My retirement was only a few years old when I arrived at what Carolyn Heilbrun, in “The Last Gift of Time,” refers to as the passion that is necessary for every person to find with age. She describes it as a necessity, in age, to become utterly absorbed in SOMETHING – doesn’t really matter what – in order to experience continuation of the sense of achievement which was available to us in our working lives.
I had thought when I retired that I would take up the interest I had identified many years earlier – working in some manner with adults who had difficulty with literacy. I applied as tutor in a literacy program, and for ten years tutored adults to help them improve their literacy. It was demanding work, challenging and rewarding. Through that ten year period a broad interest in family history had begun to make itself felt, and when it came time to move on, I knew where I was going – toward producing books of family history.
Several realities underlay this new direction. Retirement had given me the whole 24 hours a day to use as I chose; I had acquired grandchildren; I had extended my interest in and use of computers. The time needed to apply myself to the growing interest was there; the motivation generated by the acquisition, through grandchildren, of ancestor status, was there, and the computer was there, without which the making of family trees is difficult to impossible. Further, I learned – poking about in relatives’ mental and physical attics - that many of my forebears and my husband’s had left scattered bits of their history behind them – letters, diaries, memorabilia. My husband’s uncle had put together a family tree on his mother’s side. A first cousin once removed on my mother's side, ditto. My father had written stories about his life.
Putting all these together and I could see the possibility of moving forward with making family history accessible to the younger generations.
This didn’t happen as a concrete, everything-laid-out-in-an-orderly-manner kind of way, it happened in bits and pieces, moving forward in a lurching fashion, but one day a dozen years ago I found myself with a Project List. On the list were the family history projects I would like to work on to produce volumes which could be shared, and family-related continuing activities, each with a rough plan as to the steps needed to move it forward, and the projected completion year for each. The first project was assembling my father’s book of stories into a coherent, edited, footnoted volume. My project list records that the first project was completed in 1999, thirteen years ago. Since then I have averaged two books a year, now with 27 completed, and about 35 still on the project list.
About 35? Yes, about that. From some of the raw material now in hand, I don’t know how many books will emerge.
I didn’t start out with this many projects on the list. I had no idea that this was going to take up so much of my life. It seems that’s what happens when you find your passion. It becomes all-absorbing.
Recently I connected with a professional genealogist I had commissioned to trace some forebears which my limited search skills could not find. Reviewing her work, I realized that my strategy for collecting family history material bears little relationship to the work done by a professional genealogist, for whom if it isn’t documented, it isn’t a fact, and that’s the case even at times when it IS documented.
No, my strategy is more like that of an orb spider who builds her net, then waits for the insects to fly into it.
Four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and experienced the usual shock and enhanced awareness of my mortality. This did not, however, result in a higher productivity of family histories, in fact, the rate of production slowed, perhaps understandably, but with the possibility of limited time to work on my projects, the sense of urgency became anxiety, further impeding productivity.
No excuses! The work was there to be done, I had the tools to do it, and surely once the malaise, the “cancer brain,” subsided, work could resume.
In due course it did subside, although my mental acuity has not fully recovered. The fact that four years have passed and I am four years older probably has more to do with that than the cancer.
And so the sense of urgency resumes.
2011 was a good year. Early in the year I caught up with the work on hand of my great-grandfather’s journal. Much remains, but I have gone as far as I can with the material for now. Other much smaller projects came to the fore – five of them, and through the year all came to the boil at the same time, “the boil” being near-readiness to print and bind. As always, they were much bigger than anticipated, but all of them should be DONE early in 2012. Now others are calling out for attention. I think 2012 will be a good year too. I will pass my five year point with the cancer, with no recurrence; I am learning strategies to deal with my failing memory and I have sharpened skills with the computer, meaning I can work more quickly and accurately.
The five 2011 books are numbers 28 to 32. And strangely, about 35 remain due to some strange arithmetic I don’t understand.
I’ll keep going.