Monday, March 2, 2009

There Is No Such Thing as a Boring Life

In a recent conversation with a professional historian, she confessed that she really hadn't fully explored her family history. "After all," she said, "they were a bunch of boring farmers in the Midwest." After thinking about our conversation for several days it strikes me that this lady's ideas about history are unfortunate. She seems to hold onto the concept of monumental events as the only worthy history.

I have the urge to stand on the rooftops and declare how detrimental this concept is to the larger field of history. If you will excuse my flashback to Christmas, the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" makes an important point. Every life is exciting and worth recording for posterity. And every life has an unforeseen impact on the world. Only after we sit back, document and interpret that life do we truly appreciate the impact.

In the case of my family, my father was a railroad worker; my grandfather worked for the railroads; my great-grandfather worked for the railroads. For three generations my family helped move people and business across the country. For three generations my family was part of the most influential and powerful segment of the United States economy. If you talk to retired railroad workers you will find out this was one of the most exciting and romantic jobs in America until the 1960s.

By the same token, my friend's "boring farmers" helped feed the world. In economic crisis in the 19th century, and during two world wars and post war periods, these "boring farmers" provided life giving sustenance to the world.

So, you see, there is not such thing as a boring life. In family history it is our job to revel in the daily adventures of our ancestors and document their contributions to the world. There is no such thing as a "boring farmer," and as family historians it is part of our job to make that clear.

1 comment:

Oma said...

Well said!! So now I guess the real question is, how do you get started? I know you've only finished 20 pages, but that's 20 pages more than most of us ever get written. Any tips on how to get started? How to organize and cite sources? I'd be grateful for any advice you can give!