Sunday, October 4, 2015

You meet the nicest people. . .

October at The Word Place
The theme for October at The Word Place is “Family History as Story Sources”. There’s method in my madness, of course, as I hope to release Four Summer Days, a story built around a family tragedy in 1876, at the end of this month.
And, today is “Do Something Nice Day”, so to finish the title of this first October blog, “You meet the nicest people when you’re doing genealogical research”.
I used to pack the pop-up camper and stuff two little boys in the K-5 Blazer and take off to hunt ancestors. Let’s face it--they were raised in cemeteries and courthouses, which marked them for life. They are still genealogically-inclined.
Alabama, 1984 (or thereabouts)
One summer we went to the county in Alabama where my maternal ancestors landed after migrating from South Carolina. The old courthouse records were in sorry shape, but we were given carte blanche. I knocked an empty dirt dauber’s nest from one cardboard box which I lifted down from a high shelf at risk of life and limb.
Then, someone pointed me in the direction of another person trying to salvage all these ancestral treasures, and I took off. It was a small town, so I had no problem finding the house. On the way up the walk, my oldest son who was perhaps 11 or 12 kept saying, “But, Mom, we don’t know her.” I replied we were going to and kept walking!
Not only did we turn out to be distantly related, she had “liberated” a box of documents and brought them home to restore before they crumbled into dust. She showed me how she literally ironed the creases out of some of the old papers. I mentioned I’d love to have copies and would gladly pay for them, but no copy machine existed locally for public use.
I’d mentioned we were camped about 15 miles away in another county where there was a library. She looked at me for a few minutes before saying, “Well, take them with you and make copies there.”
“But you don’t know me!” I gasped. “These documents are irreplaceable.”
She indicated she trusted me and sent me packing. (They were returned to her in pristine condition the very next day, by the way.)
Arkansas, 2003 (or thereabouts)
Years later, the same son (now an adult) left me sifting through more old documents in another state while he took off to meet someone else we’d been told had information. He didn’t worry about “not knowing” the man--he just went. He’d learned his lesson, I suppose, that summer in Alabama.
Most genealogists are nice folks who want to help other folks. Most of us are a polite sort who approach county clerks with the knowledge they are doing current business, and we need to wait our turn and stay out of the way. Most of us don’t complain if we’re asked in other places like archives to divest ourselves of purses and briefcases and take with us only a pencil, some paper, and change for the copy machine. And, in places which aren’t as secure, most of us would never dream of making off with original documents and excuse the blatant theft with, “Oh, these concern my family. No one else will want them.” We leave nothing behind in cemeteries but footprints.
Genealogists, who are also writers, take away not only documented information but also, when facts can’t be verified, flickerings of ideas for fictional stories. I wrote Four Summer Days about my paternal grandfather’s family. I had a few facts and three separate stories of what made him shoot and kill his stepfather. A short story, “Stained”, which incorporates one of three non-witnessed stories, will be published on the blog something this month.
Hope springs eternal
A genealogist never loses hope she’ll find the answers she’s looking for.
A genealogist who is also a writer never loses an opportunity to turn shadowy, unproven facts into fiction.  

Look again. Did you miss the blood stain?

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