Blogs in general are vanity exercises, and consideration of why I have developed the passion for family history in my retirement is also a matter of vanity. I believe writing a blog will help me to organize my efforts more effectively to discover, examine and make accessible my family's roots - my roots. If it interests anyone else I would be surprised but not displeased.
Elders are the roots. My elders come in two forms - Mennonite and Quaker. My mother's people - she was Susanna Rempel, whose maternal grandmother was a Niebuhr of the Aron line - came to Canada in the second wave of immigration from the Ukraine - the wave which came just after the turn of the last century. Their experience in Canada was similar to that of the many others who came at that time, from that place, to Canada. I think the theme for their coming - beyond the opportunity denied them in the Ukraine to own land - was education. My Mennonite grandparents were intelligent, energetic people whose own education had been fairly limited, but they were determined that the education of their children would not be limited. Because Grandfather died when his oldest child was in high school and his youngest child was a baby, the educational opportunities of the rest of his children were considerably curtailed, and it wasn't until the next generation - my generation - that completing high school and even postsecondary and university education was possible, thereby giving their descendants the choice of working with our heads or our muscles.
My Quaker forebears' experience was similar in many respects. They came from a working class district of a city in the industrial midlands of Britain rather than from farming stock, but they too sought a better life and the possibility of owning land, so even with the urban background, they homesteaded. My father's education stopped at age fourteen, and both he and my mother were committed to the idea that their children would have the opportunity for more education than they had been able to acquire. In his memoirs my father writes of turning over the prairie sod behind his oxen Simon and Peter while doing mathematical puzzles in his head and reciting long passages of verse while the oxen moved forward, slowly altering that primeval landscape. He told himself then that his children would have the choice of working with their hands or their heads, and the choice would come through education. Among his children there are several university degrees, and among his grandchildren even more. His efforts, starting with walking behind Simon and Peter, brought his dream to reality.
But both sets of grandparents, and indeed parents, had what we would now regard as hard lives.
There is another element of my background which has influenced how I go about the process of making family history accessible. When I was last in the "world of work" one of my functions was to approve any material which was written by my department for public consumption. This was mostly patient education material and articles written by my staff for publication in professional journals. In addition I participated in interdisciplinary committees charged with producing and updating policy and procedure manuals. For the patient education material I had to master the determination of reading level, in order to assure that printed material intended to inform patients was understandable at the average reading level. For the papers written for journals I needed to re-learn skills I had never fully mastered in public school like how to parse a sentence and how to assure noun-verb agreement. For most of the people writing the material, good English was regrettably not a priority, and I spent a lot of time editing the material which came before me. For the policy and procedure manuals, I fought a year-long battle to have these manuals cast in the present indicative, finally winning my point over the future imperative.
Long before I retired I had decided that one of my retirement activities would be volunteering in an organization committed in some manner to supporting adult literacy. I became a tutor with Project Literacy Victoria and worked with half a dozen learners over the ensuing decade. During that experience I learned how little I had known about my mother tongue and its proper use, compared to how much I had thought I knew. You find out how little you know when you try to teach what you think you know. So I learned a lot more and by the time I was ready to phase out that activity I found myself deploring the sad state of English usage in the public media.
I got over that. I still have my personal standards but I no longer bewail the deficiencies of the written word I see all around me - not if it is possible with a little effort to grasp the intended meaning. I still do stumble over grammatical, syntactical and spelling errors, but I pick myself and move on without cries of outrage. The point, I keep telling myself, is that it is an achievement whenever anyone writes about anything in this post-literate era.
What all this means is that I have had a lot of experience in dealing with the written word.
Spelling has never been a problem to me, likely because my first years of schooling were at home, and my mother as teacher had strict requirements about spelling. For many of the finer points of grammar and syntax, however, I had to go beyond "that doesn't sound or look right" and into the reason WHY it wasn't right, and how to fix it.
All this was preparation for my present family history work, not that I knew it at the time. I feel I am at least SOMEWHAT qualified to undertake family history projects intended to make their ancestors accessible to my grandchildren. That is my central purpose and they are the target audience for my efforts. If others in the extended family are interested I am happy to share.
Probably I will post again on this subject. This is, after all, a vanity exercise and I love talking about myself. Doesn't everyone?