The other day my sister Mary called up - I mentioned this before - saying she had a brilliant idea. And indeed, it IS brilliant.  She said that we first cousins of the Hinde family - our father's - should while we still can - write of our memories of our grandparents, Dad's parents.  They died more than half a century ago, and for some of their grandchildren the memories will be few. Three of their grandchildren are no longer with us.  If we are going to do this, we need to get on with it.  

Mary and I are putting together a letter to go out to all the first cousins on Dad's side, proposing that we all write our memories, and Mary and I assemble them into a book.  We propose to target completion of the book before April 2012, which will be he centennial of the Hinde family's arrival in Canada.

My contribution to the book has been started.  I realized that my memories of my grandparents were few, and blurred together in my child's mind.  Is it MY memory, or a recollection of what I have been told, or an old photograph imagined as a memory?

Science journals of late have been full of scholarly articles on how the mind and the memory operate.  Vast questions remain without definitive answers.  Neural biochemistry doesn't help me to work out what is real and did in fact happen to me, and what exists only in my mind.  Comparison of memories with others is not useful except in the broadest factual statements, like, yes, we did have that holiday trip, and the year was 1948...

The arrival of another project might have been daunting, had I not been giving a lot of thought to my purpose in my retirement.  Family stories, family connections, family genealogy - that's what I DO, and increasingly, what I AM.  And it seems that's all right with me.

Sometimes these blogs take days to write.  Today I am packaging up my father's book for mailing tomorrow to all of his children and grandchildren.  The book has been "in process" for more than twenty years and finally I just said STOP.  It doesn't really feel finished because - predictably - as I was finishing the printing runs two days ago a package arrived from a connection on Dad's side.  The package contained material which could/would/should have been in the book, and it's NOT. Perhaps in a later edition, if such is ever wanted?  Or perhaps another book altogether?

The rest of the material in that package - which represents a small part of what my connection proposes to lend me in stages - has it it at least three new projects, so my "in process" list just got bumped from 23 to an estimated 30, in consideration of the material yet to come.

The daunted feeling is edging back a little into my consciousness.  It is A VERY GOOD THING that I love doing this stuff.

People who become involved in family history, particularly the genealogy branch of it, often tell of hitting brick walls and coming to dead ends in the effort to trace an ancestral line.  This suggests an image of their running full tilt up a path which might or might not be clearly marked, then coming to grief when it ends.  I think my approach to family history is more passive.  I am as the orb spider in her web, waiting for my prey to come to me.  An obvious advantage is the avoidance of the metaphorical bruises when that brick wall suddenly stops one's dash forward, and the distress that is expressed when a promising line of inquiry suddenly stops.   I simply wait, decorating my web with attractive bits of this and that to lure the unwary relative into sending me my dinner - not flies and beetles, but information about our shared kin.  A disadvantage is that I don't have a lot of control over the direction in which my effort to obtain new information is going.  I just wait, and make use of whatever comes to me.

After close to 15 years at it, I don't have to wait long.  Almost every day, SOMETHING arrives to keep the old lady spider well fed.  Those years have seen a lot of sowing seeds and shooting arrows into the air.  Information about new marriages, new grandchildren now comes unsolicited from my first cousins.  They know I want it, and there is a small reward for telling me about a new member of the clan - the grandparent gets a printout of that child's ancestry chart.  That's the decoration on my web, because especially if it is a first child, it is likely that the child's ancestors on the side of the parent who married into the family are sparse, and who would want to see blanks in one's new grandchild's ancestry?  This often elicits a flurry of activity to fill in the blanks and provide me with the wherewithal for a more complete ancestry chart for that child.

One cousin recently delayed for more than a year getting information to me about a new son-in-law and grandchild.  She looked ahead and realized that it would be to her advantage to send me information about the forbears of all her sons- and daughters-in-law.  It took her a year to assemble the material, which came to me in  the handwriting of many people.

All this is NOT to say that I don't find obstacles in my path.  In the last week an insuperable obstacle has appeared in the path to solution of the Case of the Spider in the Sailor's Ear.  I wrote of this two blogs back, in The Game's Afoot II.  At last report, Nancy-the-Artist was to go to Foster's Store-cum-Museum and look at the Player's ad/logo/display card to see the spider in the sailor's ear.  Disappointment.  Dead end.  Brick wall.  There was no spider.  She described what she saw.  The image of the sailor was about as big as your fist, she said, and the art seemed much cruder than anything else she had seen of Uncle Ed's, more like it was drawn with a magic marker than his delicate pencil and brush strokes.  Where there should have been a spider was a black blob.

