Monday, December 27, 2010

The after-Christmas doldrums

Since things may be slowing down a little for the next couple of weeks, might I suggest an experiment that would consume just a little of your free time?

Try tracing your maternal line. This became of interest to me when I got a report back on my mitochondrial DNA and started learning something about it. From what I understand, that material gets passed down directly from mother to child. I’m not even sure it changes very much, if at all. But I was really surprised to see where my matriarchal tree went.

I think we are so focused on the paternal lines (perhaps because they’re the easiest to find) that we fail to appreciate those odd-numbered lines on the pedigree chart.

So just for fun, find out who your earliest known contributor of mtDNA is (i.e., your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s...well, you get the idea!).

Thursday, September 9, 2010


    "Part of doing great work is being na├»ve enough to not realize
that you’re undertaking things that are quite possibly not possible.”
— Jason Bagley, creator of “the Old Spice ad”

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days—as I’ve worn out my eyes reading the old script of a hundred or so images I brought back with me from Pennsylvania—that maybe what I’m trying to do is not going to be possible. Maybe the records simply aren’t there. Maybe the people were so busy living their lives and trying to survive that no one took the time to do anything beyond that which was required for subsistance.

They may have written letters. But they apparently went to people who were not pack rats (darn!) Those of the next generation may have been very efficient about throwing away paper which no longer them. Great-grandpa’s letters from California? Well, first of all, he abandoned the rest of the family. So why should we care what he had to say? Into the burn barrel with you! Great-great-grandpa’s letters from the middle of Iowa? He didn’t treat Great-great-grandma all that well, so I think we can dismiss him also. Great-great-great-grandpa’s letters which he saved from the cousins in Scotland who hadn’t had the courage to emigrate to the less-than-civilized colonies? Oh, that’s old stuff. No one’s going to need those anymore.

They probably did take the trouble to get married by a clergyman of some sort. But in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t until the early or mid-1880s that the state cared about those marriages. In the meantime, the clergyman may have kept a record of his officiatings. But the mother church may not have requested anything from him, and he may have figured that record was his property. What happened to it once he passed away? Good cleaners-out probably performed their highly efficient role once more and tossed it all out when the house was being cleared. Same thing with all the infant baptisms that occurred out there in the wilderness where circuit riders risked their lives to minister to the people. And what about the hundreds of thousands of people who were buried in the back yard or the church yard without benefit of an enduring monument to mark the place?

Land could even be passed down from one generation to the next without the deed’s having to be recorded until it was time to sell it to someone outside the family. Not everyone was into filling in those pages in the family Bible, much less writing a personal or family history.

So we come along a couple of centuries later and try to weave disparate threads into a whole cloth. Is it possible that we are beating our heads (and eyes and hearts and minds) bloody against a wall that simply might never come down? Is there too little, too late?

Maybe. I guess it’s entirely possible. Will it make any difference to those of us who are somehow so mesmerized by the possibility of one more clue, one more piece of evidence, one more explanatory theory that giving up simply isn’t an option? Probably not.

And maybe, for some of us, it isn’t even the chase. Maybe it’s more the loving ties that bind us to those who have gone before, even though we don’t know them and they aren’t being very cooperative about leaving the intellectual breadcrumbs for us. Maybe it’s something eternal that draws us back again and again to reach into an empty pot in order to see if a remnant might either have been overlooked or mysteriously added.

NOTE: I’m going to add a section here that deals with my faith and the motivation some of us have for doing family history research. If you feel that this would be offensive to you or might generate uncomfortable feelings, please skip down to the next set of asterisks. Thank you!

* * *

I like the quote by Elder Boyd K. Packer (a leader in the LDS Church) who was discussing the magnitude of the work we undertake. After reminding his listeners that baptism is an essential ordinance which has to be performed here on the earth, he described the doctrine that was revealed so that even those who had passed away could have the blessing of receiving it through vicarious offerings in their behalf. Please note that the option of accepting or rejecting any act performed in their behalf is eternally available to each individual. 

We have been authorized to perform baptisms vicariously so that when they hear the gospel preached and desire to accept it, that essential ordinance will have been performed. They need not ask for any exemption from that essential ordinance. Indeed, the Lord Himself was not exempted from it.

Here and now then, we move to accomplish the work to which we are assigned. We are busily engaged in that kind of baptism. We gather the records of our kindred dead, indeed, the records of the entire human family; and in sacred temples in baptismal fonts designed as those were anciently, we perform these sacred ordinances.

“Strange,” one may say. It is passing strange. It is transcendent and supernal. The very nature of the work testifies that He is our Lord, that baptism is essential, that He taught the truth.

And so the question may be asked, “You mean you are out to provide baptism for all who have ever lived?”

And the answer is simply, “Yes.” For we have been commanded to do so.

“You mean for the entire human family? Why, that is impossible. If the preaching of the gospel to all who are living is a formidable challenge, then the vicarious work for all who have ever lived is impossible indeed.”

To that we say, “Perhaps, but we shall do it anyway.”

And once again we certify that we are not discouraged. We ask no relief of the assignment, no excuse from fulfilling it. Our effort today is modest indeed when viewed against the challenge. But since nothing is being done for them elsewhere, our accomplishments, we have come to know, have been pleasing to the Lord.

Already we have collected hundreds of millions of names, and the work goes forward in the temples and will go on in other temples that will be built. The size of the effort we do not suggest should be impressive, for we are not doing nearly as well as we should be.

