I have another secret. This one is shared by many others in the field of genealogy, although no one openly mentions it. You see, behind the glitz and glamour of genealogy, there is one tawdry secret that we all share at one time or another. This comes as a part of the job and is purely in the pursuit of solving the mystery, finding the proof, and learning the real story. Really. But, in between, the truth is that many of us are.... (dum-de-dum)... Professional Couch Surfers. It is the real story behind the profession.
This shocking revelation has to be tempered by a few facts. We do this not for thrills or even by choice, but rather by necessity. Couch surfing is a means to an end - or at least we hope it is. Believe me, one has to be committed to be willing to surf where we do. At one time or another, one of us is likely sleeping on someone else’s well-worn sofa or, frankly, where Junior used to rest his behind when he played video games. If we’re lucky, Junior has moved out of the basement and thus, we don’t find ourselves sharing the couch with Junior and friends while they hold a World of Warcraft marathon while we try to catch some zzz’s.
However, we will do what we have to do. We are, after all, committed to our profession and therefore we are willing to endure whatever it takes to get our proof. We also are pragmatic enough to know that obscure documents are not hiding on the internet or widely available in every archive on the planet. These documents are the ones that have yet to be located, and thus, are the ones hiding in small towns, in distant places, and are usually covered in decades of dust. These docs are in the Middle of Nowhere. We have to go to them.
Behind the glossy world of genealogy, the real pros know that many of places that are hiding these treasures are also shockingly lacking in Marriotts, Holiday Inns, and even without a WWII-era motel, but we must forge on anyway, for the sake of our profession. We realize that without couch surfing, we likely would be camping behind a library dumpster (for privacy) in a town of 800 people, piddling in the weeds because the the town is so small that the local convenience store closes up at 7 o’clock in the evening, and with its closing, there goes any hope of latrine privileges. Yet, we persevere because that library and that library alone, might be hiding what amounts to our only hope of locating some long-lost, moldy, old, key-to-the-answer-type of documents that we not only need, but that we dream of uncovering. Being seasoned pros, we also know that the chances of finding a motel that doesn’t double as a truck stop bunkhouse within an hour’s drive are pretty slim. So we look for a friend, or the sister of an ex-boyfriend from our sophomore year of high school, with whom we tolerably got along, or even a former classmate from first grade who by luck, it happens to live in the exact place where we really, really need to spend a couple of days, rooting around in the basement of their library. We all deeply believe in doing whatever we have to do to get our document... And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we have a ninth cousin living there or a Facebook friend who barely knows us but has the correct zip code. We endure beyond-lumpy, frat-house-rejected futons, suspicious-smelling recliners, mothball-filled, fold-away cots that were last used when Reagan was president, just for that chance to get a peek into the place where those documents might be hidden away.
Road-weary and experienced, we mostly just pray that the indoor plumbing is working when we roll into town and that no one is chasing us with tar and feathers when we depart. It’s what we do to survive, and more importantly, it is what we do to find those illusive records, solve those brick-walled-in mysteries, and what we do to capture the long-lost stories. Yet, when it comes down to the truest truth, when the data is documented and the citations written, what we are always after, are the stories. The stories are what makes it all worthwhile, and in the end, it is always about the stories.
(P.S. - And, once in a while, if the planets are all lined up just right, we luck out and we do get to stay in plush quarters visiting some of our best friends...Thanks to M.,T., K., & B. for putting up with me! I love you guys!)