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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Language Lesson: Diaspora

Diaspora, you say?  What is that?  It sounds like a bit of an awkward word.  I've seen this word infrequently used when it comes to my family tree research.  However, I do think that it is important to utilize this word when talking about different aspects of migration which is a part of each person's genealogy.

"The movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established homeland"......"scattering, dispersion"....."people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location"...."the settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside of Palestine after the Babylonian exile"..... "Jewish people living outside of Israel"...."Any group migration or flight from a country or region"......"Any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland, especially involuntarily, as in Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade".

Above are a variety of definitions that were found online for diaspora.  I found the word used most frequently relating to Jewish people who live outside of Israel and their plight.  It is actually a Greek word.



I decided to check a very old dictionary that sits in my living room.  It's a Webster from 1937.....and....it...is... thick.  The dictionary itself was in the Treasurer's Office of Napa County.  My grandfather, Richard J. Flanagan, retired as they were getting ready to move the office from the historical courthouse building to a new Napa County building around 1979-80.  They were planning to "chuck" the dictionary so my grandfather brought it home.  I'm rather glad he did.

Anyway......The definition according to Webster's is as follows:  ".....a dispersion...to spread abroad, scatter through, and to scatter, sow.... Biblically, the dispersion spoken of in Peter and James.  The former refers to those who were dispersed in the countries of Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Asia, and Cappadocia; but this latter more indefinitely addresses the twelve tribes scattered abroad."

So, I'm left with a rather grandiose batch of words that seem to boil down to spreading out throughout the world.  Where does this leave me in relationship to genealogy?  Well, migration is a big part of it.  If you're in Ireland, you might see it called "The Irish coming home from abroad."  It is a bit of campaign to promote tourism but also to help each person specifically identify their own family origins and heritage in these countries.

The 19th-century Irish diaspora is a great example of this concept.  The famine in Ireland caused a huge number of the population to emigrate to countries including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  The diaspora itself is seen in the sheer number of people who claim Irish Ancestry.

There are other examples of diaspora for various ethnic groups and nationalities.  In fact, the list is quite extensive online reaching over 100 groups and spanning at least a few thousand years of recorded history.

Recent history is not without exception.  Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, tens of thousands of Iraqis have fled their homeland.  The example expands further into modern day catastrophes including Hurricane Katrina.  A significant number of evacuees never did make it back to New Orleans.

Whether mother nature calls the shots or human intervention pushes people out, the dispersion of people has gone on since the beginning of human civilization.  Considering diaspora and utilizing this word in genealogy becomes paramount in the continued success of my own research.  I look forward to finding more of my roots and their true origins.  Hopefully, that will mean going to the "homelands" of my ancestors.

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