Monday, September 21, 2009

There Is A Reason I'm Doing This

I'm a Mormon. There, that's out of the way.

In spite of that, I don't really care for Utah, I usually root against BYU, I prefer Gladys Knight and the Pips to Gladys Knight and the Hopeful Gospel Glee Club or whatever she calls her current group, and I've never been much for genealogy, or as we like to call it down at the Stake Center, Family History.

I've always believed that family history was meant for people who can only get along with their dead relatives, a haven for irritable, demanding old folks and guys with bad haircuts who wear black socks and sneakers. While not that old, I am irritable and demanding, I do have a bad haircut, I find black socks and sneakers a Solid Fashion Strategy, and truth be told, most of my involvement with living relatives leaves me disoriented, with a searing pain in my side, like I've been drugged and had a kidney harvested by black market organ traffickers. All of this, and still not enough to convince me that I had a place in the world of dusty census records and pedigree charts.

Recently, that's changed.

Four months ago, I was released as bishop of my ward. I'd served in the bishopric for over ten years, six of them as bishop. That's just shy of a quarter of my life. Being released from a major Church calling can be jarring: you go from having way, way way too much to do, to having plenty of time to watch "Malcolm In The Middle" reruns. Your phone stops ringing. No one really cares what you have to say anymore. Your kids says things at dinner like, "Finally, we have a bishop I like!" (None of my kids really said this, but I'll bet they were thinking it. Teenagers are a treacherous bunch.) I've felt like a cross between Charlie Brown and George W. Bush, shoulders slumped, enormous round head bowed, my squinty eyes blinking in confusion and ennui.

Idling in Church Service Neutral, something has happened. Somewhere in the spaces between "Malcolm in the Middle" and the sad, Vince Guaraldi, "The Round-Headed Kid Just Blew Another Ballgame" music that's been playing in my head, I've been flooded with thoughts of "my kindred dead." Not so much of my father, who's been gone for nearly thirty years, or of my grandfather, who died just a few months ago, but of people I've never met, people I've never known. Below is a photo my sister found in a pile of old family papers. I don't have a clue who these people are, but I know that somehow, I belong to them. I can see it in their smiles, in the high cheekbones of the old man on the upper left, who looks like my dad would have looked, had he ever become an old man. I can see it in the high forehead and full belly of the guy in the middle, who looks to be about my build, about my age. This is really all we have of our ancestors, a handful of photographs, most without any notation of names or dates or places. These are our people, these ghosts. And for some reason, they are coming to me. They are right there, all around me.

Don't misunderstand: this is no claim of transcendence, no great visionary moment. I don't see dead people; I just think about them a lot. And as I toe the rim of that remorseless void known as Middle Age, thinking of all the things I've done, the cringe-inducing and the shameful (did I really, for a brief period, go out in public wearing blood red bell-bottomed corduroys, because I thought they made me look like Allen Collins from Lynyrd Skynyrd? Was that cowboy hat really necessary?), I find myself wanting to understand all those people who came before me, to feel a kinship to them, to know their histories.

So here's the goal: Over the next 24 months, I want to have a total of 3,000 individuals on my pedigree charts and family group records. As of last Saturday, 19 September 2009, I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30. I've signed up for the deluxe membership at Ancestry.com, I'm close personal friends with at least three of the staff members at my local LDS Family History Center, so I think averaging about 120 new names a month is doable.

We'll see.

This blog will be a place where I share what I've learned about my family, about family history research, and, maybe, about myself. Red bell-bottoms will NOT make an appearance.

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