Four Geese and a Duck, Stone Mountain, 25 March 2016

10 June 2016: I have learned that what I’ve been identifying as a duck below is actually a Greater White-fronted goose. This explains some inconsistencies I noted in how it behaved. We live and learn.

I went for a walk at Stone Mountain Friday, 25 March and took some video of two pairs of geese and one duck, near the riverboat ride. Somewhere on the water, I could hear what sounded like a large gaggle of geese, but could only see a few landing in the water. The geese I encountered didn’t seem to take them into account. I’ve noted other times when I’ve seen geese at Stone Mountain, that they often respond to the sound of other geese by turning their heads in the direction of the sound, or answering with honks of their own, but these rarely did.

Canadian geese are fairly common at the park throughout the year. They’ve apparently opted to stay here rather than fly back north, if, in fact, they came from there. The ones at Stone Mountain are most likely several generations removed from those who migrated.

Ducks are also a fairly common site. This one was alone, and was just hanging out near the edge of the lake. I thought it would try to get into the water, especially after I showed up, but it didn’t. It didn’t just stick around for the video, but stayed long enough for me to walk away and come back to take some photos.

Other ducks were flying around, landing in the water nearby but none came close to where this one was hanging out.

It’s perhaps a testament to their acclimation to humans that neither the duck nor the geese seemed to pay me much attention. My following them didn’t seem to hurry the geese very much, and I was nearly two feet away from the duck while taking the video and some photos.

Genealogy Tips and Tricks

 Piedmont Park Trees 

To trace a family, start with what is known and work backwards — parents to grandparents and so on and along the way, it’s important to note every source of information. Genealogy is all about what can be documented and it’s helpful to keep in mind that all published records are compiled by people who can make mistakes. Census takers misspelled names and recorded ages wrong; often they went by what a neighbor told them about a family rather than speaking to a representative of the family; and every researcher has dealt with the problem of handwriting. It’s often very apparent who took the job seriously versus those out to collect a paycheck. When dealing with death certificates, it’s important to pay attention to who the respondent is. If it’s a close family member, a brother, or sister, the info on parents is probably correct, but if it’s a son- or daughter-in-law, the info might not be as accurate. Sometimes, parental info is missing or may be penciled in. 

Always exercise caution when dealing with family lore. Family legends can help a researcher figure out where to look for further information, but it’s helpful to remember, most family legends are embellished. If one has the opportunity to speak to an older family member, do so, but remember he or she may only know what was handed down and might not have the full story. My maternal grandmother, for instance, was the youngest daughter in her family of ten children and did not know her grandparents well. The information she had on them came from her parents or older siblings. Also people tend to gloss over stories of family members who were considered “black sheep” or otherwise had dubious reputations. My maternal grandfather was such a figure in his family, so finding out information on him from family members was frequently difficult.

In my research, I’ve noted a number of individuals who have a particular surname because their mothers never married their fathers. There’s a record in Georgia where two boys, previously identified as Lupo had their surnames changed to Watson, apparently after their father acknowledged them. If there’s an unmarried older daughter in a household with very young children, headed by parents too old to have been the mother or father of the youngest children, it’s possible that daughter was the mother of some of the younger children, or that they’re the offspring of a deceased son, though they’re all identified as siblings. Census records prior to 1880 did not list relationships, making it difficult to sort out extended families, and illegitimate children were stigmatized in society, often necessitating considerable subterfuge to conceal them. People are often very proud of their heritage and can be extremely protective of their ancestors and the stories they’ve been told about them and don’t take it well when the facts sometimes don’t agree with family lore.

The important thing is to document as much as possible. If family legend states an ancestor was born in Kentucky, but the individual is found in Alabama on the census at three months old, that casts doubt on the Kentucky story. People were very mobile, though, so such legends can’t be ruled out entirely. I found a family recorded twice on the 1870 census, once in Missouri and a few weeks later in Mississippi. Digitized records have been a big help, particularly since I’ve not had the time to conduct direct research. Without indexed census records on Ancestry, I might never have found that family in 1870.

Always be on the lookout for similar names. A common problem in genealogy is skipping a generation, which can happen in instances where names tend to run in a family. In the Lupos there are lots of men named David, William, John, and James, and frequently there aren’t estate records to spell out who is whom. Many confuse Phillip Lupo, who made out his will in 1668 in Isle of Wight County, Virginia with the man by that name living in Elizabeth City colony in 1621, but a closer look at the records reveals two individuals who were father and son.

