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Random Thoughts Ruminations

Keeper of Family Lore or Family Historian?

I listened to a fascinating CAFE live conversation between historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman the other day. At minute 8 or so they begin to discuss the difference between journalists and historians.

Journalists, they point out, follow the story; they look for facts and find sources to deliver the story. Historians look for facts in primary sources–art, documents, records, newspapers–to find patterns in the past that created change, tracking a story but not always knowing what that story is going to turn out to be.

Journalists tell us what happened. Historians ask “who cares?” and “so what?”

it’s a case of both/and

When my dad declared me “Keeper of the Family Lore” I had no idea how deeply I would travel into the past. The facts led to questions and the questions led to course work and books, which led to more course work and more books. Some 15 years later, I am a citizen archivist and genealogical antiquarian; a history enthusiast and translator of the family lore.

I am drawn to historian folks like Drs. Richardson Cox and Freeman because they have been instrumental in helping me see patterns in the present BECAUSE of their study of patterns in the past. And they motivate me to apply the techniques and processing skills of the historian to find patterns in my genealogical stories.

This blog gives me a platform to connect with other history loving folks. Sometimes I am simply an antiquarian, posting names and dates and timelines for the sheer love of detail. But the posts I most enjoy writing are those with a rich narrative around the facts that answer the “who cares” and “so whats” about my family’s relationships and events.

In this moment I am striving to be a part of a larger conversation that historians are having about our Civil War and Reconstruction era, and how we can use what the nation learned then during this current backlash against expansive democracy. It is a process that is both intriguing and humbling, leading to an ever more liberating understanding of the history behind my family’s lore.

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Corrigan/Corgan Random Thoughts Surnames:Irish Side

Put Procrastination On A Shelf

Book.Corrigan.Mining.1887.01.EHDeadlines are a writer’s friend, and I desperately needed one if I was to transform an octopus of a research project into a finished story.  Analyzing my mother-in-law’s old book, The Mine Foreman’s Handbook, for heirloom status had proven to be a daunting task.  

The editor of my local genealogical society newsletter reminded me each time I visited their library of my promise to contribute a story.  This past spring  I committed to pressing “send” by the summer solstice.  And the account of Martin Corrigan’s book flowed out, line by line by line.

I urge all you family history lovers to venture out from tree shaping and blog posting.  We all have some big stories to tell.  Find a genealogical or historical society near you and make friends with their newsletter deadline.

Here is an excerpt of  Inside Out: Judging a Book By Its Cover, which begins on page 11 of the summer issue of Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society’s newsletter, The Heritage. 

51-The Heritage Summer 2016, Northeast Pennsylvania Genealogical Society

“In 1887 Martin Corrigan was granted a Certificate of Service by the Pennsylvania Mine Foreman Examining Board, an alternative certification which recognized men who had served as mine foremen for at least one year prior to the 1885 Mine Safety Act9 . Martin Corrigan did not own this book in order to take the Mine Foreman Exam himself. Martin may have originally purchased the book for his own private library, consulting its contents in his role as mine boss for Augustus S. Van Winkle’s Milnesville collieries. But Martin also loaned this book out. The words “Please Return” were found inside the front and back covers, and on one of the first pages someone inscribed the words: Martin Corrigan No. 90 North Wyoming Street Hazleton.”