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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Names, Dates and Places

I have been trying to analyze my impressions that the basic activities of genealogy, that is doing research into family origins, is being popularly denigrated by characterizing what I do as merely an interest in names, dates and places when nothing could be further from the truth. This trend is encapsulated in the attitude that "family history" is more than mere genealogy and that there is a dichotomy between what genealogists do and what a real "family historian" is interested in.

This current attitude is evident in popular TV shows and other media where the "genealogists" are pushed into the background as if they have no real part in the interesting and stimulating parts of "family history." So where did the stories and photographs come from?

In my own experience, for the past thirty years or so, I have been accumulating thousands of photographs and documents that would have been thrown out as trash long ago. Boxes and boxes sitting in basements and garages that were on their way to the dump because no one was interested enough to look at them. I heard another story, just yesterday, of a "genealogist" who could find no one in her family who was interested in her work and it went into the trash. Fortunately, we were able to find a manuscript copy of her work that had been preserved in a library and digitized online. But throwing away history is not uncommon. Do we broaden the appeal of "family history" by ignoring or even downplaying the role of the preservationists among us? Again, where do the stories and photographs come from?

In my rescue efforts, I presently have the following documents sitting in a box under my desk waiting to be scanned and transcribed:

1. A typed transcript of a Journey to St. George apparently written by Margaret Godfrey Jarvis Overson
2. Handwritten Sketch of the Life of Margaret J. Overson
3. Handwritten diary probably by Margaret J. Overson from 1905.
4. Handwritten diary dated June 1896 by Maggie Overson
5. Handwritten diary and expenses of H.C. Overson written by Margaret J. Overson dated July 1896
6. Handwritten diary of Henry Christian Overson dated December 9, 1898 to January 17, 1899 to Mesa City, Arizona (Mesa)
7. Handwritten original of Journey to St. George.
8. Handwritten Journal of Henry Christian Overson of mission from June 12, 1894 to April 7, 1895

9. Daily Record of H. C. Overson from March 30, 1893 to June 11, 1894

None of these documents have been previously published or available to family members. Without the efforts of the "keepers" also known as genealogists, where would these documents be today? What chance would they have of being preserved? I can tell you that this is only the barest beginning of the documents that would have been lost to the trash without the interest of a genealogist. 

So, I am dumbfounded that somehow family history becomes interesting because of the photos and stories to the very people who would have thrown those and other documents away because they were of no interest. Mind you, I am not at all in any way, shape or form against gaining the interest of a wider audience for genealogy. What I am concerned about is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Instituting "new" programs that ignore the actual way these stories and photos were and are preserved; by a cadre of dedicated genealogists who have worked, despite apathy and actual opposition, to preserve our collective family history. 

Yes, family history is more than names, dates and places, but the genealogists have known that all along. Those very same people in my own family that spent their lives gathering family history, were some of the most unpopular people in that same family. Is there something deeper here that needs to be addressed, rather than just a repackaging of the merchandise? Meanwhile, I will keep teaching, helping, fixing computers, collecting, scanning, writing and doing my own genealogy until I get carried off to the Care Center. 

1 comment:

  1. I think you address a really important and interesting point here. People also seem to forget that, because so much was just dumped, modern-day genealogists often simply can't get the photos and stories necessary to create a "full" family history. For example, my late great-aunt tossed a box filled with old family photos out on her back porch in the rain before I was even born. Luckily, my dad rescued a few, so I have some photos of a great-grandfather and his mother. All of the rest are long gone though, and, coming from a small family, I don't think anyone else would have those lost photos. Sometimes I have to rely on names, places, and dates because that's all that is left.