Part of genealogy is collecting names and part is analyzing the info to sort out how everyone is connected. I started working on my family’s history in the late-80s and spent a lot of time collecting names without fully understanding how everyone fit together. After it became less convenient to visit facilities for hands-on research, I started analyzing what I had, and more of the story began to take shape. I was fortunate to be in touch with other researchers with whom I could share ideas and compare notes, and who had access to resources I didn’t. I was researching numerous lines at the time, so I had a lot on my plate.

It took me three or four years of research to have a reasonable picture of the Lupo family but eight to ten years to actually sort out how most of the Lupos are connected and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Here, it’s very important to recheck a source, such as a website, that’s likely to be updated regularly. Much of the information on the Lupo family found on the Internet, comes from the site I maintain and often I can tell at which point someone got their info from which version was published at the time. There’s a page set up for another family I research which gives life dates for an ancestor that are greatly out of sync with the actual record. This brings up a final point. A researcher should not be afraid to disagree with an authoritative source, provided the researcher has records to support his or her view of the family’s history. It’s often via disagreements that new evidence comes to light and new insights into a family are developed. In any event, it makes for a much more lively discussion.

Total Eclipse of the Hart

On my first visit to Stone Mountain this year, I encountered an entire herd of deer, at least seven or eight individuals, with more probably lurking in the woods.

They were somewhat off the path, along the five-mile walking trail that circles the mountain. I encountered them about halfway between the two and two and a half mile markers. The terrain made it next to impossible to get any closer.

I almost missed seeing them. A passing dog startled the younger one in the first video and the sound of its hooves caused me to look.

As can be seen, they blend very well into the surrounding flora.

Note: These videos were enhanced using YouTube’s color correction and image stabilization tools. The originals can be accessed by searching the title, minus the zero in the number.

Existential Void

 Altered reality passageway 
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl tells the story that on his first day in a Nazi concentration camp, an older and more experienced prisoner pointed to him and, based on the older prisoner’s experience, said Frankl was the type who wouldn’t survive. Frankl did survive and one way he managed to keep going was to edit, in his head, a manuscript of his the Nazis had destroyed. Earlier, in Vienna, Frankl had noticed that there were lots of young, unemployed men hanging around getting into trouble. He organized volunteer groups to give the men something to accomplish, and most of the trouble stopped. The men still weren’t making money, but having a meaningful activity with which to occupy their time took their minds off the mischief they could be causing and gave them a sense of purpose.

From his work with the young men and into his experiences in the concentration camp, Frankl realized the human need for meaning and purpose, something he termed the “will to meaning”. Other psychologists such as Abraham Maslow, have also documented a human need for purpose in life which is placed among the higher order needs, once such lower concerns as food and shelter have been met. Frankl recognized that people often experienced what he called an existential void which caused them to seek something to give their lives greater meaning. He concluded that if people have a definite reason to live, they can endure any hardship, and noted, during his time in the camp that the prisoners who were able to focus outside themselves, who could convince themselves they had a reason to go on beyond mere survival often fared better than those who couldn’t. 

Ironically, the same tendency which allowed the prisoners in concentration camps to survive also fueled those who had created the camps. George Orwell, in his review of Mein Kampf, states that Hitler came to power, not by promising an easy life for his people, but by promising them struggle and sacrifice. Through their struggle, they would build a better Germany, thereby giving them meaning for the hardships they would endure. Through pageantry, spectacle, and overblown rhetoric, Hitler fueled the myth of a Germany which would one day rule the world, and everyday Germans were seduced into believing they were part of something greater than themselves. No matter how mundane their lives were, by accepting this grand vision, they, too, could be heroes. On a much smaller scale, Charles Manson motivated a group of misguided flower children into committing horrible crimes with the belief that they were somehow serving a higher purpose. 

Most citizens of the US don’t vote and the reason most often cited is that they believe their votes don’t count. This is a belief that both parties in the US actively work to cultivate because if the constituency realizes they have the power to effect an election, no career politician will be safe. Each side wants their voters to turn out, while discouraging voters who don’t hold their beliefs. Eventually every election turns into a predictable event, since the only people who show up at the polls are the true believers, the base, so to speak. Since the system works for those in charge, there’s no motivation to change. Average citizens watch from the sidelines, convinced they have no control over the process. 

When a politician comes along able to tap into that discontent, for better or worse, people often find themselves swept up in the fervor, motivated by a sense they’re part of something more grandiose than their every day experiences. Emotions cancel out logic as people long to fill the void within, and no sacrifice seems too great in order to bring about that sense of destiny. A truly great leader, one motivated by a need to raise up his or her people, knows how to channel that energy into positive change, but all too often, the wrong type of person taps into that need and manipulates it for sinister purposes. History attests to the consequences of following such leaders, in Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, and even here in the United States. Those who say it can’t happen here fail to see it already has and will again if we’re not vigilant.

