Sure it’s genealogy; it’s just not mine!

I don’t know what it’s been about the past few weeks, but I’ve been somewhat inundated with emails stemming from this blog recently. Now, when I say “inundated,” okay, it’s still only been about one a week or so. (I think there have been 4 or 5 separate reach-out emails in the past month.) But that still seems like “a lot” when sometimes it’s weeks or months in between receiving those kind of communications.

It was a variety this time, too:

  • One was thanking me for the Howard Forrer story. (You’re so welcome; thank you for enjoying it!)
  • One was: Can I use your  Bessie Tomlin article in this non-commercial digital history project I’m doing? (Yes you can, thanks for asking first, & your project sounds awesome!)
  • Two were family history related: Do you know anything about my rather noteworthy Dayton relative so-and-so? (No, actually, I don’t, but here are some suggestions of where else to look.)

I love these. You have no idea.

Not just because they make me feel like a rock star for (apparently) writing an interesting story or a well-researched history or bio sketch. But because it’s proof positive that there’s somebody else out there who cares about these people, places, and events.

Sure, hypothetically, I know that such people probably exist out there somewhere. And sure, I see the search terms on my blog statistics page that tell me people are looking for these things (and finding me). But when you sit down to actually take the time and write me an email — even if it seems half selfish because you’re really writing to ask me something — it makes  my day. And I’m happy to help you if I can.

But getting back to the title of this post. Over the past couple of years with the blog, based on the emails and comments I receive, usually with reference to the people I write about, I often have people asking me if these are my relatives. I guess it’s because they can tell that I’ve taken much care to write these lovingly detailed biographical sketches of them. After all, why would anyone do that if it wasn’t their own family?

Well, the short answer is that I did all that research in order to write the the biographical sketch portion of archival manuscript finding aids, and my boss gave me permission to re-post them here, my intention being additional discoverability for the collections. To write these biographical sketches, I used the collections themselves (duh, what better than a primary source right there in my hands?!) as well as genealogy research techniques to fill in the “Wait, who’s Aunt Sarah?”-type gaps. (You can read the longer versions of essentially this same explanation in my posts from May 21, 2012, and Sept. 2, 2011.)

But anyway—again—why would anyone go to such lengths to write these detailed, foot-noted, multi-page biographical sketches? After all–you caught me, fellow archivists–I admit they are probably longer and much more detailed than what was strictly necessary to fulfill my obligation of providing some biographical/historical context for the researcher via the finding aid.

But I can’t help it. I love these people. These wonderful, colorful, real people, who lived in the past, whose papers, whose stories, I’m holding in my hands (unless it’s photos- then in my gloved hands). They suck me in. I want to know them. I want to “get” them. Who are they? How do they fit together- with this “stuff”? with the other people they talk about? with the community where they live? Er, I mean, lived.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of genealogy anyway. My grandma got me started on it, and I’ve been interested in it — oh dear God, I just did the math at this very moment — over half my life. But unfortunately, I couldn’t write such detailed biographical sketches about most of my own ancestors (at least, ones from the same time period as the Bio Sketches I’ve written here), even if I wanted to — and believe me, if I could, I would.

But I just don’t know their stories. And I don’t have the diaries and letters and other documents needed to “fill in the blanks” in between the official records (birth/death records, census, city directory, etc.). The manuscripts I would need just don’t exist. Or, if they do, I haven’t found the relative that’s stowed them away yet.

So, if you’re one of my relatives and you’re holding out on me, now would be a good time to speak up, please. I swear I won’t try to guilt you into giving me the docs; I just want a look. (And probably some photocopies.)

And while we’re at it, same goes for the owner of Sarah (Howard) Forrer‘s diary. It’s mentioned in other sources, but it’s currently “lost to history.” If anyone has it, I’d love to see it.

And there I go again, getting wound up about the history of people who aren’t even my relatives. Which seems to baffle the genealogists who email me, thinking they must have found a distant cousin in this girl who has made such an effort to document the life of their ancestor (or great-uncle or whoever).

Nope. Just doin’ it for the love of history, folks. And for the love of these super-cool people whose “stuff” I’ve been charged with arranging, describing, and preserving.

But don’t worry. I don’t mind if you think I’m a distant cousin. And I promise not to laugh or anything when I have to tell you I’m not. Keep those emails coming. I’m always thrilled to “meet” someone, anyone—genealogist, historian, whoever—who still cares about these long-dead people that I’ve cared about. And if I can help you, I will, and I’m happy to.

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