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  • Susan Weinberg

A Puzzle in Ten Steps

When my father died, I was the first one to tackle his office. My father loved information. If something interested him, it ended up in a growing pile that ambitiously reached skyward. When we would prod him to tackle the clutter, he would threaten to light a match to it. I think he was joking.

After his death, I wouldn’t let my siblings enter that space until I first went through it. Mind you, it wasn’t hard to keep them at bay; it was rather daunting. As the family historian, I feared that someone else would pitch something that only I would find valuable. When I got into family history, my father had joined me. He contacted his cousins and gathered information which he proudly presented to me in our weekly phone calls.

In his office, I found scraps of paper and envelopes with jottings that I salvaged from destruction. They would have had no meaning to anyone else. To me they were gold.

I found myself thinking of that recently, when I was working with a client where we had hit a dead end. His family came from an area where there was little on-line. I had built out what I could but felt as if I was nibbling around the edges. I hadn’t found that thread for which a simple tug begins to unravel the puzzle. As I probed for more information, I asked a question born of my experience in my father’s study. "Do you have any envelopes with jottings on family history?" I told him about my experience and how an opening can emerge from the smallest detail. And yes, he had an envelope with a few details jotted by his late mother alongside notes on a purchase of needles and thread.

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