April Fools Day – Where and Why?

An April fool is still a fool, just one conditioned to only being a fool on one day a year – George Revere

Tomasz Glupi, not a name many people have heard of, yet today he is celebrated the world over by millions and has been for the past millennium, who is he? Well let me explain.
Quite often in our Blogs we use the term ‘shrouded in the mists of time’, this is basically because we like the term and can’t be bothered to think of anything else to adequately explain what we mean, basically lazy writing! But for once we don’t have to use this expression, because despite being a tale from over a thousand years ago, it is so well-documented, has its origins in central Europe and has long passed into legend.

Mieszko 1 of Poland

So let me take you back to 966AD, one hundred years before the Battle of Hastings, and the formation of what is now considered to be modern Poland under the Piast dynasty and the ruler Mieszko I. Mieszko was a Christian and was foremost in converting the country to Christianity. He was a strange man known to have a split personality, extremely intelligent but prone to rages one minute and moments of pure generosity the next. He was also known to be one of the biggest benefactors to a system promoting learning, education and health, centuries before the Renaissance. If anyone summed up the terms Despot and benevolent Dictator, it was Mieszko, and because of the great Icelandic scribe Ég Skrifa Rusl, his life is so well documented that it is known that De Vinci, Newton and Einstein to name but a few, all read his works and were started on some of their theories by his early principles. Novelists have also been affected, Robert Louis Stevenson’s with the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps the best known example of a modern interpretation of his life, but throughout the century’s literature has always touched upon his life. Chaucer’s Lionus et Richites is thought to be an elegy dedicated to Mieszko and Shakespeare long lost work the tragicomedy Menelaus and Griffinae was supposed to be based on Mieszko’s rise to power.

Thomasz Glupi

Perhaps no better example of Mieszko’s split personality would have been the execution and then beautification of Tomasz Glupi. Tomasz was born to peasant farmers in the area now known as Kuyavian-Pomeranian. He was a hardworking, intelligent lad who had one defining talent; he had an innate ability to make people laugh. He was described in a later work by the Danish historian Arild Huitfeldt as the archetypical jester, but perhaps this was a bit unfair on Tomasz, as he certainly was much more able than the classic Middle-Age jester. By the time he was twenty he was known locally as To Kompletna Smieci and was already coming to the attention of the local Baron and Overlord, Jak Rozparovač. The Baron, like most of the nobility that time, had to donate heavily, through taxes, to support Mieszko and the running of the country. He was perpetually broke and always looking at ways of increasing his income. He recognised the talents of Tomasz and bought him in to set up a series of Komedijos klubai across his territories. Komedijos klubai were small schools where pupils would learn about the basics of life and humour intending to help them better themselves. These were some of the first known schools in the western world and were based on Chinese Yǒuqù de xiǎo guīmó de xuéxiào, small schools of learning and humour, something that had never been tried before. Tomasz was ecstatic with this new task as it had been something he had been dreaming about from a very early age. Initially the premise was a good one, the local population would pay a small fee of one kupie nic to have their children educated. Unfortunately though the Baron was a greedy man and soon the fees became prohibitive and life ruining, especially to those locked into contracts. Tomasz was a good man and hated to see what was happening, but for fear of losing his life could do nothing, at least openly! But, being a clever man he soon set about discrediting the Baron and set about planning an elaborate scam to rid the country of Baron Rozparovač once and for all. At this time in Poland, Christianity was gaining a substantial foothold in the country but pagan beliefs were still widespread and legends and folklore still held a place in people’s thoughts and imagination. Tomasz played on this using his schools to start the rumour of untold riches to be found at the end of that natural phenomenon, the Rainbow. In the 10th Century no-one was able to explain the rainbow, being a Christian, Tomasz thought it foretold of terrestrial life never again being destroyed by a great flood, but he knew of the old pagan myths that the rainbow is the jewelled necklace of the Great Mother Ishtar that she lifts into the sky as a promise that she will never forget these days of the great flood that destroyed her children. By careful and cautious gossip he was able to convince people that untold riches were to be discovered at the end of a rainbow and it didn’t take long for this to be bought to the attention of Baron Rozparovač. The Baron was an avaricious man and despite being a recently converted Christian still held much of the old pagan beliefs to be true. True to form, when the next substantial rainbow arrived he mounted a great expedition to go in search of the treasure that lay at its foot. Encouraged by Tomasz he borrowed a fortune from moneylenders and had put all his remaining money in to trying to work out where the rainbow finished. He employed priests, soothsayers, seers and oracles from across the land for this purpose, all were coerced by Tomasz to make sure the Baron believed that the treasure could be found. Armed with all this knowledge the Baron set off on what was eventually prove to be a fruitless journey, gone for over five years he returned a broken man, his expedition having suffered disease, pestilence and famine and of course he found no treasure. In the intervening years Tomasz had founded a local co-operative that had flourished and become the powerful influence in people’s lives in the absence of the Baron. The Baron, broken and penniless, had to sell his land just to pay back the moneylenders and of course it was the co-operative and Tomasz who were the only people who could afford to buy it. The Baron became a laughing stock and would be forever known as the man who went looking for the treasure at the end of a Rainbow. While becoming a famous Polish folk hero, this was not the reason he is celebrated today, it took King Mieszko and his split personality to do that.

