In family-history discussions we often talk about the power beloved family recipes can exert in bringing warm, vivid memories to life.
Not long ago, I got an unexpected reminder that bad food memories also pack a punch. One of my favorite non-genealogy reads is David Lebovitz’s beguiling blog about cooking, eating and living in Paris. My epiphany there came in the comments section of a recent post on French charcuterie.
As you might imagine, one reader’s ick is another’s addiction, especially when it comes to charcuterie. So the comments inevitably turned to the question of foods people absolutely Will Not Eat, and why entire cultures sometimes put certain foods on the Will Not Eat List.
For instance, David speculated that the reason rabbits remain off-limits to many people might be that “perhaps they are associated with hard times.”
One of his readers from the U.S. chimed in to agree, saying he had once encountered an elderly neighbor who wouldn’t touch rabbit for very specific, personal reasons. For years during the Depression, this woman’s enterprising mother raised rabbits in backyard hutches, bartering them for goods and services and, of course, putting them in the stewpot nearly every day.
My mother, on the other hand, hated lentils. Lentil soup was on the menu every single Friday night of every year she spent growing up in her parents’ strictly Catholic home, in the days when all Fridays were meatless.
And my mother-in-law cannot stand spaghetti. This is because her Great Depression was spent in a small farming community in South Dakota, where spaghetti was the only reliable entrée for weeks on end, during a particularly desperate stretch. So desperate did this stretch get, that there was actually a food drop from an airplane bearing government-surplus supplies. My mother-in-law and all the other children scrambled out to the field, excited beyond belief at what might be there.
“And what do you think they dropped?” she asked. “Spaghetti!”
The bitterness in her voice was still sharp after more than six decades.
Or consider the case of a gentleman from Rostock, Germany who finally decided to open and taste a 64-year-old can of lard he’d been saving “for emergencies” ever since he acquired it in an aid package in the devastation of postwar Germany. (The verdict? “Gritty and tasteless,” but edible.)
Bad eats can be a potent catalyst for memories, just like good eats. And the stories are just as absorbing.
Geneabrarian’s thoughtful post on genealogy/hobbyism/professionalism/identity, along with equally thoughtful commentary from Elyse Doerflinger and Thomas MacEntee, really got me thinking, even with a sinus headache raging in the background.
Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with genealogy-as-hobby, I hate that word. I have a totally personal dislike of describing serious concepts with words employing that “-y” sound. For instance, I also hate the term “bullying.” In workplaces, you’d call it harassment. In school, we call it “bullying,” which gives out a cuddly, nursery-school vibe. It minimizes. Similarly, “hobby” sounds trite as opposed to, say, “avocation” or even “pastime.”
And yet, from very early on I have shied away from calling myself a “genealogist.” For one thing, as I wrote a while back, it could get people’s backs up, and wreck perfectly good parties. Then, too, there was the little matter of the complete lack of credentials. Without a C.G., was I a genealogist? Could I be? If not, what was I?
Thinking over Geneabrarian’s post, I realize that for years I have been sidestepping this issue by describing what I do, not who I am. “I’m tracing my ancestors in upstate New York,” I began saying not long after starting in genealogy, in the early 1990s. I was still a working journalist at that point, and this sort of language clicked with colleagues. But this method has continued to be useful in that it expands to fit the situation. “I write family histories.” “I help people retrieve records for their genealogy research.” And so on.
Yet a unified brand makes sense. So much of communication today revolves around the instant sense of connection, the strong first impression. But this is a challenge when applied to the world of genealogy. Some of us are trying to earn an income from genealogical research. Some are not. Some are thinking about it. Some are combining genealogical interests with other professions.
Right now I’m at a loss for a noun that works for all of it. Maybe a phrase — like “people who rescue the history of everyday citizens.”
Unfortunately, that would look like hell on a logo.
On New Year’s Eve, the resident teenager turned to me and said, “Are you ever glad to see some years go?”
Granted, this is the sort of question one should expect from a resident teenager. And yet, some years really do not inspire tears of nostalgia. I have a feeling that for me, 2011 will turn out to be one of them. I hasten to say that everyone at Archaeologist Central sailed through 2011 just fine, with some laughs, even. But the feeling at the end of the year was … OK, there ya go. No sniffles here. Off to something new! Bring it on, 2012!
In the spirit of New Shiny Stuff, I’ve decided to move the Links to Wednesdays. Blogging can become an awful stuck-in-the-mud thing if one doesn’t watch it, and it feels like a shakeup is just the ticket, even a minor one like moving the Links around. Full disclosure: I was thinking of canning the Links altogether in favor of quick individual posts. But I do rather like lists. So in a triumph of indecision that we’ll all agree to call diplomacy, I’ll do a combination — shorter Links, plus quick takes.
Blogging during the last three months of 2011 was light due to real-time, off-line genealogical endeavors. I learned a lot, and got a lot of food for thought, and some future posts about new ways I see my own family research.
So … Happy New Year, everybody. Now, back to work.
… related to SSDI:
See, here’s another industry that uses the SSDI: Insurers. This article explains how insurers in New York State use the SSDI in order to make death benefit payouts to survivors more promptly, and how they use it to make sure they don’t pay annuities to dead people. (Thanks to Actuarial Opinions for forwarding the link.)
You’d think the insurance industry would be upset about limiting access, too. Although perhaps they figure it’s no problem to them, as they can buy the data they need for themselves.
Updated, with another Deep Thought: Yeah, this is probably why you aren’t hearing from the banking and legal professions on this one, either. They’ll have the information anyway, as they can afford to purchase their own databases. Whereas the little guy who’s trying to find out where Grandpa disappeared to — oops, sorry. Thanks, Senators!
So last month I (among many, I know) was wondering about where all this rumbling about the SSDI was going to lead. An eye-catching story from the Scripps Howard News Service had focused on cases in which the Social Security numbers of dead children were used to claim them fraudulently on tax returns, and legislators were mentioned as being very concerned. Given the trigger words like “children,” “fraud” and “safety,” it seemed reasonable to await another shoe dropping.
Well. This week Ancestry.com pulled free access to the SSDI. It’s still available to subscribers, with Social Security numbers removed from individuals who have died within the past decade. Kimberly Powell summarizes what’s going on here, reporting that the move appears to be prompted by a petition from Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Illinois).
The other essential post is Megan Smolenyak’s reasoned and eloquent defense of the SSDI as a readily available research tool. It contains much that I searched for in vain in the Scripps stories — including an attempt to assess exactly how many dead children’s identities are stolen by strangers each year. The number appears to be far lower than the instances in which children’s identities are stolen and misused by their own parents. This finding, if it continues to hold up, reinforces my impression that a rather emotionally manipulative campaign is achieving a panic-stricken result.
How to achieve some organized pushback? Who else besides Megan is pointing out the ways in which the SSDI is used to prevent fraud? What institution is responding on behalf of the researchers for whom the SSDI is an essential tool in discovering lost identities, reclaiming the John and Jane Does, repatriating the remains of long-dead military personnel?
One last thought: Ancestry.com is, for better or worse, synonymous with “genealogy” for Jane and John Q. Public. But I’m afraid this situation may be highlighting a bit of a problem: Big-business genealogy may not equate with genealogy advocacy. It’s very tough when senators come calling and a national news service is writing frightening stories. But Ancestry, with that iconic brand name and a base of the enthusiasts who made its fortune, could certainly be in a position to educate panic-stricken lawmakers and push back on news stories that paint incomplete pictures. If it wanted to.
Meanwhile, you and I can educate ourselves by reading the summaries from Kimberly and Megan. Then we can write to the senators listed above. Hey, somebody has to.