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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Carrying on a conversation with the world -- Thoughts on blogging about genealogy

It has been raining here in Mesa for the past two days. In some places in the world that would not be even noticed, but here, it is very unusual. I haven't seen this much rain for a very long time here in the desert. We actually carried umbrellas, although I didn't use mine because I liked to have the rain fall on my head for a change. Like everything else that goes on around me, the rain started another thought process going on in my head and when I woke up this morning I began to understand a little bit more about this process of carrying on a conversation with the world they call blogging. If you don't see a connection, I don't blame you. Sometimes I don't either.

Now, of course, at this point you are once again trying to figure out what all this has to do with genealogy. There has to be a connection here some where. Well, you will see the connection shortly.

My pivotal experience from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy came a few years later. I was teaching an English class as a substitute at a high school in Salt Lake City, Utah. That day, for some reason the regular teacher had left a lesson plan to talk about Kennedy and the assassination. I started out talking to the class by saying something like this, "We are going to talk about the assassination of President Kennedy. Now, I am sure all of you can remember the shock we all felt when Kennedy was killed and how that affected our families..." At this point one of the girls in the class raised her hand and I stopped and she said, "But Mr. Tanner, we were only three years old when that happened."

At that point, for the first time I could remember in my life, I gained a real sense of history. History became not just what was written down in book, it became what happened to me, to my family and to the world. I realized that talking to someone about history was not just a passive conversation about the weather, but a real look into a real past where people had to suffer and do real things that were hard and not pleasant.

Now, fifty or so years later, I am still thinking about history, only now, I think about how to find out what happened to families in the past. I still feel sad, as I have said before, when people do not have that emotional connection with their past, mainly out of ignorance of their own ancestors and their own heritage. It is through this process of discovering our past that we become a human family sharing human experiences. No matter how bad or how good those experiences are or were, we still share a common bond of family. By carrying on a conversation with the world, I am only carrying on a conversation with my family.

So what about blogging? Some of us need to communicate those feelings about our families and about the things that matter around us. I went by a book sale at the Mesa Public Library two days ago and there were hundreds of books for sale, almost all of the novels of some sort or another. I realized again how much of a need we have in common to communicate our own ideas and observations on the world. All of us live in a long narrative of life, but few of us pass that narrative on to others, especially our families. Maybe life is really in the narrative and at the end it all becomes narrative. To me, everything around me becomes more real when I comment on it. No, it is partly the other way around, nothing becomes real until you understand it and have a name for it. I think and therefore I write.

This is one of the keys to the genealogical experience. Your family only becomes real to you when you learn about your ancestors and the translate that learning into a narrative. For some, that narrative has to take the form of stories and photos, for others, that narrative is in the form of pedigree charts and family group records. I am in the process of turning all the things that go on around me in one small area, genealogy, into a narrative. I do get comments from time to time about the quantity of the narrative. Believe me, I can only write down the smallest part of what goes on in my head.

Genealogy is family and family is the world and I will never run out of things to write about because every day there is more history.


  1. Hi James -- I would hope that, in addition to getting comments from time to time about the quantity of your narrative, you get compliments about its quality. This is one such compliment. Your articles are thought-provoking and insightful.