Geologists to some extent, but more so Physicists and Astronomers have a concept called DEEP TIME. They are thinking not in terms of thousands of years, that are fairly easy for us to grasp, or in terms of even millions of years. They think about billions of years, even 13 billion or more.
I can say that I understand the period of time they are talking about, but when it comes right down to it; I think that it is an impossible idea to grasp for any of us.
The Big Bang, the formation of the sun and all of its planets, all of these concepts are why we have a god in our minds. They are concepts beyond our understanding. Don't believe anyone who says they do understand it.
We, as amateur Genealogists, have our own concept of Deep Time.
Some of us, especially young people, cannot even imagine a time without computers, without planes, or cars. The idea of a world war in our past is only an abstract concept that some of us just take on faith, because we cannot even understand the period of time that has passed since then.
I do not know about you, but I can easily imagine Grammie's father putting out to sea in a far too small boat with a triangular sail.... and ending up in Portugal. Of course I know he mostly did short hauls around the Thyrennian, but that does not stop my imagining Portugal.
He wears a knit stocking cap, not unlike what we sometimes wear today in the winter, but perhaps floppier.
He is eating the hard tack and dried salted fish that his wife packed in barrels for him. Table wines and water are stored in demijohns or casks for him to drink, and of course there are raisins.
If he tires of the dried food he can always fish for fresh over the side.
There are lemons in big baskets to keep scurvy away and figs to keep his bowels in order. There is also a jar of olives, that he put up in salt brine from the salt pans of Salina, to munch on along with the fresh bread and Feta like cheese that will last a few days on his trip before he will be restricted to the preserved foods.
Beyond that, I can envision my ancestors with long hose and Codpieces below short coats cinched tight at the waist. I see them too, in long heavy robes of silk and velvet in some branches of the family, and others in homespun wool, all keeping warm in the little ice age when even in Sicily, it was chilly enough to wear such things in part of the summer.
I can see our ancestors and some that were almost our ancestors dreading the coming of the plagues that would kill almost half of them in the 13 and 14 hundreds. Of course, I can just see ancestors with our present day body types in shoes with long pointed toes. The toes were so long that they had to tie the pointed ends to their knees to keep from tripping over them.
I can see the Cafarellas coming to Italy by sea from Constantinople, when peace in the empire meant that there was little work for military men. In Italy the turmoil of all the little city states and the constant territory envy of the French and Germans, and the Pope defending against them, kept them busy along with Crusading.
Here, my imagination gives out on the Italian side. Not because I do not believe that they were this or that...rich or poor, master or servant, lord or serf; I just don't see them farther back.
The British side I see in their manor houses in Shropshire, battling the Welsh along the border. I see them knowing the king personally, and paying homage to their overlords who in turn payed homage to the king.
I see the Corbet branch of the family coming over with William the Conqueror from Normandy, a part of Normandy in the country not far north of Paris on the channel.
I see them too, with axes in their hands sailing up the Seine and other rivers in shallow draft ships from their homeland in Denmark, with a large, black raven on helmet and shield.
There, the images fade.
I cannot even imagine how or where they lived in Denmark, and for some reason I cannot envision the same events that happened in other branches of the English and Norman family that became the Mitchells and Jones' from New Brunswick.
But what about Deep Time for us ordinary folk.
I have been rereading an old favorite of mine called "Sarum" by Edward Rutherfurd.
It may be hard to lay your hands on outside the thrift shops and the library, but it is well worth the read and the effort to find. It is giving me(especially now that I have a better handle on my English side) a feeling of connection to the past that I never had before.
I take that back.
There was one night...in the 1980s I think, when Halley's comet was due. I saw it and was very pleased to have done so, but I was outside in Wiscasset, in the middle of the street, looking at another comet that was passing near at that time. I do not remember its name.
I looked up at it over my neighbor's roof. I stood there a little too long with my face pointing up. Perhaps I was a bit dizzy as a result, but I suddenly felt like I was on a moving sphere. I felt the Earth moving below my feet, and the moving in sync with the comet, the moon and everything else. The feeling of connection of being a part of it all flooded over me and I stood there in the middle of the street in tears. Perhaps this is what it was like a couple of thousand years ago to have a religious revelation. But just that one night...I felt like I was part of something greater and deeper in time that I can rationally imagine. It sounds a little crazy, but there it is.
I have never felt that way again.
I go to my sister's house in the woods in Maine. We look up at the stars so thick that you can almost see the star maps by them. I hope it will happen again...But it doesn't.
I imagine people the first time they see their child's face would feel a bit like that. I feel a deeper connection to all of you...family, and almost family, because I understand a little of OUR FAMILIES' DEEP TIME.
So what is deep time
in human terms? I can easily speculate on the origins of my British
Isles family in deep time. On one side they were stone and bronze age hunters
on the tundras of northern Britain, much like in the book Sarum. they had
originated in central Europe and in turn the middle east as discussed
later. But, when the Romans arrived, they were driven into the mountains of
Wales and into Ireland by a people who had little respect for religions other
than their own and for any peoples who resisted their will.
The Normans who
later replaced the Germanic invaders(Angles Saxons and Jutes), their own cousins
in fact, came from France, then in turn from Denmark and prior to that the
Steppes of Russia or the "STAN" republics of the former Soviet Union. They
had, prior to that, migrated from the northern reaches of the Indian
Subcontinent and the Middle East(many thousands of years before the Bible,
though probably not before some of the stories from the Bible), and before that
the North Eastern quarter of Africa.
The Italian side was probably all over
the map. They were of course also from the "STANS" and the Middle East, but
they were living at the Conquest Crossroads of the world. Every Barbarian newly
arrived from the Steppes or Hungary, Every Arab, every renegade religious sect,
the Greeks and Romans, the pirates from Greece and North Africa and
every Medieval nation of the Old World tried to gain a foothold in Italy and in
We cannot truly trace our families to any one group with
certainty. We can speculate that we are related to the Romans. It would seem
to make sense, but how many tribes and nations traipsed across Italy in the
last 1500 years to replace existing populations with their own kind, and their
Some of these groups married local boys and girls, but many
replaced the local population...So who are we really?
The only real
answer to our Italian Deep Time questions will be DNA testing. This is
something I hope to do with my family someday...when I can afford it. This is
the only hope of us understanding who we are.
Ultimately, we are
all Africans, most recently, probably from the northeast of the
continent(Perhaps Ethiopia or Somalia, certainly not far from the Great Rift
Valley, but ultimately from central or southern regions of the continent. This
is our collective EDEN...More of a jungle or Savanna than a garden really, and
there were no apples there, allegorical or otherwise.