I have just experienced loss of the first draft of this blog, and I know not how so it could happen again.  In my frustration I let out a yowl of dismay, to which David, fortunately just arisen from his blameless sleep, responded with a comforting ginger chocolate.  So now I have to try and reconstruct what I said, which I thought was brilliant and insightful.  As it is lost, the brilliance and insightfulness will have to be taken as givens, because NEVER have I been able to recreate lost posts.  Therefore what follows is my ordinary pedestrian prose.

Recently there was a documentary on television, the Time Travel episode of Stephen Hawking's series, "Into the Universe."   In it, Hawking reviews the many actual and possible forms of time travel (and a few impossible ones as well) but in my view he omits two forms:  one being the fact that we all travel in time -  one day at a time - into the future.  The other is the time travel we do in our minds.

In our minds we can also go into the past.  If we have a suitable vehicle, that experience of the past can be extremely vivid.

I'm not talking about science fiction, or any other kind of fiction, or indeed science fact.  I am talking about my great-grandfather's journals.  He began keeping them in 1852 and continued for most of the rest of his life.  I have (with some effort and indeed cost) got my hands on all of his notebooks, and have been transcribing and footnoting them, and because of the style of his writing and the nature of the content I have been time-travelling to (at the moment) September 1859.

In September 1858 he wrote this:

"15th  III   The late Inspector of the East and West India Docks, William Thomson, told me today that just off the Trinity Corporation's premises at Bow Creek, a sunken Vessel, apparently of about 200 tons Burden, has from time to time become visible at low water.  He says that now the Vessel can be plainly traced out at low water, and it has been found out that at that particular point a number of Vessels were sunk to block up the Thames (so that only one or two ships could pass) at the time of the Spanish Armada was feared in 1588, and this Vessel, which has lately made its appearance, is one of the sunken Ships, as is thought."

My great-grandfather, Henry Thomas Wake, time-travelled to 1588, about 280 years before his time, through this evidence of that era.  I time-travelled back to his time a century and a half ago, and then further back with him to 1588.  This would not be possible were it not for the vivid detail with which he records his life both the physical and the mental landscape.  Working on the writings of others tt has often been necessary, as with the diaries of HTW's granddaughter, my aunt Elsie Hinde Ingram,  to infer states of mind  because the text gave little indication of anything except the PHYSICAL landscape of her life.  

With HTW, I walk the streets and lanes of London - finding that most of those streets remain on present-day maps - and reflect on his annoyance at forgetting his umbrella when it comes on to rain, and  his concern about the putrid state of the Thames - an open sewer - and  share his delight in his children and his fatherly concern for their welfare.  Time travelling.  And now, through the laborious but highly rewarding process of transcribing his journals, I am making them accessible to the immediate family, and those of the extended family who might be interested.  Making their forebears accessible to my grandchildren has been my central purpose in all my family history efforts.  

I suspect that several books will arise from the transcription and footnoting of his journals.  I am on Notebook #4, with more than 400 typed pages resulting.  And many more notebooks await transcription.

Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis wrote something so telling about the human condition that I remember it vividly while the rest of the book, although I remember the pleasure of reading it, I do not at all recall.  The memorable passage referred to the expectation, when a task is completed or a challenge met,  that there will be an abiding sense of satisfaction, even joy.  He goes on to describe the failure of that expectation.  Instead of lasting satisfaction, the positive feeling is of remarkably short duration, to be followed almost immediately with "What's next?"

This hit home powerfully for me.

This morning I finished a task - two tasks actually - projects in my never-ending list of family history books.  One was the last stage of work on a book about the farewell party we had here for my brother.  He had asked for a family gathering to be organized, knowing he had little time left and wanting to see everyone while he could know them.  We took a great many pictures, and together with captions, and a few pictures from his earlier life,  and memories of him written by several of the family, a book of the event emerged.  The book was printed off in 20 copies, and yesterday David finished binding the copies.  

At the same time he bound the smaller number of copies of "my" book on Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  This is a book of the pictures taken by my brother Barry when he visited Angkor Wat in October 2009.  It has always been a place of fantasy for me and I asked him to be lavish in picture-taking for me as well as himself.  My thought that only one copy would be made - for me - had to be discarded;  several were made at the requests of various members of the family, and now this book too is printed and bound and into its mailing packages.

The point here is that my joy and satisfaction at completing these two projects were indeed momentary emotions.  Jonathan Haidt hit the nail on the head.  I have thought that perhaps there will be a more substantial feeling of satisfaction once I complete ALL the family projects on the list, but every time I shorten the list by one, or by two projects as today, three or more arise, demanding my attention.

