Fall 2014

For Our Ancestors

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My aunt, the keeper of the family tree, now lives in a skilled nursing facility. Since her room has little space for personal belongings, the archive of correspondence, photos and family ancestry charts has come to my house. I’ve heard family stories since I could sit at the dinner table, but as I sift through the collection, I’m learning more about my people. Going back as far as the 16th century, they include a shoemaker, lace worker, artist, stockbroker, sugar importer, clergyman and even a shipping line owner. Alas, no journalists or magazine editors.

For the most part, personal ancestors play little if any role in research. But if you dig below the surface, such shadows may appear. For example, Oregon State theater professor Charlotte Headrick turned an interest in the Irish side of her family into a scholarly exploration of Irish women playwrights (“Rewriting the Script,” Page 26). In addition to producing some of their plays at OSU, she co-edited a new anthology of works that have been kept largely behind the scenes of Irish drama.

Ancestral relationships also show up in the work of people who study wildlife (“Survivors from the Depths of Time,” Terra, winter 2014) and those who delve into languages (“A Place of Belonging,” Terra, winter 2013).

My aunt has lived most of her life in the United States and, like Charlotte Headrick, taught theater. She returned time and again to the dramatic works of her Dutch homeland. The journey is deeply personal as well as professional. She and Headrick embody T.S. Eliot’s famous words in his poem Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Nick Houtman


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