Showing posts with label family history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family history. Show all posts

17 October 2014

Book: The Lost Ancestor

Something a little different ...
The Lost Ancestor. By Nathan Dylan Goodwin., 2014.

Since I regularly critique mystery and crime fiction novels, I agreed to review―with a tiny bit of apprehension―Nathan Goodwin's The Lost Ancestor after receiving his direct marketing appeal.

I'm aware that the occasional genealogical colleague ventures into writing mystery fiction starring a genealogist as the detective. While I've not sought out examples, the few I've seen were not what I considered successful. No doubt most of us can come up with numerous juicy plot ideas from exposure to myriad ancestral problems that we've been asked to solve over the course of a career. But not only does a genealogist as protagonist need adequate knowledge of the subject and credible work habits; the novel itself requires good writing and structure. Readers with historical and genealogical experience also look for value-added, telling details.
Goodwin's novel is a dilly that sucked me right in (it's the second in a planned series after Hiding the Past). That's not an easy thing to do with my predilection for Scottish noir and Swedish perverse. Based in East Sussex, England, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier gets a dream job: find out what happened to the missing sister of an ancestor one hundred years ago. Mary Mercer was learning the ropes as third housemaid in an upper-class mansion (Downton Abbey fans will love the minutiae of Edwardian service life); she suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole in a family tree.

Straightforward assignment? Where would you look for her?

Family historians will recognize many of the sources Morton uses but some may surprise you. You might say certain unusual documents coincide rather conveniently to drive the plot, but Goodwin skillfully builds credibility. Check out Morton's elaborate mindmapping! Identity is only one issue as a strange, twisting scenario unfolds. 

I doubt that the research elements are intrusive for a non-genealogist reader, quite the contrary. Even better is how the author carefully paralleled Morton's progress with Mary's own story, a challenging device handled admirably. Dialogue and characters integrate naturally―a pet peeve of mine when it fails―with just the right touch of our hero's domestic life and a sense of his own family problems. There's more: someone is prepared to kill Morton to stop his meddling research.

Morton's methodology can scarcely be faulted although a few quibbles arise in sources or editing. A reference is made to a street address in Ontario as if Ontario (a province over four times the size of Great Britain) were a town. A passport was unnecessary for a British citizen to travel to Canada (but let's not kvetch on a minor point). Overly-long paragraphs can be a drag. Nevertheless, The Lost Ancestor is a winner in my books ... more, please!

Goodwin has found an engaging, lively "voice" in Morton Farrier. See if you agree with me. I'd love to receive some comments here.

[The Lost Ancestor was self-published on CreateSpace, an Amazon "independent publishing" unit. Paperback copies can be ordered on Goodwin's website; the Kindle version is currently only available in the UK and the US.]

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

10 October 2014

Giving Thanks

Monday, 13 October 2014. Second Monday of October. Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

An important thing for a genealogist to be celebrating with profound thanks is the discovery of new cousins. And yes, the growing list includes DNA matches being studied. This post is partly so my own extended family gets an inkling of the networks that develop, to which we all ultimately belong.

Yours truly has been blessed by the exchange of information with people I've never met. Another strange manifestation of the family history syndrome―probably bemusing to those with quite different preoccupations. All in a day's work for family historians (sounds good, but usually years of work).

Fellow bloggers know what I'm talking about, the "cousin bait" aspect of blog posting. Although some of my un-met cousins waaay precede the advent of blogging and most of them live waaay far away from me. Sometimes we grapple with finding a common language to communicate. Some of the shyer ones I still can't put a face on.

Not only am I delighted to share ancestral connections and research but the experience can go deeper. We discover that we share similar attitudes or values. We become penpals, friends. We attach family photographs. We discuss life. We worry when we don't hear from each other.

Cousins―some of you come with a whole support group of researchers, past and present. Not each and every one is even necessarily related but the enthusiasm is infectious. All I can say is WOW, the thrill continues.

