Half a century ago, my Uncle Walter wrote a  book, an autobiography.  I acquired a copy of a late draft in the course of helping my cousin, Uncle Walter's son Rawd, to organize his family archives. There were many drafts;  we tried to discern which was the most complete.  Aunt Mary had typed the drafts, and then retyped them to incorporate each successive round of revisions.   The draft I transcribed also had many revisions, and I did what I could to include them in my transcription.

Family stories of whatever nature - oral histories, anecdotes, songs, poetry, family trees - can be lost if they are not put into some accessible form and made available to the immediate and extended family in some manner.  It has been my task in my retirement to search out these family stories and work on making them accessible.  The task is self-assigned, yet somehow there seems to be an external force pulling me into doing this - sometimes the stories seem to be calling out to me.  Surely this is my imagination, yet  I continue to respond to the calls, and I continue to see the need for family stories to be made accessible.

This is all the more important - and at the same time more difficult - when the people who might help me to interpret the words before me are no longer here, and I am left with the necessity of making decisions about explanations, inclusions and exclusions on my own.  Uncle Walter was a thoughtful man, living much in his head.  He saw himself as an inadequate wretch - his own words - and yet he became a respected lawyer and Queen's Counsel, and in the later part of his legal career, mayor for several terms of a town in Saskatchewan.  His book stops before these events occur, so what he would have written of his successes we cannot know but it seems to me that he was haunted by the impostor syndrome, a condition in which the highly successful sufferer thinks, "If they all knew what I REALLY am, they would not respect and admire me."

It is going to be an interesting process, going back to the book I transcribed several years ago and preparing it for printing - proofreading, formatting, indexing.  I had thought that I would do this with the help of  my cousins, his children, Marianne and Rawd, but within the last year both have died, in their fifties, of cancer.  They "should have died hereafter."  Shakespeare always has a relevant phrase.

I will probably write of it again as I return to the work on Uncle Walter's book. It seems to me there will be a lot to say.

Several years ago, when I started spending time every summer in Regina with my first cousin John Rawdon Bieber to work on his family archives, one of the items we filed was a collection of letters his mother and father had exchanged in the two years leading up to their marriage in September 1948.   More recently I transcribed and footnoted the letters, with input  from Rawd himself, and also from his sister Marianne, who, like myself, are descendants of the Aron Niebuhr line. The letters present a remarkable picture of the time now six decades past in which my mother's sister conversed by mail with her intended.

I quote here the introduction of this book, which I printed off in draft for the first time yesterday:


The correspondence between Mary Rempel and Walter Bieber in the summers of 1947 and 1948 when they were apart due to Walter's summer work between years of law school, and their letters after their marriage during short periods apart,  present a fascinating story not only of the central personalities but also of the times and the attitudes of sixty years ago.

As in all good stories, the protagonists grow and change from the beginning to the end of the story.  Walter changes in his attitudes and opinions more than Mary,  but perhaps this seems to be the case  because a whole summer's worth of letters from Mary to Walter are unavailable.  At the beginning of their correspondence Walter struggled to find anything to write about, and found it hard to articulate how he felt about Mary.  By the end of the following summer there was no lack of content, with his feelings for Mary being expressed freely and even poetically.  Mary in turn became more articulate about her feelings and opinions.  They grew and changed together.

Added in date order are a few letters from Walter's friends and relatives, and one from the University.  These letters complement those of the central personalities and flesh out the narrative of this period of their lives.

In 1947, Mary Rempel and Walter Bieber were engaged and planning to marry.  As they lived at some distance from each other, they wrote frequently.  Mary's letters to Walter the first summer they were apart - 1947 - have not been preserved.  It is speculated that Walter had no private place to keep them while he was working at his brother's farm near Wolseley, Saskatchewan the summer between first and second years at law school.  Mary did preserve Walter's letters for both the summer of 1947 and the summer of 1948. These have been preserved by their son Rawdon, and are here transcribed.  The originals were photocopied in Regina in June 2005 and June 2007 by Mary Crane.  In some instances the photocopied words are unclear and might be clarified by checking against the originals, now  November 2008 in the hands of Graeme Mitchell.