Those who thoughtfully consider the work inquire about those names that cannot be collected. “What about those for whom no record was ever kept? Surely you will fail there. There is no way you can search out those names.”

To this I simply observe, “You have forgotten revelation.” Already we have been directed to many records through that process. Revelation comes to individual members as they are led to discover their family records in ways that are miraculous indeed. And there is a feeling of inspiration attending this work that can be found in no other. When we have done all that we can do, we shall be given the rest. The way will be opened up.

Every Latter-day Saint is responsible for this work. Without this work, the saving ordinances of the gospel would apply to so few who have ever lived that it could not be claimed to be true.

(Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Redemption of the Dead,” Ens
ign, November 1975.

* * *

I find those thoughts energizing. And for those who elected not to read them, may I simply summarize by reassuring you...and all of us who get discouraged at times because of the difficulties encountered in the research...that those for whom we are searching still exist, even though we can’t see them. And they may be as interested in being found as we are in finding them, although I’m beginning to think that my family might just be a little more stubborn than some...perhaps to make the pursuit more interesting or to see if I’m truly committed. I have seen miracles occur in my own research, and know of many experienced by others as well.

We simply have to keep trying. We must not give up, regardless of the obstacles in our path.

So is it impossible? Maybe, but we’ll do it anyway! Onward and upward!!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just a note

Last night I posted an entry to my other blog ( after debating for some time about whether it would be more appropriate there or here. Wasn't sure it would be kosher to post both places. So, if you're curious, join me over there.

Trip results

Some of you may remember my anguished prelude to a research trip last month. Just in case anyone was wondering, here’s what happened.

I did drive up to Huntingdon on Saturday, spent the evening working on a remediation project, attended church the next morning, and then drove up to my host family’s home in Belleville. All went as planned with the minor exception that, whereas I am normally grabbing every last minute to meet a deadline, I actually left home a half an hour ahead of schedule on Saturday morning! Motivation is everything!!!

I reported to the courthouse in Lewistown either as it opened at 8:00 or within the following 10 minutes every morning except Thursday when I went to Mifflintown. I stayed every day until they kicked me out (except Friday when my husband arrived and insisted we had to leave an hour and a half his defense, that was an hour longer than I had negotiated for in the first place.)

During all those hours, I looked at hundreds of records. I read and read and read. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I thought what a simple matter it would be to come across a phrase like “. . . and to my daughter Martha Collins,” or “The previous owner was David Scott, son of an early settler William Scott,” or anything similar. My heart started beating harder several times as similar clues about relationships appeared in those old records. The only problem was that none of them were about my families.

No, once again, the definitive declaration eluded me. It has begun to sink in that it is entirely possible that such a statement no longer exists...maybe never did.

What I did come home with, however, is a new set of clues. I did find a paper no one else had collected from my fifth-great-grandmother’s probate file where my fourth-great-grandfather Brice Collins contested his mother’s capacity to write a will. Both Brice and his son-in-law David Scott were named in the estate papers of a John Patterson. Looking at the Belmont County records, David is not a prolific purchaser at estate sales...usually only those to whom he has some relationship. So this may be significant.

Or it may not. John Patterson may simply have been a near neighbor who died owning tempting articles that David wanted as a relatively new head of household.

Then there are the lawsuits where Brice’s executors are filing against a John Scott in behalf of John Connell, then later William of the few Scott-Scott transactions I’ve discovered. But there are only appearance or execution dockets. The court of common pleas records seem to be missing. (Yes, more compassion for those of you in burned counties!)

So was it worth a week of intense effort even though there were no smoking guns? Absolutely! Am I sorry I went to that much trouble for so few results? Definitely not. Will I do it again? Yes, probably. And when I do, I’ll be following up the clues I got this time and looking for more.

Will this puzzle eventually get solved? Well, yes, but it may happen only when I finally get to do those post-mortal interviews. And, trust me, I’ll be first in line with my pen and paper (since I suspect we may not get to take our laptops), eager for the revelations that will help all the discrepant clues come together into a cohesive whole. They say that happens, that all the pieces really do make sense once you know the real story.

So, David, your mysteries remain unsolved as yet. But I get the feeling I’m gaining on you. Don’t get too comfortable!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The pursuit

I’m sitting here at my desk. The view from my window indicates that the world is stable and the room isn’t spinning, but my brain is in a total whirl.

A couple of days ago, I was corresponding with a distant cousin when it occurred to me that I didn’t have any documentation for his ancestor whose existence and supposed descent from my illustrious 3ggf David SCOTT, Sr., permitted us to call each other cousin.

So I began searching in the censuses. Found Andrew with a wife and children. The “wife’s” name wasn’t what I expected it to be. Then in 1870 Andrew appeared again, this time with his second wife and some children whose names I recognized. Back in 1850, there was an Andrew living with a younger John and two children whose names matched the 1860 family. But the occupants of that second line in the censuses were so discrepant with each other and with the story I had been told about marriages and so forth that I was really confused.

This sent me off on a wild goose chase through the hills of Missouri and back to Iowa and even back to Ohio. I began wondering if some egregious error had been made by the other cousin who originally put this family together. Had we all spent years of research based on faulty assumptions???

Thanks to a good friend who patiently listened on the phone and answered disjointed questions, I finally decided that we are probably talking about the same family. The two older children in 1870 turned out to have belonged to his second wife. And yet disturbing questions remained.