There’s an urban legend about a woman who spent years caring for her invalid mother. When her mother died, the woman’s friends convinced her to travel and have some fun, which they felt she had earned. On the first leg of her trip, she stopped in to visit an elderly aunt and, upon finding the aunt in poor health, curtailed her travel plans and started caring for the older woman. In his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Albert Camus concludes that despite the grueling and frustrating task Sisyphus must endure, Sisyphus is content because he always knows what the day will bring. He has no reason for hope, therefore he’s never disappointed. 

Struggle and sacrifice are part of life and for many, they provide the motivation necessary to envision a brighter future where such hardships will be lessened. Just as hedonistic pursuits often lead to a life devoid of meaning and purpose, though, excessive or unnecessary sacrifice can leave people without a proper gauge by which to judge the demands placed upon them. Seeking a higher purpose is a tendency unique to humans, which has led to many great accomplishments throughout history, but just as often, the need for meaning has led people to follow those whose goals are short-sighted and self-serving. We all have a need to feel part of something greater than ourselves. We should not let this need override our better judgement or allow our good intentions to be diverted by empty promises from those whose intentions are dishonorable. 

Real Bible Studies: The Sons of Israel

img_6262The Bible is as much a political document as it is a religious one. Stories printed there were crafted to support a specific narrative, perhaps to bolster the reign of a particular king or party in its quest for control. Over time, these stories were edited, re-edited, and re-arranged to support different narratives. One such example can be found in Richard Elliott Friedman’s work, The Hidden Book in the Bible, where he uses textual analysis of the earliest Greek sources to piece together a complete book covering the story of creation through the conquest of Canaan that had been spread throughout the early books of the Old Testament. The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, attempts to reconcile the story of Israel told in its archaeological record with what’s written in the pages of the Bible, and finds a much different narrative written in the ruins. Kings who were vilified in the Bible emerge as some of the longest ruling and most successful in the archaeological record. Even within the pages of the Bible, different books provide different views of the tribes who came to be known as the children of Israel, in particular Genesis and Judges.

In order to understand the purpose of a literary work, it’s necessary to look at the stories presented and the way in which the narrative is crafted. In Genesis, following the flood, the main hero is Abraham, whose story takes up chapters eleven through twenty-five. Excluding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which exclusively involves Lot, that’s fourteen of the fifty chapters of Genesis. This isn’t surprising, considering what a towering figure Abraham is in Middle Eastern lore. His son, Isaac only gets a few chapters, one of which is a retelling of a story originally attributed to his father, before Jacob’s story takes over, and the stories of Jacob and his family take up the rest of Genesis, which ends with the death of Joseph in Egypt.

In it, we learn how Jacob deceived his brother Esau (also known as Edom father of the Edomites), claimed Esau’s birthright, and fled to his uncle’s family to avoid retribution. Jacob fell in love with Rachel, but was deceived by his uncle into marrying her sister Leah, then had to perform additional servitude to gain Rachel’s hand, and Genesis tells us Rachel was his favored wife. Jacob also had two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, who produced four of the sons who would be the progenitors of the tribes who later identified themselves as the children of Israel. Leah is the mother of most of Jacob’s offspring, including Levi and Judah, two prominent tribes in later Jerusalem and she’s listed as being buried with Jacob in Genesis 49. We learn that Rachel bore two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Though Leah is the most productive of Jacob’s wives, being the mother of six sons and one daughter, Dinah, all the attention is focused on Rachel, naming her as Jacob’s most beloved wife. This focus on Rachel extends all the way to the Gospel of Matthew, who, in relating the slaughter of the innocents, misquotes as prophesy, verses from Jeremiah lamenting the exile of Ephraim (Rachel crying out for her lost children). This is despite the fact that the majority tribe in Jerusalem was that of Judah, who was Leah’s son.

Where Judges exhibits very crude editorial oversight, adding lines here and there to connect what were obviously individual tales from different sources, Genesis seems to have been crafted with the specific intention of relating the origin story of the sons of Israel. Rather than simply collecting the myths and legends, the author of Genesis used them as the basis for a new telling of the story, and Genesis is far more polished than Judges, which is loosely cobbled together with only a cursory attempt to unify the stories — the editorial asides that the stories happened before Israel had a king. In Genesis, the narrative has been crafted to unify the story of the sons of Israel, and to highlight one son in particular, Joseph. Most likely, the different stories came from sources similar to what’s found in Judges, that the editors of Genesis had to reconcile. Each tribe that claimed descent from Abraham undoubtedly had its own traditions about him, just as Arabs and Jews do today. Since most of the population couldn’t read, the editors could afford to add in multiple traditions and let scholars debate them later.