So this is for you, my networking kin living all over the world―in Latvia, Estonia, Sweden; Scotland, Australia, Netherlands, England; the USA and Canada. A heartfelt thanks for your contact, your information, your encouragement, your friendship. May we continue to clear the ancient pathways and keep our roots strong.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

06 October 2014

The Book of Me (17)

Bring it on, Julie (founder of The Book of Me and our weekly prompter). I'm awash in prompts, embracing them. So how many prompts can I superficially seamlessly mess up collate this time.

School Trips (Prompt 54)
Easy. None. Some kind of underprivileged urchins we must have been. Sunday crocodile lines don't count, I suppose; the lines went two by two to church on Sundays ― á la Ronald Searle's St. Trinian girls ― Westminster (United) for half of us and St Lukes (Anglican) for the other half. The second half had a much more interesting time in my opinion because they got to cross a bridge on their walk and the church interior was much more appealing to daydream in.

Movies (Prompt 55) 
I could go to town on this, but couldn't we all? I lost track of how many times I've seen The Red Shoes after counting twelve or thirteen (-serious-). Vicky Page was my fantasy alter ego.

On the Waterfront was a distant second with about six times but the childish crush on a once-magnetic Marlon Brando died a natural death. I haven't counted how many times viewing Jesus Christ Superstar but suffice to say I and my children can sing and act out every word of the entire film. Speaking of prompts (should unlikely circumstances arise), that could be me you hear, emoting "Everything's Alright" or "I Don't Know How to Loooove Him."

Obviously I'm a sucker for musicals. All of 'em. My brilliant dentist and I recently had a marvellous hour's exchange on the subject while he expounded on his Lincoln Centre subscription, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly's notorious temper, and whether revivals of The King and I and Flower Drum Song are still dated. I of course offered grunts here and there with several appliances in my mouth. We did agree on some things. 

The Sound of Music doesn't count at all because it's everywhere and sorry I can't say the same for Oliver! ... You must know Fagin's (actor Ron Moody) brilliant "Reviewing the Situation" and "You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two" but most underrated are the heartbreakers "Where is Love?" and "As Long as He Needs Me."

This is not to disparage any other movie genre because of course I am into thrillers and harried cops and louche detectives and courtroom drama. If only I could remember titles. And the names of each new crop of actors.

Clubs and Societies (Prompt 56)
Aahhh, good thing this came along, breaking away from movie world. Okay, I'm thinking. Well, The Health and Study Club was a loosely defined organization of my teenage years, given its title by the guy who could do the best Finland accent. Members of this fine club shall be nameless and faceless lest their grandchildren suffer grievous disenchantment with an image of staid, comforting, grandparently figures (it's a cover-up, kids).

Health? We drank a lot of beer and purple jeesus and partied every summer. We raced around in boats and cars. Nutritional snacks like trail mix and pizza and sushi weren't invented then. Or craft beer. Study? We made fun of our jobs or university programs or the business world and hardly ever got into trouble except with our parents. Some of us engaged with our future partners right then and there. Others experienced the cutting angst of teenage love.

One time we had an Opening of Navigation party which was a big deal at the Lakehead ― the opening, not the party ― but it did not become an annual event because it turned into an Al Capone-era party, the correlation or significance of which is entirely lost now, of course, and that was the night I discovered a guy hiding in my closet who scared me half to death, so we couldn't encourage more of that. (Sorry, practising for the run-on sentence competition.)

Other societies and clubs, later, were quite grownup. A list of professional organizations (genealogical, historical) would bore the pants off you. Somewhere in there I remember a poetry-writing club, a Russian movie club, a Winnipeg ex-pats club, a wine club, book-of-the-month club (ha ha), oh, and very briefly, the Temple Reef Yacht Club. Finishing number last in every race was frowned upon.

What am I forgetting? ... The Thunder Bay Autosport Club, I suppose. Rallies were okay but fiercely competitive; the logic of winter ice racing escaped me as the damage mounted. Then the hillclimbs and omg, the car I'd just sold was fit for the fibre-glass scrap heap. The driver ever after chose to wear a beard to hide the scar on his face. 

It looked like this. The car, not the scar.

On that note, ending this episode of the Book of Wretched Me.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved. 