Where was Andrew’s first wife in the 1850 census and why was Andrew shown as having been born in Kentucky??? Who was the 1860 woman when Andrew should have married his second wife the year before? And what happened at least to the younger children of the first marriage when the second marriage took place, since some of the older children could have been on their own by then but others shouldn't have been.

So my first point should probably be that we can’t live and die by the census. Someone once told me that the poor census takers had to make three copies (by hand, mind you) of their records, the third of which was sent to Washington. Were they tired? Were they careless? Were they just as confused as those of us who have come along a century and a half later and tried to make sense of their entries? (Witness our own experiences trying to make sense of handwritten notes a few weeks after they were taken.)

Does it help that Andrew’s first wife was born in Kentucky (and maybe the enumerator had just skipped her name and entered only her birthplace)? Would it help if we knew for sure that the Sarah listed in 1860 really was Andrew’s sister (as reported by the older researcher) and she was helping out for some reason? Could one of the twins shown in 1860 have died? And maybe even the youngest child also since he’s not there in 1870? As far as that youngest child goes, how did he survive without a mother’s care (since she had reportedly died at the time of his birth)?

But if Sarah was his sister and she had come to help out, where was his second wife Mary, whom he was supposed to have married in April of the previous year? Had she gone on a trip? Maybe to visit her family since she should have been five months pregnant with their first child by July 1860 when the census was taken?

This is another illustration of why it is so important to write a personal history. Had Andrew done that, just think of all the mental stress that would have saved me, for crying out loud!

But the second point is this: I’m not even supposed to be looking at this part of the family. I’m supposed to be preparing for my upcoming research trip to Pennsylvania. And the only tie Andrew has to Pennsylvania is that he was born there, probably just before the family moved to Ohio. I’m spending a lot of time in the mid-1800s in Missouri that should more properly be directed toward the late 1700s of Pennsylvania when Andrew's father was born!

So here’s the real message (after I bored you to tears with all those twisted details). Do you know why the big cats are such successful hunters? It’s because they pick a target and pursue it until they capture it or it gets away. They don’t make a second decision. They lock their eyes on that animal and don’t even glance at another possibility.

Perhaps that’s where we get in trouble so often. We are so easily sidetracked. And then, when we’ve exhausted ourselves with the effort of tracking another line that has popped into our view, we find ourselves at the end of a branch on the family tree wondering how we got there and how we can get back to where we really intended to go in the first place.

When I served as a missionary, we were taught another “animal” lesson. The illustration was what would happen if we were transporting a bunch of chickens and the cage door got loosened so that they all escaped. The image of chasing chickens (obviously, not a very organized activity) represented a directionless day, where a lot of little (usually insignificant) tasks wind up consuming all available time and effort, leaving the really important things undone.

May I recommend the feline approach—pick your target and center your research around that individual or family until you have gleaned every available detail. Then, after you have stored your findings in a way that will allow you to find them again, pick another subject and aggressively follow that line until it peters out (or proves to be too elusive).

Let’s not lose the race just because we lost track of the end goal and expended all of our energy out on the fringes. Focus, focus, focus!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Whaddya know?" --- "Not much. You?"

Thus begins a popular public radio program. That’s an interesting set of questions, and they have particular significance for family history researchers.

Those of us who have been dealing with the LDS Church’s “new”* FamilySearch database** the past year or so may find themselves asking that question over and over---sometimes in amazement at the new information made available there, sometimes in dismay over the fallacious connections that have been made out of ignorance, carelessness, haste, or various combinations of all three and possibly even other factors as yet unenumerated!

Currently, I am trying to figure out why virtual contemporaries of my second great-grandmother were entered as her parents. Depending on the birth dates involved, her mother would have been about 12 or 13 when she was born. Not impossible, I suppose, but pretty unlikely. I would like to see the documentation.

In addition, one submitter gave her marriage date as her birth date. Obviously, this might explain how she could have received the set of parents she did.

The oldest son of my third great-grandfather is an enigma of sorts. He went west with the family when everyone moved to Iowa, but fairly quickly returned to Ohio by himself. That created a distancing from the family which prompted his descendants to assume initially that he was his father’s younger brother.

Add to that the fact that when he married and bought land, he had a different surname. His father’s will referred to him as “my son,” which I assume confirms his paternal line. But this surname change made me wonder if he might have had a different mother than the rest of the family. So I was delaying making the official connection to his mother until I could research further.

Meanwhile, some well-meaning soul came along and connected him to the known wife. He/She apparently had no clue that there was any question about the relationship. How I wish we could have had a conversation about it first!

Another situation arose with respect to the supposed mother of this boy and her mother. (I’m trying very hard to avoid giving names in order to protect the guilty/innocent.) There is at least one reliable source that this woman’s oldest sister was born to an Ann. However, I strongly suspect that the younger sister from whom I descend had a different mother, the one named Martha who was listed as the father's wife in his will. The supporting evidence is that many of the children named one of their children Martha, but few if any named a daughter Ann.

I’m sure that a stepparent might be appreciated enough that a stepchild might extend the honor of naming a child after that stepparent, so it’s not a definitive case. But it is definitely something that ought to be looked into.

