Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Ancestor Was Here

While cleaning out the attic here at my new residence, I must sift through layers of junk and treasure left behind by so many previous residents. The other day, I came across a pile of old books - bound periodicals of church history from the turn of the 20th century.

Thumbing through the 1910 volume, I saw a familiar name: Joseph Burton - my great-great-great-uncle. It was a biography of Captain Burton (he was a merchant ship captain) written by his wife, Emma. Surprised to see my own relations mentioned, I started to read, following the serialized biography into the 1911 volume.

Being a merchant sea man from Nova Scotia and New England, it isn't surprising that Joseph sailed all over the Atlantic - from Europe to the Caribbean and all along the Eastern United States. What was surprising - at least to see it in print - was the brief reference to Joseph making a trip to Amsterdam in 1867. Then, not too much later, another trip from the US to Rotterdam. My great-great-great-uncle was in Rotterdam more than a hundred years ago.

This was, of course, before he had joined the church, and some thirty years before he would captain the missionary boat Evanelia from California to the Society Islands. But still, to have such a random and concrete connection with Rotterdam - to imagine my great-great-grandfather walking the downtown streets (or approximately, since the whole of downtown R'dam was destroyed in World War II) - touches me deeply.

I am, truly, just following in others' footsteps.

(The painting above is something of the scene Joseph Burton might have seen approaching Rotterdam. Johan Barthold Jongkind, The Schie Near Rotterdam, 1867.)

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