Tuesday, March 29, 2016
When You Think You're The Only One
So many times when I share about my interest in genealogy, I hear the plaintive remark, "If only someone else in my family were interested in all this research I've done."
It is quite a concern, especially for those of us who have poured hours into researching our family's heritage. Of what good is all that documentation if there's no one to whom we can pass along all this treasure?
I have heard this remark from fellow genealogical society members. I've heard it from those just starting out in my beginner's classes—people who have always wanted to know more about their family, but feel the weight of that lonely journey. I've seen it mentioned online in genealogy blogs and forums.
Ever the optimist, I've always chirped my standard song: "Oh, there will be someone; just wait and see."
And then I worry on that person's behalf, when no one in the family materializes with an abiding interest in taking up the family's research mantel.
Just the other day, however, I found myself in the midst of an engaging phone call when I realized just what was unfolding right before me. The call was one of those pre-holiday "Happy Easter" wishes that morphed into a lengthy conversation, as we caught up on family news from one of my husband's cousins. Being a younger mom with a large family, this cousin had lots of news to share.
Somehow—I know you will find this surprising—the conversation turned to genealogy. This cousin mentioned wanting to capture information on her husband's side of the family to preserve for her own children, but being so busy with the usual daily demands of a growing family, she wasn't sure how—or when—she'd ever find the time to get started. She mentioned finding out that an uncle on her mother-in-law's side of the family had spent hours detailing the history of that side of the family.
"I should get in touch with him," she concluded, thinking he could provide some of the information she wanted to compile for her children.
That's when it occurred to me. How long might that uncle have been researching his family's history? How difficult it must have been—something not easily replicated now by a thoroughly-Americanized descendant of immigrants whose language may not even be spoken now by those in the current generation of that family. All those ethnic familiarities well-known by that uncle would be entirely foreign, should our cousin have to start from square one and reconstruct the family's story. But this uncle had already done way more than lay the groundwork.
"You really need to let him know you are interested in this stuff," I cautioned this cousin. What if the man were elderly? Or in poor health? What would his kids do with all that research, if something were to happen to him? What if his own children didn't care about all the work he'd done?
I could see it unfolding right now: an aging uncle, having devoted the better part of his life to capturing every memory and detail about his family's saga, thinking, "No one in my family is interested in this stuff."
Could he be thinking he is the only one, when here sits this busy cousin of ours, musing over maybe, someday, you know, when things settle down, contacting that uncle and asking a few questions about the family? It wouldn't surprise me to discover that being the case.
So many times, when I hear people bemoaning that "No one else is interested; I'm the only one," they are usually thinking of their own children. And they are usually thinking in terms of who is interested now.
As it often turns out, it is not the immediate next generation, nor the direct descendants who pick up that interest. It sometimes turns out to be a grandchild. Or a niece or nephew. Or even a more distant relative—one of those shirt-tail relations you've met once or twice at a wedding or funeral. The connection may be fleeting, or incidental. And maybe nothing will come of it.
But given time, that someone will return, coming back to ask a few more questions. Or to compare notes, since being inspired to launch into his or her own research.
Maybe that someone currently has a schedule that's tied in knots with two or three active preschoolers. Or a demanding job and a potential promotion on the horizon (upping the stress level to perform exponentially). Sometimes, that other side of the story will take time before it can find a suitable landing place and step into your world, where you are anxiously awaiting arrival of that someone to pass along your life's research.
Make contingency plans, of course. But just know: there may be someone out there, after all.
Above: "Grandma's Favorite," 1893 painting by Greek artist Georgios Jakobides; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.