Friday, August 22, 2008

Now THAT's an Interesting Branch!

Always curious about those who came before me, I was recently researching a part of my family tree on Dad’s side. I came across a book written by George, a great grandson of my 5 times Great Grandfather. According to George, his own father had written to a cousin William, who lived in London, to inquire about the origins of the family name. The book simply refers to William as a respected astronomer. By the tone of George’s book, I knew this was meant to indicate that William was an educated man.

I’d always been told Dad’s family immigrated to America from England {Berkley in Gloucestershire to be precise]. In his reply to George’s father however, William advised the clan had actually originated in Holland. It wasn’t the religious persecution which had caused them to flee Holland that caught my eye. It was cousin William.

Yep, there goes my curiosity again.

I’d made a quick note of cousin William’s name so I could utilize that “Go look it up” mentality Mom ingrained in me. William was educated all right. To begin with, he was Sir William Huggins. And that “astronomer” title? His official designation was “Spectrographic Astronomy Pioneer.”

In 1856 Sir William built a private observatory at Tulse Hill in the south of London. Becoming bored with the “ordinary”, Sir William accepted a challenge which led him to discover spectrum analysis and the chemical make up of stars. Later in the same year he experimented with documenting stars with photography. But the method was a messy one, leading Sir William to develop a new technique which allowed longer exposures of light. This allowed him to render photos of celestial objects previously invisible to the naked eye, even when using the most powerful telescope. Sir William’s techniques and research revolutionized observational astronomy. He was also ahead of his time: his laboratory assistant was his wife Margaret. In fact, his findings were published conjointly with Margaret, quite a feat for a lady in those days. He was awarded many honors, both scientific and academic, and was knighted in 1897.

Ironically, for his contribution to my family tree, I was saddened to learn Sir William and Margaret were childless. Sir William is survived however by craters on both the Moon and Mars which are named after him, as well as an asteroid referred to as “Minor Planet #2635”.

Cue the little voice in my head as it smirks, “Gee, what did YOU do today to aid mankind?”

Well ironically my work facility is called the “Spectrum Sr. Citizens Center.” I’m the Director [and the entire staff], but I guess that’s as close to spectrum analysis as I’ll ever get.

I’m sure Sir William lives on in those he taught and encouraged. And maybe, just maybe, there’s some family gene that Sir William and I share. I’d say it’s called curiosity.

1 comment:

Rachel Fox said...

Great find! You are now Lady Hope!

Sir William Huggins sounds so Pygmalion...and Tulse Hill...I used to live quite near there a while back...

I love the sound of spectrum analysis...better than specimen analysis any day.