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Month: February 2020

The Past in the Future

Like ripples in water, it's all connected.

Like ripples in water, it’s all connected.

I’m worried about future generations and how they will know the past. It’s no secret I’ve become obsessed with chasing down my ancestors and stories of my own history, but my concern is not all self-centered. I want my nieces and nephews to know these people, and I worry about how technology outpaces and even leaves the past behind in ways we seem not to notice.

What happened to all the newspapers that were placed in the microfiche program? And now that microfiche is antique, the machines old and clunky, how will we read those old newspapers?

Where are the record players to listen to the original recordings of Bessie Smith and Jimmie Rodgers? And the music that was distributed only on CD…do you still own a CD player?

By nature, I’m a reader and a keeper of “things.” Several years ago, I read an intriguing article about man’s first visit to the moon. Someone got the idea that with all the advances we have made in videography, it might be fun to apply some of those techniques to the video of Neil Armstrong’s first steps in 1969.

“It’ll be fun,” they said. “We can bring out details that couldn’ t be seen in the original material. Let’s do it.”

If you are old enough to remember that blurred, slightly ghostly image of Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, you saw history happening in real-time. Based on today’s GoPro, cellphone, and dashcam video technology, the fact you were able to watch on TV that historic event as it happened, was a miracle.

I’m not going to get all technical on you in this short rant, but here’s a brief description of how you saw that event.

The lunar module had limited bandwidth to send audio, visual, and medical data back to Earth. Remember, this was 1969. Reel to reel tape decks were cutting edge technology.

Westinghouse developed a special camera that recorded video at an extremely slow rate of 10 frames per second to be transmitted back to Earth. Three tracking stations, two in Australia and one in California, would receive the signals and transfer the video to telemetry tapes, still at the 10 fps rate.

Television broadcasts at 30 fps, so the video couldn’t be broadcast directly to television stations. What you saw was the result of pointing a TV camera at a monitor displaying the non-standard transmission. The original image was of reasonably high quality, but what we saw on TV had traveled through space, hopped across microwave and satellite transmitters, was routed through Houston, …and filmed as it played on a computer monitor.

And that’s the simplified version of what you saw. So, yes — finding, viewing, and enhancing the original tapes could be fun and also educational.

Step one: finding them. Thus, began a treasure hunt of epic proportions. In 2006, NASA announced it was looking for over 700 boxes of magnetic data tapes that had been recorded during the Apollo program. They might be at Goddard Space Flight Center…or maybe not…maybe somewhere else.

Step two: viewing them. In 2006 when the hunt began, there was only one piece of equipment left that could play the specialized tapes. Only one. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read that the outdated equipment had been designated for destruction. One machine was finally discovered pushed into a corner of an obscure warehouse and covered in dust.

Step three: enhancement. This is a little bit longer story. I watched the transmission of the first step on the moon, and as a writer and a word person, I heard Armstrong’s words this way, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” That’s what I heard, and that was such a poetically strong statement.

What most people heard, though, was, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” No one else seemed to hear that he was talking of himself as “a man” making a leap for mankind. Armstrong himself claimed to have said “a man,” but his words have gone down in history as most people heard them.

In 2006, both audio and video tapes were rediscovered and analyzed. Only then did experts admit that it was very plausible that the tiny word “a” might actually be there.

Peter Shann Ford, a computer programmer, analyzed the audio and found a 35-millisecond blip between “for” and “man,” which was just enough time for the spoken “a” to have been uttered.

I choose to believe I heard the statement as it was meant. That “a” changes the meaning of the statement ever so subtly. It makes more sense to me that a man might feel so tiny and so awestruck to be making such a leap for mankind that he would speak personally.

When we go looking for the past, we may not find what we’re looking for, but we often discover what we never expected. The Rolling Stones got it just about perfect: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

Let’s never forget that while looking ahead is important, what’s in front of us is only there because of what we see when we look over our shoulder. It’s all part of the same picture.

And that’s why I want to meet the family that came before me.

If you are interested, here are a couple of links:

https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11_missing_tapes

Old Love

New love, old love…it’s all good when it’s real.

Author’s Note: This is a little something for Valentine’s Day, traditionally a day to celebrate young love. But old love is important and we should celebrate that as well.

The old man sat rocking, clutching his cup of tea. He stared into the fire, glancing from time to time at the old woman who sat next to him. He tried to see the young girl in her, the young girl he’d fallen in love with, the young girl who had made him feel strong and fierce and brave.

He tried to see her dark brown hair that had brushed his cheek when he could get close to her. He tried to remember the bright brown eyes that looked deep into his own eyes as she told him what she wished for their future. He tried to remember how soft and smooth her skin was at night in the firelight.

But that girl wasn’t there. She wasn’t there because the boy who had seen her that way wasn’t there. He was old now, and all he could see was the old woman beside him. The woman who had been there for so many years. The woman who stood and sat and lay beside him for almost as long as he could remember.

