On The Ancestral Trail

The moment my DNA profile dramatically changed on Ancestry, from when I first looked over my results, I became skeptical of the entire DNA service.  How does one's DNA change from Italian to Irish? Or from Mexican Indian to Norwegian? As a person who is constantly asked "what are you anyway?" "so what country are you originally from?" or "your an Indian, right?" I felt the $98 spit test would provide answers.

However, my DNA result profile went from being a combination of many different ethnic types to a purely Northern European one over the course of a year.  Now, having the mindset of a political analyst, I did not think HOW did this happen; I thought WHY did this happen? Who stands to gain from this altercation - and it was clearly being done to my black cousins who came up Irish, Scottish and Welsh without any Caribbean or African regions as well.  Not to mention the surprised native Canadian cousins, who knew they were native, who did not seem to possess any indigenous DNA. 

But they lured me back with the Family Tree Research.  I discovered I have ancestors from the very community I live in. This was a complete shock - as I believed we came from Down North Cape Breton, Scotland, England, France, Italy and Russia.  That was my expectations. Newfoundland, particularly the western, outport community of Trout River, Newfoundland, was a place I had moved to out of love.  I had no kin or reason to feel at home here, but the spirits must have recognized me.  Either that or the Ancestry bots did.  Turns out, lo and behold, my family is one of THE FOUNDING  families here, besides the Crockers and several indigenous tribes. 

Now, they spur me on in zest with their tidbits of family obsessions in the textile industries.  This past week I have learned not only were the Scots involved in sophisticated wool production, but that they invested in silk plantations as well. Mohair, cashmere, linen and silk - all wonderful fibres for keeping people warm and fashionable.

There seem to be links to Australia, Sicily, Romania and Mexico on the branches of the Family Tree itself but alas, so far the DNA has not switched back to reflect these branch findings.  Perhaps they (Ancestry) suffered too much criticism for their commercials of a woman discovering her "native roots" and wanting to learn more about her culture.

Media stories were quick to interview indigenous women speaking out in anger about the commercial. The government in Newfoundland found itself in a mess of hot water, turning down previously accepted indigenous people for status, blaming the unrealistically high numbers.  After all, didn't Joey Smallwood say there were no natives in Newfoundland?

Genetics aside, it has liberated me to know that fabric was our Celtic and French families' businesses. That it was the desire to produce the very best that caused them to personally travel to new production facilities in various countries long before Canada was a nation.  They approached the friendly Mi'kmaq on Newfoundland island with business ventures and with respect and equality the English did not.  In doing so, they learned new techniques to their trade and made new partners. So, I no longer need to view my fascination with knitting, weaving, sewing and the creation of new types of fibres as odd.  In fact, I am beginning to think my ancestors want me to set up a textile production facility right here in this picturesque coastal village of Trout River...right after getting our land back from Parks Canada. 

The ocean on a calm day, shoreside along Trout River's boardwalk. 

Threads of Time

Do you ever stop and wonder how we, as a species, got to the point we are at today? Perhaps I have been watching too many reality TV shows while housecleaning and working out, but seeing people thrown back into the elements with the mindset of modern man is both humorous and revealing. Just being naked, it would seem, is a major hurdle to overcome when battling the elements and insects of the great outdoors. So at what point, did a caveman decide that they were going to spontaneously take a plant, beat the fibres until they were flexible, twist this into a thread which could be then twisted with more threads and criss-crossed over one another to create a new substance?

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How does that make sense? You are naked. You are dirty. You are cold. I can see this making furry animals become pets to snuggle up at night with, but I don’t see cavemen and cavewomen instinctively stopping their hunting and gathering to experiment in cloth or wool making.

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Let’s look at the animal kingdom. Birds like shiny objects and decorate their nests with brightly colored rocks, leaves and berries. Adornment may be a natural instinct that became the art of jewelry making. Spiders weave elaborate webs, but they have the webbing to begin with. Observing spiders may have prompted early men, women or children to try and twist flexible plants into the shapes of spiderwebs. Beavers cut down their own wood to make dams; we’ve gained shelter, water control and logging ideas from beavers. Wasps and bees with their hexagon shaped structures were cave people math teachers, plus they showed us how to make paper, honey, wax and hexagons. Termites if left alone in the wild are actually builders and not the destructive house, cabin and shed destroyers we think of in modern times. They could turn wood, mud and biowaste into structural forms; they also knew how to garden mushrooms (house plants) for their young to feed on in the safety of their mud castles.

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So clearly, being observant of the creatures around us humans enabled some beneficial changes to our lifestyle. Still, the process of getting wool from a sheep, goat or alpaca is pretty complicated. Then you have to take that wool and knit, weave, crochet, knot tie, or hook it into a workable shape or structure. Spinning wheels may have been invented before wagon wheels, putting clothing ahead in priority to ease of getting around.

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Woven materials like linen and cotton are far removed from from the plants and fluff they started out as. Silk is derived from silk worm cocoons and gypsy moth nests; it is not an easy jump to envision the transformation of bug occupied white, sticky fluff into glorious, expensive, luxurious fabric. Still by 4,000 BC in China this was being done on a production scale with domesticated silkworms!

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In the age of super hadron colliders, space travel and 5G telecommunications, the collective intelligence of our global population has actually decreased our independent populations survival intelligence – when you take out trained soldiers and rescue folk. Are we dumbing down on the basics as we increase in our technological intelligence? Some theorists contemplate a celtic knot like relationship between modern man and our prehistoric ancestors; at some point in the not too distance future, we may directly influence our past selves. Or maybe I am watching too much DARK on Netflix.