I suppose I could just tell myself that nothing will be added to the list until all present projects are complete, but I don't seem to be able to go at it that way.  While I am working on one project (more likely several) I do NOT  resist discovering new areas of family history and realizing that books need to be made about them.  In consequence the list never shortens.

While writing today to cousins delinquent in sending me their memories of our shared grandparents  (this is the next of "What's next?") I realized that another book is crying out to be made, of the letters my mother and her siblings exchanged after they had all married and gone their geographically but not emotionally separate ways.  So there it is, two books finished, a new one identified, and still 22 more in the list in various stages.

So why is it that I cannot take more than the briefest of pleasure out of finishing two books.  With the total completed now numbering 25, all I can see is the 22 on the list yet to be written.

These reflections lead to some serious questions about my expectations with respect to RETIREMENT!  This is retirement?  I work at my projects for at least 8 hours a day (scattered over 15 or 16 hours.)  I will be 75 this year, and while I am in reasonable health I find that my cognitive sharpness is declining.  How long am I going to be able to continue working on the family books I so powerfully see as my mission in retirement to produce?  The sense of urgency is at times overwhelming, and is not helped by being still in my first five years after cancer treatment.  AS Omar Khayam has it, "The bird of time has but a little way to flutter, and the bird is on the wing."

The Great-Aunt Mary book was mailed off today, not without qualms on my part.  I hope that some of the recipients will feel free to make additions for a possible future edition; the story of her life is certainly incomplete.

And as always, when completing a project, I feel not exhilaration, but a species of let-down.

Fortunately, while the HTW Notebooks issue is still in limbo, awaiting the response to my plea to the Archivist at Friends' House, London, England, Package #5 arrived from my kinswoman in Ontario, giving me the relatively mindless task of transcribing the interviews with my kin in the seventies to be done.  I made a start this afternoon, and as always find the CONTENT to be fascinating.  The first one I am working on is Betty Ward's interview with my second cousin, who was reflecting on the survival - or otherwise - of the Quaker Meeting in Borden. This is a second cousin who has been most helpful with clarifications of agricultural terms for footnotes, explanations of events and much other valuable assistance in the making of a number of books.  He is now in his eighties, and at the time of the interview he was still  farming in the Borden area, but no longer a member of the Quaker Meeting.

Hmm...I should date my entries.  A lot of water under the bridge since I wrote the above.  Part of said water will be reflected in a later post entitled The Game's Afoot III; for now I will comment further on transcription of the fifth and final package of the Ward Archive.

I should indeed date my entries.  The last one completed and posted was in October 2009; this one and another sat in my draft box until now. Since October, My brother David died (November) and my mother-in-law entered her final illness and died (January 2010.)  It is obvious that my mind has been elsewhere than on family history for some months, but I trust the challenges and tasks presented by the loss of these loved ones will soon be dealt with and life will resume its normal smooth tenor.  I expect, however, to continue to feel uneasy at nine in the morning - the hour when for many years I telephoned my beloved mother-in-law...

As I type, the last copies of my book about my husband's grandfather is printing.  Later today I will bind one of the copies, so as to have it ready to give his daughter, my mother-in-law, at lunch tomorrow.  She is almost 98, and increasingly frail.  

This project, like most of mine, has been in the works for several years.

And once again I experience  NOT the feeling of elation for having completed a long project, but a momentary feeling of "That's nice," followed by "What's next?"

And what's next is the book about my great-aunt Mary.   Having decided  few days ago that I was NOT going to wait for certain information to come in, but rather to finalize the book now, print and bind and mail...with each copy a plea being made to send me anything that should have been included, for a future edition.

"The game's afoot" is what Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson to entice him to join in a search for clues to a mystery.

In July 2009, my second cousin Christine in the south of England told me that in about 1989 she had donated our shared great-grandfather's notebooks to the Derby County Archives.  She had, as she said, lugged them  from attic to attic in her moves across England, and it was time.  She passed them over to a connection who was traveling to Derby (this being Great-Grandfather's home county for the last many decades of his life) and would see them safely into the hands of the archivist.

Apparently that didn't happen.  I contacted the Derby County Archivist, who searched and did NOT find the notebooks.  I had it in mind to arrange for them to be photocopied, and then I would produce a companion volume to the "Victorian Antiquarian..."  book I finally finished last winter. The archivist recommended consideration of the Derby County Library system as a possible repository of the notebooks, and undertook to make inquiries.  