20 January 2014

The Book of Me (6)

The Book of Me as Written by You Me has its rewards. Above all it keeps me from noticing how I've lapsed on things genealogical. While I struggle with delayed but more edifying posts, this makes a welcome distraction. It also allows for as much cringing self-exposure (or silliness) as one's nature permits, along with the liberating thought that no-one on the interweeblies is forced to read our exposés.

Special People (Prompt 14). Repeat the suggestions for Prompt 13. Uh oh. More socializing and food. But this time it's for ANCESTORS. So I can't invite a few old boyfriends out of simple curiosity ("and how did your life turn out with that boring bottle-blonde you married on the rebound?").

First off, I do want to say I am grateful to all the ancestors for their contributions to the family gene pool, making the present generations what they are. Speaking for myself, I would have appreciated fewer freckles and a lot more energy chromosomes. But thank you for good bone density, low cholesterol, and a healthy liver.

The invitation they cannot refuse (and by the way, they are not all direct-line people; aren't siblings and collaterals the most willing to spill the family dirt?) ―
* Number one, my Dad so he can tell me about his life before I knew him;
* His irascible grandmother IsabellaCampbell (Gaelic translator required);
* "Uncle" Peter Dougall because he was a beautiful human being;
* My beloved cousin Heather, gone way before her time;
* Grandpa's sister Milda (Freibergs) Lielmanis to untangle her romantic liaisons (more translators);
* Grandma's brother AlexanderIvanovitch Jurikas, the priest cum teacher cum newspaper editor (where are my lost cousins, your Russian descendants?!);
* Ansis Freibergs, maternal great-great grandfather, Free Thinker and donor of the gardening genes;
* Eiwertil Riis my purported 7th-great-grandfather born ca.1670 in Viljandi region, Estonia; he has some 'splaining to do about his legendary father.

Hits a nice balance between my Celtics and my Baltics, don't you think? Eight seems quite enough to keep me occupied, frantically recording their stories in between hugs and tears.

We shall have a picnic, I think. I will order up a perfect day on Lake Superior. Lolling about on chairs and blankets and cushions near a beach, no-one will be able to escape my probing questions now that they see I too am a bona fide grownup. I've always wanted to try making that 7-layer terrine I scrounged from a French magazine about forty years ago: very complicated, layers of chopped chicken, spinach, ham slices, asparagus, boiled egg, paté, une petite tomate ferme, and so on — one brilliant tour de force encompassing the major food groups with massive doses of mayo to hold it all together. Don't look at me like that. Come on, it's not like these guests really have to worry about food poisoning. This could take place around the end of June so the only extras we need are some baguettes and strawberries with lots of whipped cream (dairy = calcium).

Oh, who got me started on the foodie thing. Naff off. Now.

Snow (Prompt 15) What a relief. A complete non-sequitur. Easy. Snow is white and cold and I had enough of it growing up in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba to last a lifetime. Now it has followed me the odd winter into the city's geodome. Apart from the fact that most winters are odd these days. Unfortunately summers too can be odd lately.

Look, I'm trying to find something good here to say about snow. It's for young people, isn't it. That's what I've decided. Skating and skiing. Toboggans. Frostbite. Should I even mention ski-doos? Well, I did my share; then I moved on. There's a lot to be said for comforts like fireplaces or heading south whenever possible.

Message in a Bottle (Prompt 16) ... be serious! Write a message that a stranger somewhere in time and space might discover? For sure my bottle would go into Lake Superior in the expectation it would transit through the Great Lakes out the Gulf of St. Lawrence into the Gulf Stream and end up in Murmansk or maybe bobbing along the west coast of Africa; who knows — what with the aforesaid weather doing its own independent and undependable thing.

What could possibly be said to enrich (or baffle) that unknown recipient for an instant? Should it be treated like a teaching moment? No, too much like ubiquitous, annoying tweets. Makes one think along the lines of Chinese fortune cookies or perhaps epitaphs:
‒ No rest for the wicked[1]
Living well is the best revenge[2]
‒ It must have been the effect of a nutmeg tart[3]
‒ Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel[4]
‒ It's over. It's O-O-O-VER![5]

And so forth. I really don't expect the stranger will care one way or another about footnotes. On that note the editorial we are collapsing till next time.