So we have had to figure out what was going on here.  I have input from my sister;  Leona  (who first identified this puzzle) and I have emailed back and forth about it,  and I'll be writing Nancy.  Three possible explanations:  the Player's ad  at Foster's store was a later version, much like the one Uncle Ed designed but with the spider eliminated.  The exigencies of lithography had erased the spider.  OR - and this is my favourite because it fits so neatly with my knowledge of my species:  Uncle Ed, when he realized his art was being used far and wide with minimal reward for him, said to - whoever - that he should at least have signed it, and since a signature wasn't possible, he should have signed it with a spider in the sailor's ear.  This remark morphed in the retelling into his actually having done that.  But it never happened.

In a future blog I will reflect about the nature of memory, and the way we all experience the world differently, and how everybody tells a story to make it better.

Re-reading the first blog I wrote on my father's book, I have become more comfortable with the shocking amount of time it has taken me to get to the stage of finalizing and printing the book. I have been working on it since before I retired, but in fact it was finished in one sense about ten years ago.  That was then I had assembled my father's memoirs from all the places I found them, edited them, transcribed them into the computer and printed a copy.  That copy was then read in the immediate family, including aloud by my son to my mother.  Now the time has come to produce a number of copies, complete with illustrations and an index.  So why do I feel apologetic?  Maybe because it shouldn't take twenty years to bring a project  to its final stage.

Being the first family history project I undertook, my father's book was at its start the defining moment for my interest in family history.  I literally didn't know what I was getting into.  I was approaching the event horizon of a black hole, about to fall in.  I fell, not knowing  then that there was no return

The minutiae associated with finalizing a book can be tedious.  My biggest problems have to do with format such as making sure all the chapter heads are in the same font and dealing with "widows and orphans."  Such as these would not be  problems if I had worked on the book steadily over a period of months; they are problem when I have worked unsteadily on the book over two decades, and forget what I have done.  And even after twenty years I keep finding more material to include in the book, the latest being transcriptions of newspaper clippings of letters my father wrote to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix about the political situation in Saskatchewan in the Fifties.   They are worth including; they say a lot about my father.  I suppose they could be appendices?  To put them anywhere else would destroy my pagination and I have worked on that LONG ENOUGH.  My son Jeff finally repaired the mess I had got myself into with respect to the index; I cannot alter that.  Yes, I have talked myself into it.  The letters to the editor will be appendices.

And there will be several appendices.  From the family genealogy come  Dad's ancestry and descendant printouts.  There are teaching rhymes handed down to him from his grandfather;  one begins, "These are the Britons, a barbarous race/Chiefly employed in war and the chase/ Who dwelt in our native England."  It's a cumulative poem, each verse adding another group of the inhabitants and always ending with the first verse, like The House that Jack Built.  I have tried repeatedly since I acquired an Internet connection to complete that verse, as Dad didn't remember the entire poem.  His younger sister added a few lines, but the poem is incomplete and likely to remain so.  There is reference to it on one site on Internet.  The reference looks promising, as it is one which Dad's grandfather Henry Thomas Wake mentions in one of his notebooks of the 1850s.  However to access it I would need to become a subscriber to "Notes and  Queries" which seems excessive merely to find lines of an ancient piece of doggerel.

Well!  A moment ago I looked again on the Internet.  Since I last looked, the Oxford University Press has put ALL Notes and Queries back issues,  160 years' worth, online, and my daughter is going to drill down at that site to see if it is now possible to get the relevant article without having to subscribe to the periodical, which otherwise would be of minimal interest.

The game's afoot: "The Adventure of the Lost Teaching Rhyme."  But I won't hold up finishing Dad's book for this.  If I AM able to track down the full text of the poem, I will write a piece about teaching rhymes in general (incorporating my protestations about the lost pedagogical device of memorization)and my adventures with this one in particular.  

Well again!  I had calculated that using this blog as a way of sorting out my thoughts on my family history projects would be of value.  Here is evidence of the efficacy of my calculation.

This blog has been written over several days.  Yesterday my sister helped me finalize the captions for some of the illustrations for my father's book.  I had been stuck on the names of some of the children in a school picture including my father at age nine - 1904 that would be.  With her aid I now have them all identified.  The picture includes the best one we have of Dad's younger brother Alfred, who died very young.

