"Phyllis (Space Bergeron) and Daughter Cindy, Honolulu 1954." Digital Image. January 1954. Original photograph privately held by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski. Copyright (c) Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski 2012.
No, it's not a trick question. If you think the answer to this is as obvious as "who is buried in Grant's tomb," read on.
Do you know where your ancestor's are?
My maternal grandfather would have the short answer, "In the marble orchard." (Grandpa speak for the cemetery.) And while locating the final resting place of our ancestors would be the ultimate, sometimes the road to the marble orchard is a long and winding and far too often a fruitless one.
How Do You Know What You Know?
You know how it is: you're in the zone, chasing down your great-grandfather, documenting the important life events. Birth certificates and a marriage record, tracking him through the census records and finally, his death.
So there it is ... a brick wall. You have exhausted all avenues of research and just can't finds the answer to (insert your research dilemma here). But ... have you looked at the big picture?
How Do You Know What You Know?
One of my favorite tips for proofreading copy is to read what you have written backwards. This is a trick that book publishers use to break the emotional attachment that you have. But before you can proofread copy, you have to have something written in front of you.
Utilizing a time line is the best - and only way - to show you how you know what you know. It shows you where the gaps in your research are, similar to reading copy backwards. It breaks the emotional attachment that you have - the "script" that you recite of what you "think you know" about your research. What has worked for me is to create a word document that lists the year and a list of each life event and instance of the ancestor I'm researching. My timeline would look like this:
1870 Living in Redbank Township, Clarion County, PA w/parents: age 12
Source: Federal Census Record (list identification information)
1879 April 17: marriage to Nancy Ann Stone: Brannan Township, Price County, WI. age 21
Source: Marriage Record filed in Price County Court House
When looking at what I think I know based on what I've found, I am overlooking a gap of 9 years in the life of my great-grandfather. In those nine years he has gone from a 12-year living with his parents in Clarion County, Pennsylvania, to a 21-year old who is now beginning a life of his own in northern Wisconsin. How did he get there? As a fan of cluster genealogy, I will now go back and begin researching - including time lines - of his siblings and cousins. I'll look at the census records for Clarion County and see if any of the neighbors in Clarion County have immigrated to northern Wisconsin. Land records, local history of migration patterns and trends will also be taken into consideration and will all be added to my time line.
I find it rather ironic that the emphasis for making any type of change is set to begin on January 1st. I confess to spending many New Years days with a list of good intentions. I'm all for taking time out to take a mental inventory, setting goals, discover (or rediscovering) passions in and for life and I have nothing against January 1st. I just wonder why we choose that day out of the many other days that mark a "first."
Apparently the concept of starting over is something that is not new. Throughout history man (and woman) has felt the need to put the past, well, in the past and move forward. Consider the Winter Solstice when we observe the increasing time spent in daylight. I've covered the Winter Solstice in a previous blog post; another previous post celebrates another rededication or a jubilee.
While there is comfort in the knowledge that the need to take an inventory of my life and move forward is following in the footsteps of my ancestors, as the family historian, I cannot totally embrace the notion that one must totally leave the past behind. What appears to e a contradiction is, in fact, the sum of the parts that define who I am and my life's purpose.
As I contemplate the January theme for NaBloPoMo, I come to the realization a beginning is truly ageless. There is no expiration date nor is there a limit on how many beginnings we are allowed. No matter what the outcome of today's beginning may be, I can redeem another beginning tomorrow.
It doesn't matter if we have a new beginnings date circled on the calendar or celebrate each day as a new beginning. All that is required is a desire to be open and follow the words of the King in Alice in Wonderland, "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end ..."
Text Copyright (c) 2012 Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski