Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Hyphen Between the Dates

My 4th Great Grandparents

A grave marker doesn't leave much space to tell about a person's life. While there may be an engraved picture or memorialized photograph on the stone, most grave markers leave only enough room for two dates and a hyphen. 

And while the hyphen takes up the least amount of space on the marker,
it comprises a whole lifetime.

One day my daughter asked, 
"Mom, why are you so interested in people who are dead?"  

"It's not that I'm interested in the dead," I replied. "I'm interested in how people lived."

About five years ago I came upon a title in the Bargain Books section of Barnes and Noble that caught my attention. By that time I had already been researching our family history for three years. I walked away from the book and continued browsing, but then found myself returning to it. 

It's title, Leaving a Trace: The Art of Transforming Life into Stories, reminded me of that hyphen. I had journaled in college, not because I wanted to, but because it was required of all writing majors. More times than none I would wait until a day or two before the due date and fictionalize the week's entries as fast as I could write . . . missing the whole purpose of daily writing exercises. The end result: a badly cramped hand and a fist-full of scrawled, meaningless pages.  

This book, however, completely transformed my perception of journaling. 

I began to realize that one day, people might wonder about the hyphen between my dates. Being an average American woman, daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, what collection of documents would I leave behind to characterize my lifetime . . . birth, marriage, baptismal and death certificates . . . a few photos . . . a Bible . . . but how would people know my true nature?  likes?  dislikes?  What do I desire my children and grandchildren to know about me?

Since that time I have formed the belief that the role of a genealogist is not confined to preserving the past, but includes recording the present for future generations.

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