Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When Real Life meets Research

When I headed back home to my parents' house for winter break, I had grandiose plans for time spent in cemeteries and courthouses. I'd have a month off, and lots of free time, right?


I brought home all my physical records. (Remember, I've only been at this a year, so they pretty much all fit in a nice-sized tote bag.) I day-dreamed about days in Brooklyn repositories. Then, when I ended up having to do a major closet reorganization and drive my sister to Rhode Island to catch a plane, I started to get discouraged. I'd never have time to get to the courthouse! Why had I even bothered to haul all that stuff up here?

Fate. That's why. Small blessings and silver linings.

On Monday, while I was in RI with my sister, I got a phone call from my roommates. Pipes burst. Apartment flooded. Ceiling falling. Mold growing. (Not our pipes, the upstairs neighbors' pipes. In our apartment, we don't turn the heat off in freezing weather!)

One of the first things I realized was that, by some accident of fate - or some blessing, if God cares about genealogy, which I think He might - my irreplaceable original documents (my grandparents' baptismal certificates, engagement ring appraisal, school papers, etc.) and my replaceable copies of documents (birth, marriage, and death certificates ordered from archives) were safe in my parents' house, hundreds of miles from the scene of the disaster. (Oh yeah, most of my other important stuff wasn't there, either.) We had some other lucky breaks - the only bed that got hit was my air mattress, so no one should need to throw out a water-logged mattress - but all in all, it's a mess. I'll probably have to head back down there earlier than expected, so my last few days of hoped-for research time are probably a lost cause (though, not having a bed to call my own, if there's nothing I can do to help, it might not be worth it . . . I really don't know what to do when the clean-up is so beyond my skill level).

I'm telling myself, "See? This close call is proof that you should have all your original documents, at least, stored in archival-quality boxes," but then I hear me and I respond, "Who are you kidding? Archival storage offers some protection from the elements, and will offer a bit of a buffer zone before documents inside the boxes are reached by water, but we are not talking about a leaky faucet here. We're talking about a quantity of water that cascaded through the ceiling onto the first floor, then again through the floor/ceiling into the basement. We're talking about so much water that it brought parts of the ceiling down with it! You expect me to believe that cardboard would have withstood the deluge?" Not to knock archival-quality storage boxes, of course, but the fact is that nothing would have saved my records save not being in my apartment in the first place - which, thankfully, they weren't.

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