Sunday, March 20, 2011

Genealogy as one's life work

I am distracted a bit at the moment reading a couple of books that have piqued my interest. Occasionally I mull about the reasons for my consuming interest in genealogy. I went from an interest level of zero to 100% in a rather short period of time. Enough interest that I took over 40 courses at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies then based at the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto. A book sitting on a pile attracted my interest and I am about one half way through the book having begun it this morning.

The book is by Leonard Mlodinow titled The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives. The book caught my eye because it talks about randomness and how events that are random affect our lives. I love the imagery in the introduction which talks about random events being like molecules moving through time and space and how they may accidentally bump into or otherwise affect each other. I see life events as being like that and these "encounters" affect how our life flows.

My own life events that led me to genealogy are one such set of random events. We, my eldest daughter and I, went to Rome for eight days in November 2001 (yes it was an interesting time to fly to Europe and be there in the days following 9/11). This was an organized visit in that we were to attend a specific religious event the invitation for which I obtained via the Anglican newslist to which I belonged. The time we spent in Rome was absolutely wonderful and I appreciate it even more now that we have had our whirlwind tour of Europe where our time in Rome (2 days) was great but can not compare to spending eight days there even with the organized tours that swept us past long lineups. But it was here that for the first time I had a concrete thought about my ancestors and what they might or might not have done in the past. As I stood in front of St Peter's Basilica for the first time I wondered, aloud, whether any of my ancestors had made this pilgrimage to Rome (for that is how I saw it). Later as we traveled to the second city of our European trip (London) I experienced even more profound thoughts on fammily and from that experience (although it took another two years) was borne the desire to learn more about my ancestors. The randomness by which I reached the project that now occupies most of my waking hours (and sometimes my sleeping ones) has constantly amazed me and so this book has entered into my realm of thoughts. The randomness of life events bounces us one way or another like molecules in nature. Trtuly there was only a 50/50 chance that I would turn to Genealogy.

Now that I am nearly half way through the book, I look once again at Genealogy and how it occupies my life - basically all my waking hours are mostly directed towards achieving the maximum number of details possible on my ancestors. Not so much that I may solve all the riddles but that I leave the material thus found in such a fashion that another family researcher can pick my material up and run with it. Solving one's past opens one's eyes to the future in a way that I had not realized before in my life. Not that one can avoid the problems of life; that is highly unlikely but one can see that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. An old philosophy always says that when God closes the door He opens a window so that one does escape but the escape may not always be viewed as success by those who view it. It is an interesting conundrum - what one person may view as failure another may see as great success.

Genealogy is where I have placed the rest of my life's efforts and I am gradually concentrating that interest in to selected surnames - Blake and Pincombe are one-name studies. I have looked at doing one place studies of Winterbourne Clenstone and Turnworth both inb Dorset. I have accumulated a lot of information on these two places and for Winterbourne Clenstone I am the online parish clerk ( I am gradually moving away from some of the other surnames although will occasionally check for updates and I am considering a fixed schedule for that.

Genealogy as one's life pusuit (after retiring) is a commendable idea. One we have the time to transcribe all the material that until now has been enscounced in libraries and archives and sometimes in one's attic. Two we have a lifetime of training in organizing to put all this material into a useable order. Three we may not need funding to acconmplish all this work if we have a pension (luckily I have my three pensions now - work pension, CPP and OAS). Not a large amount (technically I am below the poverty line) but with two people, my husband and I, we can survive and actually we saved money for travel as well. Although initially I thought I might work and did do so for about two years, I no longer do any genealogy work for other people unless it is part of my own genealogy although I am still the online parish clerk for Bishops Nympton which does involve queries. Eventually I will have everything online and that will then minimize the queries.

But the probability of my now being occupied with genealogy instead of the sewing, knitting, smocking, and other handicrafts that occupied me in my child bearing years was only 50/50 and perhaps considerably less because I was simply uninterested in genealogy. A life event occurred in my case which changed that percentage drastically. As we walked the streets of London, my eldest and I, I had this overwhelming feeling of being at home and yet I had absolutely no idea that my Buller, Beard, Hemsley and other families had also walked these streets and in a number of cases the exact same streets. Leaving after just a short period of time was a wrench - I really wanted to stay longer and feel that sense of belonging. That sense has brought me back twice more and I expect we will go yet another time.

Does one learn a lot when one goes back to the scene of earlier families? On the surface I am sure these places have changed so much that our ancestors would hardly recognize them but on the other hand the visual image I had of Upper Clatford (and in particular the Church) was absolutely clear to me as we approached the church and then were at the Church. That wasn't the same in Bishops Nympton where I did not have any preconceived notions or imagery to go by. However, I suspect that the changes are principally cosmetic and one can still see the place as it was when one takes the time to carefully view the particular area. When we spend our next block of time in England I will have a better idea of the truth of that statement.

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