He couldn’t remember before her because the time before her didn’t exist. He could only see everything she was, all the years of her, all the pain and joy and anger of her. He couldn’t strip away the days of their lives together to see what she had been before him because all he could see now was all she was to him.

He sighed, sat his tea mug down carefully, and closed his eyes. Suddenly, briefly, as he breathed his last breath, he saw her, the young girl, the woman, the old woman, all the same, all there beside him as she had always been, and he smiled.

 

Getting Closer to Home

The historic marker for Brashear’s Station shows the names Crist and Collings as early settlers.

Over the past few months I’ve taken you on a journey that often went into uncharted territory. When I decided to research my family’s roots, I never expected to find a journal that covered daily American life for 3 generations. I found stories of survival in the most extreme conditions and a story of utter despair as a family struggled to survive while all their sons fought in the Revolutionary War.

Now I want to introduce you to the major players of the story I originally came to tell, the event that started my journey down this path. Not to lead you on…but the biggest family story is yet to come.

William Edward Collings, my six times great grandfather, was born December 1724 in Pennsylvania. When he was 20 years old, he married Anne Elston, 21. Anne had been born in Middlesex New Jersey to Spencer and Mary Elston.

I can’t document exactly when William’s family came to America, but he was born here and it’s relatively safe to say his parents probably were as well. And last week, I told you about the Elston family, in America since the 1600s. My pirate ancestor, remember?

William and Anne were married in Pennsylvania, but apparently lived in New Jersey for a few years. We have church records that show them as members of the Scotch Plains Baptist Church in New Jersey around 1747. Scotch Plains is roughly near Middlesex, NJ, so they probably lived near Anne’s parents.

Son Zebulon was born in New Jersey around 1745 and second son Spencer appears to have been born there in 1750. By 1752, their third child, Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania.

I’ve mentioned before how fluid state and county lines were in the 1700s, so all mentions of state names are subject to where and when and who was in charge of the area at the time, but I’ve used a couple of these place names for some reference.

I actually Googled a mapped route from Middlesex, New Jersey (where Anne was born) to Somerset, Pennsylvania (where her third child was reportedly born). In land miles the distance is 276 miles and would take a little over 4 hours to drive on good highways.

Google also very helpfully told me that should I want to walk the route, I could do that in something like 100 hours. Assuming one could walk 8 hours a day, it would take 12.5 days to travel between the two cities. That assumes, of course, good weather…no baggage…on straight wide roads as we know them, not meandering trails hacked out of heavily wooded areas. And, by the way, the route passes through the Allegheny Mountains.

This nearly 300-mile journey was the first move west for my Collings family.

Somerset in the western part of Pennsylvania, is south and a little east of present-day Pittsburgh. In the 1750s, this was frontier, nearly uninhabited wilderness. The governmental agencies of Somerset didn’t even come into existence until the 1790s. I also can’t find any recorded history of settlers to that area prior to 1760, so if this is where the Collings came, they may have come here through a series of moves that I cannot find in any documentation.

One key fact about the Somerset, Pennsylvania area is that it is drained by Coxes Creek, which empties into the Ohio River. This means that in the mid 1700s, my family relocated to the pioneer version of an interstate highway.

In the 1770s, there are several official records (okay, court records) of the Collings family in Yohogania Co., VA located near Somerset, PA

William Collings and his sons owned land, they were charged with maintaining roads near their property, they witnessed wills and incurred debts and even tangled with their neighbors and with the law at times. All told, they were active in the area for several years.

We tend to think our early ancestors had hard lives and died young, but consider this: in his mid-50s, around 1783 or so, William Edward Collings packed up his family and with his grown children and several friends traveled down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania to the wild and untamed territory that later became Kentucky.

As when leaving New Jersey, the Collings family moved from a place that was somewhat civilized, with boundaries and courts and government officials, into a wilderness frontier of danger and adventure.

This move was made after the Collings men…William Edward, his sons Zebulon, Spencer, William Elston and Thomas, fought in the Revolutionary War. William, the father, and the two older boys are reported to have served in the Jefferson County Militia under General George Rogers Clark in the Northwest Campaign.

I’ve actually seen an image of a payroll roster, dated 1782, for the company of Captain John Clark who served under General George Rogers Clark. This roster includes the name of Spencer Collings and also George Crist whose family name often appears in the Collings story.

For those of you not familiar with George Rogers Clark and his exploits during and after the Revolutionary War, you need to know at least this: The United States as we know it would look completely different on the map without his efforts. Almost entirely on foot, with a ragtag bunch of independent pioneers, woodsmen, and a few professional soldiers, young George Rogers Clark defeated the British regular army tasked with securing the western territory for England.

George Rogers Clark felt this Northwestern Territory that later became the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan was the key to the westward expansion of our United States. As we would say today, he nailed it.

When the battles were won and negotiations secured the boundaries, my family packed up and moved to claim their place in this fertile and hopeful new land.

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