Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mr. I Want It Now

In the class I'm taking at the University of North Florida called Interpreting Hispanic Literature, we read an essay by the critical/satirical Spanish essayist Mariano José de Larra (1809-1837), titled "Vuelva Usted Mañana" (Come Back Tomorrow), which was written in 1835.  The point of the essay is to skewer what Larra saw as Spanish indolence and bureaucratic obstructionism.  In this narrative-dramatic essay, Larra's alter ego, whom he refers to as Figaro, has a guest, a Frenchman whom he calls in French Monsieur Sans-délai (Mister Without Delay) or in Spanish Señor Lo-quiero-en-seguida (Mister I Want It Now).  The Frenchman has come to Spain to file some sort of claim having to do with his familial affiliations before the courts.  In one early paragraph. the action proceeds, in my translation, in a way that sounds eerily familiar nearly two hundred years later:

 ". . . Tomorrow morning, we'll go looking for a genealogist to handle my family matters, that afternoon, he will consult his books, search for my ancestors, and by tomorrow night I will know who I am."  Never mind Larra's opinion of Spanish indolence, there's no way any genealogist worth paying was going to find the Frenchman's family that quickly in 1835, unless he was the King's first cousin!  My young classmates wondered why I was chuckling as we went over the essay.  "Soy genealogista," I told them.  I am a genealogist.

It seems like some things never change.  Some people new to genealogical investigation become Mr. (or Mrs. or Miss or Ms., take your pick of the feminine appelations) I Want It Now.  They come into it with the idea that it won't take very long at all and they -- or someone they engage to do the investigating -- will have all the answers, and very quickly.  Alll they have to do is consult their books, right?

Bzzzt!  Wrong answer, but thank you for playing.   Those of us who have been in it any length of time have been disabused of that notion.  I certainly was, when I discovered that -- horrors! -- there are errors in books about genealogical lineages.  And when I ran into my first brick wall that took some years to break through. 

But sometimes I wonder if some genealogical websites and magazines and software programs aren't exaggerating just a little -- maybe this much >< -- when they promise if not the moon, at least more stars than really can be delivered.  Not that this is as serious a problem now as it was several years ago, as I recollect.  I do think that the main websites and the big magazines and the software programs have, for instance, become more aware of the importance of proper sourcing, to the extent that there are articles and seminars on source citation, and most of the more popular and well-known software packages use Elizabeth Shown Mills's citation models.  This is a good thing.

And I am aware that advertisement will always be with us (sometimes I add the word "alas" to that phrase), and that we have come to expect a certain level of hyperbole in it.  Fortunately, there is an antidote to that hyperbole, and that antidote is the presence of genealogical societies at the national, state, and local levels, which provide solid guidance through newsletters, journals, monthly meetings, seminars, and other programs to set the new family historian's feet on the right path.    When I think of the programs and speakers and other features of my own genealogy society, I become Mrs. I Want It Now!

So . . . have you hugged your genealogy society today?


Greta Koehl said...

As a matter of fact, I have (hugged my genealogy society) (figuratively, of course). My local genealogy society offers so much by way of education in the methods for searching and documenting and has been so helpful. And tomorrow I'm taking my brick wall to the brick wall workshop (hoping for some good advice). It's a lot more fun when you have to work for the results.

Julia, IBSSG said...

I WISH I felt like I had a local root genealogical society, but many of my relatives lived in a smoothly scattered layer over about 6 adjoining counties in the Hudson Valley alone.

So, that represents 6 county-level groups and well past a few dozen local societies. (And then there's CT, and MA, and PA, and OH, and FL,...) Then are the national groups, like the New England Historical Genealogy Society, and the database web sites like ancestry.com & footnote.

As for the societies, I understand that they operate on a fraying shoestring, but the constant requests to join in order to get the info I need is financially taxing on me and spreads me far too thin. I cannot physically volunteer at all those little societies or even attend all those monthly meetings! And procuring the services of professional genealogists seems like a pipe dream!

If I had a choice in the matter, I'd never again choose to have ancestors with restless feet that changed locations frequently in their own lifetimes, always following the frontier. Permanently settled New England Puritans bankers, all born, raised, and died on the family estate - that's what I long for!

Don't mind me - just sour grapes and a wish to simplify, but THAT won't ever happen!


Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Oh, well, Julia, I live as far from my roots as you do, I'm sure. We live in Florida, but I am not from here. My past is in California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Canada, and probably a few other states, and way across the pond in England, possibly Ireland, and definitely Switzerland!

I understand impecuniousity. But even if you live in an area not in your own line, a local society could have advantages such as a library, which could have journals and quarterlies, and books, covering other areas. There might be people there who would have knowledge that would help -- how to attack a brick wall, for instance. That said, joining isn't for everybody, for a variety of reasons. We do the best we can.

But I'm with you -- I would that my ancestors had stayed put, too, but if they had, I'd probably be singing "God Save the Queen!" (smile)