[1] Attributed to The Book of Isaiah in two different chapters.
[2] The irrepressible Dorothy Parker.
[3] Joseph Finsbury (Sir Ralph Richardson) in The Wrong Box, on the cause of death of his brother.
[4] Sumaiya Kazi, 16 Jan 2012 on Google+.
[5] Probably said a trillion times but Roy Orbison sang it like an aaaaangel!

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

10 October 2013

The Book of Me (3)

More catchup. Really, I am taking this seriously. Hats off to those who are diligently keeping up! Julie's prompts are making me realize where photographs of yore are regrettably missing.

Prompt Four: Seasons. 
SUMMER. No contest. No ambivalence, no waffling, hands down the winner.  
If you lived in Thunder Bay at the head of Lake Superior, you annually waited ten months for the magic of summertime (about six weeks long, although some like to say it lasts only two). People decamp from the city for their summer camps, meaning "cottages" or "cabins" in other cultures. Liberation! Kids go wild, barefoot, sunburnt (olden days, obviously), blissfully running their own agendas. There's just the lake, our boats, our bikes, the baseball teams, and sleeping in tents if we feel like it. Parents are also chilling out with few responsibilities other than hauling their refrigeration needs from the ice house at the tiny nearby store and ensuring the honeyman comes by the outhouse regularly.

Then you move to a new camp that has indoor plumbing! You get to be a teenager, play spin-the-bottle at wiener roasts, have romances with young pups who are learning to drive cars, what more could anyone possibly want. Then you get your own kids and one hundred years of tradition at Amethyst Harbour go on ...

SUMMER also included, from time to time, Banff, Alberta. The Banff School of Fine Arts, as it was known then, was a vibrant summer community of young musicians, singers, dancers, actors, and theatre students. Lots of socializing, despite curfews; introduction to the pastry called butterhorn, riding the Hoodoo Trail, sunrise on a mountain (was it Sulfur Mountain?). But we worked our butts off: in a six week period, each part of the program mounted a full production.

On to Prompt Five, Your Childhood Home.
My first home was at the top of a hill on North Court Street in Port Arthur, an awesome hill for the winter toboggan. Mysterious photo from unknown source. It's exactly the shape and design of our house which was red brick; possibly the house next door? My Dad built a playhouse in the backyard and my Mom painted murals on it. Sadly, no picture of my house itself. Some time later the homes along the ridge were torn down to allow an extension of River Street and the building of a medical clinic. 

An old family photo of my best buddy and little brother proves the red brick. Did someone add siding after we left?

My second home was our farm on Oliver Road, a one-plus year sojourn while our new city house was being built. Again, no photo! Whatever happened to the one of me on Mickey the pony ... I recall he was faintly terrifying. A Yorkshireman called Arthur was the livestock handler (mainly egg-laying hens and some dimly recollected horses and pigs). Horrendous amounts of snow in winter. Commuting by car five miles to Pine Street School in town. Mom hitting a moose in her Chev and for months thereafter driving white-knuckled after dark like five miles an hour, an impatient procession of cars behind us.

Third home on High Street, Port Arthur, was sort of po-mo and very roomy but had a few inexplicable things. The pink retaining wall clashed with the brick colour. The always-frigid upstairs bathroom. The unfinished bomb shelter in the basement (hey, this was the Cold War 50s). My Dad built the entire basement "rec room" basement area himself. 

Fourth home (when does childhood end ... ?) was Balmoral Hall, my home away from home, secondary education years. In effect, the school then partly functioned as a residence for Royal Winnipeg Ballet students. I loved my time there, but after four years I was ready to move on.

The "homes" all pale in comparison with SUMMER on the greatest lake in the world and the greatest place to be on that lake.

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

29 September 2013

The Book of Me (2)

Julie Goucher's Book of Me has its taxing moments in the memory and feelings departments. Now, to be truthful here ― and that's what we're aiming for, right ― I am not putting myself out in public naked and cringing because I told three lies in my lifetime or peed my pants in Mrs. Jacobs' grade one class. On the other hand, mustn't cater to some kind of ancestor popularity contest among descendants not-yet-born. Attempting a balance, I have to do Julie's challenge my way.© Paul Anka

And I'd like to say at this point that when you have genealogy fatigue or family-history-writer's-block, Book of Me is a great way to distract and/or refresh yourself. It also reminds you to scan some of those fuzzy old photos before they fade entirely, so the whole exercise is mucho win-win.