One thing leads to another;  it was ever thus.   Writing about Alfie's death, and recalling the deaths at a young age of so many of my kin a century (and less) ago  - everyone's kin, one must suppose - I think there is a story there, with the underlying theme that the good old days were in fact dreadful.  Deaths from communicable diseases and deaths from puerperal fever are extremely rare in this country now; this was not the case in the relatively recent past.  On the Internet is a table of the names of the diseases which killed our forebears, and the present equivalent names.  Consumption - tuberculosis.  Dropsy - congestive heart failure.  Brain fever - haven't found a clear equivalent for that yet but with it often following measles, perhaps it was measles encephalitis.  I am an old nurse, and these things interest me.  But I won't put it on the list yet as a project.  This requires further mulling.  And it represents ANOTHER value of writing this blog.

Aficionados of A. Conan Doyle will recognize the title of this entry as the phrase used by Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson at the start of a new case.

The case is The Mystery of the Spider in the Sailor's Ear, and the game's afoot.  It might never have become afoot had I paid more attention - that is, any attention at all - to a cigarette ad.

Here's what happened.  I have referred to Uncle Edward's Receipt Book, and the book of his drawings which came out of it.  Leona, a connection in Ontario who is actually more closely connected than I to Uncle Ed (who is my uncle by marriage), being his great-grand-niece, learning about the art found in the receipt book, added this to the mix:  As a child she had heard the story of Uncle Ed producing the artwork for an ad, perhaps more accurately a logo,  for the Player's cigarette company, showing a sailor.   The ad was used widely, indeed internationally, for many years.  I'm guessing from the prices Uncle Ed reported in his receipt book that he was paid perhaps $8.00 for it.

Commercial art is not signed, so, his great-grand-niece told me, he drew a tiny spider in the ear of the sailor, visible only on VERY close inspection.  That spider remained in the ad for many years.  

Leona asked me if I had heard the story.  I had not, but thought I might have a shot at tracking down the actual image, either through Uncle Ed's son, my cousin Gordon, or through the Borden Museum.  Gordon reported that he had heard the same story as a boy, and had tried to track it down through the Internet, without finding it.  Wikipedia has a graphic of the image - see - but I think that is an earlier one than Uncle Ed's - it is dated about 1914 and I believe his commercial art business got started a few years later.

When my sister Mary and I were in Borden, Saskatchewan for the centennial of the village - and of Saskatchewan - the Borden Museum had a special display of the work of  Borden artists past and present.   Included were landscapes by Uncle Ed - and the Player's ad.  I didn't pay enough attention to it to discern more than that it was a cigarette ad;  my sister remembers that it did indeed contain a sailor.  

Another kinswoman, also an artist, undertook to track down that piece of commercial art through the Museum, and found the Museum closed for the winter, the committee chair away, but that she was hot on the trail.  Then I told my sister about this and SHE said, "But the Museum doesn't own that piece!  It is owned by Stan Foster of the Borden General-Store-cum-Museum."  He had lent it to the Museum for the centennial display, and had told her that for many years it was on display - as a cigarette ad! - in the store.  

Present status:  Nancy has been asked to please take a magnifying glass and go and see Stan Foster and have a look in the sailor's ear.  I await, more-or-less breathlessly, for the result.

There aren't many interstices otherwise unoccupied in my life, but "the game's afoot" is what I fill them with when they occur.  Sometimes my family history work hits a tedious patch, like right now, with a great many finished and printed books waiting to be bound.  This is physically hard work, and exacting.  Tracking down The Mystery of the Spider in the Sailor's Ear enlivens my days of bookbinding.

More than five years ago I photocopied a draft of an autobiography written by my uncle by marriage, with the intention of entering the text into my computer, printing out a copy for his son, my cousin Rawd, and there ending my work on the book.  It didn't work out that way.  In 2003, Cousin Rawd was four years into a predicted TWO YEAR survival with lung  cancer.  He lived until October 2007, but other than reading my transcription and starting to make footnotes, he did no further work.  I believe his thinking was that the book was already written, and work on it was not as urgent as writing the stories that existed only in his own mind and memory.  He continued writing those family stories until weeks before his death.

I was left with this autobiography sitting neglected in my computer for five years while other projects arose and were worked on.  But two weeks ago, when I had finished most of the work on the  book of the letters Rawd's parents had written to each other when they were courting, I felt the urge to re-examine the book, and found that without input which could be provided only by 'Rawd - or his sister, who died last fall - there was little left to do.  So I did a final edit/proofing, finished the formatting and indexing and the last three copies are printing out as I type.

Some doubts have assailed me in the process of working on this book.  My uncle had a troubled youth and he did not hesitate to write of his troubles;  there was little joy in his life until he met his future wife.  He was a man of challenging complexity - brilliant, analytical - and given to critical self-analysis.  He completed what Rawd and I took to be the final draft of his book - several drafts were found in a trunk of family papers - in 1951, and now almost six decades later some of his analyses  about mankind and the world are seen to be prescient.  His early bitter self-criticism, his remarkable intellect and phenomenal memory  contributed to his highly successful career in law and regional politics.

