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, 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, 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 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.


  1. Jacqi, yes, it is the stories that are amazing! Of course the stories change from person to person. I remember when my grandmother died and my uncles sat around a table and remembered their boyhood days. They talked about the day the chickens got out of their pen. Each of my uncles had a different version of the story. None of them were to blame, apparently, and each claimed to be the one who rounded up the chickens to save the day. I enjoyed listening to them acct like boys again.

    1. That is hilarious, Colleen! And, I bet, a story you've found handy to share on many occasions. So true! It helps to remember that each of us may recall "the truth" of the matter differently.

  2. I heard from a man who had some questions and comments about his grandmother. I had written about her mother who had been married numerous times and had children by all the different husbands. However, this man did not know until he was an adult that his grandmother's "father" was not her real father. I was taken aback by that because the research was so easy. I didn't feel like I had uncovered a secret. It never occurred to me that the family had not been open about the past all along. That was a good lesson - just because records are available doesn't mean the players are in the know.

    1. That's a point well taken, Wendy. I'm not sure why I feel such a caution in proceeding, but it may be owing to instances such as the one you experienced. Thanks for sharing that reminder.

      When it comes to talking about family connections, those are not just arbitrarily-manipulated documents, but real people--and people with real feelings--that we are not only talking about, but talking with.

  3. Some people just take their time. I hope you hear something soon!! :)

    1. I'm holding my breath, it seems--not only because I want to hear back right away, but because I'm not sure what to expect...

  4. I'm not sure I would "actively" connect with such a story as Mr Hogue's! However, you have "put it out there" for it to be found, and if this tree owner is as motivated as they appear, they will find it - sooner or later! :)


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