Friday, July 15, 2011

Being That Someone

The other day, I mentioned running across a Wikipedia listing of signers of the original Florida Constitution. In that article, I found a clickable listing of all the signers, including my great-great-great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan—only to discover that the click directed me to a non-entry in the wide Wikipedia world.

Knowing that Wikipedia is, indeed, Wikipedia—the encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers worldwide—I know that that near-blank wiki page means that someone at least thought it might be important to generate an article on this George McClellan. As to who that someone might be, though, we’ve all been left to guess. There’s been no follow-through.

Part of the calling of family research, for me at least, has been to respect that ancient admonition to honor father and mother. I don’t take that literally, but see it in the broader sense of remembering my fathers and mothers. In remembering, I want to encourage others to recall and respect those ancestors, too. These are people who have made contributions that changed my life for the better; at the very least, I want to reflect on the meaning of their lives.

The usual way I’ve gone about this task is to research and record what I’ve found about my relatives’ lives. For the most part, these were simple lives with common contributions to a small circle of family and friends. But occasionally the circle broadens, and I find an ancestor whose life had an impact on the extended community, too.

When I’ve discovered that, my mindset has kept me locked in the thought that, well, that’s just my relative—how neat to know—but that’s about all there is to it. The concept that others might like, or even need, to know is an idea that’s still foreign to me. I realize the impact these distant relatives had on my life, but I’ve never seen this in the context of what they might mean to others. I guess I never saw it in that light.

Who knows how long that Wikipedia page has been sitting there in the same condition, calling for someone to fill in the blanks. I always saw Wikipedia as a quick place to fill myself in on the basics of a wide variety of topics. I never saw it as a place that I can make better by my own contributions.

Until today. I really thought about it, and came to the simple conclusion: Why not? Even though I don’t have the sources, I don’t necessarily have to turn into the be-all-end-all of article writers for this page. According to Wikipedia, someone adds a short bit for an article—they call it a stub—and then others join in and flesh out the details. To borrow from the movie, “If you build it, they will come.”

So I can start building—but not so fast: there is still somewhat of a learning curve. Process-wise, I’ll have to learn about how to make Wikipedia entries. Content-wise, I really would prefer having some source documents to verify that what I write has been previously confirmed by others. At any rate, as I journey through this, I can fill you in on the details. Maybe that way, someone may follow suit and make this community effort even better.

Someone? Sounds like a good summertime goal for this genealogy gal to tackle.

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