Information for footnotes was provided by Marianne Bieber Daigneault and John Rawdon Bieber, Mary and Walter's daughter and son, and by the editor.  In some instances notations were made by Mary Bieber on the letters; these are transcribed as footnotes.  

Mary Rempel Bieber's memoirs, As I Remember, were printed in 1999.  Walter's 1951 diary and his memoirs have been transcribed and are to be privately printed in the future.


Rawd died in October 2007.  Marianne died in September 2008.  Rawd's many family stories are reproduced in the Rempel Cousins book, printed in September 2008.  Marianne didn't live long enough to write anything for that book;  the only writing I have of hers is in a handful of emails, and in the detailed footnotes she provided on some questions I had about her parents' letters.  Reviewing the Mary and Walter Letters draft yesterday, I realized that I have more of her writing than I had recalled.  I am grateful to have it.

My ability to detect my typographical and other errors being notoriously poor,  I will have to ask one of my long-suffering siblings or cousins to proofread this draft.  Then I will send it to all of Mary and Walter's descendants and to any of their nieces and nephews who might be interested...

But before I do that, I must first decide on whether I should include in the book Uncle Walter's 1951 journal,written at the time of the birth of Marianne.  (His poetry I included in The Rempel Stories, I just recalled.)  It never fails.  Every time I think I am getting close to completing a project, along comes another conundrum crying out for resolution before I can say "FINISHED."

Have I referred in previous entries to how stories - and the assembly of stories into books - keep coming at me?  I must have done.  The phenomenon is most peculiar.  I see a piece of family history and it starts calling me, telling me that it wants me to make it accessible to the extended family.  This is why my list of family history projects seems never to shorten: for every project I finish, two more pop up.  

I know I have mentioned arranging with the Saskatchewan Archives Board to have copies made of many of the Hinde Family memorabilia, documents and pictures which were donated to it by my father's sister and sister-in-law.  My sister Mary and I did this several years ago, and while I made immediate use of some of the material in the books I was working on, or the material itself demanded its own book, several other items were simply put aside.  And now the put-aside items are surfacing, making their own demands.  One of them is a little notebook given to my uncle Leonard by his grandfather, my great-grandfather, in 1900 when my uncle was seven years old.  This is the great-grandfather, Henry Thomas Wake, whose book I completed, printed and bound only weeks ago...

Clearly, from its content, that little notebook was used by several people over the course of a number of years, starting with Uncle Leonard who in a childish hand entered the names of all the flowers he knew, or saw, or identified.  A younger, scrbbling hand overlies some of the entries, with "Harry" in rough block letters.  Leonard's brother Harry was born in 1902, so this puts his "entries" at perhaps 1905.  On the last pages there is a list in the same childish hand of birds, this time very heavily scribbled over by a much younger hand.  There is a list in an adult hand of chores, tasks to be done.  When he was about eight, Uncle Leonard was at boarding school;  this list seems to have come from that time.  There are pages of the English addresses of several of Uncle Leonard's relatives, evidently written  in  1911, shortly before Uncle Leonard and his older sister Edith came to Canada,a year ahead of the rest of the family.  There are lists of expenditures made by Leonard's younger sister Elsie when in 1923 she visited her sister Winnie, travelling from Saskatchewan to Iowa, and lists of gifts for the family when she was heading home a year later.

And there is more.  Every page  speaks of the life of a family a century ago.  Every page requires footnotes to interpret what is written. When I started transcribing the notebook I thought merely how nice it was to have this evidence of Uncle Leonard's childhood.  Now I see that it is a document of family history in its own right, filled with intriguing evidences of that family's life.  

And so it is that an innocuous child's notebook becomes yet another project.  Last week I exchanged emails with a granddaughter of Uncle Leonard, my first cousin once removed.  She keeps a Treasure Chest of her parents' and grandparents' memorabilia, and asked for an attachment copy of the Henry Thomas Wake book which I send her yesterday.  Now I will tell her that in due course there will be more to come - her grandfather's notebook, first written more than a century ago.

