Carleton Watkins                    Aurora Borealis


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sky, announcing the arrival of the sun.  We cannot forget that Watkins spent more than four decades of his maturity harnessing the sun in pursuit of his art for which light is the prime ingredient, hence we see him as forever Chasing Aurora

          Like all human beings, Watkins's destiny was shaped by the past as well as by the patterns of daily life where he was born and raised.  "He was inexorably shaped by the sum of his childhood experiences," my colleague Peter Palmquist wrote.[30]  New York's Susquehanna River Valley located in Otsego County [Fig 3]  west of the Catskill Mountains was a region full of contradictions with a rough and ready character combined with a sophisticated side not unlike the Far West where he spent most of his life.    

          Carleton was the first of eight children born to John M. Watkins and Julia Mc Donald Watkins, both of whom were also born and raised in the Susquehanna River Valley.  We all have four chief variables beyond our own mothers and fathers that contribute significantly to our individual attitudes and behavior:  the backgrounds of our mother's parents plus the background of our father's parents.  Thus at least four powerful influences beyond our parents must be analyzed to establish how we become who we are. These four distinct ancestral lines (mother's mother and mother's father; father's mother and father's father) are identified by the semantic conventions "maternal" and "paternal."  Let's start with what Carleton got from his mother's side of the family, his maternal ancestry, which consists of two elements, what she got from her mother (Dutch) and what she got from her father (Scotch).

          His mother's maternal ancestors, the Houghteling clan, traced their roots to early Dutch settlers around Albany of the seventeenth century.[31]  The Dutch influence in this part of New York State ran deep.  For example, the local measurement of butter was a "firkin" from the Dutch word and  following the Old World tradition nearly all women over thirty years of age either smoked tobacco in a clay pipe or took snuff.[32]

          Carleton's mother's paternal ancestors, the McDonalds, came to America from Scotland via Canada in the late eighteenth century. By virtue of the fact that his mother's paternal grandfather, James McDonald, was one of the true pioneers of the Susquehanna River Valley, Carleton's mother, Julia occupied a special place in the community.  Carleton's mother's ancestors around 1800 established a milling operation with the Susquehanna River as

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[30] Palmquist,  1887-88, p. [1].

[31] Julia McDonald's maternal great-grandfather, Mathys Coenradt Hoogteeling (b. 1644, The Netherlands) settled in Albany, New York in 1666, and was a landholder recorded in Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan, ed.,   Lists of Inhabitants of Colonial New York, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979, p. 21.

[32] Old Time Notes, p. 2011.