Oh, and one more example. An early researcher made an assumption that has been passed down multitudes of times through the ensuing decades. The assumption was based on the fact that a descendant carried the ancestor’s first given name but also had a middle name. For some reason, this seemed to indicate to the researcher that the ancestor should also have had the same middle name because this child was obviously named for him. So that middle initial appears on list after list, even though I have never seen it on any record about him during my almost 40 years of researching this family specifically.

Whenever there is a discrepancy in the records, we ought to take a close look at the documentation. If I make a claim about a certain fact (like the fact that this ancestor did not have a middle name or initial), then I ought to have some evidence to support that opinion. If others believe strongly that he did, it would be helpful if they could bring their proof for evaluation.

So what was particularly helpful about today's issue over my second great-grandmother’s parents was that it made me go back and take another look at what I DO know about her...for sure. I tried to find her in all of the census records. I reviewed her obituary (which, incidentally, indicated that she moved to Kansas in 1870 while the 1880 census clearly shows her still being in Iowa).

As frustrating as the “new” FamilySearch has been with its completely open access, I can see some good things coming out of it. The beta version that has just been released for review has a new feature called “Discussion” where dialogues can be initiated regarding the data that has been submitted. That may at least allow us to begin examining what each of us can bring to the table as far as evidence is concerned. And then we can hopefully learn to be humble and accept new evidence, even when it contradicts a long-held and highly cherished family tradition.

So when I (hopefully) hear from the person who submitted the ill-fitting parents for my second great-grandmother, perhaps a good beginning to the conversation might be the following:

“Whaddya know?”

“A little. You?”

And then we can begin to sort through the pieces which each of us is able to contribute toward a complete picture of who this woman was, where she really was in 1880, who her parents might or might not have been, and whether we’re actually even talking about the same person in the first place.

It will be good, eventually, in spite of the growing pains. I have a feeling that that humility aspect is going to be critical, though, in making it all work. If your census record proves that my obituary is inaccurate, I would be foolish to cling stubbornly to my hearsay obituary information. And yet we family historians are frequently guilty of doing just that.

In addition to humility, another key element will be the desire to see the final result of all this work be records that are complete and accurate. And in this, I think the new FamilySearch (whatever its final name) will be a very valuable asset. It’s just going through some temporary growing pains.

Personally, I’m waiting for the swan to appear!


* The reason the “new” is entered in quotes is that it appears not to have been the intention of the FamilySearch team to have this modified database labeled as “New FamilySearch.” In fact, when I was working as a proofreader for a family history-related company, I came across specific guidelines that were supposed to be followed with respect to any reference to the collection...and it was not supposed to be New FamilySearch. It may indeed receive a different name at some point. So just realize that there has been a good bit of confusion over the official name.

** As of this writing (July 2010), this database is only available to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, from what I understand, preparations are underway to open it up to the general public.

*** I guess in some ways that might not be a bad thing. After all, it alerts me to how well these researchers have verified the information they received from someone else. So I know to be a little careful about how much I accept from them wholesale. The really disheartening thing was that I saw a different middle initial associated with this ancestor in a database I stumbled upon just the other day.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is it possible?

Three weeks from this morning (God willing and the creek don’t rise), I will be sitting in a small LDS congregation in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. It will hopefully be my last act of official devotion prior to a week of intensive research in a neighboring county’s courthouse.

I have gone looking for David Scott’s family many, many, many times. So many times, in fact, that it is tempting to become discouraged before I even wend my way to Pennsylvania.

It all began in June 1973. It was my first trip to the Family History Library following a December 1972 return from an 18-month mission to eastern France. In order to be able to serve that mission, I had prayed to be released temporarily from the driving obligation I felt to my ancestors. They had been almost a tangible weight on my shoulders ever since my conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So as I walked into that facility (then located in the Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple), I relaunched my boat on those tempestuous waters of family history research. As it turned out, that was the day I selected the branch of the great river of humanity which would virtually occupy my life for the subsequent almost four decades. And what a ride it has been!

Given half a chance, I could (and would!) tell you story after story...not only about the information I have found, but also about the serendipity that led me to the source. But we shall not go that direction today. Today, I simply want to record for myself and for anyone else who cares the feelings of my heart as I approach this next substantial research effort.

This is will not be my first visit to Lewistown. In September 2008, my sweet, patient, long-suffering husband accompanied me on another week-long expedition. Sweet, patient, and long-suffering he is, but genealogy fanatic he is not! And the long hours in the basement of the courthouse soon got to him. He helped as much as he could stand. And then, in the inimitable tones of Popeye the Sailorman, he got to the point where he couldn’t “stands no more!”

It is with intense chagrin that I recall that last Friday, after we had checked out of the motel. It was a raw, rainy day in Pennsylvania. The general color was gray. That also happened to be the color of our pick-up truck in which he spent all too many hours that day and into the night—some of it just sitting, waiting for a crazy wife who didn’t know when to quit, and the rest of it driving through the darkness back to the relative sanity and security of home.

Well, this year, his husbandly concern for a wife traveling alone has given way to his dread of having to repeat that September’s experience. We will rendezvous at the end of the week and travel to visit living relatives. For those, my husband has considerably more tolerance. And we will have a wonderful time.

But I can’t help but wonder what my feelings will be at that time, when I have to walk out of the courthouse in time to drive to meet his flight. Will I once again be leaving with the understanding that I will have to return and delve at least once more into the venerable old books, looking for that one clue, that one phrase that might—possibly in combination with other tiny clues and phrases—lead me to the identity of David’s parents...or even just a sibling. Please, dear Heavenly Father, just one additional peg in the board which will allow all sorts of new triangulations.

