20 August 2012


     Before Mass last Sunday, I was reading through commentaries in the missal (Canadian Official Roman Catholic Missal 2011-12, 19 August). Sunday's commentary dealt with the meaning of the word "mystery." Naturally, my mind went straight to family history!
     After all, most family historians are also detectives. Although some of us are lucky enough to have been blessed with a family history documented back to the Four Kingdoms, most of us spend two percent of our time organizing and ninety eight percent investigating.
      We usually regard a mystery as a problem to be solved, as the commentary stated. The genealogy world is filled with references to solving the mysteries in our family history. We researchers trade tips about tracking clues, breaking brick walls, learning research strategies, and finding elusive ancestors. "Case cracked." "Problem solved." "Ancestor captured."
     But, according to the Missal, a mystery reveals itself continuously. What a wonderful way of looking at family history, I thought!
     Sometimes we are so "hot" on the record trail of an ancestor that we don't allow the family story to reveal itself to us. We need to stop at times and to be receptive rather than proactive. We are often so busy chasing records that we forget to listen to the mystery whispering to us through the years.
     One way to allow the mystery to reveal itself is to take the time to peruse the records and photographs you have already found. Sit back with a cup of tea on a few long afternoons, and simply look over your collected records as if you were reading a story for the first time. Allow your mind to wander--yes, wander aimlessly, even! The people in those records are speaking to you. What are they saying? What do they want you to know about themselves? What was the meaning of their lives?
     When you interview relatives, allow time for reminiscing and for storytelling. Don't be like Jack Webb on the old TV show Dragnet and insist on "just the facts, ma'am." Allow time for personal reflection in your conversation with relatives. Allow silences. Police officers and psychiatrists know that silence is a very effective interview tool. A period of silence can bring forth important revelations and memories, allowing the mystery to unfold.
     In other words, don't think too much. Make room for inspiration and intuition in your research methods. Allow your family mysteries to reveal themselves!