One of the readers of this blog was reminded by my last entry to send family information she had received from a branch of the Niebuhr clan which had become disconnected, and was happy to reconnect and offer names and dates.  I don't know whether this branch of the family will wish at some point also to offer the flesh - the family stories - to clothe the bones of the names and dates.  So very many of the families who lived and suffered through the chaos of two wars, a revolution, famines, epidemics - are reluctant to speak or write of those times.  I regret that because their stories have lessons for those of us whose forebears left Russia in the early years of the last century, being on another continent when the terrible times began.  I have learned something of these times through putting together the story of my great-aunt, my grandmother's youngest sister, who did not come to Canada until 1926.  The lessons?  They are lessons of surviving, of holding together the values of the family, of enduring great sorrow and misery - and coming out the other end - most of them - with their sanity and their balance and their belief in the goodness of life intact.  We have it too easy, here and now, to grasp fully what they experienced, but we cannot grasp it at all if they don't tell us about it.

When my grandson was eighteen, I was  transcribing family data into my genealogy program about a cousin of his, who at eighteen in 1938 was taken from his home and shot.  I had to stop my data-entry task for a few days to think about what it would mean to have that happen in a family.  And - I couldn't grasp it.

I had said I would write of the fun of family trees, so I must not get myself caught up in sadness...

When one has entered  information into a computerized data base, it is then possible to display that information in a great many ways.  For example, if you were asked what month of the year holds more marriages than any other, you might guess June, but for the Mennonite branch of my family, that is not the case at all.  Think about it! A great many of our Mennonite forebears were farmers.  June typically would be much too busy a month for a wedding.  Looking at my entire data base, which includes many urban English on my father's side, June is indeed the peak month, but for the descendants of our earliest ancestor, Christof Niebuhr, the peak months are July and August.  Looking at the number of children in families, there was another surprise - the highest peak on the graph was for families with two children.  Certainly the graph reflects ALL the descendants of Christof Niebuhr, and the biggest number of them are the present generation, when family size has reduced compared to earlier generaions.   That's another interesting figure - how many descendants in each generation?  For Christof Niebur the 9th and 10th generations - that is, my generation and that of my children - have a half of the total descendants of 12 generations.  This is in part explained by our having more complete family histories the closer we get to the present.  Nevetheless it is interesting to note that this one man in the 16th century has more than 8000 direct descendants and in addition their roughly 3000 spouses in his family tree.

In an earlier blog I mentioned the way ancestors double every generation.  By the year 1000 AD, the one family line I have going back that far has just under a billion people in it - or would IF they were all recorded, and if there were no overlaps.  By the year 80 AD, given those same conditions, my ancestors would MORE THAN equal the weight of the entire earth.  This fact of geometric progression makes nonsense of the notion being a direct descendant of - well, some recognizable historical personage, say - which seems to be what many people would like to see in their family tree.  If's simply not meaningful in a genetic sense.

And yet - there is mitochondrial DNA to be considered, and if I understood enough about it, I would write about it.  There's a sort of fad going on just now about sending one's DNA for testing, contributing to the building up a data bank of mitochondrial DNA.  Intrigued by what I read, I jumped on that bandwagon - part of the FUN of amateur genealogy! - and since then have been sent by email many posts explaining it all in deeply incomprehensible terms.  If I can ever wrap my limp old brain around the concepts I will write about it, but that's not going to be soon!  I had an email from one of the Niebuhr connection who actually understood what it is all about, and had acquired information through havng his DNA tested where his earliest European ancestors had lived.  I'm talking about thousands of years ago, and I find that pretty interesting.  

But as for tracing family lines WAY back, well, the principle meaning I derive from the tracing my great-grandfather did in 1853 was to observe in the changes of names in the family line, how history worked itself out in surnames.  From "English" names (a mongrel nation if ever there was one!) to French names (with the Norman conquest in  1066) to Scandinavian names in the Middle Ages to Roman names in the early centuries of the first milennium AD.  I regard this ancestor exploration as an interesting way of learning history.  And of course, the farther back you go, the less likely it is that the history bears any resemblance to what actually happened.  My great-grandfather was VERY fond of the idea that he was descended from an English minor baron who resisted the Normans for years after the conquest, and recently I read a biography of that individual which held that his actual EXISTENCE was seriously in doubt.  

However, I derive a great deal of enjoyment about putting together all the information which comes to me, and treasuring it as a family history.  I find it, simply, fun.

