Genealogy conferences can be inspiring. Sessions about how to solve brick-wall problems, or how to successfully employ specific research techniques can leave an audience encouraged to try their hand at these techniques, once back at home.
I generally come away from such conferences with a mental to-do list of new projects—or at least resurrected projects from dream lists of prior years' conferences. This year was no exception.
That would not normally be a problem. It is energizing to take on a new challenge. But this time, I'm not sure. The project that keeps staring me in the face will be a big one. Yes, I've blogged about it before, and most of the story is already laid out for me. Not, however, the research. And there's the rub.
The story that keeps calling out to me is the one about my grandmother's safe-busting fourth cousin, John Syme Hogue, the one who almost lost his neck in Canada after a rowdy crime spree through midwestern America. That's a story that would take a book to tell in its entirety.
I first picked up on the story at the close of 2015, when I ran across a document while researching my grandmother's family on Ancestry.com. Though I had my doubts when I first started work on this branch of my grandmother's line, it did turn out that a descendant of the United States Supreme Court's first Chief Justice was wanted for murder in Canada.
After I finished the blog series on John Syme Hogue, the fugitive whose fate was to be hanged on the gallows in Essex County, Ontario, almost exactly one hundred years ago, I set it aside. True, the story needed more research work, but I never got to that point. The task seemed too immense, taking in on-site research at both the governmental archives in Ottawa, Canada, and in Charleston, West Virginia—besides other tasks.
The trouble with setting aside mammoth tasks for a more convenient time is that there never is a more convenient time. Here I am, almost three years later, still wishing I had sat down and just done the work—written the book.
It was while I was reading another book that I found encouragement to get back to work. In a chapter on how to "Follow the Process" in The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday shared a story of an illiterate man who, despite his handicap, was yearning for greatness. The young man attended a speech by well-known orator Henry Clay and was captivated.
Afterwards, the young man
tried to make his way toward Clay, but he couldn't form the words to speak to his idol. One of his friends shouted out for him: "He wants to be like you, even though he can't read."
Clay grabbed one of his posters, which had the word CLAY written in big letters. He looked at [the young man] and said, "You see that, boy?" pointing to a letter. "That's an A. Now, you've only got twenty-five more letters to go."
That young man, though unable to read or write, applied himself to the process simplified by Henry Clay's explanation, and within a year started college. Of course, at the other end of that story, we discover that that particular young man turned out to be James Pollard Espy, known in the mid-1800s as "the Storm King" for his convection theory of storms. The process, as Ryan Holiday puts it, is to "simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing."
So...about that book? If "even the hardest things become manageable" through utilizing "the process," then Holiday assures us, "Even mammoth tasks become just a series of component parts."
If books are made up of chapters and chapters of paragraphs and paragraphs of thoughts in word form, then perhaps those component parts aren't that big and scary, after all.