Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Short Form or Long Form?

This will be another unusual post for me—merely a ramble of sorts.  I generally think quite a bit, prior to writing a new blog entry and I try to create something of real value.  This generally means that I write pretty long posts.  It also means that I spend a huge amount of time either researching/preparing the content for the post, or in just writing it and then later editing it.

But as I read other blogs, I notice how many bloggers write regular, or even daily, posts.  As a reader of those blogs, there is something very comforting about hearing from a blogger at regular intervals.  And it doesn’t bother me that many of the posts are things that I’ll quickly skip over.  Eventually they write something that catches my attention in a deeper way and I read that particular post more attentively.

So it’s not true that a blog post has to be 2,000 words long to be of value, or has to be the product of some project that has taken a number of weeks to complete.  I would still like to work on those project and write those posts.  But I think I’ll also try to mix it up with shorter posts that are merely  miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings.  I might even manage to talk myself out of editing and rewriting these shorter posts.

In the end, I guess I have several goals when it comes to blogging.  One is to provide some information, or tools, that are of lasting value to family historians and genealogists.  But also important is my goal to just have a conversation with the genealogical community.  I know that I really appreciate seeing regular posts written by my favorite bloggers.  It makes me feel like I have an ongoing connection with them, whether or not I read every post.  And I’d like to be on the other side of that equation occasionally.  It also matches my real-life personality.  I like to talk.

One final comment before this post becomes an example of irony, as it gets longer and longer.  There is great value in both the long form—huge 2,000 word articles that teach—and the short form—several paragraph posts that lay out a quick set of thoughts.  But there is even value in the shortest form imaginable.  I’m a huge fan of Twitter (www.twitter.com/spsexton) and if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see that I “publish” many tiny little thoughts throughout the day.  Twitter enforces a message length of something like 140 characters and I find it quite easy to present a little thought in even so few characters.

So if I have any sort of New Year’s resolution at all (I normally make my resolutions in April, on my birthday), it would be this—to embrace not only the super-short form of Twitter and the super-long form of well-planned blog posts, but to also write some shorter blog posts over the next year.  I look forward to the ongoing conversation on the blog.  And I hope that I’ll also see some of you on Twitter.


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Eight Random Things About Me

I’ve been tagged by Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings blog, asking me to carry on a meme where I share some facts about myself.  Here are the rules:

  1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their name.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.

Ok, this seems a pretty simple post to write—no research required, since it’s about me, and no software to write!  I’m going to present my list using a series of photos.

#1 – I Lived in Belgium for 6 Months


I’ve always had a passion for travel and have been lucky enough to have jobs that allowed me to do a lot of travel, both domestic and international.  In 1998, I worked in Leuven, Belgium for 6 months.  It was a phenomenal experience and I fell in love with the city and the Belgian beer.  I also took advantage of my time in Europe and traveled throughout Europe as much as I could.

#2 – I Always Read Three Books at a Time


This one probably smacks just a little bit of OCD.  It’s a long story of how this odd habit came about and why I’m a little bit anal about it.  But the basic concept is that I’m always reading three different books at any given time.  Here are the three that I’m currently reading.

#3 – I Designed and Built My Own Garden Shed


Here’s a not-so-little garden shed that I designed and built over the course of a little over a year.  It’s modeled after an old chicken coop with clerestory windows.  After four years, it’s even started to smell like a farm shed (a mixture of wood, grass clippings and gasoline).

#4 – I Once Hitched a Ride in the Back of an Irish Milk Truck


Okay, I didn’t get a picture of the milk truck that I rode in, so this photo will have to do.  It was 1987 and I was backpacking around Europe for the summer.  I was hiking around out on the West coast of Ireland (Connemara) when a national bus strike went into effect.  I hadn’t intended on hitchhiking while in Ireland, but that was the only alternative.  Luckily, the first guy that came along was a milk truck driver who was more than happy to let me ride with him.  The only drawbacks were a) I had to sit in the back, on the metal floor and b) it took hours to work our way back to the city because of all the stops that he had to make.  It made for a wonderful travel memory, however.

