My daughter returned from a recent trip wearing a wrist band that declared, "Failure is not an option." Having, coincidentally, also heard the story of Thomas Edison, being interviewed by a journalist upon his umpteenth failure to discover a viable way to prevent the filaments inside his light bulb invention from disintegrating ("I have not failed...I have successfully identified 10,000 ways that won't work"), I should have gotten the hint. But I didn't. I felt like today's trip to Lafayette, Indiana, was a research failure.
I may as well resign myself to research trips that don't go as planned. Even I have written about (er, bemoaned) the futility of squeezing the genealogy research mode into a planning mold. You just can't predict the unpredictable. After all, if we knew what to expect, we wouldn't be searching for it, would we?
So count today's expedition as a successful elimination of resources for seeking answers to my Stevens family origins in Lafayette.
In all fairness, today had its good points. For one, this was our first trip to Lafayette that wasn't accompanied with gale-force winds, tornado warnings, or torrential rains. I got to spend some time with my husband on a pleasant drive. The mapquest directions didn't turn us around in circles. We arrived only one hour late. And the library was staffed with several eager volunteers, ready to help us with all our research questions.
We did pick up photocopies of some of the documents we were seeking on the extended Stevens family. We may possibly have located paperwork on some legal proceedings, too--something we'll clarify after actually reading through all the flowery handwritten pages we've had copied from the archives for future reference. And we did find some reminders that perhaps I should follow up on a possible sibling, Hugh Stevens, who followed in John's footsteps in leaving his native County Mayo in Ireland, traveling to New Orleans, then up to Lafayette, almost exactly two years after John Stevens made that same trip.
So why, oh why do I feel like I have not necessarily located all there is to locate on my John Stevens? The near-maddening propensity of record-keepers of that era to invariably switch spellings from Stevens to Stephens, coupled with the name-after preferences of good Catholics and their beloved saints, make me wonder if I have, indeed, found the right John Stevens. After all, there were others.
The five o'clock closing time came all too soon. Disappointed in our small booty after traveling half the continent on this hunt, we weren't ready yet to turn homeward. Still in search mode, we drove on from the library to the cemetery where some of the Stevens descendants are buried. Surely, we would be able to single out the distinctive obelisk that marked John Stevens' grave. But search as we did, we couldn't even find that "sure" thing.
When there is no room for failure, there is only one possibility to face up to: someday, soon, we'll just need to come back.