Sometimes when I share news of a family history discovery with someone, they will remark “Isn’t that exciting?” Most of the time I know how to respond to that if I get the feeling they think it is the document that is interesting. Other times I think their excitement is actually some romanticism about the event that generated the document.
For some events I understand a sense of romanticism. Certain occurrences are generally considered to be happy occasions. Then there is the other 90% of life.
I recently discovered a mother’s consent for her seventeen-year-old son to enlist in the Civil War from Missouri in December of 1864. She already had at least one son in the service. Her own husband would be killed by bushwhackers less than a month later. It’s hard to romanticize her signing the consent form for her son to enlist knowing what was to come within a few weeks.
I can’t know what went through the mother’s mind when she signed that paper. I was not there. This family did not leave behind letters as evidence of their feelings. There is no diary or archived Facebook page to which I can refer. I have a sense the mother wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement when she signed the form. But maybe that’s just my own interpretation of the events. Why her husband didn’t sign the consent form is an entirely separate question and, if he refused to sign it, may only have added to any feelings the mother had about signing it herself.
Sometimes my excitement about a document is tempered by my reaction to the events that caused the document to be created in the first place. That reaction is based upon my own set of life experiences. It is always important to not judge the people and the records we find, but to record, analyze, and coalesce the records in such a way that we accurately reflect what those records say as best we can.
From a research standpoint it is always good to ask:
- What might have happened to cause this record to have been created? Would that event have created other records?
- What might have happened after the creation of this record? Would those events have resulted in other records?
It is difficult to entirely understand how an ancestor felt about an event, but it can sometimes can give us some insight into further research to put ourselves in their shoes. It is important though to not put our viewpoints into our ancestors’ minds. It’s also important to not let the distance of time cause us to lose perspective.
As another genealogist is purported to have said:
When your umpteenth great grandmother runs off with the neighbor man because she’s found true love, it’s romantic. When your grandmother does it, it’s something else.
It is all about perspective.