I suppose there is a remote possibility that I will leave rejoicing, having received that additional piece to the puzzle which may open up a whole new section of the image I am so blindly constructing. However, I almost dread even going there mentally, hesitating to allow myself even to imagine the soaring exultation so akin to emotional fireworks that is associated with a major new discovery (and one which is also usually accompanied by an abundance of tears).

Yet, I have had those experiences, some with David. Two stand out. The birthday present one year when I finally ordered the film containing Brice Collins’s will and learned that his daughter Catharine was indeed David’s wife, and that my second-great-grandfather was definitely, irrevocably, unquestionably their son.

The other, another May, after having accompanied my son to the Missionary Training Center and enduring that two-door experience that would separate us for two years. My reward for holding it together emotionally was time to research once again in the Family History Library (by then in its current location). That afternoon, I found a lead to a new Iowa resource. The next day, I followed it up and located David’s will, written in January 1857 and filed in 1871. As far as I know, he died in 1866. You figure it out!

So by a month from today, the answers will be in. The tally of new records viewed and reviewed will have increased geometrically. The hours will have been expended as enthusiastically and aggressively as I can muster. The missed lunches won’t really have been missed. The computer will have received its usual workout, accompanied this time by an expanded camera capability. My head and dreams will have been filled with almost-desperate pleadings for assistance and direction.

All those are the knowns. It’s the unknowns that tease me. Will I ever solve this in mortality? Or will I have to wait for the eventual unraveling that will be hopefully be made available in that “distant” spirit realm? As much as I love life and hope to stick around for a long while yet, the prospect of that face-to-face interview would make leaving at least bearable.

So, David, it’s you and me...again...once more. May our Heavenly Father be both guardian and guide on this next foray into the past.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

An hundredth part . . .

[This is a duplicate post to the one entered at Hope you enjoy it.]

I’m nearing the end of this reading of the Old Testament. Arrived in Zechariah this morning and was interested to see that (though not uncommon) it included a genealogy for Zechariah.

But what really caught my attention was that his grandfather, Iddo, was a prophet. I guess I had missed his name in previous readings, because upon looking him up just now I found several references. And some of them give more insight into things he did (if there was indeed only one prophet named Iddo...and somehow I can’t imagine too many parents bestowing that name on their sons).

He apparently lived at the time of Rehoboam. Because his writings are lost, we know virtually nothing of his life. Given that the lives of prophets, especially Old Testament ones, are not generally pleasant, we can make some assumptions along that line. But we know very little about his experiences, his relationships with God and his fellow men.

Is it that way for us? As we associate with friends and acquaintances, how much do we really know about them—about the internal struggles they’ve had, the triumphs they’ve achieved, the lessons they’ve learned? Are their books “missing” for us as well?

How about our own stories? Will there be anything available when our children really want to know more about us? If the past is any indication, that condition won’t arise until we’re gone and unable to make a record. So wouldn’t it be wise if we left them a little something...just in case?

My own personal history basically stalled at the point where I got married. My excuse is that things got too hectic after that. However, I know it’s important that I finish it. So I will add the recording of that forward record to the goal of organizing all my notes about already-dead people.

I would encourage anyone who may stumble across this writing to do the same. It doesn’t have to be long. Each of my grandmothers wrote about three pages. And one of my fondest dreams is to find a letter, no matter how long, written by my third great-grandfather just so I could see a snapshot of his mind on that one day.

Please let those who follow you know what your life was like. Let them see and understand your dreams and your devastations, your difficulties and your delights. It really will matter...someday.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love hurts

Despite my seeming silence, there have been things going on in my head and heart which have led me to the above conclusion.

The main event was the birth of my second granddaughter early in February. As we stood outside the nursery window and watched that new little soul just a few minutes into her mortal experience, I realized that I was hurting—physically in pain. I wanted them to wrap her up; I wanted them to stop sticking her and putting chemicals in her eyes; I wanted to hold her but realized that that was not yet my place. And all along, something inside me was aching.

I don’t remember feeling that when my own children were born. But, of course, that was back in the days of Lamaze, so perhaps the other pain was so intense that I didn’t have time or opportunity to notice anything else.

Of course, I do remember all the of incidents of our own children suffering. This was brought back in a flood when my oldest granddaughter fell and hit her head while playing at our house. The outcome was OK; the interim, full of anxiety.

Then, as we tried to calm jangled nerves, all the other remembrances stood in line and waited for their proper acknowledgment: the fall this little girl’s mother took off the lawn tractor straight onto a concrete garage floor, the time she spilled very hot soup on her older sister’s leg, her brother’s glance toward us in the stands after he got hit with a particularly hard ball during a game, her second brother’s pain after a surgical procedure which my oldest daughter (who had had a similar procedure) forgot her own discomfort to try to soothe, our youngest daughter’s fall against a table which opened a gash through her eyebrow which required plastic surgery attention while she cried herself voiceless in a restraining cocoon. There they all were—and more—and the pain was only slightly diminished due to the passage of time.

Although I mourned the loss of children who never got born, I have so far been spared the loss of any whom I have birthed. And yet, for earlier generations, the death of a child was almost to be expected. It is still a sadly common occurrence in our modern world. Quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone survives that experience. Of all the pains, I think that one must be the most piercing.