In all probability, Genesis was assembled by someone who came from the tribe of Ephraim — the tribe who claimed descent from Joseph — or felt a kinship with it, given how prominent Joseph is depicted within the narrative. Ironically, Ephraim is one of the tribes said to have been carted off by the Assyrians, never to be heard from again though remnants could have escaped to Judah after the exile. A later editor who knew of the fate of Ephraim, may have altered the story somewhat to give Judah more prominence, but the narrative flow still makes Joseph the ultimate hero of the story. The only story we get on Judah outside the context of Joseph’s story is of his relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar, with whom he fathered Perez, the ancestor of David. Joseph was the full brother of Benjamin, whose tribe avoided the fate of Ephraim and survived to become one of the more prominent tribes that inhabited Jerusalem up to the time of Jesus. Joseph is also the reason his brothers go to Egypt, from which their descendants must flee in Exodus.

Joseph’s story starts in Genesis 37, and takes up the bulk of the remaining chapters of Genesis ending with the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in Genesis 48 and Joseph’s death in chapter 50. We learn of his gift for prophecy, his brothers’ jealousy of him, and their initial decision to kill him, which is softened into the action of selling him into bondage. Reuben is the brother who prevents the others from killing Joseph, and Judah is the one who convinces them to sell Joseph into bondage, which sets in motion the fulfillment of Joseph’s prophecies. The very next chapter in Genesis relates the story of Judah and Tamar which the author of Ruth uses as the basis for the genealogy of David. With the story of Jacob’s death in Genesis 49, Joseph takes the lead on burial and tributes to his father, with his brothers hardly being mentioned at all.

The tribes most often mentioned in Judges are Judah, Ephraim, Benjamin, the Levites, and Dan. The opening chapter of Judges gives an update on the various conquests of the tribes which may have been inserted by a later editor to tie the book to the previous story of Joshua. In this introduction, it’s stated that the Benjamites were not able to drive the Jebusites from Jerusalem and lived along side them and that other tribes were unable to dislodge the Canaanites from their land, setting up the temptations that will lead the Israelites astray throughout Judges. At the end of Judges, a Levite from the hill country of Ephraim has problems while spending the night among the tribe of Benjamin, leading to the near destruction of the tribe in the resulting retaliation. In Genesis, we’re told that Joseph, the father of Ephraim, was the loving older brother of Benjamin.

In Judges, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Judah among others, are tribes; in Genesis, they’re individuals, and in Genesis 49 Jacob/Israel blesses each of his sons and the words he uses sum up how each tribe was viewed by the author or editor of Genesis. One brother who does not fare well in the narrative is Levi, which is interesting given that the Levites, or priestly class which includes Moses and Aaron in Exodus, is said to descend from Levi. In Genesis, Simeon and Levi are criticized for using their swords in anger — the incident is described in detail in Genesis 34 pertaining to Dinah and the Shechemites — and condemned to be scattered and dispersed in Israel. The two sons who get most of the praise, not surprisingly, are Judah and Joseph, each with long blessings which places them above all the rest. Benjamin is compared to a ravenous wolf, and in Judges, displays considerable military prowess when fighting the other tribes. Reuben, the oldest son, is all but disowned by his father for offenses he committed and the remaining sons each gets a descriptive line or two.

Isaac Asimov, in his Guide to the Bible, identifies stories in Judges as perhaps the oldest material to appear in the Bible. The story of Deborah, is notable, in that it presents us with one of the few women in the Bible who is not solely defined by the men in her life, as are most of the women in Genesis. The stories in Judges bear almost no kinship to those in Genesis, except for the tribal identity of the sons. Judges follows the pattern of Israel “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord” which leads to them being conquered by one of the local, larger tribes, prompting the need for a leader or “judge” to arise and save them.

Bear in mind, the people who crafted the stories that eventually found themselves in the Bible were in constant competition with other tribes for the resources of the land they inhabited. Three of the most prominent mentioned in the Bible were the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Philistines. In Genesis, the attitude of the author to the Moabites and Ammonites was made plain by reporting that they were the product of the illegitimate and incestuous union of Lot and his two daughters following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Judges reports on these tribes as well and chronicles many of the difficulties faced by the Israelites at the hands of the Philistines. In particular, Samson has a considerable beef with the Philistines for reasons unknown, other than they’re oppressing the Israelites. Samson’s actions, however, are usually in service to his own selfish motives, rather than in service to any of the tribes.