It’s difficult to explain to other people the sense of interest, curiosity, and intrigue that envelopes me when I’m presented with another opportunity to find someone’s father, mother, or long-lost friend. It’s a solitary sort of entertainment, one that both focuses my mind inward and outward.
Even when it doesn’t go well, the initial few hours of pursuit and detail make my mind blossom like bits of ignited gunpowder. It feels as close to how I imagine one’s mind should always feel as I can imagine. Tiredness and disinterest fade away into impossibilities when one’s mind is trapped and ignited like that.
I started the day like most others. An acquaintance told me he’d mentioned my love of family research to a friend of his. He handed me a slip of paper with scant details scribbled on it. I quickly put it into my wallet, not so I wouldn’t lose it, but rather so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take a quick look. Such ‘quick looks’ usually escalate into an immediate and profound interest that keeps me distracted.
Some of my best memories are ones encapsulated in a quest to help someone find someone or something dear to them. I’ve had a few failures, as well as a few that led me to bad news for the person wanting me to inquire. I was wildly successful a few times, even if the person I found didn’t want to be outed.
This afternoon, I started my quest to align my scattered skills sufficiently to invoke the magic and inexact science of educated guesses and deliberately go into doubtful deadends. Over the years, I’ve definitely discovered that my mistakes tend to yield impressive results. Even results that aren’t what I’m looking for sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the wrong path and realized that I found another way to find information; had I not made a mistake, I wouldn’t have learned.
I won’t lie, though. The payoff is a rush. Finding the proof, the person, the thing. That’s sublime. Like genealogy, it’s a skill I never imagined that I would find valuable.
I was on the phone with a total stranger a little bit ago. Our paths would have never crossed, and part of his family’s remarkable story would have remained a mystery to me. Thanks to him, I will learn more about history, geography, and human nature.
These stories accumulate in my heart and mind.
As for the stranger today, he inadvertently revealed a lot of truth about his life and family. Singular statements and admissions invariably contain unspoken truths. That’s always the case when someone is listening with interest and fascination. Some parts of his story sounded unlikely. Because they sounded unlikely, I knew they were true. There are parts of his story which could easily be the subject of a book or movie.
I shared a few things about my life, too, especially how DNA ripped away the facade of privacy and secrecy.
I already find myself writing fictionalized versions of all those lives in my head.