Saturday, February 13, 2016
Don't Unfold the Rose
If there's anything about genealogy that captivates me, it's the stories. I want to know who those ancestors are—not just when they got here, or where they arrived.
There's the stories...and then there's the story about the stories.
Teachers used to put different terms to that. If I were teaching a class, the stories would be called "content." And the story about the stories would be termed "process." Process is how you get to the content.
In the recent series I've just completed—the story of John Syme Hogue—it's the process that's captured my attention. The story behind the story. I want to know: what did the family think, the first time they heard the story, when John Syme Hogue, senior, realized what his son had done, or when the younger John's brother Andrew decided to do something to save him.
More than that, I want to know whether anyone in the family knew about John Syme Hogue's story in the next generation. Did any of his children realize what kind of past their dad had hidden in his younger years? Did the story get passed down to the grandchildren like some kind of family legend? Or did it get added to the "skeletons in the closet" that every family has, but no one wants to discuss?
Though I've wondered about these things, I haven't been able to figure out a way to find the answers to my questions.
As sometimes happens on a system the size of Ancestry.com, the other day, I ran across another family tree containing the very same John Syme Hogue I've been telling you about. Actually, there were several—if you are a subscriber at Ancestry.com, you can look that up for yourself—but so often, such trees are full of careless errors and mis-attributed documentation that I often pass up on using those resources.
This tree, however, was different. Equipped with ample documentation as well as photographs, the tree had both a length and a breadth that betrayed someone more than the casual dabbler behind the collection. As I took a look around this person's handiwork, I realized this was not only someone serious about family history research, but likely someone who was closely related to the very line I am pursuing.
Because Ancestry.com makes it easy for subscribers to connect with each other, I decided to send this researcher a message. To see what would happen.
That was when the moment of doubt washed over me. If I write, what do I say? Do I presume this person knows all about the family story? Or would revealing that ruin someone's day?
This was the dilemma: saying too much could be offensive, while saying too little could render my note too easily ignored.
In the end, opting for that dull, boring, bland middle of the road, I sent the message off. And waited.
It's in the waiting that minutes stretch into centuries. I can't abide that type of time warp. I want an answer now—no, strike that, I want an answer yesterday. But one just can't hurry such a thing.
I think back to those sermons preached—usually in a church service geared toward young people—when the advice is to not rush things. For all those good things anticipated by those whose lives still lie ahead of them, the advice is to just wait. The oft-offered comparison is to recall the pristine loveliness of a rose unfolding. There is no way to rush that process. To force the rose to open more quickly is to ruin an emerging work of art.
Maybe this distant cousin sought will answer. Maybe not. Though I want an answer yesterday—no, I want instant connection with not only a relative but a fellow researching confidante—that is not always possible. These things cannot be rushed.
While the story of John Syme Hogue may be over—at least, here on this blog—that's not necessarily the case with the story behind the story. There are so many more connections to be made. After all, this story needs to be told. And so does the story behind the story. But neither the content nor the process does well when we force the rose to unfold before its time.
Above: "Rose Branch with Beetle and Bee," 1741 composition by Netherlands still life painter Rachel Ruysch; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.