Tuesday, October 15, 2013

One Schilling and Noe More

I picked him because his last name was Bragg. He sounded kind of gangster even though he'd been dead for more than 250 years and he was a white plantation owner from Virginia.

More specifically, he's Joseph Bragg*, alive for a full century from 1647-1747. Bragg finally got rich/desirable enough to leave behind bachelorhood when he was 42 by marrying Mary Tapp, who was just a blushing 19 year old. Despite actuarial odds, he outlived his wife by 16 years. 

This is how I imagined their wedding day.

I was doing family history research for a Church Youth activity and pulled up the family tree that my grandma from my dad's side had lovingly created. We Mormons are obsessed with tracing our ancestry and have a forest worth of family trees because we believe that families are connected forever. So I sat cross-legged on the floor, zoomed in and out throughout the centuries of our family tree and clicked at random census files of my ancestors just to look like I was doing serious genealogical research.

One kid yelled out that according to her genealogy chart she was actually some distant descendent of the King of Franks (a fairytale kingdom as far as I'm concerned but a real person according to Wiki). Huh. I figured that I would google my guy as well just to see if any living Braggs out there work in the rap music industry and sport oversized bling.

And Holy King of Franks, he's online. As in my Joseph Bragg is online.

I looked through quite a few sources, which all differed slightly on dates, to start piecing together his spunky/controlling personality and contentious family life. He owned at least 500 acres of land, five "negroes," and a tobacco plantation. He did not go to Church and was called to court for it. 

"On July 7, 1715 at Richmond County, Virginia, it was noted in the court records; "Joseph Bragg of North Farmingham Parish being summoned to answer the presentment of the Grand Jury against him for not going to Church for two months, but not appearing when called. It is ordered that he be fined one hundred pounds of tobacco and that he pay the same to the church wardens of the said parish with costs."

Yeah. Back then, they fined you tobacco for not going to Church. The Catholics should try that sometime.

I also found his will. What a gem. He probably scrunched up his wrinkly old face and gleefully penned his last words to spite some of his kids. 

"Joseph Bragg Sr [9648] left a will on January 26, 1746 at Lunenberg Parish, Richmond County, Virginia. "In the name of God Amen I Joseph Bragg Sr of Lunenberg Parish in the County of Richmond being very sick and weak but of perfect sence and memory thanks be to God for the same do make and ordain this to be my Will and Testament in the manner and from the following: that is to say first and principally I bequeath my soul to God and that gave it my body to the earth to be decently buried in a christianlike manner at the descretion of my Executor hereafter named.'

A. I give and bequeath to my son Joseph Bragg my negro girl named Mariah to him and his heirs forever with her increase only the first child of the of the said nego girl shall have that lives to be two years old it is my will and desire my young son Joseph shall have delivered to him at the age of twenty years or without lawful heirs to my son Newman Bragg and his heirs.

B. I give and it is my desire that my son Monroe Bragg shall have the plantationtha he now lives on. Together with my negroe girl Hannah to him and the lawful heirs of his body begotten and if in case this my son dye before he should without such heirs of his body to fall to my son John Bragg and his heirs.

C. I give to my daughter Elizabeth A Bragg on cow and calf.

D. I give and bequeath to my daughter Catherine Bragg one Schilling and noe more.

E. It is my will and desire that my two sons Moore and Newman Bragg should have three years schooling out of my personal estate.

F. If please to God my negro wench Whinney should have anouther child after __________

This will was probated May 4, 1747 (Ref: John Emmett Suttle, 13462 Photo Drive, Woodbridge, Virginia 22193) (Family Search)"

One schilling and noe more. John even left his daughter a pathetic momento to remind her of him. Classic.


Want to learn more about your own mean-spirited ancestors and figure out where that crazy streak in you comes from?

Just head over to www.familysearch.org for a free and super cool way to search for and create your own family tree now!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Building a Rocket

Tonight, I feel 24.

Curled up in a hotel room in Shen Zhen, soaking up the alone time when my colleagues are out scavenging for dinner, I feel too young. Too young to be powering through on a Saturday night, trying to figure out what is the bottleneck in our implementation process (and realize that maybe I'm the biggest bottleneck of all). Too inexperienced to be leading a metastasizing team with people all older than me and be somebody's boss's boss. Too weak to really do all the things I scribble down in my journal.

I'm not burned out. Because that was this summer. This time is different - I still keep moving. Meeting after meeting. Email after email. Weekend after weekend. I am slowing down though and it's painful and shameful to hear the screechiness of my own engine.

