. I will continue to do this as much as I can, tucking bits of family history away for posterity, clues for intrepid archaeologists to find and signposts for them to follow.

Below the jump, I’m listing every woman I know I’m descended from, with her married name in parentheses. If you have found this site by a search engine because you are looking for one of these women, drop a note in the Comments section and I’ll try to help you out with whatever information I’ve managed to glean about her. Some of these women are so far back in history they almost don’t exist, but some of them are near and dear.

“x2” indicates descent from two of the woman’s children.

Alphabetical by first name after the jump…

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