By Daniel Hubbard | January 6, 2013
This is, even now, not an easy post to write. When I wrote a genealogical obituary for my Aunt Melva, I was saddened but not surprised that her time had come. No one expected my father-in-law to be proclaimed terminally ill or that he would be gone so fast. Our youngest daughter had traveled to Sweden to visit just this passed summer. He had been feeling under the weather back then then but nothing too serious. Even when he went into the hospital a few weeks ago, we thought it was just a matter of figuring out the problem. I chatted with him often over Skype. On Christmas Eve he passed away.
This has never been a blog about me personally, so I won’t go into any of the many things losing him has meant. On the other hand, this is a blog about genealogy and my father-in-law meant a great deal to me in that way.
One of the many things that he did in his life was to work with IT. It seems like a long time ago that he told me about a new type of program that he was using, a genealogy database. Soon afterward he gave me my first copy of Reunion so that we could go through his research together.
When I started to do my own research in Swedish records, he helped me to understand the obscure terms and taught me to decipher the Gothic script. The heart of Swedish genealogy is the church records. My father-in-law had a degree in theology and an interest in church history that made him the perfect teacher.
Nevertheless, genealogy was not his main passion for the past. That was medieval art. One of the last things that I helped him with was to read through a contract with Princeton University before he signed it. His collection of photographs of the medieval art found in Swedish churches is now The Lars-Olof Albertson Database of Swedish Art, a part of Princeton’s Index of Christian Art. Photographing, cataloging and even writing the database software to display those artworks was his passion. Perhaps that is part of the reason we connected so well—the desire to combine the long ago with the most modern tools. The past that he was most interested in just happens to be one step beyond what most genealogists can access.
For personal reasons, I have a favorite from among his church photographs. When my family and I were still living south of Stockholm he came to visit us and we headed just a bit north to the town of Täby. He wanted to photograph the church and I went along to take a look and help a bit with his lighting equipment. He did most of his photography further south and so this was a rare opportunity for me. Among the images painted onto those walls, is one that inspired the director Ingmar Bergman to create the iconic scene of a knight playing chess with Death. I wanted to see that image and I’m glad that I got to help photograph it. I see now that I even ended up in one of the photos from that day, sitting in a pew under the frescoes of the vaulted roof, still wearing my bright blue rain jacket.
When I was told that he would soon be gone, many things went through my head. Eventually, I remembered that long ago, just in case something happened to him, he had made me co-administrator of his genealogy database. He had put it online on a private part of his web server. I checked that I still knew how to log in before it was too late to get help. Then I downloaded it all to make sure that the latest information was preserved. I said good-bye in far more personal ways but perhaps that is how the genealogist in me bid farewell.
In closing, I will try to be less personal and draw some lessons.
- Talk with your relatives. You never know when it will be too late.
- Learn from people who have interests and expertise that borders on genealogy. They might not understand why you care but what can be mysterious for us might be commonplace for them.