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.