My lack of results was duly reported to my second cousin, who undertook to make some inquiries of her own, and a few days ago emailed in triumph:  the notebooks have been located!  There are fourteen of them; at about 200 pages each we estimate between us that photocopying them would cost in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars.  This is daunting, but not an insuperable obstacle.  Now I await further word from Christine, who awaits word from the archivist at Friends' House, London, England, where the precious notebooks ended up.  The Archivist is to send Christine scanned copies of a few pages from the notebooks; she will forward them to me, and leave it with me to negotiate about  photocopying the whole.  

Having transcribed the three notebooks which found their way to Canada and included them in full in the Victorian Antiquarian book, I know their value.  They are partly diaries, partly records for Great-Grandfather's antiquarian business, partly his ruminations about life, the universe and everything.  The Crystal Palace of England's Great Exposition in 1851 is a historical fact with many references including illustrations available on the Internet.  But it it is another matter entirely to read my Great-Grandfather's thoughts upon seeing it.  Christine said she had remembered the notebooks as being mostly about business, but it had been decades since she had looked at one of them;  the Friends' House Archivist told her they were much more than that. I am looking forward breathlessly to see the rest of the notebooks.

Several days on and Christine has forwarded the scans of several pages of the notebooks sent her by the Friends' House Archivist.  The sample page included reference to my great-grandmother's imminent delivery of her fourth child, Annie, grandmother of Christine. I MUST HAVE THIS MATERIAL! The most immediate obstacle to getting it is the Archivist's word that Friends' House does not have the resources to photocopy this much material - he estimates 2500 pages - and that it would cost 600 pounds to have it microfilmed.  

My next task will be to contact the Archivist directly and see what I can persuade him to do!  Meantime I will look into finding a microfilm reader.  I am prepared to argue that if he can send out the precious notebooks to be microfilmed, maybe he can lend them to me (under a suitable bond) and I can do the photocopying myself.  I am further prepared to "bribe" him with a copy of my first Henry Thomas Wake book, and will start the negotiation by sending him a copy of the index.

To be continued.

Old images come in so many forms, presenting challenges to the writer of family histories.  While the speed of format change in picture-taking has not been as swift as it has for video or computer format changes, still, making use of old images in current family history books is not a straightforward endeavor.

In an earlier blog I referred to my working on assembling a book about my brother David's world travels as a young man.  My husband David scanned the relatively few slides brother David had kept (after many purges!) of his travels, and we are including them in the book.

Having mastered the scanning of slides, which included equipment, software and the acquisition of the necessary skills, David has moved on to scanning the slides we ourselves took from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies.  For the past several weeks we (he scanning, I assisting with identification) have together scanned one slide tray of 40 slides a day, and at the end of the task, with roughly 2000 slides scanned, moved on to the sets of slides my parents assembled for their four children.  

This process of scanning our own slides has been a visit to the past.  The slides were by no means in good order, with evidences of past use showing in the disorder.  For some of the images, no identifying recollection was available.  Others we think we had not looked at since the images were produced. For only a pitiable few was there information written on the card holder of the slide. The numbering of the slide trays LOOKED logical but the slides within usually bore no resemblance to the label on the tray.

I understand this is fairly typical.

As we have gone along we have chosen some of the images to be printed, and are sharing these with various family members.  The bulk of these printouts will become a book in a single copy.  For the full complement of images in the computer, there is grist for several additional books, but at this point the thought of putting those into my work plan is too daunting to contemplate. Maybe next year.

All this is preliminary to the reflection that has been going on about the nature of family picture-taking.

Pictures are taken for many reasons, most boiling down to the desire to preserve for the future some aide-memoir of a present event.  So far so good.

When traveling we also took many pictures of the scenery,  buildings and places customarily in the viewfinder of tourists.  What we find remarkable now is how little they interest us, decades on, compared to the ones we took of family members.  Even dramatic shots of the Arizona Meteor Crater or the Devil's Tower seem worth preserving in the computer only if there are family members in the foreground.  

Further:  if the image is a typical tourist one and without family members in evidence, there is probably a much better picture of that scene available in a picture postcard.  We certainly found that to be the case when trying to take pictures of cathedral ceilings in England!  But strangely, those purchased images too are of little interest now.

A week further on:  "the main herd" is now in sight.  I have in hand, ready for more scanning, the big boxes of slides my parents gave to their four children when they were reducing the "stuff" in their lives.  

