Monday, July 24, 2017

How others see us

There are people who hate genealogy -- often because it dealt them a nasty surprise. And there are rather more people who are just puzzled by it. William Maxwell, the late great New Yorker writer and editor, wrote a whole book of stories and memories about his family (Ancestors) in the early 1970s, but he was never one of us.

Carefully placing his own feelings at several removes, early in the book he recalled having dinner with an older cousin who was the family genealogist (and who later died relatively young). William was shy and perhaps a bit intimidated. He reflected later,

“I wish I had somehow given him a chance to say what it was that he hoped to gain for himself as he went about collecting facts having to do with births, deaths, and marriages of several generations of self-respecting, not very well-educated, for the most part devout men and women nobody has ever heard of.” (17)

It's a good question -- in a way a very "New York" question even though Maxwell lived his early life in Lincoln, Logan County, Illinois -- and one that deserves our consideration as we go about our work.


A H Zeller said...

Harold, there you go again, asking us to think!
Looking back 16 years, it must have been the thrill of the hunt. "Facts" were more elusive then, and I enjoyed using some of the academic skills that were growing rusty. More recently, the thrill comes from gaining some insight into my ancestors' lives - and hoping I'm learning from them. Al Zeller

Harold Henderson said...

Yeah, those both make sense to me, Alan!