My mother is among that number. I suspect her remembrance doesn’t occur only on my youngest sister’s birthday, as it often does for me.

And a friend once told me about one of her ancestors whose daughter died as the result of being thirsty on a very hot southern day and coming in to find some water in a vase that was holding some flowers...unfortunately, stems of oleander. As this mother lay on her death bed many years later, she was calling the name of that long-lost child.

So, on this Monday after Easter, as the everyday routine takes precedence, may I take just a moment to honor all those who have launched their fragile boats on the seas of parenthood, endured all the agonies of the journey, and reached the safe harbor of death with a positive balance of fortitude. We know the buffeting of the waves must have been daunting at times. Thank you for risking it.

And humble gratitude to One who made it possible to recover all losses through His unimaginable suffering on our behalf. May we never forget that sacrifice in one garden and the ultimate triumph in another. Happy Easter (never really late, I guess!).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gratitude . . . and it isn't even Thanksgiving!

For the past few days, I’ve been pursuing some family lines, most of which are of dubious connection to my own main focus of research.

But I have become more and more impressed with the tremendous amount of information that has been posted to the Internet in various ways. What a delight to put a name in a search engine and have something relevant pop up in response! It wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of multitudes of very nice, giving people and organizations.

One interesting experience just has to be shared. When I first got online late in the summer of 1997, I thought, “Hey, I’ll just serialize some of my notes collection and post it to the SCOTT List.”

I felt a little embarrassed later when I realized that such a practice was somewhat “out of the ordinary” (to put the best possible light on it). I should have gotten the clue when several people wrote to the List asking just what all of this material was.

Earlier this week, I got to the point where I needed to look for the maiden name of Henry Monroe SCOTT’s wife, Emma J. So I typed the essentials into the Google search field and sent out my request.

Looking through the resulting list, I was very excited to see a direct hit. Then I started laughing when I realized that what I had found almost 13 years after the fact was an entry from that original group of postings. Kind of an “I’m my own grandpa” type of feeling! I’d had Henry Monroe and Emma J. in my old, retired notes all along. Just hadn’t thought to look there.

Perhaps the general message might be that no effort at recording data online is really wasted. Somewhere, somehow it will be of some use to someone!

Many thanks to all the contributors!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ambivalence illustrated

Shoveling snow off the driveway (which meant that we actually got our car out late yesterday) and piling it right under my clotheslines (which means that I probably won’t be able to hang laundry outside until mid-May).


P.S. More snow due in tomorrow.

Double sigh!!!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snow days!

The world is white, almost all white. There are enough colored accents to mark where houses and trees and vehicles still exist. However, they are only punctuation to the long snowfall sentences we’ve been hearing the past couple of days.

To update you on my last entry, the baby (a healthy and beautiful little girl) was delivered safely and was enthusiastically welcomed before the roads became impassible.

A revised offer was accepted by the current homeowner of the home which our son is now closer to purchasing.

Two children are still residing comfortably away from home during the storm.

And one is here with us, having survived a harrowing trip down the notorious hill on her way home after visiting her sister, brother-in-law, and newborn niece in the hospital. Her heroic papa came to her rescue (which he gladly attributes to many years of driving experience and a lot of outside assistance).

But here we are, firmly and emphatically enclosed in our home for probably another couple of days. We are still fortunate to have power, a benefit many are currently lacking. And we have hours upon hours of empty time.

The power did go out last night for a while. We scurried around and got the oil lamps lit. And then we sat in the semi-light and wondered what to do. No television. No books. Barely enough visibility to continue my knitting. And scarcely any topics of discussion, especially after we determined all the ways in which we were not prepared for emergencies!

Perhaps we all need this type of downtime periodically. I do remember a similar two-week period while I was in France. A bad case of bronchitis had required that my companion and I remain inside. Winter had taken its toll on me, both physically and emotionally. Those two weeks were a good opportunity to review and regroup. The rest of my time in France was different because of those two weeks.

I keep thinking that a huge block of totally free time when I could work non-stop on my family history would be so-o-o-o desirable. Several years ago, I had about three months of such freedom. And, believe it or not, I didn’t get tired of working consistent eight- to ten-hour days while computerizing my notes.

So what would you do if you were housebound for two or three days? Then what would you do if the power went out? Even more serious, what would we all do if the power outage lasted for weeks...or forever. As dependent as we have become on electronic files, is it possible that we would one day be very grateful for a paper printout of our research?

Something to think about........when you have time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

All the winds that blow

Today the sun is shining. The temperatures are moderate. At least the heat pump isn’t overheating trying to strain a few warm molecules out of the frigid air, as has been the case during the past few weeks. One would think that all was well.

However, the weather forecasters are tentatively telling us that all is not well. We are right in the line of fire of another significant snowstorm. It is due to arrive in the early hours of tomorrow (Friday) morning and continue until late Saturday night. By the time it stops snowing, they are saying that we could have an accumulation of 12 to 18 inches.

Now, for some of you in other areas of the country, this is not an unusual situation. But for those of us in the Central Atlantic region (where we have been known go a whole year without seeing a single snowflake), this is not typical.

And it’s not as if we don’t know what we’re in for. Just a few days before Christmas, we had a knee-deep snowfall. I’m sure the merchants were devastated as everything ground to an absolute halt for several very critical shopping days. There are still mounds of scooped snow from that storm piled up in parking lots all over town.