More book potential.  I suppose I should at least LIST the potential books but at the moment, the prospect is intimidating.

More reflections about photographs, in their various incarnations, are buzzing around in my head but this entry is too long already.  Suffice it, at this point, to say that there will be more on the subject at another time.

In June of 2008 I entered a piece here on the eponymous Family History project;  rereading it now I see it needs updating, so update it I shall.

I reported then that  in 1999 I had found my cache of my brother Barry's letters from Reunion.  I collected his letters from others in the family and transcribed them, in date order, into the computer, along with the text of his notebook.  The deal then was that he would work on the material after he retired.  

Retire he did, in 2004, but it wasn't until quite recently that work on this manuscript resumed.  Retirement, as I well know, is a hard-working enterprise.

He too had moved a great distance on retirement, and he too had taken a while to find everything that had been packed, stored, shuffled about, from his previous life.  Recently he came upon a package of letters which our mother had returned to him in one of her periodic purges as her life narrowed, finally to one room in a nursing home. Half a dozen of the letters had my note on them, to the effect that they had been transcribed in 2000.  The rest were new to the project, filling in big blanks in the overall story.  Meantime Barry had written several pages of the linking narrative, and now with these additional letters I am off to the races again with this project.  

Talking about these letters of Barry's  reminded Brother David that he too had been recipient of HIS letters to Mum and Dad, from his time in the army, and later from his years abroad.  These letters too will be added to the narrative of my brother David's story, which, by the way, is now in his hands in draft form, lacking of course, the letters, which have only just come to my hands.

Confused?  I am.  And  overwhelmed.  FOUR projects are now making screaming demands on me for urgent, prompt completion.  The story of David Stark, my husband David's grandfather, because his daughter - my mother-in-law - is half past ninety-eight.  Brother Barry's book.  Brother David's book.  Great-Aunt Mary's book.  Three of the four are about Niebuhr descendants.

I did not grasp, when I retired, how hard it would seem necessary to drive myself to accomplish my retirement goals.

In addition I did not grasp the limitations fate - and age - would put on my cognitive ability.  The feeling of urgency is close to overwhelming...

This post has been running around in my head for some time.

The overall theme of this blog of family history, family stories, family trees - in short, FAMILY - will, as I age, inevitably include family deaths.  I referred a couple of posts back to the death of my grandchildren's uncle John - see http://johncaspell.allegrasloman.com/wordpress/ for his memorial site.  And now closer kin, my brother, faces the undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns.   Less than a year ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He was treated with radiation and chemotherapy and seemed to be progressing well.  His prognosis wasn't good but he had been given to expect a few more years.  Then two months ago he had seizures, and investigation revealed the lung cancer had extended to his brain.  Immediate treatment was whole-brain radiation, to be followed in a couple of weeks by targeted radiation with the linear accelerator in Vancouver.  Now between those batches of radiation, he is fatigued and unsteady but learning to accept the love and help that family offer.  Earlier, his fierce independence had made that difficult.

In December and January each of his siblings went to Kelowna in turn to keep him company while he was undergoing six weeks of radiation.  When I was there I scribbled notes while he talked about his adventurous early life when for four years he traveled around the world.  I went again for the week of his follow-up radiation in the middle of July; by then I had transcribed his story and he had reviewed and edited it.  Meantime my husband (also David) had scanned into the computer the slides my brother  had taken during those years, and printed off a set.  This time we worked on detailed captions for the pictures.  I am aiming for that book to be printed and bound by the time of the party.

The party? When Brother David got the second diagnosis, he called and said that he didn't want anyone coming to see him;  he wasn't going to have a funeral;  he wanted no ceremony.  He was going to be cremated and his ashes buried in his son Michael's grave.  What he DID want was a big family party, to take place as soon as he was well enough after his treatment to make the day-long trip, driven by his daughter, to Victoria.  I was directed to get all the family together for him to say goodbye.  A friend referred to such an event as a "living wake."

So - some time in the next few weeks there will be a family party here for my brother.  We will comply with his wishes and "Sing no sad songs..." for him.  His calm acceptance of his fate will keep us from weeping.  At least on the outside.

