28 October 2010

Write and Re-write and Re-write and . . .

Marie Larsdatter and Jens Jorgensen who
became Mary and James Johnson
(enhanced from tintype belonging
to [cousin])
Will I ever be finished?  I sighed. How could I be sad or frustrated over finding new pieces of a story about my great-great grandparents, Jens and Marie,  that I've worked on for years and years?  I feel happy about it too, but it seems that I will never get this particular history published to my satisfaction because more material keeps surfacing. On Tuesday I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally added in all the bits that had come to me recently, I did a few little revisions here and there in the 50 pages I've labored over since my first much shorter version in the late 1980s and the major rewrite in 2008. It's part of the book our family history committee planned to publish that year and that we are still working on. Since 2008, we've added more illustrations and I have worked on it whenever I let myself read it again. 

But now, now I have finally added the 1855 Danish census with its further evidence of their conversion to Mormonism and the startling revelation that Jens' sister Maren was also a Mormon. I had tediously updated all 118 endnotes and then turned to another history in the book.

1855 census from Torup Sogn, Frederiksborg, Denmark
(emphasis added)
I was reviewing our most recent research on the Lamb family to see if anything needed to be added to their chapter when I discovered another short Utah pioneer history of Jens that someone had given my sister. Hmm, a few more details. I decided to just tack it onto the end of the chapter.

But it was too late. My mind was already picking up nuances and I had to search again on the internet to try to find answers to a question that hadn't ever been answered to my satisfaction. Nezbet? I had never spelled the mysteriously elusive pioneer company that way before. I just had to google the new spelling. It would only take a moment, I told myself. But then . . . Voila! I scanned the page. Nothing more about the phantom pioneer company, but I was looking at a very interesting website that had only been posted last summer. Someone else was researching and writing about my dear Jens and Marie. And she had access to resources handed down through her branch of the family that I had never seen or heard of. A citizenship document. Letters from Denmark. A new version of the miraculous stampeding buffalo story!
Sometimes I feel like I'm in a buffalo stampede.

I read quickly and excitedly. I faced facts. I had another cousin to contact. I had another rewrite to do. All the illustrations would have to be re-arranged and I wasn't ready to go on to the next chapter yet.

I know this. Everything I write must be reviewed, revised and re-written. Every time I undertake the process, the writing improves. And this fact too. I'm not making this stuff up. I'm writing about real people who are hungry and excited to have their lives known and understood. They help me and for some reason, they are not in the same hurry I'm in to be finished. Jens and Marie and all those on "the other side" seem to have a more eternal perspective. I think I need to learn from that piece of the story too.


  1. Yep, gotta get it the way they want it. Even if it takes the rest of our lives. 2011 here we come.

  2. Your blog is inspirational for Family history writers. Is the image of a page from the 1855 Swedish census made up of two columns of names, or just one? I can make out the word "mormon" in the "religion?" column, but what is the other designation which looks like "SG". Or, is it perhaps, married/ single?

  3. Bob, Thanks for your comment. I think what you're seeing is "Do" or "Ditto." The columns are Name; Age; Marital status (Gift, Ugift or ditto); occupation or place in household; Religion. It takes awhile to catch onto the Danish language and then the handwriting. When in doubt, I ask the consultant on the international floor at the library.