Holding onto your sanity can be tricky when your occupational raw material consists of the legions of the dead. So genealogists have to develop techniques to try to retain that little spark of normality, or at least to try to pass for normal. It’s time to share a couple.
First, keep things in proportion. At all costs, avoid ancestor worship. A single living person is worth every forebear you have – genealogy is not a matter of life or death, only the latter. Don’t place too much trust in history. The past is not a reliable guide to the future. The fact you haven’t died so far doesn’t mean you’re immortal.
And never forget that, however absorbing it can be, there is something inherently ludicrous about pursuing traces of the long-gone through mountains of decaying paper. Here’s one way I use to keep that sense of genealogy’s absurdity alive.
One of my jobs when I ran the Irish Times Irish ancestors subsite was to manage the main email address, email@example.com. This appeared on hundreds of pages across the site and was, of course, repeatedly harvested by spammers. In an effort to disguise their obnoxious shysterism, these people often take the first part of an email address, hoping that it is a personal name, and shoehorn it into the email subject line to try to personalise their pitch. In this case, the first part of the address being “ancestor”, some lovely incongruities resulted.
I collected them, God help me. Along with the census mistranscriptions, they have made a small but a significant contribution to whatever sanity I have left. Some of my favourites:
– Ancestor, reverse the signs of ageing.
– Ancestor! Fix your garage door now!
– Ancestor – let’s get together for lunch next week.
– Your background check is now available online, ancestor!
Not forgetting the evergreen:
– Ancestor! Cure your erectile dysfunction now!
Launch party? You’re looking at the launch party. Only one edition actually had a formal launch, the third I think, and that was just because I wanted to impress my teenage son. The effect lasted about twenty minutes but it was worth it. He’s now well beyond impressing.
So why another edition? My late father’s comment after the second was a laconic “Could you not get it right the first time?” Three editions later I can imagine what he’d say.
Part of the impetus is certainly from the publisher, hoping to get everyone who bought the last edition to cough up again. Such ignoble motives are beneath me, of course. When the first edition came out back in 1991, I thought “That’s that, job done”. What quieter, more stable backwater could there be than Irish genealogy?
And of course Irish genealogy has been non-stop, hell-for-leather breakneck action ever since.