This is My Temporary Site

This is a temporary site that I am using to rebuild my site here: http://www.ethomsen.com.

I hope to be finished and move everything back to that site next weekend.

Elizabeth Thomsen
March 25, 2011

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Day 205: July 24, 2010

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A Question of Language

My mother once told me that when she was a young child, she lived in a neighborhood where all the other families were Polish, and the kids used to speak to each other in Polish just to tease her and make her feel left out. She wasn’t one to complain or criticize other people’s behavior, and I could see she was a little uncomfortable sharing this memory. I remember her generalizing this so it wouldn’t seem like she was bad-mouthing Polish people in particular. She said that kids could be cruel sometimes without meaning to be, they just didn’t know any better.

I found my mother’s family in the 1930 Census. They were living on Endicott Street in Worcester, Massachusetts, and scanning through the census record, I can see that my mother, whose parents came from Scotland, lived in the only household where English was the native language of the parents. But the rest of the street wasn’t all Polish families, as she had thought — it was about evenly divided between Polish and Lithuanian families. So maybe the kids weren’t speaking Polish to single out and exclude my mother, maybe the Polish kids and the Lithuanian kids were switching to their parents’ languages as a way of excluding each other. My mother was only seven years old when her family left that neighborhood, so it’s certainly possible that she didn’t know the difference between the sound of the two languages, and misread the social situation.

Of course, I’ll never know. But I do think it’s interesting the things you find when you examine the scanned images of documents, and get to see your family members in a larger context, along with neighbors, shipmates, witnesses, etc.

1930 Census Snippet

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Glimpses of Glasgow

2 Matilda Road, Glasgow, Scotland

I’m going to the UK on Friday, mostly to Belfast, but I’ll be spending a little time in Glasgow and flying home from there. I’ve never been to Glasgow but it’s an important place in my family history. The Ross sisters — my grandmother Agnes and my great aunts Jean, Kate and Lizzie — grew up there, so I grew up hearing about it. My grandfather’s mother was a live-in servant there, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother in Ayrshire, but when he grew up he came here and met and married my grandmother. I’ve always thought of it as our family’s Scottish hometown. The Rosses originally came from Aberdeen and the Rennies came from Ayrshire, but they all ended up in Glasgow and that’s where they all lived before coming to America.

I have been cruising around the streets of Glasgow on Google Streetview, visiting all the addresses I know from census records and marriage certificates. Same streets where my grandparents walked, just 100 or so years later. I find these images haunting in their very ordinariness. I look at them, and half expect them to fade into historic photos, and to catch a glimpse of my ancestors rushing along, late for dinner.

How amazing it is to have Google Streetview and be able to see specific streets and places that might not otherwise be photographed! And how amazing it is to have Flickr, Panoramio and so many other sites with photographs of everyplace you can imagine. For this trip, I have particularly enjoyed browsing around Geograph Britain and Ireland, a project that aims to collect geographically representative photographs for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland.

Off to explore some more…

2011-02-15_2027

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Day 1: January 1, 2011

Day 1: January 1, 2011

I don’t really believe in the Golden Rule. I don’t think we should treat others the way we want to be treated, I think we should treat others the way they want to be treated. This is much more difficult, because it requires us to carefully observe others and try to see things from their point of view.

Toby Stops WalkingOne of the things I like about having pets is that it’s clear that they’re different from us, and have different interests and needs. Right now, I’m living with two dogs, and they’re not only differerent from me, they’re different from each other. Nina, who is my dog, loves the snow and wants roll around in it, run around in circles scattering it around, loves to dig in it. Toby, my daughter’s dog who is spending a few months with me, dislikes the cold and hates snow, and never wants to leave the house if there’s snow on the ground. His point of view in undoubtably affected by his size — he’s a tiny thing with short little legs, so even a few inches of snow is overwhelming to him.

Stone Wall in the SnowBut today the three of us went for a walk that was perfect for all three of us. The weather was mild and the sidewalks were clear, which was good for Toby; there was still a lot of snow piled next to the sidewalk, which Nina enjoyed; and we took a route with a lot of stone walls, which I like to photograph. (At one point, Toby decided he’d had enough and stuck a pose of passive resistance, but after I picked him up and carried him for a few minutes, he was willing to continue walking.)

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I Saw My Life

I saw my life flash before my eyes. I saw seasons come and go. I saw libraries and diners and dogs. I saw Jamaica and Italy, libraries, flowers, fruits and vegetables, historical markers, screenshots and neon signs. It wasn’t a dream, it was my Pummelvision video.

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