User:BradPatrick/For The Love Of It


Note: This is one of the essays that greatly influenced my thinking about family history, even before I learned the author and I were related. Mrs. Biedel was a deeply committed local historian and researcher who did a great deal of work in southeastern Ohio, particularly Guernsey County, OH and Washington County, OH. She was a very sweet woman who cared very much for those around her and her own family. I corresponded with her son, a photographer, some years ago but have lost touch. Every time I read this essay, it centers me and grounds me in my passion for genealogy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.--Brad Patrick 21:58, 12 April 2007 (MDT)


by Helen C. Biedel [1]

There are just two classes of persons interested in genealogy, fortune hunters and crack-pots -- I've been told from Maine to Oregon. In fact, it seems to be a common classification among persons not interested in lineage. Certainly it is held by many keepers of records in church and civil offices. Perhaps, the time has come to analyze the truth of the statement and to introduce a third class interested in genealogy, the genealogist for the love of it.

Of course, there are fortune hunters. Who can blame them if they try to establish lineage that they may inherit unclaimed fortunes. The family name may be Jones or Smith, the given name John or Mary; but, while there is life, there is hope. Some of these expect free service from a genealogist or an employee of a county office in chasing down their lineage; others pay well to have their work done.

True, there are people who earn their living tracing ancestral lines for one reason or another. They are specially trained individuals who possess, along with their part-lawyer, part-librarian education, an infinite amount of patience. Oftentimes, they search for days and weeks among dusty books filled with almost illegible writing in fading ink for one bit of information. Genealogists are not numbered among those workers who lock their desks and forget everything pertaining to it until the next work day. Oh, no. The genealogist may have the most brilliant flash of insight as she walks the busy street or awakens in the middle of the night. The Chinese puzzle of names and dates she has been noting in her mind and files suddenly takes for and fits into a pattern. This pattern is as essential to her work as words are to the poet or line to the artist. The genealogist recognizes patterns within families, of names, of marriages, and of deaths. We do not marvel at thirteen Dudleys in one family (the first Dudley must have been a loveable or an important individual), but when over a period of five generations, an average of only one or two out of seven in a family marry and have offspring, we question the continuance of a family name.

Non-professional genealogists are those whose deep interest in research leads them naturally into genealogic work either for themselves or as officers in organizations interested in lineage. They give generously of their time; they pay train fare and hotel bills to authenticate data. To do this may mean wearing the same coat year after year or doing without a new desk -- but small matter. The next generation, standing on their shoulders, will see farther and make a greater contribution to future. The difficulties encountered are many, but none quite so wearing as the ignorances and obstinancies of some keepers of records, who intend to stay comfortable come hell, or high water, or genealogists.

Recently, in the Register of Wills of a large county, I offered the courtesy of introducing myself and asking permission to be in and about the department for the day. Bristling with disfavor and boredom, the official at the desk scolded, "Lady, you go on back home. You can't understand our code. There isn't anyone here to get you books and, anyway, it's too damn hot."

I could have told him that an unbreakable code is not suitable for the filing of public records, that I always lift down and _replace_, even by way of wobbly stepladders, all the books I use, and I was hot, too. A kinder employee in the same office told me the balcony held the earliest records of the county; I discovered the indexes for myself. The code proved no obstacle. I bothered no one with further questions, but happily worked on the balcony, which turned out to be a very special place to work since no one else came there that day. Perhaps, it _was_ too hot.

The next morning, after I had climbed many stairs to his office, the keeper of the historical records of a fine old church told me, "You won't find anything in _my_ records. If you did it wouldn't do you any good." A little later and a block away, another church official told me _his_ records were valuable, private, and inaccessible to all but church employees. Even though I recognized a stone wall when I saw it, I did express a hope that local chapters of the Daughters of the Revolution and other interested organizations might be permitted to copy or photostat these precious records and to place their copies in libraries and historical societies, where persons interested in them could use them without harm to the originals.

Unpleasant interludes are but shadows across the long paths of the genealogic researcher. She looks forward to other hours in libraries and museums, historical societies, and book rooms where quiet alcoves filled with beautifully-catalogued material await her. There men and women endlessly work to preserve records of our beginnings as founders of a free nation. She knows that while she will find tragedy among faded pages, she will also find humor. Not long ago, in a minister's handbook, I read the careful notation, "On the 13th day of May in the year of our Lord 1835 I united in marriage two persons of colour." No names. Among county records, I found scrawled in bold hand across the partly-filled-in marriage application the words "SHE changed HER mind." A few pages later, and almost as an afterthought, someone had written in neat script at the bottom of another application to marry, "The deacon is 91, she's 19 -- his third."

The interested individual sees in the fading statistical data the life stories of families, in which, generation after generation, children have been born and reared to become lawmakers of our great nation, citizens of the world, and parents of future generations. From these stories much interesting and unusual family lore needs to be lifted out to add its color to add its color to our store of historical anecdotes. In the meantime, some of us, who neither seek our fortunes at the foot of the genealogical rainbow nor confess to a cracked mental state, enthusiastically and patiently will go our quiet way, exploring musty files and weedy cemeteries, copying Bible records, and thankfully adding bit by bit to that field of knowledge called genealogy -- just for the love of it.