#5 – I Live in the Country


I live in an “exurb” of the Twin Cities, out in farm country.  Here’s the view from my front porch.  This is part of the reason that I actually enjoy mowing my lawn—I have such a great view.

#6 – I’m a Juggler


Here’s a talent that I picked up in college in the 1980s while trying to avoid Physics and Calculus lectures.  I can juggle 5 balls (briefly), 3 clubs, and I can “pass” clubs with other jugglers.  This photo shows me proving to some friends that you really can juggle a flaming tennis ball without burning yourself.  It does require a little fortitude, however.  A couple of beers doesn’t hurt, either.

#7 – I Go on a Yearly Personal Retreat


This one is a little hard to explain in a short space, but I go on a yearly trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, where I rent a cabin for 3-4 days.  I spend my time reflecting, planning, and writing.  I’ve done this now for the past 14 years and I intend to keep up the habit for many years to come.  The cabin that I stay in is right on the shore, so the setting couldn’t be more beautiful.

#8 – I’ve Climbed Mt. Fuji


They say (the Japanese) that a wise man climbs Mt. Fuji once in his life, but only a fool climbs it twice.  I spent a few days in Japan at the tail end of a business trip a number of years ago and Mt. Fuji was at the top of my list for things to see.  I was also eager, of course, to prove myself a wise man, so I decided to do the climb to the top.  It was one of the most physically demanding things that I’ve done, but well worth the effort.  I climbed up alone, but met some fellow travelers at the top and made the descent with them.  Halfway down, we heard someone yelling for help a hundred yards or so off the trail and we ended up “rescuing” a woman who had ventured off the trail and then slipped and twisted her ankle.  Maybe she was on her second climb.  :O)

Passing It On

Thanks again Randy for the tag and the chance to share some miscellaneous ramblings.  Here are eight bloggers whose posts I enjoy reading and that I in turn tag with the Eight Random Things About Me meme:

Lisa Louise Cooke of the Genealogy Gems blog & podcast
Dear Myrtle of the Dear Myrtle blog & podcast
Tim Agazio of the Genealogy Reviews Online blog
Lorine of the Olive Tree Genealogy blog
The Footnote Maven of the Shades of the Departed blog
George Geder of the Genealogy-Photography-Restoration blog
Teri of the Old Photos and Genealogy blog
Maureen Taylor of the Photo Detective blog

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Here’s the genealogical equivalent to the age-old “boxers or briefs” question—when it comes to family history, does your passion lie with finding ancestors, or finding descendants?  Both pursuits have their own unique rewards and particular challenges.

Many people get hooked on family history as they try to flesh out a chart of their direct ancestors.  As kids, we fill in grandparents, ask about great-grandparents and quickly fill in the first few levels of the basic ancestry charts.  It’s a huge thrill to completely fill in that one-page, five-generation chart.

For people who are driven by the search for ancestors, the ultimate goal is often to identify and record as many direct ancestors as possible and to go back as far as possible.  We’ll spend months banging on a particular brick wall until we eventually uncover a new ancestor, or add specific dates and places where we previously only had a name.

Or we might be driven more by the search for descendants.  We pick one of our ancestral families, often starting with our own surname, and we do our best to fill in a complete tree of descendants, starting as far back as possible.

For descendants-focused family historians, the ultimate goal is to create a tree that contains absolutely every descendant of a particular family.  We get energized by reconnecting with long-lost cousins and by fleshing out branches of the family that we didn’t know anything about.

Me, I’m more of a descendants-guy than an ancestors-guy.  This is probably because I come from a large family (my Sexton line) that has always been close and because we are such good storytellers.  I also love the idea of putting an ancestor in some sort of historical context, by learning as much as possible about their immediate family.

Both quests—ancestors or descendants—are never-ending.  We can always keep pushing the search for ancestors, as we go back farther and farther.  And, building a list of descendants, there are always new babies being born and cousins growing up and getting married.

