Instead of writing a blog post this weekend, I spent far too much time listening to Adele and creating a photo album for a past vacation. I knew perfectly well that I was stalling. I was operating in the nostalgia I could handle, rather than the uncomfortable one that actually needed my attention.
The “uncomfortable one” was four containers of genealogy…stuff that I took on when my mother died two years ago. I had tried to dive into them during the months after her death, but immediately succumbed to the quicksand of grief. I put them away, For Later.
Later always shows up eventually. This weekend, as part of a closet clean-out, I was forced to confront them.
Armed with white wine, I sat down on the floor and started unpacking them. It didn’t take long to feel the pull of a different kind of quicksand — obligation and duty.
I’m the last in a family line of five genealogists. The first two (my great-grandfather and his brother) did the research; my grandfather and mother acted as keepers, trying to hold onto as much of the ephemera as they could, as the stuff was moved from Ohio to Florida, from Colorado to South Carolina. It’s a miracle there’s anything left at all.
I think my role is, frankly, to be a disperser. These family papers and documents need to go…somewhere. I don’t have children, so I don’t have the luxury of handing these off to my descendants. My job, as I see it, is to get these items to their rightful place.
It sounds simple enough, and yet…it weighs heavily.
One of the items in the boxes is a battered Bible. As soon as I opened the cover and saw the bookplate, I knew who I was dealing with.
Abijah Ladd (or Ahijah) was my great-great-great-great grandfather. You can read about him here. He was a doctor in Connecticut, living between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
“Conservative in all his actions and words of thought, he seldom, if ever, took ultra grounds on any subject, and avoided all angry and unprofitable disputations.”
That…doesn’t exactly sound like me. But in my defense, Dr. Ladd was never on Twitter.
“With a kind heart and honest purpose, seeking to do right himself rather than to compel others to act according to his views, and contrary to their own, he secured many friends, and was generally esteemed.”
That’s nice. I like that. It makes me proud to own his Bible.
From a practical standpoint, the Bible itself is a mess. Most of it is missing, front and back. You can see from the photo that only some ancient tape is holding the cover to the surviving sections. I could donate the Bible to a historical society, but would they even want it?
And it’s not the only battered Bible in these boxes. There’s another, larger one. There is so much more in here — some of it important (a typewritten autobiography), some of it definitely not worth keeping (information sheet for a college reunion in 1960). And every bit will have to be picked over, assessed, weighed for its worth.
I keep going back to the bookplate. Based on the design, I suspect it was printed from an engraving. I run my finger across it, thinking about the doctor who pasted it in place, trying to feel whatever can be felt 200 years on.
I am going to need more wine. ☗
Photo by author.
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