By what right?

Lately I have been thinking (always dangerous in the 21st c.)–by what right do I present for you my thoughts, my experience, my skills, as being those of an expert? What makes an expert anyway?

It was said to me. by someone I considered an expert and to whom I had gone for advice–“It takes three years of one-hour-per-day study and application to become the world’s expert–on any subject.”

Seriously? One hour per day?

And after spending a lifetime of more than one hour per day–my current concern is the survival (or lack of it) of records needed to prove father-son relationship. When that father-son relationship must span state boundaries, a life-changing revolution, and the transition from a colonial position to independent, stand-on-your-own feet nationhood–seems to me the leap is really one of historical faith.

May I recommend an older view of history? Daniel J. Boorstin’s Hidden History (New York: Harper & Row, 1987). Boorstin is a Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Discoverers, who dedicated this book to the Library of Congress! With a handwritten quotation from Ira Gershwin in 1966–“Shining star and inspiration, worthy of a mighty nation…” and I do mean the Library of Congress.

Think about this requirement: to uncover the course of the past; to create a truthful account of the real past–not a figment of my imagine. Requires that we use whatever we can find among the relics and writings that have survived until today–seeking witnesses, long dead, who can clarify for us, who are long removed, what really happened.

Boorstin calls this the “survival of the unread.” Mindful of the “accidents of survival that may skew our vision”–destruction of and disappearance of well-known documents. From my own experience, I visited with a southern clergyman about the apparent loss of the very churchbook that I needed to document the membership and the marriage of the ancestor I sought. It was gone!

The Very Reverend told me,”I believe that I know who took the book for safe-keeping and when the people who could be hurt by what it contains have died, I suspect the book will re-surface to the surprise of us all.” And it did, in a research library many miles distant from the location of the church and many years later.

Survival is not usually an accident–durable, not removed from its location, protected, stored against loss or displacement, perceived to have value, dignified, printed for more than one surviving copy–purposely considered worthy of preservation.

Sorting Your Personal Stuff: Have you watched someone sort their personal belongings to determine what to keep, what to donate, what to give away, and what to trash? I was invited to a home, where an elderly woman was “down-sizing” her life. She had already sorted many items into piles. One of the piles was for me–original diaries, lists of ancestors and their information–ancestors which she and I shared. They were treasures. And I was so pleased to get them, even out of the context of what she had collected and preserved.

Even though we shared the ancestors, who would expect me to be the recipient of these treasures? Could the lost documents I seek have taken the same kind of route–Been donated or given away to some other family member or government agency for preservation? Someone, the owner/possessor concluded would do a better job, or provide for the survival in a better way?

In my experience, genealogy proof is usually a surprise–the document, the personal account, the photograph survived! I just have to be willing to look. I have to pay attention to the details I already know. I need to consider which repository is most likely to have the stuff if it survives, or to know where it could be found. And then I must look.

Dear reader, sometimes my thoughts carry me through a course of considerations–yet, I come back to the initial question: by what right do I ask you to pay attention? My knowledge is continually being expanded–I read and study every day. My skill levels increase because I use them each and every day. And my experience is really quite vast because I have visited numerous libraries and archives  with and without genealogy materials–some just too determine what they have of interest to me and the genealogies my clients have asked me to trace. I work daily in my own ever-expanding personal library of more than 15,000 volumes. Not just one hour per day; every day.

Oh, I have insatiable love of learning and a personal need to know. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS I also try to introduce you to the best of the best writings that help me to build  more accurate and real family trees. Hang in there–I do hope my blogs and I are a part of your one-hour-per-day study of genealogy.

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