"Family Tree" can have so many meanings.  I don't propose to offer a definition, but rather to reflect on my travels in amateur genealogy.

In an earlier blog I commented on the need to discover how many first cousins I had as the starting point for my interest in the family tree.  Had I known then that I was standing on the event horizon of a black hole and about to be sucked in, I might have hesitated, but counting up first cousins on my mother's side seemed an innocuous enough activity, and I did not hesitate.

I tracked down addresses (a task in itself as I had not kept in contact with most of them) and sent off to my first cousins a little form, asking them to fill in the information, which was quite simple and quite limited.  Full name, date and place of birth, marriage.  Same details about their parents, children and grandchildren. This activity generated a lot of names, and two surprises.  One surprise was that some people are not so much uninterested in family history as actively rejecting of it.  I had thought that everyone would be at least MILDLY interested.  The other is that the apparently pleasant virtual meadow I was strolling through was in fact a minefield.  With these surprises I came to understand that collecting family information was NOT an innocuous pastime.  

The stack of completed questionnaires - and everyone did in the end send me their information and that of their families - started to look unmanageable, and I recalled the comment of an amateur genealogist on my father's side, who said that if it weren't for the fact that many of the lines he was tracing were "without issue," he would have required a three-dimensional approach to writing up my paternal grandfather's family tree.

At this point, I saw family tree software in a local Office Depot, and purchased it.  Within weeks, with information continuing to flow in, I had outgrown it, and was trying out another program, Brother's Keeper, which offered a free trial of a limited version of the program, with the full program plus documentation to be purchased if satisfied.  I was indeed satisfied, and this - with several no-cost updates and several helpful responses to queries from their customer service people - is what I have used ever since. Comparisons of the multitude of genealogy software offerings are available by googling "Comparisons of Genealogy Software."  Suffice to say that I am satisfied with my choice and don't propose to change.  Brother's Keeper has a unique advantage in that it is the same software used by the GRANDMA Project, of which more later.

About a year after I started collecting cousin information I realized I might profit from some professional instruction, so I took a short genealogy course which was offered by a local community centre.  It helped, in that I learned a few things about documenting people which required that I go back to the beginning and change everybody's entry:  All women are entered under their maiden names, and all surnames are capitalized.  This entailed changes in only a few hundred people.  A dozen years later - now - it would have been over 23,000. And all those people are connected to me - that's a basic idea I stayed with.  The connection may be distant but all are connected.

One of the many printouts of the family history data is an ancestry tree which shows minimal information on an individual and that individual's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents - 33 people in a tree-like graphic.  After more than a dozen years of doing this, I have perhaps 40 (out of 23,000-plus) individual family trees complete to the great-greats. This has been done essentially without recourse to direct research myself.

Early on, I told myself that when the flow of family information from others ceased, I would then address myself to learning how to do online reaearch, and spend time at the local Family History Centre looking up kin on birth, marriage and death records and census records.  I am still, after these years, waiting for that cessation of information flow. At least weekly I receive new information which has to be entered into the data base, with printouts of the resulting family trees needing to be sent to the source of the information.   I have begun to think that doing  my own research isn't in the cards.  People I have connected with in the course of my genealogical interest have travelled to England and Poland and the Ukraine for the specific purpose of tracking their roots at the source;  others have delved into the resources of the Internet, or visited that icon of genealogy, Salt Lake City.  Not I.  I just sit here like a spider in the middle of her web, waiting for prey - that is, family data - to come to me.

Isn't it odd how someone else's passion looks a lot like work?  It doesn't look like that to the person driven by that passion! Family Tree Part II will explore the fun of genealogy.

This is the title of a recent book by Johathan Haidt, one which I keep dipping into.  A recent dip into his pellucid words revealed the following:  Achieving a goal does not necessarily bring happiness.  Rather it can bring restlessness, a feeling of "So what?" and a feeling of "What's next?"   (I paraphrase, of course.)

Objective assessment of my recent family history efforts would suggest I have been productive, having finished (in my special sense of "finished" ) four books of family history since April.   Yesterday we mailed off the last of the fourth book, the one about my great-grandfather.  (Incidentally the postage was an owie.  When it comes to mailing the product, this is NOT an inexpensive hobby.  Nor is it when my workhorse of a printer approaches the end of its useful life and has to be replaced.)  

