The Kaleidoscope of My Mind
By Lorraine I. Quillon
It may be the weather (rainy and gray). It may be the fact that it is Monday morning. It may be the demands of multiple pleas for attention that has my brain flitting from one subject to the other as I try to get my mental bearings. Whatever the cause, I’m definitely scattered as I begin this day, just like the fragmented images we see in those old-time kaleidoscopes some of us used to play with as children.
As a family historian, I hope I am not alone in this malady. When it comes to family history pursuits, it’s pretty easy to become somewhat overwhelmed by the rapidly multiplying opportunities being made available, especially those showing up online. These create their own sense of stress just by their availability. We should be doing something with each of them, right? And talk about overwhelmed—just look at that pedigree chart full of intriguing research possibilities!
There are those for whom this is an exciting challenge. There are others who find the thought too daunting to face. I suppose most of us are somewhere along the continuum in between those two perspectives.
So what to do? Here’s a suggestion. Pick one! Pick any one! Perhaps in the way of our worldly tasks and responsibilities, it would be wise to pick the most pressing, the one with the most consequences attached to it. But pick one and focus on it until it’s either done or sufficiently processed for the day
On the other hand, family history is different. We don’t really know which of those pedigree chart branches is most pressing. Standing at position #1 and looking back, we have no way of telling which of those lines is the most needy, the most urgent. Sometimes we get an inkling that leads us in one direction, but most of the time it’s the same process of “just pick one.”
Forty-three years ago this past June, I was surveying my partially filled pedigree chart in preparation to begin a new research project at the Family History Library. One line stood out to me for some reason. Perhaps it was the most sparsely populated line. Perhaps having personally known my grandmother (the last of that surname line) made the difference. Perhaps I’d even made promises long ago which were at that point remembered only in the hidden recesses of the core of my being.
Whatever the reasons, I began a quest on that day that has unfolded through the intervening years and will probably consume the majority of the remainder of my available research life. Although I did find one new generation on that first morning, the preceding generations which I thought would subsequently march out of the records in an orderly row have failed to appear.
However, the massive amount of information I have gathered about the downline generations is pretty substantial. Is it possible that I have spent the majority of my life to become an expert on this one family? Perhaps. I have now accumulated enough surrounding information that I know the people with whom my family associated, transacted land dealings, married into, lived next to, went to court against, and all sorts of other as-yet unconnected pieces of information—yes, truly another kaleidoscope!
And yet, there is a pattern in those kaleidoscopic images. We just have to figure out what pattern governs the development of our families and the information they left behind.
Another question arises: Is it discouraging to think that I have focused on that one family out of all those that were beckoning to me from that first pedigree chart? Here I can answer with an unequivocal, “No!” The adventure has been more than thrilling. The challenge has kept my mind alert and on the lookout for additional clues. The serendipitous events along the way that indicate an interest from unseen observers have fed my soul, along with the partnership I feel with fellow researchers engaged in the same pursuit.
So if you’re feeling fractured and fragmented and pulled in a couple dozen different directions as this old year winds down toward the new, pick one and get started. I did—I chose to write this article, and I’m glad!
If you’re gazing at that first pedigree chart and trying to figure out where to concentrate your efforts this coming year, pick somebody who looks interesting and get started. Although somewhat unlikely, that choice just might have lifelong consequences! But that’s okay.
How about we get together next December 31 and compare notes? I don’t know about you, but I plan to accumulate a lot more information about my families during the next 12 months. I’ll be using the principles and techniques Holly and Arlene and James and Ruth and Marlo and others have been teaching us.
What a great adventure! Come join the fun!!!