Herewith a quote from the July-August 2009 Discover magazine:

"...recent insights into memory are part of a large about-face in neuroscience research.  Until recently, long-term memories were thought to be physically etched into our brain, permanent and unchanging.  Now it is becoming clear that  memories are surprisingly vulnerable and highly dynamic.  In the lab they can be flicked on or dimmed with a simple dose of drugs.  For a hundred years people thought memory was wired into the brain.  Instead we find it can be re-wired - you can add false information to it, make it stronger, make it weaker, and possibly even make it disappear...memory is inherently flexible....The new science of memory already corrodes our trust in eyewitness testimony, in memoirs, in our most intimate records of truth.  Every time we remember, it seems, we add new details, shade the facts, prune and tweak.  Without realizing it we continually rewrite the stories of our lives.  Memory, it turns out, has a surprising amount in common with imagination, conjuring worlds that never existed until they were forged in our minds."


A thought to ponder in many contexts, including the context of family history.

I think I have mentioned in another entry here the many birth dates and birthplaces of my husband's maternal grandfather.   Last week one of his grandsons, my husband's cousin, send me a copy of his father's birth certificate, in which YET ANOTHER birthplace for the baby's father is recorded.  

Perhaps this man, my husband's grandfather, wasn't so much an anarchist, impatient with bureaucratic requirements (recall, all these different birthplaces and dates are on official documents) as simply not remembering with precision where and when he was born.  He had left home at a very early age and perhaps without familial reminders of birthdays and family history, he simply didn't remember.  When documents were put before him to fill in the blanks and sign them, he just did the best he could.  At least all his birthplaces were in one country - Scotland - and  his birthdays were all within a three year span.

The article quoted above tells us we can't depend on memory - ANYBODY'S memory including our own - to reflect the TRUTH.  I have adduced evidence for the proposition that we cannot depend on official documents for such straight-forward facts as dates and places of birth, and I could list many other errors in these in my further experience with family history. We are  left with wondering how important may be THE TRUTH in such matters.  

Once upon a time.  Starting a story that way gives it the flavor of a fairy tale.  Perhaps that is it should be.  Once upon a time, long, long ago...actually it was in June of 1908, a baby girl was born, the last of a family of eight, in Birmingham, England.  The parents decided to name her Joan Isobel.  Registration of the birth was required within thirty days but the time slipped by and her father Joseph,  in the midst of a business crisis and very harried,  neglected this task until the last minute of the last day, appearing at the Registry Office having utterly forgotten the plan for the baby's name. There were penalties for late registration so he had to go ahead regardless.  He thought that he couldn't go wrong by naming her after her two grandmothers, so he recorded her name as Lydia Margaret.  Her mother's mother was indeed Lydia, but his mother was named Anne, and had never been known by another given name.  

So:  I have demonstrated you can't fully depend on official documents, and to that I add, you can't fully depend on family legends.

Should I go on to the undependability of gravestones?  Newspaper obituaries? Census records?  Perhaps not; perhaps that can be taken as the case without further evidence.  Wherein, therefore, lies THE TRUTH?

And how much does it matter?  Mankind has got itself into a lot of trouble by segments of it believing they were sole possessors of a religious truth, and have gone about killing and torturing those who disagreed with their truth.  It's still happening.  But I feel a rant coming on, and shall deflect it by alluding to the way SCIENCE regards truth, which is much less sure.  Science says, this is what we've come to on this  point, and we accept that this tentative truth is the best we have at the moment, recognizing that at any moment evidence may alter or even overturn what we regard as this moment's operational "truth."   This should be entirely tolerable but I guess toleration of such uncertainty depends on the individual's capacity to handle ambiguities.  To apply this idea to the matter at hand - legends, family stories and truth - I am prepared to accept the varying birth dates and birthplaces of the head of one of my founding families, because of the FACTS of the differences on a succession of official documents;  not the facts of the birth dates and birthplaces which cannot all represent TRUTH,  but the fact that these dates and places are so documented. 

Another cousin of my husband's is determined to get to the bottom of the date and place of his grandfather's birth.  More power to him.  A package came yesterday of the Internet researches he has been doing, which have homed in A LITTLE on a probable date and place.  I am happy to enter his findings into my data base and include them - tentative though they are - in the book I am preparing about this forebear.  But I have to come back to the question, how much does an absolute precision - an absolute TRUTH - matter? I now have for this individual copies of several possible birth certificates, several possible census records from several census periods, British Army records, attestation papers and paybooks for two hitches in the Canadian Army in World War I the ship's manifest for his immigration to Canada - plus the birth certificates of several of his children, and each has reference to his age, several down to precise date.  No two are exactly alike.

How much does it matter?

