Monday, April 11, 2011

A Manifesto -- Or Perhaps a Rant

My desk is cluttered with debris of the morning calls, last nite's late writing frenzy, and left-over filing from two days ago --- so what am I doing now? Can't get an idea out of my mind. 

“Why,” I ask.

The answer bubbles forth, unwanted and in bad timing, and worst of all, in question form, “Who do you think you are?”

'Tis the universal asking: What is my purpose? Why do I do what I do? Why do I care about dead people who lived long ago – or in some cases, not so long ago. Why do their stories matter to me?

“Yes, great universe,  but why am I driven to the page today when I have a fistful of “must do” tasks? “


“Give me a break. What in the world does convergence have to do with this sudden anxiety?”

“You know, it is within you.”

“Okay, already, convergence. Ok, convergence of my brick walls, those places that hide the stories from me, along with the shallow commerciality of WDYTYA, and my ambivalence about the historical precursors to the Civil War, or any war for that matter.”

“Come on, old girl, get on with it. What's eating at you?”

“It's the smug genealogists who spit out facts, dates, places and people as though GG (Genealogy God} speaks from on high. It just genealogy for god's sake. Lives are not at stake. We humans make mistakes, and then have to correct our mistakes – or not.

“I am a historian by training and inclination. History is a messy thing that is told by scourged ruins, scraps of paper, pieces of clay, remnants of lives. And Genealogy even messier, as it is also told by the same tools, but also in old  documents that are hard to verify (because people long dead wrote and transcribed) but most of all because much is molded by memories of the past and the desires of the now. Historians revise, history quite often and what is in taken for fact may be laughable the next decade or so, until the original view comes back into style. Unfortunately many genealogist take on the academic persona with bludgeon in hand. Right is Right, by God and Genealogy. As a historian, I appreciate good solid research. However, in family history, the stories of the past, I care as much for the humanity not only of my and our ancestors, but for our humanity towards the living and the dead --- they are not so far apart.”

For me, I strive for understanding and a soul-deep caring as I research, tell and write the stories of individuals long gone, of their lives and times. And in return, I am overwhelmed with love and joy of being connected to those folks and their lives – whether in my family line or not. I hope to leave each reader with  understanding, caring, love and joy that flows from me to the page.

Now that I got that out of my system, hopefully without ruffling too many feathers, shaking too many bones, I can go back to work, clean my desk, do my filing and maybe even do a bit of work on the book.


  1. What wonderful thoughts, Joan! I think the stories of those who have gone before us make genealogy so rewarding!

  2. I LOVE your statement, "History is a messy..."

    It says so much - -

  3. Joan, totally agree that history can be messy, and genealogy messier and unpredictable. Findings that seem logical with rigorous process one year can be superceded by new information/resources another year. People's stories are rarely completely unambiguous. Thanks for your rant! Pauleen