Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Unfinished Projects

North Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral, Chartres, France, c-1235
photo- © Guillaume Piolle / public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I was an art major at the University of Utah, I took a course in Art History and learned, in part, about building the cathedrals in Europe. This image of the North Rose Window is an example of the exquisite work done by the artisans over the more than 54 years it took to build the cathedral. Many of the people who worked on the cathedral died long before it was finished. The same thing happened with other monumental structures, those who designed the building and started the work, failed to live long enough for it to be finished.

Maybe we should think of our work in genealogy more in terms of building cathedrals and less in terms of "finishing a project." Our lives and our work are always in progression. We never really come to an end. Some people focus so much on the end that they fail to see that life itself is in the work. The work of doing genealogy has the value, not the end product. Because there really is no "end product."  There is always another line, more documentation, more people to find and more work to be done.

Is this a tragedy or an opportunity? Do we lament the fact that the workmen died before the cathedral was finished or rejoice in the opportunity they had to contribute to a worthwhile and lasting project during their lives.

In another example, there is a very thought provoking book/movie called "Holes."

Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
Medavoy, Mike, et al. Holes. [United States]: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2003.

The story and movie have an involved multilayered plot. But one of the main themes is the alleged redemptive nature of work. The supposedly juvenile delinquents are being rehabilitated by digging holes out in a dry lake bed. I am not going to tell the story, you will have to read the book or see the movie, but the point of this reference is that their work was never done and they had no idea as to the underlying purpose of the work. But some of the aspects of the work are similar to what we experience in genealogy. 

We do face the same challenges day after day. We sometimes have no idea why we are doing the work and often we never live long enough to see the "end product." But none of those issues are determinative of the value of what we do. Whether we are digging holes or building cathedrals, much of the day to day activity will appear the same. In both building the cathedrals and in digging the holes, the end product was not visible but was a great reward. If we are to continue with our research day after day, we have to have joy in the journey and not feel like failures because the work did not get done.


  1. I love this article! Even if I only fit a few more pieces into the puzzle, it's further along than if I had been able to complete the whole thing. Thanks for giving us this perspective, which we all need from time to time.