Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Water, water, everywhere . . .

Water, Water Everywhere . . .
No this is not a commentary on the rain that keeps drenching Northeast Ohio, but a reflection on my attraction to water, or to be more precise, the edges of water.  Unlike most of my friends and family, however, I am drawn, not to tropical beaches, but to the northern shores of the Great Lakes, the rocky beaches off the coast of Massachusetts, and the deep, cool, water of the Pacific Northwest.  It is possible that growing up within a few miles of Lake Erie has a lot to do with this attraction, but the more I learn about my ancestors the more I am convinced that there is some ancestral memory at work here as well.

My last post was a brief sketch about Laura Marsh, daughter of John Marten Marsh and Laura Althea Klapp, two of my great-great grandparents, both of whom were born and raised near the water.  Here is a brief look at this couple.

John Marten Marsh (1835-1913) was born in Dover, Kent, England on the shores of the English Channel.  His grandfather, also named John, owned and managed “Marshes Royal Baths,” where he provided patrons with “bathing machines” and changing facilities for a very complicated and cumbersome, but popular, method of pseudo-swimming.  For more photos and information on this fascinating business see or

In 1849 John’s father, another John (go figure!) and his wife Priscilla Marten, and their five children immigrated to the United States on the ship “Devonshire.”  They lived in Greenwich Village for a couple of years, and then moved to Brooklyn.  John Marten Marsh married a woman from Staten Island (more about her in a minute) he served in the Civil War, and moved to Ohio after the war, first to Akron, then finally to Cleveland where he lived for the rest of his life.  So, John started his life within walking distance of the English Channel, lived his young adult years on two islands (Manhattan and Long Island) and lived his final years within a few miles of Lake Erie, and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery.

John’s wife, Laura Althea Klapp (1840-1920) was born in Port Richmond, a small town along the north shore of Staten Island.  Laura’s lineage includes the Van Name, Van Pelt, Banta and Van Winkle families, among others.  Her Dutch ancestors came from a land that carved itself from the sea.  She grew up on Staten Island when the only way to travel to New York City or Brooklyn was by boat.  Many of her relatives earned their living from the oysters that they pulled from the bay.  They were in love with, dependent upon, and often engaged in a struggle with the water that surrounded them.

(Full disclosure here: while I love being near large bodies of water I rarely go out on the water since I suffer from extreme seasickness!!!  I can handle large ferries and cruise ships but small boats are not my friends.  Unfortunately, I did not inherit sea legs from my sailor ancestors.)

So, the question remains; do the geophysical surroundings of our ancestors leave an imprint that is passed down in our DNA?  Do we feel drawn to particular physical features or terrain because of our ancestral memory?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it is an intriguing possibility.  

One final note: my mother’s family hails from southwestern Virginia amidst the beautiful Appalachians.  So, besides the sea, guess what other geophysical features call to me?


  1. I'm truly impressed how deep into your family heritage you are, I wish I could be like that!! Can't wait to read more :)

  2. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family sagas
    and "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

  3. Judy - I enjoyed your post about the water. I live just 20 minutes south of the Canadian border in Washington state and love being near the water. I found you on the Geneablogger's website and look forward to reading more about your research!


  4. I think there may be some genetic component. Long before my husband knew anything about his ancestry the was a calling to the sea. We moved from So. Cal. to VA / MD and he now has a sailboat and frequents the Chesapeake bay. His ancestor: a ship captain based in Philadelphia in the late 1600's and later a plantation in MD.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)