Every morning begins the same way for me. After I eat breakfast I sit down and do the New York Times crossword puzzle online. I like the online version because it doesn't kill trees and there is a spiffy time clock that goes with it. Today I finished in 4 minutes and 32 seconds. That's good for me, I general don't finish under 5 minutes. On the other hand I rarely finish over 6 minutes. The crossword puzzles are easiest on Mondays and progressively get harder until Saturday which tends to take me closer to 20 minutes to finish. However, I always finish the puzzle and have for decades.
When I was at Harvard Law School the first time, and long before the Internet, one of my jobs was to read the New York Times and cut out all law related articles and post them on a bulletin board by the library entrance. [I know--how old school!]. I also did the puzzle, then in paper, and posted the answers for the students 24 hours ahead of the newspaper. Yes in ink. Very few mistakes.
I get this from my maternal grandfather who also did the daily crossword puzzle religiously. They say it keeps your brain active and my grandfather was with it up to the day he died at age 95. I remember seeing him do the puzzles and thinking, I can do that too.
So, after several weeks of pondering and soul-searching I've realized I was never a genealogist. Yes, I've been doing genealogical research for over 30 years, but I was never a real genealogist. I always knew I was never a hardcore genealogist. My best friend is a hard core professional genealogist. He's always doing things that I think are so boring, but he just loves. Transcribing records--boring. Indexing probate records--boring. Editing a scholarly journal--mildly interesting to read, but in practice--boring [it's largely secretarial--all formatting]. He hadn't worked on his own family for over 20 years until moved to do so for professional gain. And guess who helped? Me. Now, he's back doing other people's genealogy.
You see, I was always about the puzzle. Everyone has 8 great-grandparents--can you name them? Can you name their parents? Genealogy was never the study of my ancestry per se, and certainly not about the people. It was about figuring out who came next based on the evidence I could find. I really don't care that two of my ancestors fought in the Civil War. I only found that out because the pension records are so replete with clues. I've only glanced at their military records which I also have. Knowing their height and complexion, doesn't help finding their parents!
I wrote an entire article about the murder of my great-great-great-grandmother filled with dozens of newspaper articles from 1888 with all kinds of unique personal information some genealogists would die for. The real reason I did all that research was that death records in Maine don't start until 1892 and she didn't have one. I needed to find a more specific place in Ireland to search for her origins and I hoped that one of those newspapers would have something biographical about her. None did.
I certainly know I'm not a family historian. I couldn't care less about who my ancestors were and what types of people they were. I'm not sure why, but I never have. I suspect it's because all of my ancestors, without exception, would never have approved of me. Most would have tied me to stake and burned me. It's not like you'd want to have dinner with people like that. No, I've only cared to the extent that it provides me with the next clue, the next document, the next piece of evidence. So why did I write all those articles? That's easy. I'm the world's best assistant. However, no project in my professional life has ever been mine and mine alone. It's always someone else's. These articles were mine. I could control them, write them, and publish them. It was a tiny bit of independence in an otherwise dull professional career of helping others do things I found (on the whole) tedious. And still find tedious.
I often wondered why I could give it up so easily. Someone once said, it was addictive, how could I give it up? It's because I was never really an addict to begin with. I've seen the addicts. Truth is, I find genealogists boring. They are all Johnny One Note. This is why I don't attend genealogical conferences. After 24 hours I'd be drinking the Kool-Aid and talking to my ancestors in person.
There were no genealogists in my family. There is no cache of letters to transcribe, no notes to go through. There was literally nothing before I started. And now, for me, the puzzle has been solved. I didn't know much when I started and now I know a great deal. What I don't know, I do know can't be known. And because I'm comfortable with that, I can give it all up and find something else to puzzle about.