I'm a genealogy nut. I haven't devoted any time to research lately, though, because it's too addicting...one name leads to another and to another and to another...next thing I know 10 hours have flown by with my nose in a book or my eyes on a computer screen, pencil clenched in my fingers, nothing to eat but a Snickers bar from a vending machine.
I just can't afford the time or calories right now.
Mostly what I love about genealogy is finding out about the lives of my ancestors, imagining what their lives were like based on the few tidbits of information I gather from census and land records. I love reading about the times they lived through, the obstacles they overcame. It inspires me, makes me realize my little piddly problems are nothing compared to what they survived.
I collect photographs of my ancestors and family members. Surround myself with them. It's probably no surprise those are my favorite heirlooms, followed by anything handmade or handwritten. I peer into their faces and beyond into the background of the photographs, looking for clues, imagining the moments just before and after.
I examine their letters, caress the doilies and quilts, and wonder how, in a world of automobiles, no Walmarts, no electricity, they had time to produce anything like this for fun or beauty?
Right now I'm focused mostly on one ancestor, my great-great grandfather. Every day I pore over his words, try to imagine his voice narrating his story, try to fill in the gaps between his words, interpret what he's telling me.
His is a violent story - he didn't sugar-coat the past, but pulled back the layers exposing all the ugliness. And boy, was it ugly. Sometimes it's tough for me, having to put myself into it, walk in his shoes and see through his eyes.
There's sadness and remorse in his story, but also joy. I know from my grandmother's memories of him that he exuded fun and excitement. Thoughtfulness. Love. He loved his granddaughters.
He was a poet - writing about the beauty around him, the turbulent times he lived in, the aching in his heart from great loss.
And yet he was a violent man, living...well, fighting to survive...in a violent time. Somehow I have to meld the separate parts together. I have a responsibility to him, my grandmother's memories of him, and the honor of my family to ensure the lessons he learned from his life are heard clearly in my telling.
When I converted to Catholicism 15 or so years ago, I learned about All Saints' Day (today) and All Souls' Day (tomorrow). Per Wikipedia: ...Catholics celebrate All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual communion between those in the state of grace who have died and are either being purified in purgatory or are in heaven (the 'church penitent' and the 'church triumphant', respectively), and the 'church militant' who are the living.
I'm not here to debate whether there's a communion between the living and the dead, but I have to admit, I like the idea of having relatives in heaven praying for me. I think of my g-g-grandpa up there, along with my other loved ones who have passed, cheering me on, praying for encouragement and tenacity and understanding for me as I plod along...which reminds me of my favorite lines in "When the Saints Go Marching In"...
We are traveling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before
But we'll all be reunited
On a new and sunlit shore.
So especially today and tomorrow, I'll think of them, these multitudes who's blood and genes and DNA I share (who gave me the thin hair??) and say a prayer for their souls, may they be resting in peace. I'll tell them thanks...I really don't hold a grudge about my hair...and try to live my life in a way that honors their memories and their hard work.
We thank you, O God,
for the saints of all ages,
and for those known and loved by us,
who have passed
from this earthly fellowship
into the fuller light of life with you,
where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever. Amen.
P.S. Tomorrow is Election Day. If you're like me and haven't voted yet, make sure you VOTE! Don't take this right for granted. I admit, I'm glad this day is finally here...no more sappy, hateful television ads or automated phone calls! I wish the elimination of those were going to be on the ballot!
And P.S.S. Today is the first day of National November Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo), where writers support each other in writing 15,000 words in one month, essentially a whole novel. I've never tried it before (who decided on November, when there's Thanksgiving and Christmas preparation, for goodness sake?) but since they haven't changed the month yet, I think I'm going to give in and try it. I haven't yet decided to sign up officially, because I'm not starting a new novel, just trying to finish the one I've started. I'm hoping this will be the motivation I need, even without official backing. We'll see. Wish me luck! I'm off to write 1500 words before bedtime...
Hmmm, it's already 9:30...yes, please wish me luck. Obviously, I'm going to need it!