Monday, June 13, 2011

The News Fit to Print

First I want to give credit to people who blog full time. How do you do that AND everything else in both life and genealogy? Wow. With that said, I am obviously behind in logging my genealogy research.

Well, what have I been doing? I went back to SLC again to finalize arrangements on a timeshare since it's clear that spending time there often results in the most bang for the research buck. So naturally I did research in between signing papers. On the Gillespie side, we discovered a Gillespie of the town Cavanecaw in County Armagh. This was an exciting find - a town!

Then May rolled around, and my sister and I went to Nebraska to pick up 6 trunks of family history stuff. That was around Mother's Day and I am STILL sorting and labeling and filing. There are so many valuable things to be found including correspondence, photos, slides, memorabilia. But one particular treasure is found in hundreds of self-published newsletters about the Gillespie family, written in most part by Edith Gillespie (author of The Gillespie Family Record, which was last published in 1966). Indeed, there are two newsletters, one called The Gillespie WAG, where WAG are the initials of Edith's father, William A. Gillespie. The WAG newsletters start in 1954 and continue to 1981. The newsletters were written and mailed monthly, and as time wore on, some issues were multi-page, although Edith was very good at cramming as much as she possibly could on to one page, obviously to save on the printing and postage. The printing was done by mimeograph, and I am thinking she had her own machine, although I don't know that for sure. In any case, every single month for roughly 27 years, Edith printed and mailed out a newsletter to WAG descendants. Taken altogether, this piece of work is staggering. Not only am I reading about my own life as written by a far-away great aunt, but I am following the story of my mother's family. Since my mother was the first of the clan to leave the state of Michigan when she came of age, she left behind stories in progress - stories I only heard in roundabout ways, if at all. For that reason, my own memories and knowing of Michigan are sketchy. Some things reported in the newsletter are a surprise, like when Uncle Foster died suddenly (I never knew him or even of him much, so to learn about his life and then sudden death by way of the WAG newsletter took me off guard). On the other hand, some things beg anticipation because I do know what's going to happen (e.g., knowing the date of my grandfather's death, I find myself hanging on any mention of him in the months before). It's all truly amazing.

At some point Edith realized that we had/have a good number of relations who were not direct descendants of WAG, and so she started a second newsletter called Gillespie Cousins in 1964. This newsletter was much less frequent - usually only once or twice a year - but they are equally packed with details that are a genalogist's dream come true. Gillespie Cousins continued under the efforts for Bruce Gillespie until Edith's death in 1986.

To be honest, I'm still absorbing it all. It was a different time, when family was nearly everything in a person's life. In these trunks are photos and details about family reunions that occurred annually going back to 1915 or so. The reunions had a board and committees, and the WAG siblings even had a financial club where they invested in the stock market together and then made the proceeds available for family members in need. I'm still trying to determine exactly when the LAST reunion was, and why they stopped, although I can probably guess. They stopped in large part because Edith got old and then older, and then she died. She was a one-woman force who drove the Gillespie and Dodder (her mother's side) family and amazingly recorded its genealogy. I begin to wonder if I will ever get a handle on everything she did, never mind how she did any of it without a computer....

Well, the newsletters have given me yet one more thing to do. First I have made an index so I know which issues are in my possession and which are missing. I am sending out word to anybody anywhere who might be able to come up with the missing issues. Hoping and praying that I will indeed be able to come up with a complete set, I will then publish them altogether and make them available for family researchers. I have been scanning the issues I have into PDF and better yet, they are searchable! So even though I have stayed up late nights reading every word, I can now circle back through and search. This has allowed me to do things like start an index of reunions - when and where they were held along with any other relevant details. It's mind boggling, and fun, and most importantly, the things found in these newsletters will add tremendous depth to the story of so many Gillespie descendants.

I can tell you that when the newsletter set is complete, I will be generating a commemorative print edition with the front section dedicated to the life of Edith Gillespie. I start to run out of adjectives when it comes to being amazed by her fairly unsung accomplishments. It's time to give her proper honor.

In the mean time, my awesome cousins are gleefully joining in whenever and wherever possible. From Michigan and Hawaii start to come scans of photos and letters that have been (and still are) filling attic space. Each image is jaw-dropping, heart-racing, blood-pressure-rising exciting to look at. We are all scurrying trying to find elders who can identify and tell stories that go with these things. Time is ticking. And meanwhile we occasionally catch ourselves looking in the mirror wondering what part of us is them, what part of them is us, and who will be the ones to recognize any of us 100 years from now?

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