Monday, June 7, 2010


It seems to me that whenever I make a pronouncement of some sort, at some point in my life it will come back to bite me. And usually it isn’t even a dramatic pronouncement but something I mostly forget about until the moment down the road when I say “ouch.”

The most recent happening is all due to the fact that I am on a mission to get rid of all the papers in my file cabinets which probably should have been dumped at least ten years ago but to which I have been inordinately attached, as I am to most of my things.

In looking at the files I’d kept, I had to acknowledge that for the most part 1) I hadn’t looked at them in the last 10 years, 2) they weren’t anything my heirs would be interested in keeping, and 3) in all honesty I probably wouldn’t ever need them again. Doing what needed to be done was hard, and I admit to wavering a lot. But I did it.

Some of you know I spent two years in Turkey back in the early 1990s researching the lives of Americans who were buried in an old cemetery in Istanbul. My beginning research was on-site, as I spent hours transcribing the tombstones. Then it moved to the various places in Istanbul where I might find records of these people, which I found in the registers of two different churches and at a major library. Knowing I would probably not get back to Istanbul again, I made sure I had photocopies of all my backup to use once I started writing. Once I arrived back in the US, I spent many Saturdays at the LA Public library, a week at the Maryland Branch of the National Archives where the original state department records are kept, and then did lots of letter writing (all still in pre-internet times).

I finally had the book printed in 1998 and the material posted on the Internet shortly thereafter. In the ensuing years I’ve had lots of people e-mail or write me because they have found their families in my “published” research and wanted to know more. It was the “more” that I kept in my file cabinet and that filled more than half a drawer.

Yesterday I threw it all out. All that is left is what is published. The sources are all cited, but I can no longer provide further details. The people will have to go to the original source now for more. And simply trust what I said is true.

That’s where I got bit yesterday.

Back in 1983 when I started into genealogy I purchased a book put out by a lady in Kentucky. She had my Higdon family in her book. All the later stuff was taken from the same sources I had dug up prior to finding her book, but she took the line back much further than I had. And in it she indicated my line was actually related to Pocohontas. A newbie to research, I was SO excited and I quickly phoned my family members to tell them of this wonderful find. How excited I was.

But as studied her book more, I discovered there was no good documentation for this claim. What I saw was a giant leap of faith that this connection was what she claimed. I wanted to know how she came to this conclusion, so I wrote her. She kindly wrote back and said she had written the book some time back but once the book was published she had thrown away all her notes and documentation. At the time, I really thought no one who wrote a book would throw away their backup material once the book was published. I figured this lady probably said what she did because she really never did have any source to prove her statement.

Without documentation, I absolutely refused to give any credence beyond a “theory” to her claim, and with egg on my face I again phoned all my relatives and withdrew my happy claim.

As I was tossing my Turkish Cemetery notes into the trash yesterday this little episode with my Kentucky ancestors came to mind. By throwing my papers away, not only was I was basically taking away the possibility of “proving” what I wrote to anyone who might contact me in the future, but also with being able to provide all sorts of additional information contained in my files – things that would take their ancestors beyond being just a “name, rank and serial number” Yes, this information still exists but just no longer is it in my files.

“Oh-Oh,” I thought as I recollected my thoughts about the Kentucky lady who threw away her research paperwork. Yesterday I saw I had been too critical of her. Yes, people DO, at some point, need to clear out their file drawers and they have to make a decision to toss out old things. I think I just wasn’t old enough yet to understand that there comes a point when life needs to be simplified a little, when you understand your research and your letters are not going to be put in a library somewhere and you don’t need to leave things in your files for your kids to deal with when you die.

Now if you are wondering if I kept anything at all, I assure you I did. Two files worth. In those two files are things that make me happy – mainly e-mails from people all over the world who have been helped by my book. Those kinds of things are worth saving….and for passing on to my kids, who probably sometimes wonder why their old mother keeps so much junk around.

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