Columbia Library columns (v.44(1995))

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  v.44,no.1(1995:Winter): Page [11]  

A Columbia Family

Francis J. Sypher, Jr.


-n all societies, history and myth are

intenvoven. No less so in the United States, where historical stereotypes are
often accepted as historical truths. This pattern is reflected in family history as
well as in national histor)'. There are aristocratic lords of the manor, like the Van
Rensselaers; dynastic families of great wealth and influence, like the
Rockefellers; and families in which a Horatio Alger figure, like Ragged Dick,
the match boy, figures prominenfly—he starts out with ever)' disad\'antage, and
with hard work and a littie pluck and luck, he overcomes all obstacles. There
are images of hardy colonists with their log cabins in the woods; of equally
hardy pioneers heading west in their prairie schooners; and of the penniless
immigrant irom overseas, who arrives alone and friendless on the shores of
America and builds a brilliant new life in die land of opportunity, while the
immigrant's descendants are destined to enjoy unlimited "upward mobilit)'."

But these stereotypical images give no hint of the existence of families like
mine, who, as far back as I can trace them in Ajnerica—through more than a
dozen generations in some lines—show (with few exceptions) no powerful aris¬
tocrats, no rags-to-riches stories, no riches-to-rags stories, no heroic tales of the
hardships of immigration or settiement. Generation after generation, they are
  v.44,no.1(1995:Winter): Page [11]