Thursday, July 08, 2010
Time to move the goalposts
When you need a fire extinguisher to blow out the birthday candles, you just have to admit you are no longer young, or even middle-aged. Then, too, there’s the difference in other people’s behavior toward you. It’s no longer necessary to ask for the senior discount; somehow they know. Young people sometimes actually offer to give up their seats on trains and buses, or help with your groceries. What cinches it is the realiztion that you know more about World War II than most Jeopardy contestants
With old(er) age comes a certain attitude toward your future plans, too. It’s far closer to the end than the beginning, and we accumulate all this STUFF. Having experienced the travails of clearing out other family members’ belongings, I do not envy my children the chore that lies ahead at some point. Thoughtful and caring though they are, will they reach a breaking point and feel compelled to start shovelling everything into a dumpster?
These philosophical musings have led me to give serious thought to the likely fate of all my genealogical research. And that in turn has inspired a new way of looking at my goals. I ask myself: Am I going to publish a scholarly paper for some periodical? Not likely. Am I going to write a best-selling family memoir? Absolutely not. Would I like to leave something understandable and at least moderately interesting for the younger family members? Yes yes yes!
I find it always helps to break down a big project into smaller pieces, so finishing each one gives a sense of accomplishment, and the overall effort does not seem so daunting. So, to begin work on this modest legacy, I’d want to write a series of narratives, covering the main results of my research to date, and including basic charts and a few family photos. After maybe three generations I’d end the first “chapter” and take stock. The emphasis would be on direct ancestors, of course, but I’d cetainly include the families of siblings, and the necessarily complex connections resulting from multiple marriages. (Only a few photos because I've already scanned those and copied them to CDs for distribution)
Even if I were not putting together something with future generations in mind, this way of handling my research efforts could be a very productive undertaking. One of the best ways I know to work on a problem is to try explaining it, in writing, to someone else. Just the act of putting it in some sort of order can spotlight gaps and possibilities for additional work.
What do you think of this approach? Have you thought about what will happen to your research? What would you LIKE to have happen to it? I’d really like to learn your thoughts on the subject.