The Genealogist Cometh

Recently I heard of a cat named Oscar that lives in Providence, Rhode Island. It seems his accuracy to predict the impending death of elderly hospice patients has been documented in the New England Journal of Medicine. Oscar has successfully indicated impending passing’s in over 25 cases by curling up next to them during their patients final hours. What is even more eerie is that Oscars normal disposition to humans is to be aloof at best. It seems that the cat, which had been adopted by the home, patrols the halls sniffing at the doors, stopping only to visit during the patients last few hours of life.

Doctors are at a loss to explain the phenomenon!

Over the years, I have collected the memories of relatives and kin in hopes of preserving a heritage that is quickly slipping away. While I have managed to document thousands of lives, many of the more than 41,000 names in my records are nothing more than letters and numbers on my tree. With each passing day more information is lost.

I recently read a blog entry by thegenealogygirl in which she quotes Guy Black, who states that “family history is a perishable commodity”. Thegenealogygirl posted it because it addresses a question that had been posed in a discussion group she participated in, “What is the one thing you wish you had known when you first started working on your family history?” She goes on to say that this discussion is driving her current line of research.

Now at first glance the cat mentioned above and the genealogy blog may seem unrelated, but in practice I have struggled with the knowledge that the memories I am seeking are fleeting and in many cases my inquiries requesting information are tied with circumstances, most often than not, associated with death and dying. Much like the cat in the story, my letters to relatives end up resting on the laps of individuals during their last days on earth and unlike the cat I am unable to complete my mission of collecting their memories.

The coincidental circumstances of my letters arrival and the occasion of the relatives recent death always brings a pang of remorse at the missed opportunity to share their hopes and dreams that fed their movements through life. Each lost recipe, each fragrant memory of lilacs in the spring and the smell of bread in the oven are tragic.

Sometimes the realization that I need to hurry to visit one of my older relatives holds me back, like an unconscious desire to prolong their life by ignoring the passage of time. But in the end I know that in the majority of instances, my relatives want to share their information and I have been tasked as the “Family Historian” to gather these golden memories.

As one of the doctors in Oscar’s story postulated, perhaps he was only “seeking a warm blanket”. Sometimes I, like Oscar, am looking for memories to keep me warm on my own journey through life.

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