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Why do it at all?

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Several people have asked me why I do it. It is like bird watching for me; a harmless hobby with the thrill of a (slow) chase and elements of a detective story. It's also the closest most of us will ever get to a personal slice of history. If you are an American with European roots, someone in your tree probably fought in a war, stole land from the Indians, or came through Ellis Island with nothing more than a packet of clothes and the determination that their children would breathe free.

When I record a wedding in the backwoods of Virginia in 1803, I wonder - what it was like? Was it a solemn occasion with a stern Methodist circuit preacher, or did someone play the fiddle for people to dance on the hard packed dirt between the house and the barn? What was it like for that 20-year old man, expected to provide for his 16-year old wife with plow, musket and axe?

A child is born in 1867 and dies in 1868; I thank the Lord that we have vaccines and antibiotics now.

Someone comes over from Europe in 1754 with his family; I wonder if he called them to the rail of the ship early one morning, as the rising sun gradually unveiled a new continent, and said, "Look! There it is, America! No one can step on you now just because you are a Huguenot." (Mennonite, Anabaptist, Italian, Irishman, Pole, Protestant, Catholic, Jew . . .)

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This page updated: June 21, 2014