The Washerwoman’s Genes

September 28, 2006


Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 10:58 am

This postcard is what is known as a real-picture card, based not on a commercial photo but a “real picture.” I don’t know much more than that about how such cards were generated.


The house here seems to be set in an orchard. Its wood-frame structure is symmetrical and modestly classic, with a large side-porch. It’s well-kept, down to the flower boxes at the windows. The road runs right up to its door. There is no sign, but it seems the house has a name, “Seek-No-Further.” The postcard seems almost an invitation to respite.

Finding this card sent me into a spasm of research. Could I locate such a house or farm in Port Ewen? The town is now largely residential, although it’s conceivable there could still be a farm or two there—there are many in the larger township of Esopus. And what about the name? It seemed to be more appropriate for an inn or hotel than a farmhouse.

We all want to come to rest, we genealogists, at a place where we need “seek no further,” where all our quests are satisfied. Of course, that would be nirvana, and nirvana is not available at this time. And would we truly be happy there, without the suspense, the intensity of working over a new set of records, the discipline of studying old documents, the concentration we exert delving back in time?

My research eventually discovered that “seek-no-further” is an ancient American apple which was developed in Connecticut. It is often called the Westfield Seek-No-Further and dates back before 1800. The Backyard Orchardist (“Apple information to its core”) calls this heirloom fruit “an old favorite dessert apple and an excellent keeper.”* It is, or would be thought, the be-all and end-all of apples.

More seeking turned up the Biblical reference for “seek no further.” In his Homilies on Second Thessalonians, fourth-century bishop John Chrysostom speaks to the admonition by Paul in 2 Thessalonions (2:15) to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught . . .” Chrysostom re-enforces that “there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief.”

Believing the old tales about our forebears is exactly what genealogists try to avoid. Among genealogy hobbyists there’s a heck of a lot of adopting ancestors on the basis of a wish and a prayer. Genealogical societies emphasize establishing a chain of evidence and keeping strict records to prove true bloodlines.

Of course, the Bishop was not referring in this passage to tracing ancestors. His straightforward, eloquent evocation of the value of belief is compelling in its way. I must take exception. Believing what tradition tells you has its pitfalls, all across the board. Look at our world, with traditional beliefs distorting and even destroying lives. Look at the nonsense that is widely believed, look at the vapidity of the process behind “belief” –gut feelings as to what is true seems to account for half of the world’s philosophies and slavish adherence to beliefs learned as children the rest. How many people think—i.e., collect evidence and use analysis—for themselves? How many “seek further”?

*Stilphen, George A. “What varieties do I want?” published on the All About Apples website. variety1.htm


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