Friday, December 26, 2008


For those of you who aren't genealogists, I know you can't possibly understand that researching family trees can be a very happy thing. It is happy not only when you are researching your own family but also when you are researching for someone else.

A good friend in San Francisco, Nancy, has been tearing her hair out trying to find some additional details on her ancestor Isaac Morris. Now you'd think with such a name, it would be fairly easy to find the right Isaac Morris in the right place. I mean after all, his name isn't James Smith -- who is almost impossible to find. But actually, when you get into the research mode, there are way too many Isaac Morrises in New Jersey and in Butler County, Ohio in the time period Nancy is looking for. So last night she and I had quite a workout thinking about how to get more information on old Isaac. This morning I found a website for her that with any kind of luck will provide the name of Isaac's father. This isn't a sure thing, but finding it sure made me happy and I am hoping it will make Nancy happy too.

This morning I was still thinking about Morris - and remembered that I had just recently taken two pictures out of my photo album for use in a future Blog. These pictures were of Morris dancers we saw in England. So one happy Morris now becomes two happy Morrises.

In 1985 Jerry and I made a three-week driving trip around England. I had plotted the route to make sure we saw all the things that were on my "must see" list -- such as Oxford and Cambridge universities, Stonehenge, Penzance, the lake district and other such places. Beyond that, we were open to see what we could see along this wandering route. We did find some marvelous things but my favorite was unexpectedly stumbling upon some Morris Dancers performing on the wet streets of a tiny village called Reath.

Now if you can believe what Wikipedia says (and sometimes you can't, but this matter really isn't so important that you need to toss it out) A morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers. Implements such as sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. In a small number of dances for one or two men, steps are performed near and across a pair of clay tobacco pipes laid across each other on the floor.

There are claims that English records of the morris dance dating back to 1448 exist, but these are open to dispute. There is no mention of "morris" dancing earlier than the late 15th century, although early records such as
Bishops' "Visitation Articles" mention sword dancing, guising and other dancing activities as well as mumming plays. Furthermore, the earliest records invariably mention "Morys" in a court setting, and both men and women are mentioned as dancing, and a little later in the Lord Mayors' Processions in London. It is only later that it begins to be mentioned as something performed in the parishes. There is certainly no evidence that it is a pre-Christian ritual, as is often claimed.

We had stopped to gas up (or actually petrol up) our rented car on the outskirts of Reath, having no intention of even stopping in the town. But we heard some amazing music coming from just a wee bit down the road and in following the sound we came upon these two groups having a display of their dancing. Behind the group was a coterie of musicians on rustic instruments, providing the really lovely music for the dancers.

The view of these dancers totally transported me to medieval England and standing there was like a trip back in time. It was what I would call a real serendipity, and for me was one of the absolute standout things I experienced in England. There was only a small group of onlookers and I'm sure it was easy for the locals to tell that we were vacationers. Upon the conclusion of the dancing, one of the men in green pulled a bell from the front of his stockings and gave it to me for a little remembrance. I still have it, and I'm sure when I depart this earth my kids are going to wonder why I kept a single little bell in my china cabinet.

Anyway, you can see that one Morris has led to another Morris - and provided the means for me to make a nice happy blog for a happy day after Christmas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you are near San Francisco yourself there are some morris dance sides there. There's usually a big May Day gathering at dawn there. For any part of the country just google the name of the city and "morris dancing" and the city, or go to for a list of teams world-wide.