...and slowly I am gaining acceptance of the fact of a life in my extended kin group being cut short by a drunk driver.  My husband in his lawyering days was wont to tell his clients when charged with alcohol-related offenses that they had to make a choice between alcohol and - everything else.  He had seen so many people lose their job, family, home through this dire addiction.  The woman in the SUV who brought about the death of my kinsman was alcohol-impaired, at two in the afternoon on a Sunday.  I shall stop there.  Ranting doesn't help.

Meantime I have worked at the computer transcribing more material from the Ward Archive.  I have almost finished the transcriptions from packages 3 and 4, and shortly will return them to their owner. The insights and the previously-unknown FACTS about my kin continue to astound me, and continue to generate reflection on how utterly oblivious young people are to the lives of the adults around them.  Children can see and sense interpersonal difficulties  among their elders, but they cannot understand what these sensed tensions mean.  My childhood was sunny in all the respects I remember it, but it was lived in a community with a variety of tensions, probably not significantly different from any other community in that time and place. The Ward Archive reveals the roots of some of these tensions.  It also reveals straightforward FACTS about the community.  Who did what when.  The psychosocial and the factual are both pieces of the puzzle of my childhood environment.

In revealing the roots of tensions in that community, the Ward Archive has saved me the effort of putting together a book (or books) of the material. The material is TOO revealing, and with several of the dramatis personae in the archive still living, to say nothing of their descendants, I will print copies only for my siblings, whilst exhorting them not to share their copy outside the immediate family group.  

There is nothing dire in the archive.  The most serious skeleton - already out of the closet in any case - was fully revealed in the book, The Quakers at Borden, for which the Ward Archive was the research.  Rather than skeletons, they are sensitivities.  Many years ago when my father was writing his memoirs, and my mother was reviewing them as he wrote, she was wont to say, "But Bob, you can't say that!  The grandchildren are still alive!"  So Dad would edit out whatever passage she deemed to sensitive to put into his memoirs.  At the time we, his children, deplored the resulting loss of "the good stuff,"   the material the most entertaining to those of us well-removed from the events and people.  Four decades on, I begin to understand my mother's caution.

In consequence of the decision to strictly limit the distribution of my transcription off the Ward Archive papers, my approach to footnoting changes.  For earlier efforts, my grandchildren and their understanding were in my mind when footnoting, which led to extensive footnotes for things like farming terms, which my urban grandchildren would not otherwise grasp.  Now I need only footnote for my siblings' understanding.  My sister is helping me with this process, much of which involves cross-referencing to other material, or reference to information found on the Internet.  For the latter, the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan online has been a great help.

And as always, delving into the byways of the Internet has enhanced my knowledge of Saskatchewan history, and indeed wider history.  Yesterday while footnoting I had cause to study the roster of Canadian Prime Ministers,  the life of Rufus Jones, Quaker evangelist, Barclay's Apology (Quaker doctrine) and the village of Hansack, Saskatchewan.

The village of Hansack, Saskatchewan, like many villages on the Canadian prairies, no longer exists, yet the Internet was helpful even so.  To my surprise and delight, one of the references to it was in an essay written by Betty Ward (she of the Ward Archive!) for Saskatchewan History magazine.  The subject was  the immigration of large numbers of Doukhobors from Russia to Saskatchewan in 1899.  Betty had arranged to have many National Archives documents and letters about this immigration copied because of the involvement the Quakers had had in bringing the Doukhobor immigrants to Saskatchewan. She used very little of the material in her book, The Quakers at Borden, but there it was on the Internet, a substantial essay with pictures, what might be regarded as a spin-off from her main thrust.  Evidence of the process in the writer's mind while moving from the raw data in the letters and documents to the finished article is fascinating.

A week has passed since the above paragraphs were written.  All the remaining Ward Archive material has been transcribed and footnoted, and is now in my sister's hands for proofreading and more footnotes.  It is time to move on to another project, and I think it will be Great-Aunt Mary.  I found another scrap of information about Great-Aunt Mary in the translated letters of Maria Friesen, assembled by Phyllis Siemens and mentioned recently in "News" on this site.  The reference   indicated that Great-Aunt Mary had said at her father's coffin that she had been the cause of his death.  This would have been in 1912 in Russia;  GAM would have been 22.  To that I can only say, "Thereby hangs a tale" and express regret that the tale can probably never be known.  I have no doubt that what she said - if she indeed said it! - was not literally the case.

And that will lead to my next blog, which will be about legends, stories and truths in family history.

