By Daniel Hubbard | July 31, 2011
Well, well another blogyear has come and gone and sure enough my blogiversary is upon me. For the second time I get to put on my blogging party hat and celebrate just a bit. But first, as is traditional a short “real” post. (Ok, I did it this way for the one other blogiversary that I’ve had, but traditions need to start somewhere.)
To Preserve or Not to Preserve
After writing three posts on preservation at the end of June and early July, I ran into someone’s request to do the opposite. I was transcribing a letter from a husband to his wife and the letter was not at all easy to read. All the usual suspects were there—marginal preservation, poor handwriting, odd grammar, unusual spelling and a few strange turns of phrase. Not understanding everything on the first pass is no surprise. When working with the transcription afterwards, I realized two things. First, though he was a squeaky clean individual, as far as I can determine, he seemed to be saying something that I won’t repeat here. I checked that it was possible for him to use the expression that I thought I had teased from his odd spelling. It had been reasonably widespread for a century when the letter was written. Then a bit later was the clincher. He told his wife to burn the letter when she finished reading it. It was nothing bad about her or about him but it did have to do with many people that they knew. His choice was “not to preserve.” Obviously, she did not burn the letter but if she decided to preserve or just never got around to burning it, we’ll never know.
In another letter from the same man to his wife, he put his two cents into a squabble that her family was having. In doing so he committed to writing his opinion of her brother’s behavior. Things she could not have known. Things that were not complimentary. Though the letter writer really was squeaky clean, his way of expressing himself was not. He didn’t tell her to burn that letter but he might have. She kept it. It has been preserved.
A woman whose life I’ve investigated had a secret marriage. It wasn’t secret at the time, but it became secret. She started a new life and part of that life was to hide that she had been married before. I found the marriage license. I have one picture of her husband. I have a guest book that she signed as a married woman but later someone came along, nearly completely erased her married name, then wrote her maiden name over it in different ink. Clearly the choice was “not to preserve.”
In my own family there is a story that has been handed down for generations. The end result, a death, matches reality but the path to that reality was altered to make it more acceptable. The whole truth was not preserved and needed to be rediscovered. Today, I choose to preserve both what the evidence shows to have happened and what that family story, because it too is part of our family history.
Every so often we find these things. Information that someone, at some point, did not want to be known. It isn’t uncommon to need to wrestle with what to do with the information. Nevertheless, the choice in research is not really to preserve or not to preserve. The choice is to only preserve or to also disseminate. It used to be that virtually every illegitimate birth was something to be hushed up no matter how far back in time. Few people feel that way now but clearly there are facts that, whatever they are, are too recent to reveal or that someone isn’t ready to know. Eventually, they become just another facet of a complex life, something that was good to have preserved.
Now for my blogiversary. This year I thought I would pick the posts that were best for having a party.
Researching to the Oldies—By popular demand, I’ve had to turn the volume down on some Civil War songs of late but what is a party without music?
Pushmi-Pullyu—Some of the best stories about parties involve berserk pets getting loose. A berserk pushmi-pullyu would be a sight to remember.
Taking Walks with the Census Taker and my Dad—What would a genealogical party be if there were no relatives invited?
The Sagan Doctrine—If we’re going to have a party in Mathmagic Land, I want to have Carl Sagan along to discuss just how many positions we have on our pedigree charts forty generations ago.*
Making Preserves—Parties do need food.
Seven Deadly Genealogical Sins?—Though there are certainly parties that involve one or more deadly sins, I’d prefer if these were conspicuous by their absence.
* If you don’t remember Cosmos and the Sagan imitations at the time, ask someone who does about “billions and billions.”Twitter It!