Friday, October 9, 2009

Of mice and genealogists . . .

It’s fall in the country. As temperatures begin to drop, the outside critters start looking for a warmer habitat. This year, it seems that at least one mouse determined that our house looked pretty appealing. With the installation of a new garage door in process, it may have seemed like an open invitation!

So we set the traps in the bathroom where I had seen the little critter on two late-night occasions. (In the interest of full disclosure, the sightings were so brief that I was unable to make a proper identification to verify that it was the same critter. And I do believe I deserve some credit for exercising enough self-control to prevent a natural shrieking response which would have awakened my poor sleeping husband in the next room.)

Anyway, a rapidly aging morsel of cheese is sitting there in each of the deadly mechanisms, inviting some attention. So far, the only catch has been my husband’s forgetful toe. It doesn’t appear that any of the target population has had the least bit of interest.

But those traps have prompted some thinking about how we “catch” our ancestors. From my sociology classes (a long, long time ago), I seem to remember studying about how settlements formed around locations where trappers and hunters gathered to exchange their pelts.

When you consider those two operations—trapping and hunting—family historians definitely come down on the hunting side. We have to go out and look for our “prey,” tracing the tracks they left as they traveled through their lives, watching for the tiniest detail that might help us determine which way they went.

But at the same time, believing very strongly that those ancestors continue to exist in a removed but still related sphere, I don’t think all of them are totally neutral about being found. And I am completely confident that they do as much as they can to assist us in our pursuit of them.

Why else would you be encouraged to look all the way to the end of that microfilm when the item you were initially looking for was #2? Why would you be directed to pick up that court record when court records are your unknown territory and you have no idea how to use them, only to stumble literally onto a piece of information which shed new light on an old research question? Why would you be prompted to look at their surname in the index when you had determined to shift your focus to another family because they were being too stubborn. Why are there some ancestors who won’t let you go, even though you’ve spent the majority of your life working on them without seeming to make much headway? Why are the mysteries so completely tantalizing that we sometimes forget to eat (and likewise fail to feed our families)?

Oops! I think I just realized something. While we’ve been hunting our distant family members, it seems that they’ve effectively trapped us! It's a little like the coquettish female who encourages her chosen young man to pursue her until she catches him!

Ah-h-h-h, how clever they are! And here we thought we were the smart ones!!!

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