John Donne's Meditation, quoted in part below, reflects something of how I feel.  The recent death in my extended family (not the Niebuhr branch) gives pause, as deaths do, for reflection about one's own mortality, and about how each life is an tapestry intensely interwoven with the lives of many others.  When one person dies, the warp and weft of the lives of a great many other people, kin or not, are shaken, torn, requiring repair so that the whole cloth can again become functional.  When the death is sudden, unexpected, shocking, devastating, the rent in many lives takes all the more time to heal.  And while we struggle to bring fragile threads of mending across the rent, we think about our own mortality. And we turn to the living in our family and vow to express our love and appreciation for them while they are mortal.


No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

The death in my extended family explains - but does not, I think, excuse - the dearth of recent posts.  My work in the family history arena have been minimal for some time.  My sense of urgency in that regard has become close to frantic, and yet the weight of my mortality precludes active effort.  

Time must pass.

The urge to write is upon me; the subject, however, is elusive.  I have been working on transcription of the material in Leona's second package, the interviews which Betty Ward, author of The Quakers at Borden, did with various of my kin in preparation for the book.  There have been many surprises.  I lived in that community or near it for all of my childhood and youth, and it seems I knew my Quaker kin only superficially.  There were some suggestions in the 2004 book of levels of knowledge that I had not been party to in my youth, but transcribing the interviews has revealed the depths of my ignorance.

Betty Ward, in assembling her information for the book, asked people questions I never thought to ask, being then a part of the community, so she received answers that were surprising.  I have to wonder to that extent she heard what had not been freely discussed earlier in the community because she was an interested stranger, and had a talent for encouraging people to be open with her.

My present transcription effort involves several interviews Betty Ward had with the mother of Uncle Billie, the object of my previous post;  she was my father's first cousin, and well-known to me - as I thought - in my younger days.  These interviews, it seems, were conducted without tape-recording;  Betty Ward took notes, then later expanded her notes into a tape recorder, and later still, transcribed on a typewriter.  This suggests a fairly high level of "processing" of the information received.  It is also clear Betty Ward had in advance put together a list of questions to be asked at the interviews.  In one case certain questions were forgotten as the interviewer told his or her story and a later letter asks for those factual details.

I see that I have hundreds of hours of effort to put into the overall project of the "Betty Ward Archives, and that several books will result.  At the moment I feel daunted, intimidated by the prospect, but also excited.  I will have deeper and wider knowledge of the Quaker side of my family as a consequence of this.  Extending my understanding of my kin has its own rewards.

Uncle Billie wasn't my uncle at all, he was my first cousin once removed - my father's first cousin.  But I was taught as a child to regard most non-parental adults as aunts and uncles, including some who were not related at all.  So Uncle Billie it was.

With the arrival a couple of days ago of Package #2 from Leona, the shape of my near future is becoming clearer.  Basically if I do nothing else I will probably be able to do everything the material cries out for, which is in effect, make books of it.  Leona has advised me sternly not to start on any project until I have reviewed the whole and while I estimate I have only about 20%  of "the main herd" now in hand, I have been entirely unable to resist getting started on the project that jumped right out at me from the outset.  Uncle Billie's stories.

When he was retired in the late 1960s and early 1970s Billie wrote stories of his childhood in England, of immigrating to Canada and of pioneering in Saskatchewan, and also of his work with the Moral Re-Armament movement.  These stories were in one of the files in Package #1 from Leona and I have (with difficulty considering the wretched quality of the photocopy) now transcribed them into my computer.  Next step - to transcribe certain passages from  the book Uncle Billie wrote in 1950, into the book I am evolving.  My interest is very much focused on his early life and his pioneer experiences;  his MRA career can be left to the existing book.  However, I did take a side trip into the Internet to discover more about the MRA, which was  a kind of quasi-religious organization which became a fad in the Borden Quaker community in the thirties and forties.  Once again family history has led to better understanding of a wider history.  I plan to include the Wikipedia essay on the MRA as an appendix in Billie's book of stories.

Meantime, some of the other projects have been neglected, which is regrettable, but it seems I need to heed the loudest call.  Perhaps I operate in my family history efforts on the squeaky wheel principle.  Some projects emit bellows, some mere squeaks, and perhaps unwisely I heed the loudest calls, which often seem to come from the new material that comes to my hands.  I really do need the discipline of a Leona in this matter!

Leona meantime has been deployed with her army unit (she is a logistics officer) to Winnipeg, where the soldiers will help deal with the flood threat.  I am not to expect to hear from her until late May.  When she returns we will resume our email conversation on her observation in her last post that she has reconciled being in the army with being a practicing Quaker.  Quakers, like Mennonites, are pacifist....