The locals were joyous, they had overthrown the Baron, they weren’t being taxed to high heaven and all was good with the world. Tomasz was a local hero and had married the Baron’s step-daughter, but Tomasz was about to suffer a cruel twist of fate. Unbeknown to him Mieszko was keeping a close eye on the Baron’s expedition for he had invested a large sum and was not happy at its outcome. He didn’t care about the Baron, but was enraged when he found out that it had been a clever ploy by Tomasz to ruin the Baron and that no such treasure existed. Four weeks after his 31st birthday Tomasz Glupi finally found out that having an innate ability to make people laugh and a natural gift for pulling off scams was not enough to prevent him being hung, drawn and quartered and his head being displayed for all to see on a spike at the City gates. The local people were distraught, Tomasz was a good man and hadn’t deserved this, they petitioned Mieszko, and the King, in one of his enlightened moments, saw that Tomasz had only the good of the people at his heart. He declared that Tomasz would be forever remembered on his birthday and that the day would be called Glupi Dzień, Tomasz was born on April 1st. Glupi would be forever known, perhaps unfairly for Tomasz, as Fool in English. But the joke was by him, not on him and his place in history remains, to this day, celebrated by everyone who plays a joke on April Fool’s Day.
For the full story, which extends to an epic of 997 pages please see Ég Skrifa Rusl full works, Ef þú varðst fyrir þetta, verður þú að trúa öllu.


Upset with the Ancestors – Don’t be!

Ancestors are the family you get to know without the inconvenience of having to visit for Sunday lunch – George Revere

Do you ever get really annoyed with your ancestors? I mean it’s not a calculated ploy on their part, I’m sure. They didn’t set out to deliberately aggravate you or even mildly exasperate you, but I’m sure like me you have ended up cursing them for all their lackadaisical efforts at keeping even the most basic of records. I mean how hard could it have been, just to keep just a few fundamental records for your descendents, not that difficult surely? I’m not talking about the basic building blocks of genealogy, the Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, the Census, they speak for themselves. I’m talking about all the other more personal objects, the letters, the family bible, medals, household bills, wage slips, pretty much anything that could have helped us, the interested progeny, to more thoroughly record their lives.

And to be perfectly honest, they weren’t that great at the basics either. How many times have you trawled through the Census or the BMD registers, in the hunt for that elusive name? What do we blame it on, laziness, illiteracy, ignorance, cost? To tell the truth it doesn’t really matter because in reality it could have been anyone of those reasons plus a hundred more. What it does mean though is that we, the descendant or genealogist, are left picking up the pieces to try and solve the puzzle another way and to be honest that’s what makes our profession/hobby so fascinating.

But this did get me thinking, are we any different? What have you put in place to make sure your descendants have it a bit easier? Sure, the Census is a lot more detailed now, but the 2011 version could well be the last one, and that won’t be available for 100 years! Birth, Marriage and Death certificates are compulsory now, unlike the first 37 years of registration, so that is an improvement, but how much will they cost? What about letters or diaries? Our ancestors, despite my previous procrastinations, did actually write to each other and keep diaries about their daily lives and those that survive are a great source of information. Do we write letters? Well not so much, we most likely use the modern equivalent, email, texting and any number of social media platforms. In essence we are communicating through the power of the written word, albeit mostly in sound bites. These basically are small chunks of information that if put together would create such a vivid picture for our descendents that they could actually walk side by side with us on our journey. How great would that be?

Of course the only problem is what happens to these small, almost insignificant chunks? They are out there, on some unknown server on the other side of the world, but have you got them, have you stored them anywhere? I know I haven’t! I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years now; I’ve been on Twitter for 7 years and how many emails have sent in the last 15 years? I have nothing, nil, nada, zilch, up to this point I have totally let my descendants down, everything I have ever sent electronically is now floating in the ether somewhere probably never to be retrieved. It’s sad and I imagine this is the same for most of us.

However there is hope out there, if you are so inclined. For all your big social media accounts, you can now download archives, usually from the settings page. There are any number of tools that will allow you to save your info, as well as organisations dedicated to help you or your company save all that precious data.

So when you next can’t find that elusive ancestor, just reverse the situation and think what you are doing to preserve your memory, what you need to save and how you are going to save it. And then make an effort to keep those electronic chunks of information. Remember; think of your descendants like you wish your ancestors had thought of you.