Several years ago, in the day of kludgey desktop monitors and dot matrix printers, I assigned myself the task of transferring all of the genealogical records my mother had researched, accumulated and organized her whole life into my new computer system. The software I had was brand new, called “PAF”. The device I was using ran with a DOS program, ancient now, but at that time it was pretty much cutting edge for me. I was excited with the goal I had set for myself and spent many a day working at the black and white screen, entering little numbers and ciphers that translated into my family history.
I had two consultants, one was my teenage daughter, Mimi, who understood the computer better than I did, and the other was my sister, Joy, who has ended up as a willing partner for all things family history. In the case of my daughter, her expertise and intuition saved me and kept me moving forward. I did not understand a lot of how my computer worked. For example, when I turned it on and tried to initiate running of the program, sometimes I couldn’t get it to go, and would receive the message “<Bad Command or File Name>”. I would feel my frustration build and try to argue back with the computer by typing in my response of how I felt about this message. I would always get the same answer, of course. So, I would summon my daughter and she would patiently make the needed corrections until I was in! There were other things that mystified me, too, and as I would work, I needed her help often. This became a problem when she was in school, so I did the unthinkable—I bought her a cell phone in the days when it was rare for a teenager to own one—with the stipulation she must answer it anytime I called. I dialed her number, and I would hear, in a very muted voice, “Mom, I’m in class.” I would say, “Step out in the hall, I have a question.” She would do so, much to her chagrin, and coach me through my snafu. The solution often began with “Okay, remember Right Click? On the mouse? Do that and tell me what you see.” I soon learned the value of right click and began to slowly assimilate and understand the choices it would offer me.
It was strange, but I loved the seemingly monotonous work I was doing. The names of my ancestors streamed through my head like music, and as I entered the data, I visualized their families and thought about the places where they lived. I calculated how old they were when they died and noticed the children who died young and wondered how it all happened. I knew some of the stories, and those familiar to me were silently rehearsed and I remembered them as I typed their names and other information into the program. Some of the towns like Panaca, Nevada became little chants in my brain and others made me wonder about the Germanic languages that used several consonants in a row to describe a place, knowing I could never pronounce it on my own, but I did fantasize about someday visiting there, seeing blue-skied harbors on the ocean and smelling that pungent salty-fishy freshness.
One morning I sat down to continue the work I had initiated, and the screen of my computer was acting very ignorant and not responding. I tried everything, but to no avail, so I called in the big guns–my daughter, who for the first time, was unable to help, then my husband, a guy who invented computer chips for a living. The prognosis was tragic. The computer went down, taking everything with it, of course, including all the genealogy files I had trustingly stored inside it, pretty much the only important thing I had on the device. Hours and hours of work disappeared off into the blue, like a helium balloon from the hand of a careless child. I pouted and ranted for a few days, waiting for my husband to replace the old equipment. He had hookups at work, and soon he came bearing my “new” computer. He connected all the pieces together, turned it on, taught me about backing up files, and I was again in business.
With relish and new determination, I faced my task once again. This time, I was much more familiar with how to run the machine and with the names of those people with whom I shared my genes. Hooray for second chances!
Since that time, I have been heavily involved in writing about and gathering family. I have embarked on many projects, co-authoring mainly with my sister, Joy, but also others. At one point, I decided to go back to school and I got a degree in Family History and Writing, and a year after that I landed my first official job with Johni Cerny, a well-known genealogist who devoted her whole life to her craft. She painstakingly trained me and helped me hone my skills for her use (and mine) in African American research. After a few years with her, she became ill and passed on through to bigger and better things. A few months later, Richard Price bought her company, Lineages, and hired me, and that is what I am doing today.
I love helping others, not just through work, but from all walks of life, “getting down” their stories, and hooking them up with their ancestors. It is a passion of mine, and there are rarely times when I am left to my own devices where I am not thinking about a current project, even while driving down the road or washing dishes. I have one great big family project left undone (that I am aware of), waiting in the wings for the right time for me to take center stage in my life. For the time being, I will keep the status quo and continue gathering, living this dreamy life in the world of genealogy.
If you need help with your family history, Price Genealogy can help.
(A portion of this writing was published earlier online at: https://momstendermercies.blog/category/family-history/ )