Perhaps my biggest doubt has been about the frankness with which he revealed his mental processes, his relationships with people and occasionally his self-loathing.   I recall my mother's view about being too revealing or too critical of others when she read the autobiography my father was writing.  She encouraged him to delete passages which "might be hurtful to those of that family still living."   I had hoped to leave to Rawd the making of any decisions about such deletions.  Lacking his input, and not feeling competent to alter the text (except for the usual editing) I am printing it as it came to me.  

My uncle's book has a smaller audience now than it would have had in 2003,  and vastly smaller than if had been printed soon after it was written.  Copies will go only to his children's spouses and his grandchildren.

I can but hope that this is what Rawd would have wished.

It's done.  Printing and binding were completed yesterday.  Ten copies.  And as always at the completion of a project I feel a moment - no more - of exhilaration, and then a weight of "What's next?"  There is always a next, as I have observed repeatedly, with more material coming into my hands with daunting regularity, each item crying out to be addressed, made accessible, made into a book.  My last entry here reflected on the making of a list of projects completed and projects in process.  I made the list and over the ensuing week added projects to it which require my attention at some point - perhaps not immediately.  I added target dates for completion, usually hopelessly optimistic.  But I had a target of early 2009 for the Mary and Walter book, and I've made it.

Every project involves compromise.  A balance has to be found between completeness, which for perfection would mean the project was never finished, and adequacy, which lacks perfection but at least gets DONE. Sometimes the last scrap of highly necessary content is in someone else's hands - or skills - and I must wait for it, or for the skills to come to my hands.  But the Mary and Walter book is done.  

There is always a point of trepidation, of hesitancy just before I say, "Enough."  Is the adequacy  - adequate?  Should I strive more energetically toward improvement, should I give the project more time?   The  perfectionist would deplore the notion of "adequacy" and take a very long time indeed to move past adequacy and into a higher realm of achievement.  But time is against me.  I'm working on my third cancer, and while I am told the cancers are not likely to limit the life expectancy I could otherwise expect, nevertheless they have given me a sense of urgency about finishing what I have started.  And cancers aside, I can feel  my cognitive sharpness blunt day by day.  

Adequate will have to do.

And anyway, the other day, from a second cousin in England, I received praise  for a previous completed project, the Henry Thomas Wake book.  She called it a "magnificent manuscript."   I think "adequate" is going to have to do when it can garner that kind of praise!  Since very few of my books are WRITTEN, and most of them are ASSEMBLED, I cannot take credit for the magnificence of HTW's own writing but at least I will utter an "aww shucks" for the assembling.

Aww shucks.

And on to the next.  I started this post several days ago, before the Walter and Mary book was finished, and in a blitz of effort since, I have finalized the content of Letters to the Ranch and need only to organize the illustrations before printing the 15 copies. In addition, Uncle Walter's memoirs called to me, and I am at page 100 (of 275)of what I hope will be the final edit.  There will be more on this project in another blog.

My big achievement in family history this past week has been making a list of all the projects completed, with completion date and number of copies on hand, and another list of the projects in process.  The 16 completed projects (plus four ongoing ones) are cause for some satisfaction.  The first is dated 1999, the most recent, last month.  Not so satisfying, in fact daunting, is the list of projects at various stages of completion, and I use that term completion with some hesitancy.  One of them reared its head only yesterday, too late to get on the typed list.  Yesterday my sister Mary called, having had a brilliant idea.  Of the first cousins on the English side of our family (fewer in number than those on the Mennonite, Niebuhr side)  three of the seventeen are already gone, and a large majority of those remaining are in their seventies and eighties.  Mary's idea is to capture the memories of the remaining cousins of our shared grandparents, who died half a century ago.  To that end this morning I started to draft a letter to all the cousins, asking them to participate in this project by writing their memories of Grandma and Grandpa Hinde, who came to Canada in April 1912 with their children and founded the Saskatchewan branch of the family, now numbering 172 descendants and 80 spouses. I discovered that I don't have enough pictures of Grandma and Grandpa Hinde scanned into my computer, so that will be the next step in the project, to go through the albums and present David with a pile of scanning to do.

And so it goes.  Another project.  