So did I feel happy, that the HTW book was finally done?  Maybe, for  moment.  Mostly it was "What's next."

There are two projects moving to the front of the stove, from a  simmer toward a full boil.  One is Derry's book.  Derry - my niece Deirdre who died in 1991 of breast cancer at the age of 25, will have a book of pictures with extensive captions.  We have been collecting pictures of her for several years and the time has come to say STOP collecting and start assembling.  The other project coming to a boil is a book about David's maternal grandfather,  about whom so little is known that it will be a very small book indeed.

For Derry's book I will need to learn some new things - or perhaps David will - like how to put captions on the same page as pictures.

For David's grandfather's book, I will need, among other things, to pay a visit to a military museum.

Pause here to reflect on bureaucracy.  There is in Victoria a military museum, at one end and side of a vast gymnasium-like space which I fancy is used for drill on wet days, and for public events.  It has a name, this facility, and the name can be found online although not in the phone book.  A few years ago I had cause to track down its resources in the cause of identifying a small spoon with a military crest on it - a memento of an aunt on my father's side - so I know it exists and that the elderly warriors who volunteer in the museum are knowledgeable and kindly.   It is clear from my efforts so far that the Ashton Armoury does not want to be contacted, and indeed I recall this from my past visit.  All I want to know is when it is open to the public so that I may not waste a trip there.  I have  been engaged in finding my way through a labyrinth of  voice mail and outdated messages.  Frustration reigns.

I have in my possession a photocopy of the army paybook of David's grandfather, from World War I.  It is rife with incomprehensible abbreviations and references to  matters unknown.  I had thought that its mysteries might be apparent to another mind than mine, and asked my daughter Allegra who visited us the past weekend to try and interpret.  But she too was baffled.   It was she who suggested the military museum.

My point here is that in the course of preparing a book, there are MANY side paths which need to be taken, and while each may lead to great and interesting enlightenment, they all take time, and that is why some of my projects have taken YEARS to come to fruition, and maybe it also serves to explain my "What's next" response to the supposed achievement of finishing a project.

Jeffrey, our revered webmeister, has asked about the possibility of making the blog part of the site available to others than registered Niebuhr descendants.  I have to give this some thought.  I write the text of the blog, and need to consider whether knowing its going out into the wide world rather than only to Niebuhr descendants would alter what I write or the way I write it.  I'll take a few days to ponder this.  

Life goes along in a number of threads.  In the latter decades of life, I observe that the the threads have a way of weaving themselves together and instead of threads, there is a rope.  This happened to me in retirement. Except for desultory work on assembling my father's writings, everything in my present life was woven from loose threads of mild interest, a general sense that family history was A GOOD THING, and the awareness that I had a very large extended family.

Now fifteen years into retirement, my waking hours are almost entirely given to matters rerlating to FAMILY.  Family is the rope.

Why then did I start on a book the subject of which had nothing to do with MY family?  I was asked by a fellow resident of my mother-in-law's to tell her story.  Failing sight and hearing, and lack of skill writing English, meant that her story had to be told, not written, and despite the pressure of my own family projects, I undertook Lisa's story as an "...as told to....   I anticipate completing it in a few days.  I must, in fact, because Lisa is leaving The Cedars at the end of October to move to Edmonton to be nearer her children and grandchildren.

Initially I turned down Lisa's request., but her story kept calling to me.  The decade of her twenties was spent as a refugee in Europe, washed back and forth by the tides of war.  There were many parallels with the experience of the Mennonites who stayed in South Russia rather than emigrating.  Lisa's story had to be told, and clearly I was able to help her do that.  It's not a long book, perhaps 40 pages with illustrations, but she is satisfied it has captured what she wanted her children and grandchildren to know.  

I undertook this book because although Lisa's family is not my family, it IS the story of a family.

Writing this I realize, given my own family projects, how irrational this is as a reason to expend effort!  But there it is. 