Maybe I'm just tired. But I can't sleep at night because I keep hearing our app background music play on a loop, taunting me, accusing me of sleeping so early.

We used to joke around and say that when we sign up company X, then we know we've got it made. Well, on our trip to America last month, we did just that. This is the deal that starts the snowball rolling, the momentum that will push us to the tipping point and to profitability. This is the beginning of the future of our startup.

But nobody ever tells you that the tipping point is scary as hell.

I feel like we're building a rocket after it's already left the launchpad, hoping we will not run out of fuel, find out our astronaut is crappy, or realize that the market actually wants a submarine. And somehow, somewhere, somebody thinks that I can be trusted to figure out how to build several rockets at the same time. 

To do list tomorrow: Change that background music.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reexamining Evelyn

I was raised by Filipino women. So for me going to the Philippines was like getting off the steam boat and arriving in an ancestral homeland that you had only ever heard about. Except Andrea and I had stepped off a budget airline and booked ourselves onto an eight hour bus ride across the Pilipino countryside to unplug in a little fishing town called El Nido. We wandered around a lot, got lost in curio shops and avoided chickens on our bicycles.

Street snacks like Chippy (chips) or polveron (crumbly cake) made me feel like a happy little kid again, who was rewarded for finally putting my school shoes on without a tantrum or for keeping my mouth shut/ stuffed when I watched cartoon as Evelyn, our maid, talked future plans with her fiancee on the phone. She annoyed me with her incessant stories of sunshine and happy endings. I tried to explain to her in my six year old bossy tone that she needed to stop pouring sugar over every story twist when we played pretend. Life was more like scolding nuns, school rankings and custody battles. I hated her stories because they were so naive but somehow she was hurt when I didn't buy them. Like that story about the cashew nut tree and how the nuts ended up growing hung upside down outside their protective fruit because they complained so much. Or how you should always be smiling in case the wind changed all of a sudden and your expression froze like that the rest of your life. She really believed the one story about how the more you counted your freckles, the more you would get them. She always applied face creams to "whiten" her freckles. As a weapon of last resort, I terrorized her by loudly counting her freckles when she made me take baths at night.

In a weird way, she did seem to get more freckles after each count. After I noticed that trend, I also started practicing my "wind-changing" face when she wasn't looking. Sometimes penitent, I hugged her and assured her that she was the most beautiful out of all the maids in the park because she was my Evelyn.

I figured out why she thought us playing marbles was the solution to everything. On our frequent walks back to the hostel from the bakery, Andrea and I often saw giggling filipino kids squatting outside their slated tin huts flicking marbles for hours, always narrowly missing their prized fighting roosters who looked at them indignantly from their wooden poles. I could wax philosophical about how happiness was simple there, or rather, simplicity was happiness but that would be understating what dodging torrential rains in the Philippines or laughing with our local hosts did for me in reexamining Evelyn.

I wonder if Evelyn was excited to be in a big cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong and whether she welcomed the wafts of cool air conditioning to the sticky heat in her village. She was probably lonely, so far away from her large family, and a little irrational with her love for her fiancee. She constantly verged between reading me lines from her love letters she was about to send (to help me with my English) and ranting about how men were unreliable because they just gambled away your nest egg money. Her fiancee was at once the most talented prince and the laziest artist. She peddled his drawings during Sundays after church to fellow Filipinos. My impression of him was slick hair and an exaggerated Minnie Mouse card he drew me once for my birthday. She never ended up marrying him. She never ended up married at all.

Honestly, I had never really considered Evelyn as a separate entity from me. In my selfish little six year old world, Evelyn was the nucleus of my life, there to make me happy. But I was unhappy a lot. So I chalked it up to her stories not being good enough, to her not letting me stay up late to watch TV, to her not being able to learn Cantonese as fast as I could teach her. She wasn't able to magic away my parents' divorce so I exacted revenge by being as difficult as I possibly could. But somehow her optimism was indefatigable and the stories about fishing and nuts and marbles kept coming. She really was trying to teach me to be happy and more trusting.

I fancied that whenever I turned a corner on the streets in El Nido, I would somehow bump into Evelyn selling bread or her fantastic deep fried banana fritters. Maybe she did eventually find her prince and build her dream house. Then I could finally show her what "wind-changing" face I had decided on. I think that would really make her throw her head back and laugh.

Evelyn used to make the best fried chicken in town. 

Somehow these kids were always so happy. Even when one
of their balls fell into the water.

Chickens roamed free everywhere.

A stereotypical Filipino hut. 
Wooden fences, tin roofs, and banana leaves walls.