The title is an expression used in my family to indicate something really - and unexpectedly - big.  It comes from Zane Grey's The Last of the Plainsmen, in which a story is told of one of the last big buffalo hunts.  The teller of the tale writes of camping on a hillock to increase his distant view of an event on the southern horizon.  Dust was billowing in clouds, and the rumble of many hooves shook the ground.  The  herd approached, and for three days buffalo streamed past his hillock in their millions on their spring migration, finally tapering off to a few stragglers.  He watched their departing rumps heading north, then, turning  south and looking back, he saw the main herd.

I am anticipating several "main herds" in my life in the near future.  The first wave of one of them arrived last week, with much more to come when I have processed what came and returned it.  It is family history in the raw and unprocessed; it is the notes of the author of a book about the Quakers at Borden (my kin, all of them.)  The book is a slender volume with perhaps two hours of steady reading in it.  The archive box of her notes from which I have been sent a few files, is perhaps two cubic feet of PAPER, sometimes printed or hand-written on both sides.  I see between three and five family history projects in this material alone.  If I have mentioned feeling daunted before, picture me now!

The connection Leona who is lending me the material is extremely disciplined, and works on only one family history project at a time.  I am extremely undisciplined and cannot resist the siren song of a new project.  The family stories the projects represent are all linked, with myself as the linchpin.  The protagonists are all related or connected to me.  All the new information which has flooded in on me in the last week reinforces, casts a new light on, expands, explains, corrects what has gone before. And it is all CRYING out to be attended to,  made accessible, communicated to the younger generations.  It is my lot, indeed my compulsion, to respond to that siren song.

Later.  Yesterday there were five excited posts from Leona.  She had designated school break week, a holiday for her as well, to go completely through that box of author's notes, and having done so confirmed my suspicion that if I looked back, I would see the main herd.  She said that I ain't seen nuthin' yet, and that if I thought there were goodies in the first installment she had sent, the best was yet to come and I would learn things about my relatives that I surely didn't know.  

This is at the same time overwhelming, daunting - and energizing.  I will spend the parts of today and the weekend  not committed to other people catching up on the bits and pieces that have fallen between the cracks, and then start a blitz of photocopying.  In one of Leona's posts she strongly urges me NOT to think about what I will do with any of the material until I have it all.  In the spirit of that urging I will try to avoid what I have in fact started doing - lining up projects in my mind...

Betty Ward, author of The Quakers At Borden, used that archive box of notes to produce her small book.  Most of my books have been the transcription and organization of the writing and memorabilia of individuals, a process which did not generate a vast quantity of unused notes but rather incorporated everything I could find by or about the central person.  I see that I shall have to learn a new skill - selectivity - if I am ultimately to master "the main herd."  

Later again.  I spent a good part of today sweating over a hot photocopier, reproducing the materials I must soon return to Leona.  In the process I am learning a little about the mental activity of  professional writer, preparing a book for publication.

There is an excellent book, "Events and People" by Helmut Hiebert.  He has taken an interesting approach to the history of the Mennonites in Russia, one I like a lot.  The book had a limited print run and had sold out by the time I became aware of it so I got it through interlibrary loan - my copy came from the National Library in Ottawa.  I had written to the author before doing this and learned that no reprint is planned.  After I had read it I wrote again, expressing my appreciation for his work and admiration for his standing as a professional writer.  He emailed back saying it was his passion, but that he had a day job - as orthopedic surgeon - consequently my praise of him as a professional writer was inappropriately applied.  

I don't think so.  To be a surgeon with a side in history-writing means he has a lot of energy, and that's admirable all by itself.  But his words got me thinking about how I define a professional writer: a person who writes books for professional publication and for sale, and actually sells them.  I write books - I think the count is 17 at the moment, but while I asked some of my kin for paper and printing costs, I don't regard that as sale, and the "publication" part is purely home-grown.   Consequently I think Helmut IS a professional writer, in spite of what he calls his day job.  

His next book is to come out this summer;  the title will be, I think, Stalin's Terrible Year.  The Mennonites in Russia in the year 1937.  I had an 18-year-old cousin who was taken from his home in that year in his Mennonite village in Russia, and shot.  Helmut wants to put his story into the book.  Now all I have to do is FIND it.  It's here - somewhere...

Once upon a time I had a secretary, and SHE had two secretaries, to deal with my work.  I never learned proper filing and I miss her terribly at times like this.  

I see that this entry has become seriously stream-or-consciousness.  Time to stop.