Yesterday morning I finished binding 11 copies of "Henry Thomas Wake:  The Notebooks and Memorabilia of A Victorian Antiquarian."  Finishing it so quickly on the heels of the Rempel Cousins book as I did, it seems strange  that this is possibe, the HTW book being complex and of nearly 300 pages.  Here's the story:  picture if you will an old-fashioned kitchen range, complete with warming cupboard.  These ranges are - when of the vast and chrome-embellished kind - now collector's items.  In their heyday - not so many decades ago - this stove had an advantage that present cookstoves do not. A dozen food items in preparation could be placed on or within it - all at different temperatures, all heated be one source - the firebox. I'm the firebox;  my projects sit on the stove, or in the oven, or in the warming cupboard, all at different temperatures.  Some of them take years to cook;  some of them take only weeks.  While one of them is coming to a boil, the others wait, at temperatures from a gentle simmer to barely warm.  But sometimes several come to a boil simultaneously, or close to it.  That is what happened with the Rempel Cousins book.  It had been on the stove for several years, while the HTW book had been cooking for close to a decade.

The stages of book preparation are simple in outline but complex in implementation.  The major complexity is the necessity to involve other people in the process.  Other people do not necessarily share my time frame and priorities, and if I am asking them, for example,  to undertake the tedious but necessary task of proofreading, I cannot put pressure on them to complete the task.  They are, after all, doing me a favor.  The best I can do is incorporate them so closely in the process of preparing a book that they feel ownership and come to share my time framework.  This is the lot of my close kin, may they be forever thanked.  

The Rempel Cousins Stories  book was #3 of my blog entries under Family Projects.  It's done.  Copies have been collated, indexed, printed, bound and sent off to those who asked for them.  DONE.

But maybe not.  In fact, although the feeling of actually completing a project is great, I hope that the cousins who are now seeing how their contributions appear in the book and reading what others have written will feel motivated to write more.  And if they do, there will be another edition, I expect.

At the Rempel Reunion in Borden in August, thought was given to assembling a book of the memories of the Rempel cousins of their parents' generation.  Cousin Margaret has undertaken to coordinate that project, and already I have forwarded to her my collection of memories.  A part of my August visit with cousin Gordon, whose obituary appears on this site, was occupied with listening to  his memories of the aunts and uncles - and taking notes.  I am hopeful that not only the writing bug, which has clearly bitten Margaret, will lead to a further infection - the book-producing bug -  and that as time goes on she will produce not only this memories book but others.

If Aunt Elsie on Dad's side revealed nothing of herself in her diary,  and Uncle Walter on Mum's side revealed  at times what the texters of the current era would call "TMI" - Too Much Information, it may be because journals and diaries have quite different purposes.  I think I hadn't grasped that when I pictured the continuum of least to most revealed.  Here's what Cecilia Mavrow says in her book, Journal Writing, Ruksak Books, Victoria, Canada, 1992.  "Journal writing is all about making marks, landmarks, hammering heiroglyphics on rocks in order to give life significance, to survive death or to testify to the passage of a sensitive life in a world so large that whole civilizations can disappear.  You may write in a journal thinking you will want to look back and see where you have been so you don't keep rotating in circles.  Or maybe by leaving behind this written trail, you are letting the other bears know you are in the woods."

This and other passages in Mavrow's book have brought me to rethink my desire to see the person in Aunt Elsie's diary, and my wish for greater reticence in Uncle Walter's journal.  Aunt Elsie's diary was not INTENDED to say anything about her;  it was a record of rural life, kept not only for herself but also for the other people living that life.  Uncle Walter's journal was not intended for reading by anyone else - it was his personal musing about his place in the scheme of things.  I know Uncle Walter the better for reading his journal.  I yearn to know Aunt Elsie that way and know I cannot. Uncle Walter reflected on his life;  Aunt Elsie wrote of the events in her life, without reflection.  They had different purposes and offered different opportunities for character reading by the later reader.

In any case I must be content with what is before me;  there will be no more from the original sources.

It seems a distinction is needed between journals and diaries:  this is how I make that distinction.  Journals are written irregularly, and are unlimited as to space, so if I were keeping a journal - which I am in a sense doing with this blog - I would write in it when I had something to write, and what I wrote would be of whatever length I saw fit. Diaries, on the other hand, are usually five year diaries, with a few lines in a small book set out for each day for five years, with January 1, for example, showing on the same page for five successive years.  The expectation is that an entry is made every day.  Whole books have been written on how to keep a diary or a journal.