Meanwhile the list will serve several purposes in addition to letting me feel positive about the past and daunted about the future.  Daughter Allegra has offered her help with a project, any project, and I will share the list with her so she may choose which she might like to work on.  If I had my preference and she had lots of time - dream on! - she would work on the Uncle Walter book.  It is several hundred pages;  it was transcribed several years ago from a draft which was scribbled over with emendations and often illegible marginal notes, and it has not been looked at since.  The plan had been that I would get it into the computer and send a copy to cousin Rawd (Uncle Walter was his father) and Rawd would take it from there.  But Rawd became more and more ill, and although he was working on family history until days before he died in October 2007, his output in his last months was limited to shorter works of family history which are now captured in the Rempel Cousin Stories, printed in late 2008.

The list will also serve to remind me of tasks to be done in the various projects.  A family historian on Dad's side has a practice of starting a project and finishing it before starting another. That doesn't work for me.  I like to have a choice of projects to work on at any given moment.  In addition, when I have the help of others with the projects, I am dependent on  their time availability to do the work they have undertaken, and that means if I used the former strategy I would go months with nothing accomplished.  

This "many projects" approach applies also to my needlework, but there the prohibiting factor is carpal tunnel syndrome rather than others holding up progress.  When my hands get numb doing one kind of needlework, I move to another, with half a dozen projects, each using my hands in a different way, on the go at any moment.

If this suggests I have a Type A personality (those folks who like to do more than one thing at a time) the suggestion is well taken.

Meanwhile, THE LIST. Perhaps I can metamorphose it in my mind from a whip to a kindly encouragement. 

In 1900 my great-grandfather Henry Thomas Wake gave to his grandson, my Uncle Leonard, a small notebook.  Then nine years old, Uncle Leonard  wrote in the front of the book his "life-list" of flowers, and in the back, his "life list" of birds.  Between was recorded in an adult hand a set of household tasks, apparently his daily jobs at the Quaker boarding school at Fritchley, Derbyshire.  Later, at about fourteen in 1905, Leonard lists the gifts he planned for his family.  There are no dates on the entries; all must be inferred from the other facts known about this family.  One fact is that at fourteen he commenced full time work, and it seems that among his first expenditures were the gifts for his family.  His youngest sister Daisie remembered that later when all the family was in Canada, when Len came home for a visit he he always brought exciting gifts.  He started work at fourteen, but his brother Alfie who is on the list for a gift died when Len was fifteen, in 1906.  These events bracket this entry.

Other entries include lists of names and addresses of family and friends in England with whom he wanted to keep in touch after he immigrated to Canada. These lists are assigned a date of late 1910 or early 1911.  He and his older sister emigrated a year ahead of the rest of the family.

In 1924 Len lent his notebook to his younger sister Elsie, for her use on her extended visit to their sister Winnie and her family in Iowa.  Elsie recorded similar lists of gifts, also a variety of expenditures.  It is astonishing to see the prices for items such as yard goods 85 years ago.

Yesterday I emailed my second cousin David in Newfoundland to ask about one of the addresses, which had been of his grandmother's family - his grandmother being a daughter of Henry Thomas Wake.  I explained what I was doing, and in his reply he described me as a "forensic diary interpreter!"  Delightful!  

The point I make is that ANY scrap of family memorabilia can be a rich source of information about that family and its life in the past.  This little notebook was first written in more than a century ago, and without the entries being dated or the several writers identifying themselves,  it is possible to  put flesh on some of the bones of the family's story.  And this means that every scrap of memorabilia, every document, every photograph from the past must be preserved.  This will be a joy to the "keepers" among us, but a burden to others, the "tossers."  I beg the tossers to find someone in the extended family to whom to toss family treasures. I hear horror stories about bonfires, and visits to the town dump, and they appall me.

My beloved cousin Rawd who died in October 2007 was, like me, a keeper, but he had been one all his life whereas I am a relatively recent convert.  Soon, from his partner Graeme, I will be receiving Rawd's entire family archive.  I have had to make alterations in my living space to prepare for the arrival of MANY archive boxes, and I do that willingly, even joyfully.  There will be more family history projects to do to make the material accessible to the extended family, and I look forward to that too.  I only wish Rawd was still with us, so we could work on these projects together.

As age takes its toll, I find myself increasingly spending time making lists.  Today's task will be to make lists of my family history projects:  those completed - a happy and lengthening list!  those in process which are in my hands; those in process which are in the hands of others.  Hmm.  Even writing this plan makes me feel slightly more in control!  This is good.

I need the list of the completed projects (with dates of completion) because of the ongoing need to cross-reference one project with others, and the challenge of simply FINDING my copy of the finished work to check the date.  You don't imagine I would REMEMBER the date, do you?  So I will get out all the finished volumes, sort out the extra copies (and perhaps figure out what to do with the extra copies) and make a master list of the books, their completion dates and the number of copies on hand, perhaps adding thoughts on those extra copies.  (There aren't many of them, and most are incomplete in some way.  Perhaps they are destined to be recycled, but that is PAINFUL to contemplate.)

