Monday, December 1, 2008

What's in a Name?

The title of this blog is 'Past is Prologue'. The reference, of course, is from Act 2 of The Tempest by Shakespeare. As the story progresses, Antonio tells Sebastian ". . .what's past is prologue. . ."
. Essentially, he is saying that all that has gone before in our little play has merely been the preamble and now the real action begins. Now we take what we have learned by studying that prologue which is no longer changeable and apply that learning to what comes now. Perhaps we can possibly change the outcome for the better with that knowledge.


And what better quotation could there be for a genealogist? I may not have mentioned it before, but I am a genealogist. Not by vocation, but by passion. If I had my way, I would research genealogy until I turned blue. And I nearly have a couple of times. I can hardly take credit for the association of that quotation with genealogy, however, after all it is carved into the facade of the National Archives.

And, yes, the National Archives in Washington is one of my favorite places in the world. Back before put all the census data online, I would take trips to the Archives building and hunch over the microfilm viewers and scroll through endless images searching for a connection.

urrrrh, urrrrh,. . . whirrrrrrr. . . urrrrh, urrh, urrh
,. . . whirrrrrrrrrrr. . .

Then, when I was done with a reel, I'd have to stand up for leverage to rewind. Nowadays, people can sit in the comfort of their own home, in their jammies, with a cool drink and look things up in an INDEX! Wimps. If your arm isn't numb at the end of a research day, you weren't really working.

The past is our prologue. Everything that's happened to us and to our ancestors has laid the foundation for today. What motivated John Watkins to sail with John Smith to the New World? Where would I be if he hadn't? In my mind, I see genealogy as the perfect avocation using a combination of research skills, detective skills, knowledge of history, geography, etymology, human relations, handwriting analysis, documentation and prose.

But all that takes a back seat to the rush of discovery. I vividly remember sitting all alone in a dusty, rarely used records room in Montgomery County, Maryland searching through wills in books that hadn't been opened for twenty years. I had been at a standstill searching for proof that the father of Caleb Watkins was Nicholas as others had documented repeatedly, but without proof. When I found Caleb's will, included in the possessions he was bequeathing was a certain silver watch that "had been given me by my father Jeremiah". In the silence of that room, Caleb had spoken to me across the years and across the generations. I can't describe to you the thrill of that discovery, the surety, the ultimate
illumination. Caleb's voice clearly echoed through the dust particles floating in the air, "Nicholas was my uncle, you idiot, Jeremiah was my father, I have his watch."

The past is the past, and it is merely the prologue for what will come today. Use the knowledge you have gained by your hard-won experience and make today better.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Sounds as you've found your calling. This should be interesting reading and I look forward to it!