Journals and diaries are written by differing personalities for different purposes, consequently arrive in the hands of a later reader conveying  highly differing impressions of their writers.  These writings nevertheless fall on a continuum, which from my experience ranges from the one extreme of revealing nothing of the personality of the writer, and on the other extreme of revealing more than the reader can comfortably handle knowing about the personality of the writer.

And I cannot tell you at this point which I find the more fascinating - the unrevealing or the revealing - only that all are fascinating.

Here are examples from the extremes of the revelatory continuum.

My father's sister Elsie wrote her diary as a sort of farm journal, which anyone in the family could refer to for such information as which colts were trained three years ago, or what day of last winter was the coldest.  It was pragmatic, useful, and utterly unrevealing of the personality of the writer.  As I have mentioned earlier, I included in the book of Elsie's diaries from 1935 and onward an earlier journal, written when she was nineteen and away from home for the first time.  I had hoped that her personality as a young woman whould be less obscure than it was found to be by 1935, and it is, but only a little.  There are small evidences of girlish enthusiasm, but mainly I see through that journal's year a growing suppression of enthusiasm, as though the labours of the years to come were already weighing on her.  Her life as reflected in her young journal and her later life-long diaries was a life in which only her physical landscape was reflected.

In other words, her personality had to be found between the lines.  And as I have mentioned my brother who knew her much better than I did was also challenged to find the personality in the diaries.

On the other extreme is the journal of Uncle Walter. Uncle Walter wrote a book which is highly revealing of his personality; this book will be subject of an upcoming "Project" entry.  In addition he kept a journal for the first year or so of his marriage to my mother's sister, which also revealed his personality.  It would not be fair to say there was NO reference in his journal to events in his physical landscape - he did, for example, manage to mention the birth of his first child.  But almost all of his journal reflects what is going on in his mental landscape.  Events occur, and what he records is what went on in his mind as a consequence of the events.  His interest was not the events themselves, but their impact on his own mental processes.

Aunt Elsie's diary and Uncle Walter's journal are on the extremes of the revealingness continuum.  Others fall at some point between.  Of them,  more later.

This will probably be one of several entries on the subject of journals and diaries.  In my effort to make the writing of my kin accessible to my descendants, issues continue to arise, insights continue to resonate and I continue to be surprised, baffled and confounded.

Earlier I wrote about having completed the book my sister and I were preparing  - Aunt Elsie's Diary.  The date of publication is April 2008, and truly, I thought that project was FINISHED.  I printed off copies, comb-bound them and sent them off to various people, one being my brother Barry.

Have I mentioned that I have great difficulty in seeing my own typographical errors?  Likewise minor grammatical, syntactical and spelling errors?  (I like to think I pick up the major ones.)  My sister pointed out many of these  for me as we went through the laborious, years-long process of transcribing those diaries, and I found a FEW errors as I was dealing with the format, pagination and so forth.  

Then Barry got back to me, having started to read his copy of the book.

Barry knew Aunt Elsie a lot better than I did.  After high school Barry had worked for a year at Valley Springs Ranch, therefore had had many opportunities for conversation with her, and for observation of the dynamics of the family then living there - Elsie and her husband Wesley,  Elsie's brother  Harry, and their sister Edith.  While this was going on I was at the other end of the country, from whence I did not return for decades. This gave Barry a much better handle on interpreting what went on between the lines of the diary than I had.

Barry found MANY errors, some major, which have been easily corrected - in my computer!  They remain in existence in the many copies of the book I sent out to various kin.  More importantly, Barry found places where his knowledge and experience could provide footnotes.  These too have been added to my computer copy and of course not to the printed copies.  I have it in mind to send notes to all the recipients to tell them that what they have in their hands is the first edition, and that there will be other editions.  Or I could sent them a page of corrections, only that is too embarrassing to contemplate.

Bottom line:  NO project is EVER finished.  ALL projects are works in progress.