The list of the unfinished projects which are in my hands is short.  I realized why with David's and my completion of the "Receipt Book" project last week.  When there is a lot of text in a project there is a dire need for other eyes to do the proofreading, and with the most recent project there were only two pages of text.  I trust I caught all the errors myself.  Longer pieces - not so much.

The list of  the unfinished projects in the hands of others - aye, there's the rub.  The "others" are my close kin, and I love them dearly, but the reality is their priorities and mine are not compatible.  

Two weeks since I started this blog.  The "Receipt Book" project, at least the "commercial art" part of it is finished and copies have been mailed out.  The "receipt" part remains to be worked on.  This is the fastest completion time I have had for any family history project;  a few weeks, as opposed to something like two decades for my father's book, the first project I worked on.  Maybe it went swiftly because the lion's share of the work was David's.  His thing is images, mine is words.  This book was about 98% image.

Yesterday a package came in the mail from Borden, Saskatchewan,  the village near which I was born.  It contained a large hard-cover receipt book with the carbon copies of receipts from a machinery business operating in the early 1900s in Borden.  The names on the receipts are the early pioneers of the area who did business with the shop.  The descendants of many of those people still live in the Borden district.

This component of the book is fascinating in itself, but this is not the reason the book was lent to me.  In about a third of the book,  drawn on onion-skin and tipped in are tiny exquisite pencil drawings.

Edward McCheane, a member of one of the five Quaker families which immigrated to Canada in the early years of the last century, had trained as a commercial artist in England, and later in the United States.  The drawings are mostly accompanied by color notes, information about estimates given, where the original was submitted and when.  Most of the pages of this one-third of the book are dated in the early and middle 1920s.

Edward McCheane was my uncle by marriage.  Several years ago I put together a book about him and his journal and his art;  at that time I did not know of the existence of the present book.

He had homesteaded in the early years of the last century, then had participated in the machinery business in Borden, then had taken up his intended vocation as a commercial artist.  He also grew into a landscape artist in oils and other media.  He had married my father's older sister Edith in 1920 when he was 37, and while they lived in the Borden area for a time after they married, they soon moved to Saskatoon where he established himself in  his commercial art business, Globe Signs.  From the best of my analysis, the sketch-record of his commercial art found in the receipt book comes from his early days of establishing himself as a commercial artist.

I had put together the earlier book about him when his journal recording his coming to Canada and the early days of homesteading came into my hands.  At that time I collected everything I could find about him to include in the book, incorporating material from his son and other family sources, and from the Saskatchewan Archives Board.  Now, it seems, I have the material for another book.

The Borden artist, my second cousin once removed Nancy Penner Henn who lent me the book tells me she doesn't need to have it back, as long as she gets a copy of the book I will make of Ed McCheane's drawings.  She feels that the original should ultimately go to the Saskatchewan Archives Board.  This decision relieves me of the pressure to get the book copied and returned promptly, but does not relieve the pressure of working on the book itself.  And much of the labour will fall on David, with his skill at extracting the best images from  a faded, discolored and fragile source.

It is now three weeks later, and David has nearly finished scanning and fixing those hundreds of images.  From pages in the original in which the pencil image was barely discernible, he produces pages showing the sketches clearly.  I am left with collating the sets of copies and writing explanatory material.

The challenge of what to do with the names of the pioneers in the receipt book remains.  That will be another project.

Once upon a time I did not think well of Christmas letters.  A relative on David's side began sending them at least 35 years ago, detailing the wonderful doings of his successful, brilliant and beautiful offspring.  I was tempted then to reply with a parody letter, cheerfully listing the fictitious disasters of our year, but I never did, and in the last fifteen years - since retirement and since my interest in family history began - I have come to realize the value of these letters.  A card with a signature sends one message.  A card with a note and signature sends another.  Adding a typed and duplicated letter, often two pages, with photographs, sends yet another.

The card with signature says "I am aware of your existence," or "You sent me a card last year."  The one with a note says, "I have something specific to communicate with you."  The one with the duplicated letter says, "I want you to know about my family and my year, and this is how I can get my message to the many people I want to have this information."

I appreciate them all.  They all connect person to person.  The third is a particular treasure to the amateur genealogist because of the genealogical information contained in the duplicated letter.  If a hundred cards are sent, it is not reasonable to repeat a hundred times in handwriting the details of the family news.  The duplicated letter can provide that trove of information to help  keep the family tree current and accurate.  

