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Finding yourself

Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Posted: May 6, 2012 - 8:00am

You may have heard somewhere that the images of 1940 Census were released to the public early in April. That doesn't really mean much to anyone but people who do genealogy, although I'm sure many others have taken a look to see if they can find themselves. Unless you know pretty much exactly where you were in April 1940, it will be like looking for the proverbial needle because the census is not yet indexed, although that job is going quickly as volunteers all over the Web jump in and transcribe pages and pages of handwritten entries.

My family is from a very small town in eastern Washington and I easily found both sets of grandparents and my parents and me. What was interesting is that the same names show up in the neighborhoods as are there today, only a couple of generations later. I had to go house to house, much like the census taker at the time, but there they were, just where they should have been.

My grandmother lived to be 105. She was in my life much longer than most people are blessed with a grandparent and maybe that is directly responsible for my interest in genealogy. According to Webster a hobby is "an occupation pursued for recreation." Genealogy fulfills that purpose in my life the same way a "hands on" art or craft does for others. Locating an obscure fact, and the documentation to support it is as satisfying to me as I expect producing a clay pot is to a potter.

The excitement of meeting a new "cousin" who is just as curious as I am about Great-Great-Grandpa's second wife is as uplifting as discovering a new bird nesting in the back yard. Each piece of trivia helps to round out the image of a family. I discover why a certain unusual name is carried down through the men in the family: It was the maiden name of a mother many generations back. I find out that most of the men were over six feet tall -- no wonder my youngest outgrew his dad. I learn that a "familial tremor" has persisted into the present generation, and watch my own hands for tell-tale signs.

These morsels enhance the picture as surely as a daub of coral on the lips in an oil portrait.

I have employed several pastimes that could be called hobbies. I collected comic books when I was in elementary school. I still read everything in sight but that isn't a hobby; it is my sanity option. I sew and knit but I've never considered anything taken up out of necessity to be a hobby even after the fact, and I also cook a lot, but seldom for the fun of it.

I have tried "random acts of art" at various times in my life: handmade Christmas ornaments, sequin studded sweatshirts, embroidered pillow cases, ceramic gee-gaws. I took up beadwork when I lived in the village. The local women were too polite to laugh at my efforts, but suggested that I keep teaching school and they'd keep doing beadwork. I even began a counted cross-stitch picture one winter. Hubby watched me for awhile and said, "If you really like doing that, I'd hate to see you work at something you hate."

So ended my fantasy of filling my leisure time with busy hours of crafting fun.

My grandmother was an expert and artistic quilter, a skill born of need in the early 1900s, but nurtured in her later years as a restful pastime. She hand-pieced lovely and intricate patterns until her eyesight faltered when she was 100. But she understood my lack of fine motor skills, and instead of trying to teach me to quilt, she told me how her uncles were very popular fiddle players in the county, sought after for every dance when she was young; and about when her cousin drowned and her dad had to travel 200 miles round trip by horse and buggy to notify the boy's father at his job. And how they rode in silence for the entire trip home. She came from a family of storytellers who remembered and acknowledged every relative, no matter how distant or convoluted the relationship and she never forgot anyone she'd ever met. Grandma told me family stories until the day she died, knowing I would keep asking questions and remembering the answers and writing it all down

If I had had a choice, I may have chosen something else. Maybe cake decorating, or making picture frames, even tap-dancing, but Grandma was right ... when your fingers don't work, your mind will. (Actually, I think she said "idle hands are the devil's workshop.") And I have the added incentive of coming from a long line of family storytellers.

The 1940 census is available online at familysearch.org. Be sure you are in the updated version then click on the 1940 logo. You will need to know the state, county and election district where your ancestor lived unless it was in a very small town.
Happy searching.
 
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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