This has been a disturbing bottom line to acknowledge.  I had hoped it would be possible to FINISH a project, and move on.  That doesn't seem to be happening.  I knew, of course, that the genealogy data base would be constantly updated, so that if you asked for a printout today, it would be different - more people in it! - than the one I sent out to another cousin six weeks ago.  But I had NOT expected that would be the case with the other projects.

So what should I do about this regarding the projects not yet printed?  Perhaps yet another round of proofing before I print?  Barry has offered that service to the effort and I propose to take him up on it.  Son Jeffrey has made that offer as well.  Sister Mary has helped all along.  Perhaps in addition I need to put a caveat at the beginning, warning that I am human and therefore likely to err...but that should be obvious!

I suppose I could just finish my projects and send them out into the world and not worry about trying to achieve perfection (impossible in any case.)  But when people come along with obvious improvements to the effort - like Barry's corrections and more particularly his enriching footnotes, I don't want to do that.  Perhaps there will be a second edition in time, incorporating the changes.

Next post will be about the manner in which the writer of a journal or diary reveals - or fails to reveal - his or her character.

In the June 2008 Bulletin of the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society, an article by John Grenham was published bearing the above title.  Since answering the question posed in the title was the starting point of my genealogical exploration, I am borrowing some of his words  here.  He says:  "You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, thirty-two great-great-greatgrandparents - the numbers tend to get a little blurry if you go much further..." but you get the idea.  

If you presume a conservative three generations in each century, around the year 1000, thirty generations ago, you should have over a billion ancestors.  My genealogical software has the capability of keeping track of these numbers, and since one of my ancestors was kind enough to track back one family line to the year 1000, I can attest to the billion figure.  If I put my name at the #1 position on the ancestry tree, and go back to my earliest ancestor on that line, his number, in the early 1000s on my computer is just under a billion.  That is, if all the lines of my ancestry were filled in, I would have roughly a billion direct ancestors in my data base.  

I don't, of course;  I have only something like 23,000 in my data base, and while they are all CONNECTIONS, they're not all direct ancestors;  many of them are people who married into my family lines.  

But still,  that billion figure for the year 1000 represents at least three times the entire population of the planet.

Back to Grenham:  "The calculation assumes that none of the couples over those thirty generations was in any way related.  If you marry your second cousin, your children will have only fourteen great-grandparents, not sixteen, twenty-eight great-great-greats instead of thirty-two.  At a stroke you will have removed more than 130 million of those notional ncestors a thousand years ago.  Marry your third cousin and you lose almost seventy million putative ancestors, and that still assumes that none of the intervening couples was related.  If just one set of grandparents in that third-cousin marriage were also third cousims, another four million ancestors vanish."

"In fact," says Grenham, "the chances are that almost all of your ancestors were related to each other in some way.  In the relatively settled rural areas of humanity until relatively recently, third or fourth cousin marriages were the norm, not the exception.  If you reverse the perspective the results are just as peculiar.  Pick any of your ancestors a thousand years ago.  Obviously he or she has had descendants in each of the intervening thirty generations, since you exist.  If more than child in each of those generations had children themselves, a very conservative assumption indeed, then you are only one of several hundred million descendants of that ancestor."

My data base does not, as noted above, contain several hundred million descendants of my ancestor born in the year 1037.  But my great-grandfather traced only ONE LINE of my many lines of ancestors.  It does not even contain all the descendants of my generation, and my children's and grandchildren's generations  - although I am working hard to acquire that information.  There is just TOO MUCH!  A fellow genealogy enthusiast, a second cousin in Cumbria, England, has told me that if it weren't for the fact that many of the family lines in England in the 19th and early 20th centuries were "without issue" he would have been unable to encompass the whole family in one tree.  That cousin does his genealogy work without benefit of computer...

Again, Grenham: "Thinking about ancestors on this scale might seem trivial, but it has some interesting implications.  The fact is that we are all a lot more related than we care to realize.  It should be less of a surprise to a genealogist than to a geneticist that 95% of all Europeans share the genes of seven women who loved 45,000 years ago.  Even those seven were probably second cousins."

Here Grenham is referring to Bryan Sykes' book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve," 2001, WW Norton and Company, London.  And this web site  - http://www.smgf.org   can lead you to information on how to send in your DNA to determine which one of the seven sisters is your ancestress.  One of our Niebuhr kin has already done that.