My thoughts on Prompt Three: Physical Self (15 September) began and almost ended with:
Once a dancer, always a dancer. That says everything about my physical self. Except for forty years my hair was unmistakeably, vividly, Celtic RED and of course that says everything else.
Not exactly as pictured

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But I noticed in the Prompt 3 responses a lot of autobiographers got hung up with one of Julie's suggestions: size. Struggling with weight is only one kind of lifelong pain. Lest you think I'm cheating I will say I was always the tallest. Tallest often makes you the shyest. Tallest makes you stand out ~yerm~ as an easy target of fun from creepy little grade seven boys. Tallest makes you ineligible for the ballet company because you can't partner with short creepy men. Tallest makes creepy people call you big even if you're skinny. Combine that with red hair and don't think it was easy growing up. My teenage friend from Stuttgart confidently told me that Europeans innately, consistently regard redheads as evolutionary defectives.

Nevertheless, I successfully portrayed a (tall) mouse in the skating carnival and moved on to dance recital levels to be a butterfly and a singin'-in-the-rain hoofer and a thunderbird and years of fabulous costumes our mothers made, when mothers used to sew, reaching solo status as Snowflake, assistant to George the Porter who was a quasi-Santa fixture (a Thunder Bay thing, don't ask) in the annual Christmas extravaganza.

Then it morphed into serious classes in days when we had to darn our fragile pointe shoes so they'd last more than one performance and our examination tutus were made by the company's wardrobe mistress who was so kind to me because surprisingly she was a good friend of my ancient "aunt" Agnes B. Dougall in touch with my father who was terrified I'd become a theatre person (well, I did for a while; the musical stage is where the tall girls go unless you get a Vegas showgirl contract like my friend Ginny — thankfully she survived that and a bad marriage) so had to keep up the piano lessons that somehow pacified him even though Mrs. Bancroft (about grade ten that was) was so sick of listening to the same opening bars of the same Rachmaninoff concerto every week for a year coming from incredibly clumsy fingers for someone who could dance. Bless your patience, Mrs. B.

So. Not limiting myself to classical training, fast forward a bit to a life of domesticity and child-raising. Luckily some of it coincided with a trend in balls (but not enough of them) entailing long dresses and social dancing. BTW a man who knows how to waltz is worth his weight in gold; I only ever met two and unfortunately did not have affairs with either one, more's the pity (honestly, I would tell you if I had). The occasional military ball spiced it up with what I call Scottish cross-country dancing.

Now that I've taken up all this space which seems awfully self-indulgent to me, you may well ask — if you are not snoring by now — isn't that all ancient history, how dare I imply the dance, or more to the point, the dancer goes on? Self-delusion?
Well, the fact is most do. Right into the golden years when we need to keep creaky limbs from rusting up like a junked car, no matter how the body has changed ... hiding middle-aged spread under flowing tops; giving up the awesome three-inch heels and beloved (non-orthotic) boots; pretending the arthritic joints or dimming vision or hip replacements are temporary blips to overcome. Try shuffling with the latest offerings like zumba, clogging, salsa, belly dancing, meringue, you name it (it's okay to draw the line at break-dancing or whatever they call it now). Hey, even karaoke invites creative moves.

It's all of a piece. An overheard phrase of music only has to start and the body's twitching in recall. You know what I'm talking about. Betcha some of you never thought of yourselves as dancers.

Things have a way of evening out somehow. I'm no longer the tallest kid in the chorus line and the hair has faded. Meanwhile, as Sonny and Cher said, the beat goes on.

Now I'm thinking, should I start Prompt Three all over again? ... 
... Once a writer, always a writer ...

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

15 September 2013

The Book of Pathetic Me

"The Book of Me Written by You" is a project I first saw on Geneabloggers, devised by the inspired Julie Goucher of Anglers Rest. It's a natural for genealogists who dwell mainly in the past. We should thank Julie: Shame on us if we forget our own biographies, neglect attention to our own lives because who knows us better than us? How could a third party possibly get it right??

