Thursday, October 11, 2012

Analog, Snails, and the Rainy Season

I have a blogging friend who writes from Minnesota. Every fall, she has a contest among her readers to see whose guess comes the closest to the season’s first snowfall. Incredibly, she already has a winner.

Around here where I live—I assure you, a much more habitable clime than Minnesota—thoughts are more likely to turn to rain than snow. We can begin our rainy season any time from September through mid November.

As for this year, it started last night.

The drip-drip-drip of the season change happens to take on the very aura of what I’ve been feeling about my genealogy project since taking the leap from researching a big city (Chicago) to exploring a rural area (like northern Florida or east Tennessee). Believe me, after a day of sheer research drudgery, I’ll take digital and email any day, over analog and snail mail.

But snail mail it is to be. I’m all set to hurry up and wait six weeks for the sunshiny state of Florida to respond to my request for death certificates for my great grandparents, Rupert Charles and Sarah Ann Broyles McClellan. (By the way, you know this is the south, now, don’t y’all? And everyone in the south uses two names, y’hear?) All the while, I’m fervently wishing there was a place where I could get a fast response without the financial drain.

Why is it that going from zero to sixty to enter the digital research race is such a thrill, while returning from sixty to zero is such a drag? It’s just the same process, only in reverse.

And it’s not like I haven’t paid my dues in dusty reading rooms, or cranking microfilm readers so fast it induces motion sickness. I used to thrive on the hunt in archives, or the chase through multiple cities’ libraries, just to come up with one coveted fact. What’s different now?

It may just be that I’ve become spoiled. With an online world saturated with the likes of, GenealogyBank, Fold3—not to mention the free resources all the way from the top with to the thousands of free genealogy links just there for the taking on Cyndi’s List—there are so many ways to find what we’re looking for.

Until I get to rural—read isolated—places like Embreeville, Tennessee. A spot like Embreeville doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry (okay, insert tongue in cheek here). Granted, having a Wikipedia entry does not confer authority upon a person, place or thing. But it does take people to write Wikipedia entries, and it looks like there is quite a dearth of people willing to record anything about the place called Embreeville. Oh, there is a longstanding AngelFire page that gives a brief history of the place. And a weather service website that includes a picture of the area. After all, one of Embreeville’s claims to fame is that the Nolichucky River makes a horseshoe bend around the town. Now, that’s living.

As you can imagine, it sometimes seems as if it would be more productive for research progress to actually travel there and try to find things for myself.

That, however, is my bad attitude coming out. (Yes, I’ll blame it on the rain.)

When the Broyles family needed to go to town, however, they did have a town to go to—thankfully. Sarah Ann Broyles McClellan’s childhood days were balanced between the solitude of Embreeville and the historic quaintness of Tennessee’s oldest town, Jonesborough. Or, putting it more the way the family wrote it in Bible and other records, “Jonesboro.”

Just as there were signs of civilization for the Broyles family living near the town of Jonesborough, I do have online options open to me, too. Just in my one fitful—make that pouty—day of stumbling about in this strange online land, I managed to find some old Rootsweb sites, plus the thoroughly modern Facebook pages for the Washington County Tennessee Obituary Project (seventeen hundred and counting), the Jonesborough Genealogical Society, and Friends of the Washington County Tennessee Archives. The more I look, the more I’m sure to find. It’s just a learning curve, and I’ll have to get used to climbing it without slipping. Someday, I’ll be taking it at sixty.

Somewhere in all those signs of civilization, though, I’ve yet to uncover any obituaries or cemetery records that match up to my Broyles family names. And yet it is Sarah Ann Broyles’ father who is my next link to my quest for D.A.R. membership: the good doctor, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles. I need to remind myself, though, that for this application, all I need is documentation . Stay the course, don’t be tempted to detour onto bunny trails. I need to remind myself of that mantra when I’m yearning to stop and sniff out all those delicious family stories that have peopled the data I’ve done in past research quests. While D.A.R. may want names and dates, I really thrive on the stories—but that will come later. The dreary rainy season does take an occasional break for some sunshine.

Above: oil painting by Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street in Rainy Weather, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Patience and focus... that is my mantra... oh and "no! NO! NOOOooooo snoooooow!"

    1. I heartily agree with you, Iggy...but somehow I yielded to the temptation to go as far as "no more rain" too. Obviously, I'm having a hard time getting over summer :(


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