To say the past 18 months have been different for us could possibly be the biggest understatement ever. While far from unprecedented in history, a pandemic is something few if any Americans alive had ever experienced.
Everyone has coped in their own way. Like many people, I have had several pandemic projects. Some people cleaned out closets. Some fell in love with making sourdough bread. I started looking into my genealogy.
I had dabbled with genealogy a bit in the past, but nothing more than just the cursory Google search. I had never written anything down or gone far. This time I decided I was going to do it right.
Much to the chagrin of my wife, who I assume would have much rather me have the closet cleaning interest, I have been poring through the internet and old books, contacting historical societies in several states, and even making a visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I’m trying my best to do this right, writing down everything I can find and even ensuring it’s done in proper form. (It’s date, month, year ... as the Europeans prefer.)
Not to boast, but I have always been relatively confident in my research abilities. As a history major, it was something I learned to do well in college. And the majority of my professional career has been research oriented as well. However, I have had a lot more success in this project than I had anticipated.
Names and dates are not always the easiest items to find in early American history. Kentucky did not have a vital statistics law until the 1850s, and that was suspended during the Civil War and not added back into the statutes until the 20th century.
I’ve found quite a bit, but have learned that names and dates are not what I am interested in primarily. What I want are the stories.
When you see a tombstone, you typically see below the name something along the lines of “birth date-death date.” I am interested in is the “dash” — the part that came between birth and death. What the person was like, who they were, how they experienced life. It’s the dash that matters, not the dates.
I often think of my great-grandmother, Josie Compton. I was fortunate enough to know her well, as she did not depart this world until I was 18. Granny was born in rural Adair County, Kentucky in 1909. It was where her family had lived for six generations before her. Growing up, I often spent time with her and much of that revolved around her telling me stories of family history, as well as her own.
Future generations of my family who are interested in genealogy will probably find the name Josie Gertrude (Coomer) Compton, as well as her birth, marriage and death dates, along with the respective locations. What I hope they will be able to find is who she was — a woman who was born prior to automobiles being prevalent and witnessed men walking on the moon within sixty years.
She lived through two world wars, a worldwide depression and the birth of the internet. But, more than that, she was a woman who lived through poverty, raised seven children, was a faithful Christian and could tell some of the most detailed stories. I’m sure my other family members all have other sides to tell of her, but to me that was the essence of who she was. That was her dash.
We are all living our dash right now. The question is, what will we do with it? For what do we want to be remembered? Call it egotistical, but I don’t want to simply be a birth date and death date. I want to find ways to be engaged in helping make this world a better place when I leave it than when I entered. Maybe that’s not what you want from your dash, but I hope that you want your dash to at least be something positive.
Author and counselor Craig D. Lounsbrough said, “How many stories are there that have been lived, but will never be told? Far too many for me to squander the one that I’m living.”
Let us all work to make the most of the dash we have, for we do not know when it will end. I can’t claim to know the meaning of life, but I do know that lives should have meaning.
Tommy Druen is a syndicated columnist. He is a 10th-generation Kentuckian who resides in Scott County. He can be reached at email@example.com.