My blogging adventure called What’s Past is Prologue began on January 6, 2008. But I had been reading genealogy blogs for several months prior to beginning my own. The one aspect of genealogy blogs that I really enjoyed reading the most was the Carnival of Genealogy. Twice a month bloggers would take on the challenge of writing around a theme – and it always amazed me that each article was somehow different and new despite the common topic. And I simply adored the way the COG hostess with the mostess, Jasia, pulled it all together in a charming and fun way. This is so much fun, I have to try this…thus my blog was born. After all, one needed to have a blog to participate in the COG!
My very first COG was #40: Living Relative Connections. My submission, Finding Cousins in Bavaria, was only the 5th post on my blog. I was hooked. Since then, I have participated in 32 different editions of the COG with a total of 33 posts (one post was submitted for two different COG topics, and for two COGs I submitted two posts). In the last two years, I have only missed submitting posts for twelve editions of the COG, and four of those editions were in the last two months due to vacation or work priorities. I even had the extreme pleasure of serving as COG hostess on two different occasions: #54 – The Family Language and #71 – Local History.
Since I’ve admitted starting my blog partially to participate in the COG and I’ve mentioned how often I’ve played along, it’s apparent that the Carnival of Genealogy is meaningful to me, my writing, and my genealogy. But why? For me, blogging has been more about writing than about research, and the COG continually offers me a new way to be creative with my genealogical writing. It’s always suspenseful to be surprised by the next topic – and then I hurriedly wonder what I could write about.
In my own 33 COG posts, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my writing. The COG has also helped my genealogical research with topics like the two “Tribute to Women” COGs – #44 and #68. For the first, I wrote a biography of a great-aunt that I did not know much about in Hilaire Bergmeister: A Tribute to An Aunt. For the latter, I wrote a tribute to an aunt near and dear to my heart in Memories of Aunt Joan. One submission taught me how to craft a story out of bare facts, while the other taught me how to craft a portrait out of heartfelt memories.
The COG gave me the opportunity to take raw genealogical facts – bland ones like ages and occupations – and try to create an interesting post. Or, I reflected on topics I never would have thought to write about like politics or language. Or I got to show off some family photos that I loved only to find out that others thought they were pretty cool too.
But my absolute favorite COG topics are the ones that made me remember. I never intended to write memoir style posts about myself on the blog – it was supposed to be about genealogy! But what is more genealogical than your own memories? Some COG topics in particular challenged me to do this, and they are my favorites:
- My Big, Old, Fast Favorite Car – the title says it all – about The Torino, “a legend, a chrome-bumpered baby-blue 4-wheeled Millennium Falcon — in other words, not too pretty on the outside, but oh could that baby move!”
- Cats Ruled This Family – about our three cats who “lived with us the longest and felt more like ‘family’ – becoming personalities as real as the fickle old uncle who feigns dislike of everyone, the ‘few watts short’ cousin always needing help, or the grandfather with the gruff exterior but the heart of gold.”
- The Innocents Abroad – about my vacation as a teenager to Rome, “this 1985 trip became not just my first vacation, but the vacation to end all vacations. I’d have fun on other trips to other places, but the memories of this one held a prominent place in my mind. “
But the COG is so much more than just me and my writing. By reading everyone else’s submissions, I’ve learned new research tips and new ways of writing or “presenting” information. But even more than that – I’ve laughed, cried, and smiled at some of the best “amateur” writing I’ve ever read. And friends, writers love to read good writing…it is how we grow and learn.
The COG is not merely a writing prompt, but a “carnival” where we all gather together to share our stories. It is in this virtual “sharing” that I have learned the most about writing and reflecting on family history. These posts from fellow genea-bloggers touched me so much that I did not even have to look through past COGs to find them – they were already ingrained in my memory. “DO THIS” they say. “WRITE LIKE THIS” and you, too, may touch a stranger’s heart. Let me share with you some of those special posts by others that impacted me in different ways.
“Yeah, it’s a Mustang. Or… maybe it’s a Maverick. Something like that.” ~ Jasia
I love humorous writing. I try, and sometimes I succeed, but to me there is nothing greater than writing something that makes another person laugh out loud. In COG #45, Jasia of Creative Gene wrote “It was an Ugly Car!” and made me laugh out loud! Her story of her ugly car was told in such a way that it was simple and perfect – a short tale with language that Twain would have chuckled at. It is not easy to tell a story that packs a laugh, and Jasia did it well.
“Sometimes in family history there are so many questions left unanswered that ancestors take with them to the afterlife. Why? Because there was no one there to challenge them, to question them.” ~ Thomas
It was only the second COG I ever participated in, #41. This was a creative topic – if you could have dinner with four ancestors, who would they be and why? I had fun with this one and tried to be humorous. But the post that impacted me the most was by Thomas MacEntee of Destination: Austin Family. Thomas wrote “A Dinner of Remembrance”. I read it one morning in work, and I cried at my desk. First I was struck by his sheer creativity in the way he presented the story of his dinner with his ancestors. But the emotional impact came from his one dinner guest who is still alive, but not…his mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. I am very fortunate because I do not have personal knowledge of this disease. I could read about it in news reports, but I felt like I could understand its impact by reading about Thomas’ imaginary dinner. I have struggled writing about some topics that are buried deep within my heart. With this tale, Thomas showed me that you can unbury your emotions and write about them beautifully.
I waited…in suspense.
“My Mother could take no more. All she wanted was to know if she still had a home.” ~ fM
I have been repeatedly touched, amazed, and awed by the writing of footnoteMaven at both footnoteMaven and Shades of the Departed. So, it is difficult to choose just one post of hers that stands out. I decided on a relatively recent one of Maven’s that she submitted for #77 called “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” for the sheer suspense of her story of living through a tornado. I was blown away – no pun intended.
“Did you sign this yourself?” Mrs. Katzman asked, sternly. “Yes,” I lied. ~ Steve
They say it’s the simple things in life that make us happy, yet those simple things can be so hard to write about. Steve Danko of Steve’s Genealogy Blog made it look so easy in his COG #44 submission, “Mrs. Katzman, Children’s Librarian”. I challenge you to read this and not feel as if you’re standing next to the 6-year-old boy determined to get his first library card. Simple, charming – wonderful! How many Mrs. Katzmans have we all known? But have we written about them? Why not?
There are many other talented writers besides these four friends who submit to the COG and continually inspire me! If you don’t read every submission, it’s time to start because you’ll never know when one will stand out from the rest and truly touch you. If you don’t submit to the COG, now’s the time to try! It is a wonderfully challenging way to get creative with your family history. Don’t be shy – we want to hear your story.
[Written for the 84th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: What the COG means to me!]