« Chapter 4 | Main | Lyth Hill Walk »

After Work: Digging

ÖGenealogy is an addiction, they say. Books, newspapers, magazines, census records and now even high school yearbooks are being digitized. Itís getting so our ancestors canít lie around comfortably in their urns or graves. There are a lot of their above ground kin out there, armed with computers rather than shovels who want to dig them up and wrest history from themÖ

Though Dona Gibbs reveals that snobbish sniffs and angry snorts could be directed towards you when you go to the library to delve into family history.

Ever Enthusiastic Husband labeled the movie ďSex and the CityĒ a chick flit. Heís probably right but I found it engaging. Of course, thereís nothing realistic about the heroineís wardrobe. As you know, sheís supposed to be a columnist, yet she sashays through the West Village tricked out in a couple of thousand dollars of duds and teetering on six hundred dollar heels. Total fantasy.

There was one tiny moment when I could truly believe that Carrie Bradshaw was a writer. Sheís reading. Mr. Big, her off-again, on-again love, is amused that itís a library book. A library book?

As she buries her nose in the pages and inhales, she replies that she loved the way library books smelled. For me that had the whiff of authenticity.

Iíve been hanging around the main branch of the New York Public Library a lot for the past two weeks. Iíve gotten hooked on genealogy Ėjust like thousands and thousands of other folks. And itís true. Carrie is on to something about the aroma of old books. When itís mingled with warm smell of furniture polish on the long wooden tables, itís magical.

Genealogy is an addiction, they say. Books, newspapers, magazines, census records and now even high school yearbooks are being digitized. Itís getting so our ancestors canít lie around comfortably in their urns or graves. There are a lot of their above ground kin out there, armed with computers rather than shovels who want to dig them up and wrest history from them.

So if genealogy is an addiction, then the genealogy and local history room is a crack den. Albeit, an elegant one.

Like all libraries, thereís a system. You browse through the listings at the bank of computers, choose a seat from a chart, fill out a slip with what you want and take your seat.

Five minutes or so, a runner piles the treasures in front of you.

I always use the waiting time to check out the other patrons.

ďArenít there homeless people?Ē Ever Enthusiastic Husband asked.

Well, if theyíre homeless, theyíre the kind of homeless who are searching for lost glories in their pedigrees rather than aluminum cans they can redeem for a nickel.

They sport laptops, creased khakis and button down shirts or pleated skirts and headbands. Both genders wear an intent look and seem to possess enough pens, pencils and pads of paper to stock a small stationery shop. Even though Iím one of them, I find my fellow gleaners amusing to observe.

ďOh, (unprintable expletive).Ē I heard one woman mutter under her breath. She was working on lineage papers for some society dedicated to perpetrating the memory of some group of American colonists or other. She was carefully scanning records looking for somebody or other who had done something or other. Whoever it was, she wasnít finding him or her. I had been there myself.

Thereís a society for just about any group you can imagine, even including colonial tavern keepers. Thatís one group Iím keen to join but so far my Quaker ancestors havenít seen fit to draw a pint for pay.

Human beings are such creatures of habit. The same people seem to choose the same seats day after day. I keep telling myself to select another seat but when the time to fill in the blank on the call slip I find myself writing 2-15.

Across the table from me sits a man I guess to be in his mid-seventies. Heís very starchy, pink and meticulously organized.

He glares at me though steel rimmed glasses, snorting in little angry puffs.

Iíve intruded on his space.

Heís working on the early families who settled on the Hudson River. I know this because Iíve peeked. Those people were landed gentry. Maybe he suspects that mine were mostly trying to scratch out a living and his snorts are snobbish sniffs.

Oh well, I canít expect to be friends with everybody in the genealogical room.

I also suspect that heís declared some kind of war.

He glanced up while I was noisily tearing up slips of notepaper and putting them between the pages I wanted to copy. I built up quite a pile. I gathered them up and lumbered to the copy machine.

In one motion he had done the same but with elbows thrust out had managed an end run around me.

I put down my stack and smirked to myself.

Forty minutes later, he executed the same maneuver.

Was this a coincidence? Iíd like to think so, but the signs points otherwise.

Anyway I donít mind hanging out, waiting for the copy machine. It gives me time to admire the polished floors, the tall ceilings, and the graceful tier of stacks and how the golden afternoon light floods the stately room.

And there are all those books. Row after row of lives. And in those dry notations of births, marriages and deaths, there are stories. And the more I visit this magical place, the more likely those stories will be whispered, a bit here, a scrap there.

Besides that, while Carrie Bradshaw loved the smell of old books, I love the scent of copy paper.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.