School and church have been canceled in the interim as subsequent smaller storms have rolled through. There is no doubt that this weekend’s event will repeat that pattern for yet another week.

But today the sun is shining. The air is relatively warm. The already-present snow is conveniently not on the roads throughout town. I’ll be able to get out today to run a couple of errands.

Tomorrow, though, early in the morning, probably about the same time as the snow starts falling, one of our daughters will journey to the hospital to deliver her second child. Their almost 20-month-old daughter will be traveling with her other grandparents to a town about 45 minutes to the north.

Meanwhile, one of our sons will be awaiting word on whether or not his offer on a house was accepted. The answer is due by 5:00 tomorrow night.

Another son will probably wind up being stranded at his security guard job until the effects of the storm are cleared. An older daughter will be trying to cover her sister’s employment duties during her hospitalization. Our youngest daughter will have to see if she can get to the airport whenever it is functioning.

As I contemplate the impact the next 48 hours will have on our family, I take comfort in the fact that generations before have faced other momentous circumstances. Wave after wave of challenge swept over them too. Still, they did whatever was necessary to preserve and protect the critical elements of their lives.

We will survive this storm, despite its predicted severity. We will be eager to welcome a new granddaughter and see what unique character she will contribute to our growing family. We will be concerned about the status of her older sister who is very attached to her mother. We will be anxious about our son’s imminent next step into adulthood. We will be praying for the safety of the others as they strive to meet their responsibilities.

Still, today the sun is still shining. Tomorrow it will go into hiding while Mother Nature tests our mettle. And then it will ultimately return and shed its warming rays on the multi-layered blanket of white. But, just like our predecessors, we will get through this and add several new experiences to our scrapbook of eternal memories.

May we brace ourselves and stand firm, even in the midst of the heaviest adversities that blow. The sun will always shine again.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who's in charge here?

My dad was a horseman—not professionally, but as a result of being a farm kid who was lucky enough to have a horse. I went through the typical teenage girl stage of being infatuated with horses. As a result, I did a little riding as well.

One of the things Daddy taught me was that the horse has to know you’re the boss. And you let him know that by the way you sit in the saddle and hold the reins.

Well, the past couple of days, I’ve been trying to install a new, complicated, multi-function printer. It occurred to me several times that there’s no way to sit in your chair or hold your hand on the mouse that will let the printer know you’re in charge here.

Obviously, where technology is concerned, I AM NOT IN CONTROL. I am totally at the mercy of the install software and customer support and any friend I can cajole into holding my hand through the process. Heck, I’d even welcome an enemy under these circumstances!

There are some who relish this kind of a challenge. They thrive on learning new procedures. They love new technology. They can’t wait to get their hands on a new piece of equipment so they can see what it will do.

Me? My favorite printer so far is my old faithful HP4! I would give up a lot before I let that one go. It is simple and straightforward. Plug in the cords and let it run. And run it does, with no drama. It doesn’t require constant attention and coddling like all the inkjet printers I’ve owned so far. Now, if you want to talk about prima donnas! YIKES!

And most of the time, I’ll do anything to maintain the equipment status quo. Am I usually happy with the end results of an upgrade? Reluctantly, I must admit that I am. However, it’s the process of arriving at a new equilibrium that gets me every time!

So I would guess we’re 80% there. A few more tweaks and tests that need to be done. But so far, we’re still standing...or sitting, more accurately. At least, I’m not curled up in the middle of the office floor, retreating mentally into a non-electronic paradise (although I confess that doesn’t sound halfway bad right now!).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blogging about blogging

My friend Susan suggested I write a blog about how to write a blog. Me! The lady “of a certain age” who in the past has either had to ask her children how to get to her own blog or get there through a link on her ancestor’s Web site!!! Therefore, assuming that my friend was more interested in content than technology, let me see what comes to mind.

Actually, isn’t that the answer? A blog is supposed to be a record of our thoughts—written down and published for all the world to see. (Does that make anyone else just a wee bit uncomfortable?)

Maybe it was the process of coming up with a thought to begin with which Susan was requesting. And there I have to stop and ponder.

I am apparently at least the third generation of aspiring writers. One of the earlier memories I can dredge up is having to tone down children noises because Daddy was writing. And indeed, we could hear the old manual typewriter clacking away behind the closed door.

And then my father’s mother wrote in her history that Grandpa Indermuehle (which he later changed to Indermill) also tried his hand at writing: "He liked to write. I have several short stories that he wrote and tried to get published but had no luck at that." (8 Feb 1970)

But since neither Indermill nor Indermuehle is remembered along with Steinbach and Salinger (their contemporaries in their respective generations), I think we can safely assume that their dreams of literary success were never realized. I’m not even sure if any of their writings survived them. (And suddenly I’m extremely curious about the subjects these two progenitors might have chosen—better start asking!)

Having recently had my first “creative” manuscript returned, I guess I now join the ranks of struggling artists. The prospect of multiple rejections may be more than I am willing to suffer. And I understand that experience is not unusual for the novice.

So fame and fortune may elude this generation of Indermills as well. Does that mean we [see Note 1] stop writing? Absolutely not! I sometimes feel like if I don’t get the ideas down on paper, they’ll eventually accumulate to the point of spontaneous combustion.

For those not quite that driven, the process may begin on a more mechanical level. How does one go about “trapping” a subject? I think the key is simply to 1) increase our powers of focused observation, and then (2) become more aware of our mental meanderings.