This is important work. The assumption is that the scribblings will satisfy an intensely curious future someone (not happening now, is it). Not that we are compelled to make just every old thing public.

Image by Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers
Regarding the serial prompts, this writer has already fallen behind Julie's schedule. Regarding the personal history, I began it long ago and then skittered sideways when it became problematic. Problematic means how confessional are you going to be. You know, in case your kids get their hands on it before you actually die. Besides, other projects hopscotch the order of precedence with distractions always leading from one thing to another.

Take now for example, multi-tasking Book of Me along with breakfast preparation, no, it's more like lunch time, thinking calcium and fibre, where are the radishes, and attending to the laundry upstairs but on my way out the door CBC radio plays "Jerusalem!" so needs must halt and joyously deliver word for word (it's a Pavlovian thing: wherever I am when the opening chords sound, a thousand days of morning hymns at boarding school kick in) which then reminds me I wanted to look up William Blake designs for another project, write that down in the daytimer, why is that plant on my shelf looking brown, reach the laundry room only to catch an unavoidably socially-interactive moment with the local hypochondriac, then to quickly fold some of that same laundry so it doesn't get horridly wrinkled, making the bed at the same time somehow goes with it, better vacuum up those popcorn bits, discard yesterday's scattered reading material, ...

Good lord. Is that who I am? Where were we?

I had to scroll down AnglersRest for Prompt One, Who Am I? (posted 31 August). OK, tick off everything on that list. No: correction. Delete tea drinker, chocolate lover, and Alfie whoever he is. On second thought, that must be who Julie is. Let's add camel chaser. Is that good enough? Maybe the defining of oneself should begin with a blank page (like my head goes when I run across anything that smacks of mathematics numbers). I can see Prompt Four will appear before I properly get over this one.

Next. Prompt Two, My Birth (posted 7 September). My birth. That's a good one. Truthfully, I don't remember a thing. Everything from birth to ca. two years and ten months old is a blur, deeply hidden in the neurological recesses. Julie did a terrific job on hers. This must be the hardest part. No baby book courtesy of Mom. Besides, can we trust mothers to tell the truth? Sure, she was an original source with primary information but was she conscious the entire time? How much credibility do we give the Arthur Janov school of thought?

This is quite tiring so far. Definitely more work to do. Good thing it's a long way till we get to my problematic parts. Up the flag and carry on, Julie.

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

29 July 2013

Girl With Cat

A recent visit to Saskatoon revealed a delightful family story. A sculpture by Arthur Price has pride of place in the entrance to the conservatory of the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory.
Girl With Cat has been fascinating children for almost fifty years; (not the best) photo, BDM July 2013.  
Here's a better one:

Opened in 1964, the Mendel borrowed the sculpture for display the next year and it became very popular. Children especially were charmed with its life-size presence and hands-on appeal. But the cost to buy it was beyond the means of the young gallery. That's when my little cousin Caroline got involved. Even as a nine-year-old, she was quite familiar with visiting the new cultural centre. Girl With Cat enthralled her, reflecting a large portion of public opinion. With no fund-raising underway, she wrote a letter to the director, sending money she and her brother had saved toward the sculpture's purchase.

One dollar and nineteen cents.

Saskatoon's StarPhoenix recently did a story on this, "Childhood Gift Keeps on Giving." [Sorry, the printing is in blue pencil.]

Caroline's letter sparked a campaign in the city, mostly among children's organizations and activities. Thus the sculpture became a proud permanent acquisition in 1970. No telling what a determined little redhead can accomplish! Visitors are encouraged to stroke the cat and the girl's hair; little ones will even join her in the rocking chair.

Very sadly, Caroline died before her time in 2010. She was in the happiest years of her life, a career in elementary school counselling her great joy. Her husband dedicated a nearby bench in the conservatory to her.

It chokes me up every time I see this lovely photo of brother and sister in later life.

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

04 December 2011


It's a mouthful just to say the initials. It's the Society of West Highland & Island Historical Research. Herewith an example of how we try to expand our genealogical minds.

