Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sic transit gloria mundi

I had a reminder this week about just how ephemeral most people's lives can be. We're born, we live, we die, and we don't leave much evidence we ever existed behind.

One of the services our county historical society provides is assistance in genealogical research. We received a request earlier this spring for help in locating and photographing grave markers, marriage certificates, and anything that might be left of the built environment in the area where a specific family lived. To say that results were slim is putting it mildly. The descendants of a fellow who lived in Baraga 100 years ago are putting together a family history. If its main focus was going to be the Baraga County connection, it's going to be a very thin book.

The man was not born in Baraga County, he didn't marry his first wife here, and he died elsewhere so the only legal record was the marriage certificate from when he married again after being widowed. They had hoped to include photographs of the house where their great grandfather lived. The site is now a vacant lot. How about the public school their grandfather attended? Long gone. In fact, even the school that replaced that school is gone -- the current Baraga High School is the third one on the site. Where did he work? The sawmill is gone; the site adjacent to US-41 is now vacant lot and marina. What about the cemetery? Well, there is a grave marker, a simple pillow stone, for the great grandfather, but several other family graves are unmarked.

The man's great grandson stopped by the museum the other day. He was hoping we might have some historical photos on file that included either views of the buildings related to his great grandfather's life or group photos of some sort that included the man. I was able to provide some turn of the century street scenes and a nice view of the Thomas Nester sawmill, but there were no group photos or portraits that were labeled with the person's name. There was one group photo of sawmill employees in which only about half the men were identified; the great grandson said that one of the unnamed men strongly resembled the descriptions of his great grandfather so he asked for a copy of it. Is it a match? Who knows -- his great grandfather was a physically small man with a large mustache; the fellow in the photo was a physically small man with an impressive mustache. But so were three of the other guys in the picture.

The whole experience left me feeling rather melancholy.


  1. Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
    The only permanent legacy we can leave behind is our impact on the lives of others. The ripples go out and out forever, long after the stone that fell in the water is gone.

  2. Nan,
    Went back to the cemetary in Kentucky that I posted about -
    My great grand parents both died when I was a baby and I have no idea who half of our kin buried in that small graveyard are.
    Frem geneaolgy research done by my CPO cousin's wife in Viginia - We know that great-grandmother was a Randolph (Monticello - Thomas Jefferson) and blood kin to Pocohantis. I always had doubts about that but my Dad told me that his grand parents (great grandmother was the Randolph girl)
    that it was true.
    Well Geri tracked it down and it was true.

    I love that cemetary -May have my ass planted there...


  3. I'm not feeling any need to know my past roots, or any need for anyone to know I was here this time around.

    I wouldn't mind a damn good banana split though.

  4. My wife did a research on an old 1832 farm house we lived in when we were in college. We went to the deeds office and were able to track the families that had previously owned the property then we got access to the census that was on micro-film at the university. We gathered a surprisingly amount of info about each person in the house, incomes and even livestock.
    Other sources are birth cirtificates, diplomas, military records, tax records obituaries, news papers, and baptismal certificates. I think I like history better than the present.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  5. Ol'Buzzard, it was surprising just how thin the evidence was for this particular person having existed considering how few generations back it was and he did have five kids. He's there in the census records, he might be in death notices (he didn't die in Baraga County so that wasn't something I researched), but that's about it.

  6. There can either an enriched or nearly invisible paper trail for most of the dead. Truth is, all it takes is one generation and then no one knows the past. Once I'm gone there will no one to remember my parents. Poof, they're gone just as it was for so many before them.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.