Let’s see how that plays out in reality. As I write, I am sitting in a relatively new church building early (way too early) on a Sunday morning. Looking around, I see the results of a long construction campaign, the details of which will hopefully be recorded for those who come after. The sun is starting to come up on a cold (almost to the point of freezing) rainy (thus almost to the point of icy) day.

Because I belong to an organization directed by a lay ministry, the leaders of the two congregations who meet here have been arriving steadily. Only one out of the dozen who passed by my chair failed to look at, smile toward, or cheerily (way too cheerily) wish me a good morning.

Since we’ve recently had snow, there is both a snow shovel and a broom standing against the wall in the vestibule. (Ah, the same “non-greeter” just exited and entered again—still no response, even though I intentionally watched him the entirety of his route.)

If I were to write a blog (only a small degree of irony intended!), I have several subjects available from my upholstered perch in the foyer:

1) A history of how this building came to be, including the fact that 33 years ago when I first moved here, there was only one congregation in town. Now there are four, and those four are large enough to divide into at least five if not six.

2) The miracle of similar voluntary service that is occurring at this very moment all over the world. In fact, my husband’s second oldest son is probably directing a leadership meeting in western Pennsylvania as I write—no doubt a much colder (maybe even completely past the frozen level) morning. And I’ll bet the grand majority are ultimately happy to be there.

3) Why the one dropout on the cheerfulness team? What hidden burdens are some of our fellow travelers carrying?

[Now fully light...the no-response count is up to three. But one was a wife on her way to a meeting talking to her husband on a cell phone and telling him that she loved him—excused!]

4) The faithful member (a convert of relatively few years) who arrives consistently each Sabbath morning, sets up the chairs (usually all by himself and, operating with a prosthetic leg) when the easiest way to unfold the new style of folding chair is to kick the seat outward. I’m not sure, now that I think about it, how he manages. But the process is remarkably quiet! Then he stands at the door and hands out the programs before sitting down for the meeting, a contrasting punctuation in a sea of mostly pale faces.

5) The woman who just passed by with a huge pair of loppers to finalize her floral arrangement. A highly trained professional, she voluntarily provides artistic creations that would undoubtedly fetch a handsome sum were she to be doing it commercially.

6) Here comes the group providing this morning’s special musical number—three teenagers: one of a family newly moved in, the son of a split family, and the daughter of a whole family baptized about three years ago. At least two known stories; one, as yet unclear, indubitably exists.

All these things have passed through my mind this morning. But the place where my mind stopped to graze a while was with the shovel and the broom. Let’s try that one.

* * *

The broom and the snow shovel were standing side by side in the church vestibule. Two very different tools, despite their shared handledness.

The shovel—rigid, powerful, capable of pushing and lifting; the broom—flexible, spreadable, capable of coaxing and gathering [see Note 2].

Both helpful in the appropriate circumstances, they would be totally useless in the opposite conditions. Can we imagine attacking a huge snowdrift with a broom? Or how about pursuing a dust bunny hiding under the bed with a snow shovel? Rather amusing scenarios, right?

[And here we can go whichever way we want in developing our “parable.” We will choose a genealogical application since that is the milieu in which we find ourselves.]

But don’t we sometimes find ourselves in similar situations as we search for clues about our ancestors? So often we assume that we can wade in and clear away huge piles of mystery in a series of quick blows—scoop, scoop, scoop. When the first shovelful releases relatively quickly, we think to ourselves, “Ah, this is going to be a piece of cake! No problem! Wonder why so many people exclaim over the difficulties they encounter.”

And then we hit the hard-packed bank. If it’s ice, there is nothing much to do besides leave and wait for it to thaw. We go back every once in a while to see if anything has loosened up that can be pulled away from the main body. If not, we wait a while longer.

Then as the months (maybe years) go by, we find that we’re gathering little tiny pieces of information—one detail here and another one there. A shovel would serve absolutely no purpose now. But a broom would help...each straw potentially grabbing one of those minuscule facts, drawing it closer so we can see where it might fit into the whole picture.

Two tools; multiple processes; all melded together in a flowing stream of discovery. Whenever we get discouraged and feel like we’re getting nowhere in our efforts, may we keep in mind the massive glaciers that remolded the earth’s surface as they lumbered over the landscape, the melted water that carves countless ditches (including the Grand Canyon), and the wind-blown sand which has created unbelievable shapes out of solid rock.

Whatever the stage at which we find ourselves, let’s keep our tools available and use them in the most appropriate manner. Rejoice in the big finds, persistently pursue the small ones, and be patient while the huge barriers melt. They really will if we’re determined to work away at them.


1. My sister has written poetry in the past, receiving some recognition. Recently, I was also privileged to read a cousin’s life reflections which were very interesting. (Same generation, parents from the same family, but quite a different growing up.) There may be others in the family about whom I know nothing, and that ignorance is kind of sad.

2. In fact, every time I sweep with a broom, I remember an excerpt from one of my favorite books of all time, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. A kindly neighbor lady is explaining to her exuberant guest, “‘Goodness, child! what a dust you’ve kicked up! that ain’t the way to sweep,’ and she took the broom out of Polly’s hand, who stood stock still in mortification. ‘There,’ she said, drawing it mildly over the few bits she could scrape together, and gently coaxing them into a little heap; ‘that’s the way; and then they don’t go all over the room.’” [p. 31 in the 1909 edition I have]