Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back in the Saddle

It feels good to be writing about genealogy once again. These past weeks have been difficult, dare I say lonely. Each day since Thanksgiving a different opening line raced through my mind. Yet, the hassles of the holidays always seemed to take precedent over expanding upon my genealogical passions. But busy schedules at home and work were not the only distractions from my writing. I must admit there was another force keeping me away from publishing my stories. I had a bruised ego. Essentially, I lost confidence in my ability to effectively communicate my stories in a meaningful and entertaining manner.

Early in December I learned that my portfolio had been rejected from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, the most prestigious certifying organization in genealogy. The news was devastating. I did not earn the title of “Certified Genealogist.” I worked so hard for an entire year researching and writing the different projects that make up the application. When I submitted the portfolio last June I was realistic enough to know that my work had flaws, that there were areas in my research that could have been stronger. Yet, I was also hopeful that the research was solid, the stories compelling, and the writing free from grammatical errors.

The three certified genealogists who reviewed my portfolio detailed several areas of commendation, along with recommendations for improvement. In the end, I agree with most of the criticism. The harder pill to swallow is the realization that if I should choose to reapply for certification through BCG, I cannot use any of the material from the first portfolio. I will have to start completely over-brand new stories, brand new sources. I will also have to dedicate another full year to research and writing. Given my current personal and professional obligations, I don't see how this is possible.

The questions laced with self-pity immediately swirled in my head. Did I have the time and determination to go through the process again? Why is certification important to me? Or is it the “idea” of certification that is intriguing? What did this setback mean for the classes I teach or for this blog?

The weeks passed. I went through the typical roller-coaster of emotions that any person in mourning goes through, including anger and denial. Rarely have I failed to succeed at something I wanted so badly.

Just before Christmas I was scheduled to teach my fourth class at Ponder Creek Estates. For the first time since my introduction to this group, I was nervous. I knew that the classes were going well and the students enjoyed the time we spent together. But the letter from BCG had shaken me. Perhaps I should not be teaching. Was this just a charade? Was I a fraud? Would the lack of certification make my students feel differently toward me even though I do not need it to teach and they had no idea of my application in the first place?

A twist of fate relieved the initial trepidation. The week prior to my scheduled class at Ponder Creek Estates found many students at my school battling a severe case of the flu. My own child was among the suffering. Though I was prepared with a lesson plan and didn’t wish to disappoint the group, I called to cancel the class. I simply could not expose my octogenarian friends to sickness.

Fast forward to Saturday, January 17, 2009. A new year fosters a new attitude. I focus more on the commendations written by the BCG judges instead of the critical recommendations. I am determined to learn from this experience and hone my research and citation skills. I decide the denial of certification is not a reflection of my passion, writing or teaching, but rather an opportunity to make my mark in the field in a future year when I have more time to seriously dedicate to it. I truly believe I will reapply for certification when my personal and professional lives settle down a bit. I’m excited about this plan.

Ultimately, the extra month between classes was great for me. The smiling faces that greeted me yesterday at Ponder Creek Estates boosted my recovering confidence even more. Nearly every student came to our meeting prepared to share new information collected from family members over the holidays. Most of these new stories were inspired by research I had initiated since our first meeting in September. For example, Lou Ann brought a beautifully framed presentation of a newspaper article written about her brother who died in WWII and several medals he earned.

As I listened to the voices around the table, my heart warmed. Half of the mission of Murphy Genealogy Services has been achieved. Students are engaging other family members in their quest for information regarding their ancestors. The second part of the Murphy Genealogy Services mission is to help preserve life stories to share with future generations. During my fifth and final class in a month’s time, I will create a personalized interview for each student that will be videotaped and shared with family members.

Leaving Ponder Creek Estates yesterday, the last missing piece of my recovery fell into place. It was clearly evident that my students do not care if I am a Certified Genealogist. They simply appreciate that I show up, share my passion, and have a goal to move the mission forward. I am happy with my place in the genealogy world once again.

My ego mended and my confidence restored, I am moving forward with my new, personal research projects. I hope to meet my father in St. Louis soon to interview my Great Aunt Betty and learn more about the Osborne side of the family. Also of interest is a small tin-type photo (circa 1860) of my great, great, great grand uncle, Peter C. Staats. This young man successfully survived his tour of duty as a Union soldier attached to the 12th Indiana infantry, yet he inexplicably died in Hancock County, Indiana three weeks after his release. Pinned to the picture is a laurelwood ring supposedly handcrafted by Staats during the Civil War.

The most intriguing aspect of this story, in my opinion, is where Peter is buried. In the middle of American Legion Park, just north of Fortville, Indiana, is Doty Cemetery, a small family plot. However, it is not the Staats Family Cemetery. Why is Peter buried there? What was the cause of his death? What was his relationship with the Doty family? I see a road trip to Fortville in my very near future.

The time between Thanksgiving and today has been both difficult and encouraging. I have learned how to improve my craft while, at the same time, I have learned that my passion for genealogy research, writing and teaching remains undeniable. Hectic schedules at home and school may still preclude me from writing this blog as often as I would like. But it’s nice to know that I am no longer standing in my own way. Writing this blog today is the culmination of my healing process. It’s good to be back!


Becky said...

From one Hoosier genea-blogger to another, I'm glad you decided to come back! I know it was a big disappointment for you not to get certified, but it had to have been a huge learning experience. I admire you for even attempting certification. I've thought about it before but that's as far as I got - thinking about it.

I also think that what you are doing with your classes is great. It is an amazing feeling when you see someone "get it" and they become interested in their family's roots.

Even though you didn't get certified this time around, I say, well done! You'll make it the next time.

Murphy Clan Ireland said...

I found this to be a really interesting read - the passion that you show for tracing your roots is extremely admirable and I'm glad to say we're definitely on the same page when it comes to that subject.

Its great to see some many people now becoming interested in their roots, not sure why there is such a spike in interest, I just know it is to be welcomed! After all, its by exploring and understanding our past that will help us to look to the future with hope and optimism.

Finding out about our personal history is something that should be celebrated (so don't let the not getting certified get you down) and there should be no barriers to entry for anyone who wants to explore their roots or who wants to help others explore their roots...good luck for the future and with all of your research