Facebook continues to be a brain sucker. I try to sit in a coffee shop and I literally cannot remember what I was going to write here, even though it was so important to me this morning that I brought my journal and computer to work and then stopped at a coffee shop afterward with every intention of writing it. Now, media in all its glorious forms have robbed me of the memory of what was, until very recently, an urgent and pressing thought to capture.
What have I been doing with myself? I have acquired several documents for my genealogical research. Some I downloaded from county websites, others I had to purchase. Siblings’ marriage licenses I downloaded. My father’s land purchase I paid a nominal fee for and downloaded. My mother’s marriage license to her first husband I purchased from Gonzales County – and I received a certified copy. (This is so exciting!) I’ve begun to log these items. At work I abstract documents like these, and I feel an irresistible urge to do it at home as well. So, I’ve used genealogy as a pretext to begin collecting documents, so that I, too, can have fun with them.
I went through a similar phase at a very young age. I worked at HEB and I desperately wanted to work in bookkeeping. And, I don’t use the word “Desperately” lightly here. So many things at that time of my life were so very important. I was so very in love with Michael. (Being gay in the 80’s was an exercise in self-torture.) And, I wanted so very badly to work in bookkeeping and make all of those numbers line up and balance. I even dreamed, while sleeping, about using an adding machine. There is little in this world quite as satisfying as an 11 X 17 sheet of tiny numbers that balances to zero. I felt so good. Accomplished.
Accounting never called to me that way; very little did. My entire existence was a large vacuum of need for approval. I wanted so badly for my bosses to be proud o me. I longed for it with tears in my eyes. I don’t know why I never sought this approval at college. I did attend for a while, but I didn’t finish. I didn’t have the same drive, sadly. A logical person would have put their energy into something that would offer better returns later in life, though I do have to admit that the skills I developed in the bookkeeping office at HEB all led, in one way or another, to almost every job I’ve had since.
I’m reading a book called Word by Word by Kory Stamper. She was an editor at Merriam Webster Dictionary and I first fell in love with her when she made her infamous “Plural of Octopus” video for their Ask the Editor series. Reading her book reminded me of this passion I’ve been talking about, as she described discovering Medieval Icelandic family sagas and Medieval Studies in general. And as she described her love for the English Language. She writes about seeing an Old English word and noticing that it had a similarity to modern English, but that others did not, about chasing down these words across languages and continents – learning from whence they came how they developed to the spelling and pronunciation used currently. She writes about the restless need that drove her to learn these things. The way she describes her studies, her interview to work at Merriam Webster – I can so relate. The difference being that she has a successful career to show for it.
I look back at that time of my life – late teens and 20’s. My quest to learn Spanish was no less intense than the bookkeeping deal. I must have irritated friends to death by demanding that they tell me what was being said in every Spanish song I heard. Songs are a good way to learn Spanish. Repetition, baby.
Come to think of it, I got on a lot of people’s nerves. For a lot of things. Being passionate leaves you vulnerable, especially if you don’t develop a level of narcissism to allow you to block out others’ feelings, a character trait that I never managed to develop. A passionate person is considered a genius or an idiot, depending on the viewer.
Nowadays I pursue interests, but I don’t have that passion as much, which is almost just as well. It’s exhausting. Until, that is, something like historic documents comes along and I dream of a climate/humidity-controlled room in which to collect documents and ephemera – and to catalog them. Marriage licenses help establish parentage (typically). Birth and Death Certificates offer information about people, assuming that the information could be had at the time of the event. Property sale documents help establish where people were and give a good idea how serious they were about being in a certain area. There was a migration from Europe through the Carolinas and Alabama that left my family here in Texas as the wave carried people all the way west to California. I’m finding paperwork that can tie my family to this migration, and I can see how we moved from North Carolina to Alabama to Northern Texas. Some other things I’m finding – particularly about a specific relative from Mexico – are fascinating, but I need more documentation. The name is the same as my mother’s grandfather, but I need something that ties the Braulio Hernandez from the Chihuahua area during the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th Century (Pancho Villa apparently loathed my great-grandfather) to the man who fathered my grandmother. Some of the stories don’t seem to line up perfectly and I really need proof that this historic figure is the same man as the one in my family tree.
I also love pamphlets from art fairs, business cards, magazines, personal letters, post cards… the only requirement is that it have a traceable connection to me. I have a journal where I keep business cards of my friends, and I write a little bit about how I know them and why I feel they are important enough for me to keep their cards. Some of the ephemera can serve to remind me of a life well-lived. And, as I said, genealogy offers an excellent reason to pursue this fascinating, albeit pointless hobby.
I need to learn to direct my heart to logical, useful things.