Whichever aspect we tend to focus on, there is a lot of benefit in switching occasionally between ancestors-focused and descendants-focused.  Learning more about an ancestor’s siblings and family can often help us push our records even further back.  And we can often learn more about a tree of descendants by finding out more about the ancestors on both sides of the family.

In reality, most of us are a mixture of both types of family historian.  Rare is the completely clean .GED file that goes in one direction only.  We often start out by exploring direct ancestors, but eventually get interested in the families that these ancestors came from.  So we start “going sideways”, learning as much as we can about the entire family.

But when it comes down to it, if I had to answer the ancestors-or-descendants question directly, I’d have to say—descendants.  How about you?

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Well, here we go.  I’m going to start this blog with a post talking about why I love family history so much and why I’ve decided to start a blog.

The first thing to share about myself is that I’m outrageously passionate about my own family history.  Oddly enough, family history and genealogy seem to be hobbies that people don’t get involved in half-heartedly.  It seems that everyone I hear about who is interested in family history could qualify as being obsessed.  I certainly fall into that category.

Why is this?  Why don’t most of us just list genealogy as yet another interest in a long list?  Why does it grab us the way it does and then try to steal every minute of free time that we have?

The easy answer might be that it’s because of our personality type.  The sort of person that is attracted to family history to start with tends to be the sort of detail-oriented person who gets excited about collecting and cataloging family data and information.

But I believe that the passion goes a little deeper than this.  Most of us who get interested in genealogy start out by being passionate about history in general.  Then, as we start collecting information about our own ancestors and we see where they fit into an historical narrative, history comes alive for us.  We start with the stories about our parents or grandparents that we’ve heard over the years and we then imagine these stories playing out in the times and places that we read about in history books.

And because of our connection to our ancestors—a very permanent and direct connection–we become suddenly connected with history itself.  And this connection draws us back into history in a way that no history book ever can.  It’s as if the two-dimensional characters in the history books have become three-dimensional, fleshed out with names and faces that we know personally.  Some would say that it’s even as if we go back in time ourselves, to live within our ancestors and see history as they themselves saw it.

So this passion is more than just a compulsion to collect, organize and publish our family data.  It has more to do with touching some sort of energy that spans time and makes us all the same, regardless of what century we live in.  It’s about feeling this energy inside of ourselves and realizing that we are just another actor in this ongoing story.  And as we celebrate our ancestors’ lives and everything that they learned and love, we learn to celebrate our own lives with the same spirit, knowing that we come from them and that they are somehow still a part of us.

If we have children of our own, all of these family stories and the arc of our ancestors’ lives inspire us to live out the stories of a new generation.  We have a sense of what it means for someone to live out a long life, rich in love, and so we do our best to live our own lives as richly as possible and pass that same love on to our children.

I confess that I’ve been completely consumed with this passion for family history, as many of us have.  I grew up hearing so many wonderful stories about my grandparents and their families—and their stories made the past that they lived in come alive for me.  I’m doing my best now to preserve what I’ve heard by gathering up these stories and photos, so that these ancestors won’t be entirely forgotten when my own generation has passed on.  And, sooner rather than later, I need to start collecting the stories of my own generation, to pass them on to my children.

I’ve decided to start blogging because of my great passion for all of this.  I want to share my passion with others out there who feel as I do about the joy that we get from engaging in this pastime.  I have so many ideas about ways that we can collect, enjoy, and share all of these memories.  I’m very eager to share them with others and to in turn gather new ideas that will help me do an even better job of preserving and sharing our precious family heritage.

These stories and this energy that we get from our ancestors is our heritage.  It is something that has been passed on to us not just through a packet of photos that we find in a closet, but by virtue of the lives that our ancestors lived and all that they taught us.  If we honor them, we will cherish these memories and do our best to preserve them.  We have become our parents generation, and we have in turn become the keepers of these memories and of all that they taught us.  For my part, I honor my family members who are no longer with us.  And I in turn feel honored to be able to pass what I know of them on to my own children and to the next generation.

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