It is many years now since I was impatient with duplicated Christmas letters.  Now, I read them for the joy of knowing more than I would otherwise know about the year of the sender, usually kin,  and then go over them line by line to extract every bit of family information for the family data base.

I am a reformed character in this regard!

Never should I wonder why my list of incomplete family projects grows no shorter in spite of completing projects at a reasonable pace.  It has happened again that as I completed one project, two more rose up and demanded my attention.

This is what happened:  Almost five years ago, the daughter of my recently-departed first cousin lent me  big box of family memorabilia, which we scanned or photocopied or investigated in the local military museum.  That which was scanned went into David's downstairs computer which I don't use; in the ensuing years I forgot about all those images.  Earlier this week at my request, David copied all the graphic images he had on his computer, to mine, into Picassa.  Reviewing the thumbnails, I found the material that had been scanned, and it stood up on its hind legs and demanded that I turn it into a book.  I wasn't terribly surprised that it demanded my attention in this fashion; it has happened before.  

The material was scanned images of the pages of four autograph books, the earliest entries dated 1911.

To make a start on what will clearly become a PROJECT, I emailed a friend in Toronto - we talk almost every day and he is accustomed to hearing strange things from me - to ask if he had ever had an autograph book.  His reply said he had not, that he wouldn't cross the street to get a look at a famous person much less demand their autograph. THAT kind of autograph book was  NOT what I had been talking about.  I feel that way about the famous as well.  No, my scanned autograph books are little notebooks with blank pages in pastel colors in which friends and relatives write messages, quote poetry, draw pictures and sometimes just sign their names.  In these four, the level of artistic merit of some of the drawings and paintings approached professional standards.  Naturally the clincher for me was that most of the signatures in the entries were my kin and connections.  Reproducing these autograph books and making the content accessible within the family is going to be a pleasure.  I see each little page being somewhat enlarged (the original size was about three by five inches) and accompanied by text expanding on the identity of the contributor, his or her relationship to the owner of the diary and his or her connection to the wider family.

Given that the first entries in the two oldest autograph books are dated 1911, I am going to give myself until 2011 to complete this project.  It is nearly 2009;  I shall use this blog entry to remind myself of this plan.  Meantime I should get on with the three OTHER projects currently on the front burner:  David Stark, David's grandfather,  Deirdre Crane Heagy, my niece who died in 1991 and my father.

I started this entry a few days ago.  Since then, YET ANOTHER project has raised its head.  David's cousin Marilyn was executor for their uncle's estate;  Marilyn sent me,  the self-appointed family archivist, a package of the documents, letters and photographs she found in the course of her executor responsibilities.  So now Uncle Stan's book is calling to me too.  Today I am feeling daunted.  But I know that tomorrow I will feel excited and energized - and get on with it.

Educational Psychology tells us that people have different learning styles, and ideally teaching should be tailored to the individual.  While this works well with one-on-one tutoring, it doesn't in a classroom, where the lecture mode means that one style has to fit all.

My learning style, while comfortable with interactional learning  in social situations, requires a massive amount of repetition for learning anything technically detailed.  I am fortunate in that for all learning necessary to managing my computer's hardware my husband David is my tutor, and for the same involving hardware, my son Jeff is my tutor.  When first I asked for coaching about the computer more than twenty years ago, both husband and son used the "Tell her once and she'll get it" approach. On me, of course, it  DID NOT WORK, and frustration reigned on all sides.  Slowly they learned to accept how I learned, and slowly they adapted their teaching style to my learning style.  Consequently in the middle of November when son Jeff visited, he coached me flawlessly and patiently through learning a new skill, departing with the reminder to practice every day for a couple of weeks.  David  has reiterated that reminder daily, and here I am, now able to perform MOST - but not all - of the operations necessary to incorporate pictures and text on the same page.


Perhaps I am not conveying well what a big deal this is for me.

It is A BIG DEAL for me.

However, it brings complications, one of which is my father's book.  I had prepared the illustrations for it almost a decade ago using my then-available skills, and do not want at this point to discard about a foot thick of sets of illustrations.  Dad's book will have to be old-format with  his pictures and the same with his footnotes.  There is discomfort for me in this as now that I know better ways something in me wants to discard hundreds of hours of work and apply my new skills.  But to do that would not only be unacceptably wasteful but would cut into the time allocated for the next project.

Later, rethinking the matter, I should be able to combine text and photographs in the last section of the book, the decade of the 1970s.  The pictures from this time have not yet been scanned.  Perhaps that's the solution, including with it an explanation of the changing format...

