Holiday Greetings, everyone --
For just over 30 years, I've been chasing ancestors and casting my net widely to catch loose "cousins" down as far as 12th, thrice-removed.
I have mountains of paper files, books, maps, and photos. I have my great-grandparents' wedding portrait, my granddaddy's WWI discharge, and even my uncle's birth announcement telegram framed on my wall. I have travelled to remote foreign villages to meet the ancient widow of my deceased father-in-law's first cousin and his other elderly kin, dragging interpreters with me and side-stepping geese in the wagon tracks in front of their homes.
I used to spend hours walking in graveyards, poring through old courthouse records, going blind reading microfilm, and sitting on front porches drinking tea ("iced" assumed, if you're a southerner) while talking to little old ladies and men about their far-flung kinfolks.
But, somewhere along the way, computers happened. They begat the genealogy database programs, which begat GEDCOM sharing. About the same time, Fidonet, USEnet, and the Roots-L mailing list came into my life, followed quickly by Prodigy's bulletin boards. I was able to share information with people all over the world in a few hours. My 300-baud modem became my prized possession.
Also along the way, I got involved in genealogical societies, museum/library/archives volunteering, teaching classes, and many more activities that let me expand my knowledge of other places and other folks' genealogies. I know purt near everybody who lived in Perry Township 150 years ago, but my own granddaddy's mama is just a name on a piece of paper.
Nowadays, I get all excited when I find another on-line researcher -- possibly kin, possibly collateral -- who's got info about my people. I can't wait to open my e-mail and get the instant gift of dozens of information bytes to add to my databases, properly cited as to source...and follow-up with my own on-line research as much as possible to confirm their correctness. If it's not available on-line, through e-mail, or by phone these days, however, the data gets flagged &qupt;need to confirm." The database report of "flagged" items seems to get longer, instead of shorter.
I happily spend hours and hours creating and updating Web sites and managing discussion fora (forums) for the benefit of others. I get a vicarious thrill out of reading helpful messages from on-line mentors to "newbies," knowing the "newbies" are receiving the invaluable gift of research laid in their laps.
Once upon a time, I would drive 200 miles to attend a viewing and funeral of an old person, just for the opportunity to meet distant kinfolks. I would discreetly hand out cards with my name and address in exchange for the names and addresses of people I would immediately send pedigree charts and family group sheets to complete.
This week, I missed the viewing and funeral of my papaw's first-cousin, who died at 93 and whom I hadn't sat on a porch with in 20 years, simply because I was worn out from holiday activities and "life." Think of all the kinfolks I could've met and added to my e-mail address book -- not to mention my database and paper files (hardcopy backup)! Gone is the day when I would've handwritten their names into a record book.
Suddenly, it seems, I'm the one telling stories of our ancestors to the young adults and children in my own family. I realize time is passing too quickly. Thirty years ago, I challenged mortality and challenged the blanks in my family tree with fervor. Now, however, I am beginning to realize I won't live long enough to resolve all the ancestral mysteries from my first, tentative stabs at this lifetime addiction called family history research. I'm looking for someone(s) in the next generation I can mentor and pass along my stuff to for him/her to continue.
Have I lost my passion? Is a vicarious thrill all that's left? Can I still call myself a Family Historian?
As my husband and I decorate our Christmas tree tonight, lovingly hanging ornaments that are mementoes of people and times past, these will be the questions I ponder.
Perhaps I am not alone...