Serious family historians look for detailed context about their ancestors' lives---geographic, cultural, social, political, economic, religious, legal, and so on. What did the family breadwinner's occupation mean to them in terms of location, income level, housing? What influences would they have felt from cultural pressures?

Searching for such information takes us well beyond surname targeting and building a family “tree.” And so we seek out resources not restricted to online searching or genealogical societies, although they can assist. Somehow I doubt that academic and/or scholarly sources are frequently consulted. It takes more time and trouble to find them.

That brings me to my example ... one of the “extras” that enrich my understanding, and thus my family history. The non-profit SWHIHR is fairly locale-specific with a journal three times per year: West Highland Notes & Queries. Contributors delve into all historical time periods of Scotland's western Highlands and islands (Argyllshire, Inverness-shire, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and more). Scholarly discussion, dialogue, and nuance go back and forth among contributors who are mainly historians (with an occasional genealogist), many of them with a lifetime of expertise in esoteric, private manuscript collections that you and I could scarcely hope to access. 

There is a point at which, in every Highland family history, the ancestral line blurs into the localized clan mass. And clan history is instructive through its leading figures---and the lesser-known---because their activities include the shades of our forebears. Besides, it feels good to engage one's intellect in a slightly alternative perspective.

West Highland Notes & Queries is not a high-tech production. It is only available in paper form, and the small print requires a large magnifier. Enquiries about current rates can be directed to the secretary at I can't let it go without saying the editor is Nicholas Maclean-Bristol, based on the Isle of Coll, author of the brilliant From Clan to Regiment: Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides, 1400-2000 ... and numerous smaller but important works.

May you all find your own gems to add depth to your family research!

15 February 2011

Don't Forget to Write

Lately I see more and more discussion about writing the family history. Positively cheering! We all love the research process. We love the building of relationships and charts. We don’t love so much the citing our sources part. From the comments I see, some of us find it even harder to put it all together into written form.

Recently, Kerry of Clue Wagon opened up a nice little discussion. The little discussion took on a life of its own right into the comments. She began with genealogical software: the choices available, then why and how we use them. Kerry decided she’d put too much reliance on and expectation of software as an end product. Her post concluded that source citations and writing the history are OUR job, not that of a software program.

What is the ultimate software product? A “genealogy report”? —an automated, mechanical (boring) so-called family history? Software is just a tool, a storage tool at that. Good for data entry, but often cumbersome for real writing. In my opinion, only a word-processing program can liberate your creativity.

I hear you, those who think they have trouble writing. Maybe the mere fact of accumulating hundreds or thousands of names in your software database is what subconsciously scares the crap out of you! Feeling comfortable with writing comes with practice, practice, practice. You don’t have to write the whole family history at once. One paragraph at a time, one ancestral biography at a time.

The comments on Clue Wagon came back full circle to software preferences. Meanwhile, I particularly liked these observations, not necessarily in chronological order:

Kerry: We spend so much time and energy on being slaves to making the software fit, and we could be spending it writing or doing research.

Kerry: I'm actually finding that I sort of like doing it in Word [ed.: substitute your favourite word-processing program] ... I thought it would be awful, but it's actually kind of freeing. Who knew?

Kerry: You want the story to flow and be compelling, and no software can do that for you. I think that's one thing genealogy blogging helps you see more clearly...the need for plain old writing.

Harold: ... some of the best genealogists in the world don't use a database at all. ... There is just no substitute for a well-written, documented story of a family.

Lynn: No database can write your family history, organize it yes, but far too often we do nothing but organize and organize and never get to the writing.

Yes, some of us spurn the software for no particular reason. Building an acceptable genealogy format from scratch is a learning experience of great self-satisfaction. We savour the challenge of consistent source citations (more practice, practice, practice)—forced to think about the source it represents, its quality as evidence, and whether the germane elements are captured. And oh, the gratification of a well-constructed sentence or paragraph!

[I know, ... weird, eh? Secret pleasures. It doesn’t mean I get it right all of the time or even some of the time. But the product is all mine.]

To me, a big component of networking is encouraging, urging, people to turn those piles of research notes and database charts into writing a unique family history.

Thanks, Kerry! I hereby declare that no payment exchanged hands to promote her blog :-)

© 2011 Brenda Dougall Merriman