I have been thinking about why it has taken me so long to write about my father's book, since it was the first one I worked on.  Possibly it is because at various times and in various forms, it was completed in some sense.

Perhaps my first comments may be my own preface to Dad's book.



In 1957 at the age of sixty-two Joseph Edward Hinde, called Bob, suffered a cerebrovascular accident which came close to killing him.  He survived the stroke, and found himself largely paralyzed on the right side of his body.  Walking was difficult, speech was severely impaired and he was unable to use his right hand for any fine motor-manipulative skills such as writing.  His mind, however, like his optimistic philosophy, was unimpaired.  He discovered this was the case when he began to write of his life.  With the continuing support of his wife, he learned to type one-fingered with his left hand.  While the process was slow and difficult, his writings about pioneering in Saskatchewan and his thoughts about opening up the land in the wider context of prairie, Canada and world events are valuable as part of Canadian history.

Bob Hinde's story is most important, however, as family history.  It is the documentation of the experience of an English family that chose to uproot itself from a working class district of Birmingham to make a new life in the vast empty plains of central Saskatchewan.  The transformation  for the family was from urban poverty to rural landowners.  Initially they were landowners in poverty but  later there was comfort if not  the affluence that came with the next generations.  This story is of great interest to those  succeeding generations.  The manner in which the writing reveals the man  allows his descendants to know him  not only as a revered and somewhat mythical ancestor, but also as a person.  That he chose to spend a part of his retired years in writing this story of a family can never be sufficiently appreciated by those descendants.

In 1976, in Victoria, Bob Hinde joined a creative writing class.  In that class he  began a process of selecting from his memories, some already written into his long narrative, some original.  These he formed into self-contained short incidents and anecdotes.  Some of them he wrote in a number of versions, for different purposes.  To the extent possible, the content of these short stories has been woven back into the long narrative in chronological order.  The reader may notice some duplication, and should regard the chapters as essentially independent.  

Bob Hinde wrote the long narrative over the course of  almost two decades, from 1957 to 1974.  The short stories, reproduced for the family in five binders, were written between 1975 and 1978.  

The occasional explanatory note has been provided at the end of chapters to clarify terms or events which might prove unfamiliar to readers of more recent generations.  Authorship is given for most notes; those unauthored were written by the editor.


That preface was written about a decade ago when preparing the compilation of all of Dad's stories into a book.  That book - several hundred pages of it - was then put into a three-ring binder.  Over the next several years, many of Bob's family read and annotated it, with corrections being made in the computer draft.  That volume was read aloud to Bob's widow Susanna by her grandson, my son Jeffrey, in visits to his grandmother over several years.  Because the volume was already in an accessible form, work on finalizing it and printing it in many copies did not seem urgent, and other projects occupied my time.

It is startling to realize that I have been working on Dad's book for about twenty years.  I began by copying all of the stories in his duo-tang binders into my computer - now many generations obsolete - several years before I retired.  Shortly after retirement I spent many hours with my sister working on getting those stories into date order.  At the same time we considered what illustrations should be included, and, having decided that ten copies of the book would be made, made ten copies of each of the chosen illustrations for later inclusion.  The whole was typed into the computer, with chapter end-notes because I had not yet figured out how to do footnotes - and I did not figure out how to include illustrations with text until very recently.  So this book is a product of both primitive technology, and primitive understanding of the capabilities of the computer.  

In April 2008 I completed Aunt Elsie's Diary, described earlier, and along with the original diaries at the behest of her son, sent a copy to the Saskatchewean Archives Board.  They telephoned back in great excitement about the import of this donation, and I was moved to tell them there would be more coming - my father's book - and that it would be coming before the end of 2008.  Sometimes making a commitment like that can drive action, and it has done so in this case.  Last week my son organized the chapter headings and index - an insuperable task for me -  and yesterday I printed off a copy.  Remaining to be done is organization of the illustrations into groups and writing the captions for the illustrations.  I anticipate that  will be done within two weeks; then I will print off  the many copies, assemble them with the illustrations, bind them and send them off to family members and the Saskatchewan Archives Board.

Dad got me started with this business of making family history accessible by writing copiously and well about his life and the life of his family.  My mother carried on with encouragement and with her own writing which was compiled and printed sooner than Dad's. I had not understood when I retired that this was to be the work of the rest of my life.  Then, I thought that would be working with a local literacy group in the cause of adult literacy.  I did that for ten years, but by then the full force of the charm of making family books had had its impact, and now my life centers around family stories, family genealogy, family reunions, family letters and emails. This occupies me fully and happily.  I believe it will do so for the rest of my life.