Monday, November 26, 2018

Ancestor #1717

David Anson Root (1849-1936) was our 
great-great-grandfather. One of his prized possessions was a nautical telescope crafted by Negretti & Zambra of London, sometime in the late 1800s. The telescope is single-draw, with a tapered brass tube and covered in a hard-grained Moroccan leather.

Much of what I know of this great-great-grandfather, I have my cousin Daniel Root to thank. A table of consanguinity shows that Daniel would be my “first cousin, once removed” -- my mother’s cousin. I'm happy to keep it simple, though.

A few years ago, Daniel gave me a gift when he shared his family research, which included a reference to a book of Root genealogy published in 1870. This book documented my mother’s line as far back as the 1500s in central England. 

In the introduction to Root Genealogical Records. 1600-1870, Comprising the General History of the Root and Roots Families in America, James Pierce Root wrote that assigning an index number to each ancestor “furnishes a plain and simple notation, and renders it easy to refer ... to any individual of the extended family.”
Of the thousands of family ancestors indexed in this book, David Anson Root is Ancestor #1717.
With this book of genealogy as a roadmap, I was able to recognize our fifth great-grandfather Ephraim, who enlisted in the New Hampshire militia at age 26, and fought Burgoyne at Saratoga. 

Using this book to navigate, Jill and I were able to find our way to Badby, England, and the medieval church that was already 250 years old when my eighth great-grandfather Thomas was baptized there in 1605.
In the time I've spent researching deep family history, I've found a curious thing that seems to happen. And it happens more often than one might think.

When I'm researching an ancestor – holding him in mind, imagining his life, speaking his name – I get a sense that something about him wakes up. I get this feeling that he starts nudging pieces around on the board, perhaps to help me find what I'm looking for, or at least to acknowledge his presence. Here are two examples:

Jill and I explored Hebron, Connecticut, where Ephraim was born in 1751. We bypassed two perfectly fine restaurants at lunchtime, and did a U-turn in favor of the Something Simple Cafe... just because it sounded good. 
As we talked with the cafe owner, we learned that this unassuming wood-framed building had its original construction in 1750 -- right around the time of Ephraim's birth. Its function was as a general store in colonial Hebron. Ephraim was in this village for 26 years before leaving for war, so it seemed certain that he too would have stood within these walls, maybe upon these very floorboards. 
Of any place we might have visited in Hebron, we'd stumbled into this building. We stumbled? Or in bypassing lunch at the Irish pub and the Italian family restaurant in favor of a cafe that just sounded good, were we being nudged?
While preparing our Sons of the American Revolution application in 2015, I sat at chapter registrar Kevin Waldroup's kitchen table in central Indiana as he reviewed our paperwork. He offered me a look at his own genealogical record while I waited on his advice. As I browsed Kevin's records, I made the improbable, if not astonishing, discovery that one of his ancestors, Thomas Spencer, and mine, Thomas Root, were both listed as "Founders of Hartford, Connecticut." They had fought together in the 1627 Pequot War. They had lived within two miles of each other. On the same road. On the same side of the same road.
As the two of us, their descendants, recognized this fact while sitting across a kitchen table nearly 400 years later and 800 miles away, it was difficult not to at least CONSIDER a possibility. In saying their names, in bringing them into our minds, were we awakening some aspect of their spirits?  
The two Thomases, rubbing sleep from their eyes after hearing their names called from a distance. Bringing themselves to sit at some rough-hewn table with perhaps a jug of rum between them. Watching us from their vantage and saying to each other, "Laddie boys are working to know us. Let us give 'em a hand, should we?" 
I'm not the first to suspect we enliven the spirits of our ancestors by saying their names. In NatGeo's "The Story of God," historian Salima Ikram described the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, who carved the names of the dead deeply into stone, so they would not be forgotten. They believed that when you say the names, their “ka” or souls are given a burst of energy and their afterlives are renewed and extended

So what does this have to do with a Negretti & Zambra nautical telescope, and David Anson Root, Ancestor #1717?
My cousin Daniel had inherited our forebear's telescope, which Daniel kept in his bedroom as a boy growing up in Crown Point in the late 1940s. For our shared interest in family history, Daniel now gave me a second gift: this telescope. I settled in with a cup of coffee and got online to see what I could learn about it.
Enrico Negretti and Joseph Zambra, Italians by birth, started their company in a shop on London's Regent Street in 1850. They made measuring gauges, thermometers and barometers, as well as optics like telescopes and microscopes and gun sights.
I made notes. I sipped my coffee and wondered how David Anson Root had come by this telescope. Had he traveled to London, and acquired this telescope at the shop on Regent Street or at their newer shop on Holborn Viaduct? David had lived most of his life near Chicago, so perhaps he purchased the telescope in the city?
With my mind full of questions and thoughts about my second great-grandfather (Ancestor #1717), my fitness watch buzzed. I’d apparently been sitting for the maximum allowable time, and my watch was now bossing me to “MOVE!”
On a Garmin watch, this e-bullying is accompanied by the number of steps one has taken toward a daily goal. My tally so far on this particular Friday?
1717 steps.

Yeahhhh. Okay. That’s odd. But I went back to reading.

Negretti & Zambra were appointed optical instrument makers to the British Royal Observatory and the British Admiralty. In 1863, Negretti had been the first to take an aerial photograph of London from a hot-air balloon. After World War I, they stopped making telescopes to focus their business on industrial and aeronautical instrumentation. They closed their doors in the late 1980s.
My great-great-grandfather (Ancestor #1717) was a successful lumberyard owner in Crown Point, I recalled. Perhaps he had a business trip to the east coast and came across this telescope in some shop in New York or Boston?
My coffee cup was empty. My stomach growled. It must be time to start rustling up some dinner. I looked at my watch. 

You civilians would recognize the time as 5:17 pm. But by force of military habit and the 24-hour settings on my watch, the time read:

1717 hrs.

I’ll tell you this truthfully: I did not walk laps around the couch to finesse the step-count. I did not look at my watch at 1710 hrs and say, “I’ll stop and take a picture of the time in seven minutes because it will make for a good story.”
What I think, truthfully, is that my great-great-grandfather, David Anson Root, was poking me and saying:
“Hey boy. It's me. You like my telescope?”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Now your friend, Jeff, is poking you and saying, "Hey Joe, it's time for another cigar".

...another insightful story my friend. Keep 'em comin'.