Sunday, October 31, 2010

Personalizing History

If genealogy is good at one thing, it's personalizing history. It gives people today a sense of ownership of yesterday.

This morning, I was browsing TIME magazine, and (being entirely uninterested in the political races which took up most of the issue) read a short article titled "Brief History: Cholera Outbreaks." I got to the line that read "An 1866 New York City epidemic led to the creation of the city's board of health, the first in the U.S.," and my reaction was "That's our cholera epidemic! The one that killed Julia and James Thomas!"

Ownership is probably not the right word, and maybe I shouldn't be using a possessive pronoun. But I felt an immediate sense of recognition, and connection to the epidemic of 1866, as well as a very real awareness that, while an article about historic and current cholera epidemics might seem academic, we're actually talking about real diseases that killed - and continue to kill - real people. Julia was 15 and James Thomas only 2 1/2 when they died.

No comments: