Saturday, August 29, 2020

When Genealogy is Like Knitting


Sometimes, Life gets so messy that a brain cannot hold any more, a heart cannot bear any more. It might seem that that would be the least likely time to turn to family history, but strangely, when the complex gets even murkier, I sometimes find working on a family tree to be a way to sort life back into order. 

Perhaps it's the same mechanism some people find operative in knitting. A simple process, it takes a long mess of string, organizes it into a semblance of order, then uses simple tools to create something new through a routine process of repeated steps. Once a person gets the knack of it, knitting can become almost mindless—letting the hands be productive while the mind wanders elsewhere.

There are some parts of constructing a family tree which can be almost as routine as knitting. The endless string of inputs would be the stream of digitized documents which need to be checked and compared with what we already know about our relative. The decision point is where to attach each document—or whether to reject it as not applying to our ancestor.

And so I go, through the lines of ascent, click, compare, accept—or click, reject—and on to the next relative. The rhythm of the progress can become relaxing, soothing, while reminding me that, bit by bit, I am adding to a record of my family's story that, up close, may be too much to comprehend, but when I step back and take in the bigger picture, will yield the flow of people through places and times that sometimes swirl into a story which yields a message.

Sometimes, that message is about the simple sum of the hard work of a lifetime. Sometimes, it brings a chuckle. Or a tear. Or bestows a poignant lesson best heeded by subsequent generations. But it always includes the reminder that, if we don't preserve it, we won't be able to pass it along to others. It's when we knit together those family details, connecting them generation after generation, that it takes the shape of a lasting, useful creation.


  1. About ten years ago, I was churning through old German church records. This was after I had picked up the knack of reading the handwriting and the language. I was going through literally thousands of pages, adding new people to every generation as I went along. It became a mindless task and I could multitask with it very well. I was at my mother's home for several days and we were just sitting and relaxing and chatting. While I was working on this, my mother started asking me a question, then said, "Ooops! Sorry! I don't want to interrupt your work on that." I replied that it was perfectly fine. That I do this without paying that close of attention to it and I'm happy to chat while I do this. She said, "Oh! It's like knitting!" I replied that yes, that was a pretty good comparison. You are the first person I've seen after that using the same analogy and it's pretty apt!

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Matt. I think people who have had similar research experiences can certainly relate to that--well, maybe not the part about tackling old German handwriting!--and have found it quite easy to concurrently carry on conversations.

      Your mom and I must be on the same wavelength. Interesting that she naturally zoomed in on that same comparison: knitting. Actually, I'm not a knitter, myself, but notice how those who do knit seem to use the skill as something to do while they are doing something else. Genealogy, at times, can certainly have that same aspect.


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