Past, Present and Future
Thanks to everyone who read the Spring Special article last week. Over the months I’ve noticed that my photo-essays are the most popular items on the blog, and I have to admit they are the most enjoyable to write. The only thing missing from last week’s post was a picture of some ducklings. They hatched too late for publication day, but they arrived this weekend. Here’s a picture of the first brood of the year.
As part of the family history project I’ve read a lot of ‘how to’ type books, to help me get the research part right. One of the most interesting and helpful has been Researching and Writing History by David Dymond. It’s basically a standard, but well-regarded, book for local historians, but it contained an interesting idea that made me think. Dymond suggested that one of the roles of local historians should be to record contemporary local events and places. Rather than just researching into the past, recording what’s going on around them is just as valid and useful.
Thinking about it, that makes good sense. Even in the early stages of research I’ve found gaps in information which make it harder to fit together the pieces of our family history or find out what people were like. More than once I’ve found myself saying ‘why didn’t they keep a copy of that?’ or ‘I wish they’d written that down.’
OK, so some of my older ancestors couldn’t write. But the point is that leaving something behind, whether it’s a document, photograph or keepsake, makes it easier for future generations to understand us. Compared to the past we’re in a privileged position, we leave much more of a record behind us, even if it’s just a casually on social media. Blogging is a good example. It’s difficult to estimate how many blogs there are in the world and estimates vary, but it’s probably at least 150 million. A lot of those will be commercial blogs, but that still leaves tens of millions of people busily recording the world around them or writing about their interests. That’s an incredible record to leave behind: future historians won’t have a shortage of information to work on.
The only problem with this is that the majority of information we leave behind us is digital and is liable to disappear. This blog is only here as long as I pay for the hosting and domain name, and social media accounts get deleted. The sad fact is that a lot of the record we leave behind will be irrecoverable for future generations, even if it’s backed up. Just think of how much information is locked up forever in obsolete ‘floppy’ disks or on defunct programs.
The answer I’ve come up with is to record a lot of my family research on paper. I’m also going to start keeping a ‘hard’ copy of the blog. This still doesn’t guarantee it’s survival, but having electronic and hard copies will help. It’s also possible to deposit any records you want to leave behind with local or national organisations. For example local history societies, universities and The Society of Genealogists, will take some documents and research. This ensures it’s preservation and allows it to be shared. This might sound daft: who’d be interested in a load of old random ’stuff’? But it’s this kind of information that’s really helpful for future generations to understand who we were.
This has also made me think about why I’m writing this blog. I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out a ‘story’ for the blog: a common theme that ties together all the different things I write about. The nearest I’ve got is that the photo essays are a record of what I see around me, and the family history posts will be an attempt to recreate what my family saw around them. It was more of problem fitting the book reviews into this theme. I mostly read and review old books, and I think that they’re another way of looking at the past: I still read for the plot and characters, but they’re also a historical record, especially where other sources don’t exist. For example, some of my ancestors were coal miners, and while I might not have too many details about what their lives were like, I can get some idea by reading Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence.
If this all sounds a bit heavy, don’t worry. The main reason I write this blog is to have fun with words and pictures. And I hope you enjoy it too.
On Friday this week I’m publishing a book review of Alan Garner’s Stone Book Quartet. These four short stories, published between 1976 and 1978, are the author’s way of recording his family history in a creative way. I think they’re magical and very moving stories, and I hope you enjoy them too.