Why Am I Here?
While trying to think of a name for this blog I remembered a poem I’d read years ago called “Accidents of Birth,” by William Meredith. I remembered it because I liked the quote at the beginning of the poem, which is taken from Wendell Berry’s work “The Long-Legged House.” The Berry quote includes the following lines: “The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history…” and “The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here? “
I started to think about the name of the Meredith poem: “Accidents of Birth” and the Berry quote: “The approach of a man’s life…” and I realized that the last few years of my life, as well as the ancestral research I’ve done to date, have led me to this belief: One’s birth is not an accident, but the outcome of a series of events that came before. This is not a mysterious thing in a metaphysical sense, but for many of us, who do not know the facts of the past, it is a mystery, one that can be unraveled, to a large degree, through genealogical research.
In the past, for me, the “here” in the Berry quote meant on earth – why was I here in this universe at this time, why was I born? How did I come to be? I had a lot of “big life questions” with precious few answers. Through my study of the Bible, such questions have been satisfied.
But I still wonder, why is it I’m here? Only now, the “here” is Cleveland, Ohio? I’m not in Cleveland anymore, but I was born there. How did I come to be born there? What events (and motivations, desires, ambitions and possibly losses) led my parents from their hometowns to Cleveland, so that they could meet and produce two children? And what led their parents from their hometowns to other places? And so on, for as far back as I can research.
The past is always there, the facts don’t change, only our perception of the past changes as events become clearer. In that way, the past is always approaching, getting brighter all the time. As I research the vital statistics that give only a sketchy view of my ancestors (dates and locations of births and deaths and so on), I’ve discovered an awesome world that I never knew about. But I’ve also discovered that mere facts can be a let down.
Why did my great-grandfather move from Virginia to West Virginia? Did he leave a family behind, as census data suggests but doesn’t prove? Why did my great uncle change his name? I may never find the answers to these questions and so many more. Such answers would round out the picture of my ancestors, bring them to life in the same way my mother and father and brother are real to me, because I know the motivations behind many of their life decisions, as well as the outcome of those decisions.
Just an Amateur
I am just an amateur genealogist. In fact, I don’t feel right calling myself that, as I’m such a novice at all of this. I like family historian, but I’m only an amateur at that also. I’ve been researching my family’s history since February 2011 – while I’ve learned a lot, there’s still so much more to learn, both about my ancestors and the process of researching the past.
And so, why is it that I am here, on this blog, recording my findings and perceptions? To unravel the mystery.