Friday, December 30, 2011

Cat Genealogy and Dog Tags

Sitting here at my keyboard, having just finished the series of World War II era letters from my father-in-law, Francis X. Stevens, I could possibly succumb to a sense of driftlessness. After all, the point of the series has nicely come to a close and, wrapping it up, I now can be permitted to roam through a wide open field of possible next topics. The mood is mellow—after all, it is that wonderful holiday lull between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day—and I am accompanied loyally by my ever-present feline companion. What more could I ask, slipping up to the eve of a New Year, for a pressure-free moment to select this blog’s next direction?

Said feline companion can even provide inspiration for my next move. He, making his online debut as Luke the Narnia Kitty, has seen his career trajectory rocket to self-fancied position of Senior Editor of A Family Tapestry in short order. Yet for all his illustrious accomplishments in life, he hails from a mere commoner’s background. There is no paper trail at any Fédération Internationale Féline to document his genealogy—nor, alas, any mention at the more plebian American Cat Fanciers Association. Truth be told, though his accomplishments are impressive, he is only the great-grandchild of a humble jail cat, a domestic short-hair rescued from G Barracks at the County Honor Farm. Beyond that brief familial history lies genealogical research’s proverbial brick wall.

And with that, we pause for Luke’s sake to contemplate the unfairness of life which doles honors upon, and which prefers recognition of, Blue Bloods and Silver Spoons.

Perhaps, if the talented and literarily-refined Luke* had been more like his arch nemesis—Folly*, the household’s carefree Sealyham Terrier—he would have been more fortunate in his genealogical pursuits, for Folly is represented by a constituency boasting interest in such matters. You see, Folly (as well as her predecessor—and distant cousin, by the way—Ego*) simply need do no more than contact her representative at the American Kennel Club to certify her lineage. Should she have cared to do so, she could produce documentation linking her all the way back to the line’s origin in those first generations in Wales in the mid 1800s.

It does seem that the all-important link to a constituency with a vested interest in preserving vital documentation is key to being able to persevere in family history research. I know that, in my family’s case, if it weren’t for government records such as birth and death certificates or religious documentation in church organizations for which such information bears eternal significance, I would have precious few resources from which to glean the slightest inkling about my ancestors. I would be no better off than my feline friend Luke—who is, after all, merely of a common domestic sort. Without such organizations providing genealogical resources, I would find myself, too, resigned to Cat Genealogy.

And in the case of Frank Stevens, a Chicago boy in the 1940s who is also of a mere common domestic variety, I am fortunate that he, too, is part of a constituency for which record-keeping holds a high importance. He became part of a military organization from which I can extract many more records than his doting mother ever thought to tuck away in her dresser drawer.

In Frank’s case, I can access his Official Military Personnel File from the National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis, the designated branch of the National Archives tasked with delivering these files. With an online application, followed by a faxed copy of the appropriate next-of-kin’s signature, and a wait of about ninety days, I will become another recipient benefiting from being part of a constituency for whom record-keeping is highly valued. In accessing Frank Stevens’ military records, our family will then step from the breed of unrecognized domestic commoners—the realm of Cat Genealogy—into the streamlined research world of institutional documentation, for which I will be able to show much more than just his “dog tags.”

And for this New Year’s Eve’s eve, that sounds like a likely resolution to add to my list.

*As a literary postscript, it might be of interest to note the source of each of these monikers. Luke is the namesake of Luke Skywalker of Star Wars. Folly's name is inspired by the original story of 101 Dalmatians. Ego took his name from a line of a poem attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche ("I go through life followed by a dog known as Ego") which I heard set to music in an a cappella piece by Lars-Erik Larsson—having once heard, I was, of course, obligated to follow suit. How much each of these personas may be adapted to illustrate types of genealogy researchers might be an interesting diversion to contemplate on a New Year's Eve....


  1. This has got to be one of the best, most well written posts I have seen on this blog! Worthy of submission to some kind of publication somewhere!

    A most excellent post Jacqi!

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Sheri! Bravo!!!!

    P.s., are we sure the cat didn't write/edit this? :)

  3. Jacqui,

    What a fabulous post! I agree completely with Sheri--this could go in a number of publications because you cover so much ground, and so well!

    And as an animal (mostly cats) lover, I love the post script about the origin of the names!

  4. Thanks for a great post! We are dog people and this gives me the idea to include our dog's pedigree chart in a book I want to make for my kids about our family.

  5. You're so artistic with words, Jacqi! Love this post, thanks for sharing :)


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