Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How To Live Your Own Genealogy While “On The Clock”

I started this blog about my year-long journey toward achieving my certification in genealogy by way of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). one year. My clock started ticking on the 8th of October, 2013.

I have learned so much since then. One of the most important things that I have learned while traversing this year is that genealogy - not the genealogy of the past - but the genealogy that is unfolding in our lives as we live and breathe - gets in the way, and sometimes, you have to choose. 

For me, the clock started ticking on the 8th of October last year and as soon as my packet arrived, my father landed in the hospital. This time it wasn’t for a small infection, but to learn that his long life, which had unwound and unwound, was reaching the end of its tether. He passed away in the wee hours of Wednesday, the 27th of November, 2013, the day before Thanksgiving. 

Genealogists know that with death, comes documentation; with documentation comes mountains of work to produce it. Thus, my time following my father’s death was absorbed by a vast mountain range of detail and paperwork. The trip to pick up his ashes, on Friday, the 13th of December, caught me, physically, in front of Arapahoe High School, as hundreds of unmarked cars, emergency vehicles, and SWAT teams swarmed around me, taking on yet another teenaged shooter in yet another  school shooting. This left the gunman and a student, Claire Davis, dead. This needs no citation; it will be etched into my memory forever, as will the fear that my friend, a teacher at the school, had been caught in the crossfire. Fortunately, she was away that day, but the memory will remain in me forever. It haunted me for some time afterward.

They say that when one door closes, another opens. In my case, that door opened on the 25th of December when my daughter and my son-in-law told us that we would be having a new leaf on our family tree late in August of 2014. While it may take nine months for the baby to emerge, the preparations, fussing, worrying, and waiting all start the minute that the test is positive.
Knowing what lay ahead, I threw myself into work, hoping to get work done before the baby came. Quickly I learned that certification is more than whipping out some names, dates, and places. Certification requires additional education as well as hard work. I launched myself into the world of genealogy with an intensity driven by a ticking clock and a growing embryo. I attended classes, seminars, and institutes. I left home to do research far and wide, yet I was not the only one working on education in our family. As spring edged toward summer, students completed their academic years. Our family seemed driven to make this the year of academic accomplishment. Four of ours completed some segment of their educations. Thus, we have duly noted with dates, details, and detritus, the culmination of elementary school by one, the achievement of dual Bachelor’s degrees by another; the completion of all Master’s coursework (with thesis to come) in a third; and our daddy-to-be’s Ph.D in Physics from Cambridge University (Number 1 in the world, I must brag) is A.B.D. (All But Dissertation) and as I write this, he is busily scribing said dissertation with the pressure of fatherhood chasing him. Thus, during the month of May, the living added more dates and more of genealogy’s stories than those long gone added. 

I stumbled a bit, wondering how to get back on schedule?

And then there’s my little issue. Every three months, I have to have a check-up. And every three months, the terror builds and builds…and in May, with graduations, which causes changes in address, meaning moving residences, plus my own huge deadlines, various upsets and surprises, and a thrice canceled trip looming, the stress nearly killed me. Then, the day came the tests done and it was over and all was well…for another trio of months. However, this cleared me for that three-times-canceled trip which had been planned and paid for in the months just prior to this moment. 

Thus, through luck and determination, my husband and I finally managed to  celebrate our wedding anniversary in an appropriate way. After three decades, that means Paris. The dates, the stories, the pictures, all require proper documentation, so as a genealogist, I have had to chronicle that as well. Paris and England are not far apart. One cannot see Paris without slipping over the the U.K. to see one’s increasingly pregnant daughter and hearing her husband’s very impressive speech in London, meaning more things to document and more stories to tell…And so the time goes on with less of the past making it to paper…

Dashing back to this continent, I was home but within days I was on a plane again. This time to the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree for more lessons and more learning and most of, meeting new friends, and seeing old ones. After a week of that, I went home, celebrated an offspring’s birthday, and generally collapsed amid the unanswered mail, and the clutter.

Then, it was time for me to grow a year older. Usually, when my birthday rolls around, I reflect on the past year but this time, but instead, I was getting nervous and edgy about the future, wondering how I’d ever fit it all it in? 

Once the birthday and the holiday was over, I laid it all out, noting that between now and the 8th of October, lay a week at G.R.I.P. under the tutelage of Dr. Tom Jones; a niece’s wedding in Chicago; and another trip across the pond to await a treasured  baby’s birth. These were three things that I would never miss, coupled with helping a pair of new parents, not only with their new baby, my grandchild, but also with their potential, impending, post-doctoral move. Woven into that was yet another, quarterly check-up, and one that no one could seem to schedule, due to various practitioners’ vacation plans. Trying to work through it, made me, as it has been described by, in my opinion, some overly-critical family members as, “bat-s*** crazy.” Still, I had to admit that there was an element of truth in it. Adding in the thought of having to submit my portfolio from abroad, and let’s just say, I didn’t sleep well at night.

While I was pondering what to do, on the morning before the World Cup came to a conclusion, I had another date to document, as my son’s team won the Colorado Men’s State Cup in soccer. At the mere mention of the National Championships, I broke into a cold sweat, worrying how I would fit it in. Learning that Nationals would happen in November relieved me, but as I stood on the field surrounded by celebration, I was shaking from the adrenaline rush, going from fear to relief in under 30 seconds. I knew that it was time to re-evaluate my schedule.

Then, as so often happens, the next day, I had an email conversation with someone who, like me, was on the clock. Sadly, I learned that her medical issues had reared up to consume her, causing her to consider giving up her certification process altogether or, at the very least, having to extend it for another year, something that the BCG allows. There it was in front of me, pointing out that I, too, could easily fall prey to something similar, all from the stress of trying to document the past while trying to live to document the present. Therein, I realized that the pace I was going at life, had the potential to kill me. I knew that hard choices needed to be made, and that some things had to wait. 

I looked at my unending schedule and, knowing that the baby, along with her parents, would be on American soil for the winter holidays, I canceled a planned seminar in January. Next, I decided to set the clock back on my certification process, giving me another year to live, and another year to learn, all while putting my work together for my certification. While I certainly hope that it gets completed in under a year, it is comforting to know that I have the time and the peace with which to do it.


So, for all of you out there who worry about whether or not you can handle the certification process, know that there is always a net and that you can extend it, if your life story grows so big that you need to live it and document it first. The BCG understands that genealogy happens in the present as well as the past and they are willing to extend your process. That is real genealogy in action.