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Needles and Balls

No, this isn’t a vasectomy story. It’s a story about knitting, about family, hobbies and traditions. Its also a story of stubborn determination and pain.

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Now, many, many years ago, before I began going to school, I was introduced to knitting. It was an intriguing thing to watch, especially for a child who was born with a cat’s curiosity. Wool had to be unwound and rolled into balls. Balls had to be sorted into color codes. Knitting needles had to match the thickness of the yarn or the size of what was being knit. Knitting began in a fast and furious method of getting through a pattern without any mistakes. Patterns were altered on many occasions to make new creations that were better than the original with handwritten scribbles alongside the margins of tattered pages.

I was fortunate to have a mother, two grandmothers, several aunts and cousins all addicted to knitting. It was the thing to do; there was no other option for them. While going to school and taking part in many extracurricular sports activities I once failed to knit a toque needed as a Christmas gift. It didn’t matter that my grade average was above 95 or that I was on 5 sports teams. My Mom was blown away by how I could have just not knit that toque in time.

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But this story goes back to when I was four, just learning how to hold the knitting needles, wrap the yarn around them and keep those stitches in line. I wanted to be the best knitter ever, like my Aunt Margaret Rogers, whose knitting needles made the whirring sound and did a blurring motion while she rocked in her chair and whipped up item after item with ease. I wanted to show Grandmother Agnes Vickers that I could make sweaters and slippers too and be allowed up on the grown up couch to watch the soap operas that she called stories. I wanted to proof to my mom that I could pay attention, that I did realize being able to knit was important.

But, frustratingly, I had the hardest time keeping those stitches on the needles. I think I probably put too many on, but I was four and I was so proud with every formed loop that I just added stitch after stitch. I couldn’t read a pattern so I was forced to guess how to try and make what I wanted to accomplish. Not a great way to succeed. And I did not. I was great at rolling up balls and sorting colors though.

My Aunt Donna came to my rescue with a pair of tiny knitting needles and my own woven bag for carrying yarn. I don’t know who it was that taught me to read patterns, but I am grateful for that. So at the age of four, perhaps just having turned five, because it was near Christmas time, I successfully knit an entire row without dropping any stitches! Finally, I had done it. I overheard with much pride, a hushed conversation that they had believed I just wasn’t going to be a knitter, broken up with the odd comments in my behalf, that I was just a baby and too much pressure was being put upon me.

There was alot of competition amongst the knitters in my family. They were all very talented, all with their own style and preferred assortment of items they liked to create. Some were apologetic, like Aunt Jacqueline Rogers Clyke, who showed her work and critiqued it simultaneously. Some made things in secret and we only saw the wonderful finished projects, like Aunt Sheila Rogers Munroe. Some were beginning new projects before even finishing others, brimming with so much creative energy they could barely contain it, like Aunt Donna Rogers MacRae. Some turned knitting into a visiting activity, where projects were shown and compared, complimented, then constructed amidst conversation and snacks, like Grandmother Agnes Reid Vickers. Some were serious knitters, like Nana Lorraine Rogers, Mom Gail Vickers Rogers and Aunt Margaret Burt Rogers, who needed uniformity in their workmanship, timely production, creative touches and to begin one project the moment they finished another.

I knit today because it is comforting to do so. I choose colors that go with the amazing scenery of Trout River, Newfoundland. I knit because nature inspires me and because I know how. I also recognize, from living in a northern climate how the importance of learning this skill was passed down for generations amidst my ancestors. Knitting meant surviving the cold, keeping dry and warm, staying healthy.

Today, aside from its physical benefits, knitting is helping me emotionally, with pulling pieces of memories forth, giving me comforting moments of piece and accomplishment, amidst a year of economic uncertainty and pandemic fear. So whether you are four, nine, forty or 94, never be afraid to pick up those needles and twist that yarn! And once you succeed, encourage others to do the same.

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Marshmallow Fields

I remember a time when travelling to my family’s favourite vacation spot – Boisdale, Cape Breton, that we passed a large field of newly bundled and wrapped giant bales of hay. My Aunt jokingly mused aloud, “look at all those marshmallows.” My Grandmother keenly squinted at the field and marveled at the size. Weeks later we had many elderly people mentioning our trip to see the hay farmer’s new enterprise: growing marshmallows. They were amazed at his productivity. We had to explain the difference, then.

I named this site the Fabricated Newfie because I am not a “real Newfoundlander” and it was a pun on words, especially where I work with fabric and write, but my great grandmother’s ghosts must have been paying attention. It turns out, I have ancestors from this very fishing village! I would never have thought that to be true. I guess I learned to be skeptical when my extremely savvy grandmother was fooled by the enormous marshmallows growing in the field. So I dug a little deeper and found my family has MANY genetic roots to the ROCK. I suppose I am not a fabricated Newfie after all, just a transplanted one.

I am now intrigued enough to want to do costumes that represent the time periods when my ancestors arrived in Trout River, Newfoundland…it was then known as Trout River, St. Barbe District of Newfoundland. One great, great grandmother’s name was Mary Jane Taylor prior to marrying into the Ashe family. Many tailors who had difficult to pronounce names ended up being called by their profession or hobby. So this obsession with fabric that I have at times cursed, is ingrained in the celtic knot of my DNA. There is no escaping.

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