11 April 2016

The "Responsibilities" of the Family Historian... Or Not... Or Maybe

I apologize in advance to my readers.  I usually form my thoughts clearly in advance, what I want to say and how I want to say it, before I sit down at my computer.  But this subject is so emotionally driven and heartfelt, I am not sure my mind is capable enough to separate it out into a rational syllogism.  So I am afraid this will be a bit stream of consciousness.

We are all aware that the ethical and responsible genealogist and family historian has any number of "responsibilities."  My gosh, the list seems endless -- cite your sources, use a proof standard, backup your data, stay organized, protect originals, preserve keepsakes, etc.  In the field there is a separate list -- tread lightly, be friendly and polite, ask for permission, treat gravemarkers respectfully, handle records carefully, etc.  But I want to move onto a third category of "responsibility," not even sure it is a responsibility, or whose responsibility it is?

I remember many years ago, the first time I found out an ancestor did not have a gravemarker.  It was a great-aunt I never knew.  My heart sank for her and I wondered what if anything I could do about it?  Was it my "responsibility?"  I think I am the only one that cares.

I found a cousin researching the same Dutton line as mine.  Where my branch went to central Illinois, his branch went to southern Illinois.  I noticed his are all buried in the same family graveyard.  Unkempt.  Weeds are overtaking it, stones have fallen over, and as the trees take over, I suspect in ten years it will be gone.  He feels helpless to do anything.  What would I do if they were my ancestors?  Would I do anything?

Over the last two decades I have discovered any number of broken stones and missing markers, not just for indirect relatives, but also for direct ancestors.  I have yet to lift a finger.

As regular readers here know I have embraced two causes.  First is the case of my aunt Dorothy whose ashes were abandoned by her husband in an apartment, and returned to the crematorium by the police, where they have sat now unwanted for almost seventy years. I am in the process of securing them and having them interred with her parents, my grandparents.  Second is the case of my 2xg-grandfather Henry Walker, Sr. who died in the Civil War and is buried in a National Cemetery under a marker that reads "Unknown."  Using government documents I have identified his grave, and I am working with my congressman to get that fixed.  But that is where my activism ends so far.  "Activism?"  Or is it "responsibility?"

There are practical considerations.  One of the broken stones of a direct ancestor is my 3xg-grandfather, and on the other side of the family tree is a 3xg-grandmother in a cemetery that is unkempt and about to be swallowed up by urban sprawl.  No offense to my 3xg-grands, but I have thirty-two of you!  Where do I begin?

Now if my family was large enough I could form a family association where we all contribute a little to make a lot, which could grow and become enough to get some things done with!  But alas, I do not have a large family.  And I am kind of the only one interested in these things, or cares.  Most of my family consider me an oddity.  The only one who feels any "responsibility" to the dead.

All my life I have sought to treat others the way I would want to be treated in the same situation, I am nowhere near perfect, but I try.  And as weird as it sounds, it is also across generations, including the deceased.  "Absurd" you say, "They are dead and gone, they don't care."

But I care.  I feel responsible to do what I can.  And maybe that is the answer.  I am not perfect, and I do not live in a perfect world.  Maybe my "responsibility" is to do what I can.

Copyright © 2016 by Kevin W. Walker

No comments:

Post a Comment