Sunday, March 27, 2011

Landscape Across Time

The one thing that brought me to genealogy as a passionate pursuit was the thought of restoring identities and communities back to our consciousness. Facts will only get us so far. A record or tombstone can give us a name, a place and a date. A photograph can give us a face or a space. Pieced together, all of these things form a skeleton without flesh. But what gives us the flesh for those bones? The things that form flesh are the serendipitous pieces of information that give us the living details. These living details can come from so many places. A memory, a story, a beloved object or heirloom. All of these non-facts, the ethereal parts of a person's life are what provides color, warm tones that bring that person's life back from obscurity.

The same can be said for communities. My mother grew up in the Pendleton County area of Kentucky. My grandparents moved away from that area when I was about a year old, so I have no memory of my life being fully connected as a livable space. But the roots attached there are still so complex and deep that it became an important part of my existence. My mother and grandparents raised me to appreciate and remember that my roots are from this place.

Ironically, because our roots in this one county span so many generations (late 18th century), my visualization and understanding of this community is unique. Above the town of Falmouth, literally, the steep rolling hills of the northern part of this county form a chain of farming families. Perhaps not all of the residents farm now, but the original farms are still pretty well spaced as they have been for many generations. When we drove the back country roads, my mother, and before her, my grandparents, and before them, my great grandmother, all made a point to demonstrate our deep roots here by pointing out places that used to be connected to our family - thus painting a picture of a farming community that does not respect the limits of time.

When they proceeded to point out a beloved neighbor's house, or the former farm of a ggg grandparent, or the church that they belonged to for years, they always told a small story to go with it. Each story connected a person or many people to this place, and added some flesh to the bones of the community skeleton. My mother is still here to tell the stories and each visit to that area, each drive down those roads is a pop quiz. Am I ready to pass on the information? Have I learned it well enough to recite some of the stories and point out the special family places? 

One thing I discovered is that after all of those years of sharing stories and places while we drive, I now have this marvelous image of the timeline of this community. My visualization of each place along the road shifts across generations and decades like shimmering colors of a waterfall. Around one corner I can see my ggg grandfather building a stone fence around his property. Around another, I can see my mother as a child, sitting on the steps of her school house, and still another, I can see my grandmother hanging clothes out on the line to dry. Even when houses or landmarks are no longer there, I can see them - and they are not black and white, they are full of marvelous color! Which means, for this one small community, the people who worked and worshiped and played and loved are not gone, I can see them every time I travel down those winding roads that overlook the hills. To be able to see time unfold in that manner is the wonderful gift given to the genealogist - because deep down, we never stop at facts - they are not what drives our research. We do not seek the dead - we seek the lives of the people who have simply moved on, yet whose lives gave us ours, and forever changed the future course of the next generations.

My apologies on the sappy level - but sometimes don't you just feel like waxing sappy about what we do?
We wouldn't do this if we didn't love it!



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