Sunday, April 21, 2019

Books vs. Articles

Slowly I am learning that writing a family history book is not anything like writing an extra-long article. A book is more like infinity  -- walking in a flat desert with no landmarks. The horizon stays in the same place no matter how long you walk.

On the positive side, once done, books are much roomier than articles. I can find out how relatives interacted -- how California cousins took in a Wisconsin relative whose doctor said she would die if she had to go through another winter; how my wife's 20something grandfather, on his way from Wisconsin to graduate school at Yale, stopped by to see an aunt in eastern Kansas (a sizeable detour); and some less reputable exploits. I can also find out how they didn't interact, as when a Civil War veteran died claiming he had no relatives, when he had at least two. (I count him and many like him as casualties of the war even though they lived for decades after.)

And a book has room for diversions and distractions, even though it cannot be as consistently entertaining as  Sharon Hoyt on the many marriages of Ida May Chamberlain (National Genealogical Society Quarterly 106 [September 2018]: 217-38), or John Coletta on anything.

Easy online availability of deeds, probates, and newspapers makes it easier than ever to enrich the story -- and lengthen it (1216 footnotes but who's counting?). Even so, because so few write biographical or autobiographical sketches there are still many gaps. And when the task is to render the formatting consistent over many dozens of pages, it also helps to have the smooth drone of a Cubs game in your ear.

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