Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

What if...?

When I bought The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday by Daniel Bellware and Richard Gardiner, I expected nothing more than to learn where our Memorial Day holiday came from and maybe impress friends and family with my ability to slip some fresh historical facts into my line of party chatter. Okay, I'm kidding about the party chatter. I'm lousy at party chatter and I avoid parties like the plague.

I did, however, learn more than I would have thought possible about the origins of our Memorial Day holiday. It was only made an official U. S. holiday in 1971, for example, although its history goes back more than a hundred years from that point. In fact, as the 150th anniversary of our Memorial Day custom approaches, it's appropriate that the controversy about its origins be resolved. You didn't know there was a controversy? Neither did I! But I know quite a bit about it now!

To my surprise, though, that's not all I got from this book. For example, I was startled to discover that our elected representatives in Washington can be totally clueless about a subject but still pass legislation about it. Okay, maybe "startled" was too strong a word. Should I have said "reassured in my suspicions"? Either way, I'd barely begun reading the Introduction when I was inspired to take up cartooning:

No, dear reader, I'm sure that's not how our Independence Day holiday came to be... or was it? But as for Memorial Day... well, if I said any more, I'd have to issue a spoiler alert.

Also, in the reading of this book, it occurred to me that I'd never really thought about the emotional climate of this country following the end of the Civil War, and what individual people in the north and the south did with their feelings about the other side. With several Civil War era veterans in my family tree, I've looked at a few pension files and regimental histories, so I have a pretty good idea of where my people served and the cost they paid in physical suffering. But I'm surprised it hadn't occurred to me to wonder more about the social aftermath. I found some interesting insights in this text.

Written in scholarly tone, the detailed explication of extensive research in contemporaneous source materials builds an excellent case for the true story behind our Memorial Day holiday. My most important takeway, as an amateur family historian, is the way this study will inform and inspire my own research in the future.

Besides... some myths debunked, some fibbers called out, a little family rivalry, a nose or two out of joint... what's not to like?

But what if...

This book brought up one more line of thought for me, one which is not related to the subject itself but to the research. Much of the evidence used to prove the true origin of the Memorial Day holiday came from newspapers published all over the country at the time the events unfolded. And as I saw how this gathered evidence was used to show what really happened and when, I began to wonder... what if something happened now, in the present, and a hundred years from now someone needed to find contemporaneous news reports to prove the true course of events. Will a paper trail exist? Is there a future for print newspapers? Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2013 raises some disturbing questions.

Many of my readers are genealogy bloggers themselves; others are obviously computer-savvy and used to getting information from online sources. It's easy for any of us to say that news via the computer is quicker to obtain, easy to find via search engines, and easily bookmarked or linked-to for future reference. But who among us has not clicked a link only to find it's broken? In my experience, news stories in particular are prone to disappearing in short order, as stories evolve and are replaced or updated, or as other news becomes more click-worthy. I've learned the hard way to copy and paste any online story I may want to return to in the future, rather than simply bookmarking it.

Even so, what about my digital copy? There is then the problem of how to store it so it's obtainable in the future. Like my 8-track tapes, the email I saved from my Mac Classic to some floppy disks is no longer accessible to me. I failed to archive the Mac along with the floppies. I use a PC now, and it doesn't even have a floppy drive. Changing technology will doubtless render other digital files useless to me in the future. "Historians will be facing a black hole when it comes to studying the 20th and 21st centuries because much of our digital history is stored on technology that no longer have devices to read them, experts claim," wrote Claire Connelly of News Corp Australia Network in 2012.

Last week the BBC ran an article entitled Google's Vint Cerf warns of 'digital Dark Age' about this same concern. Besides changes in hardware, there are changes in software as well which can also render data unreadable. The solution to this problem is complex, but at least there are people working on it. Still, as a family historian with a quarter-century of computer experience behind me, I assure you I will not make the mistake of discarding my paper files after scanning them!

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I was not paid to write this review, nor to write any other review appearing at Before My Time.

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Cartoon art from ClipArt ETC

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Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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