Monday, July 4, 2016


"The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs." Vance Havner
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Isn't it funny how you're just rolling along, living your life, and then something grabs your attention and forces you to look over your shoulder, or around the corner, or over there behind the... well, you get the gist. If you're a genealogist, this typically happens whenever you come across an old book or letter, visit a family member or wander into a cemetery (and yes, I have been known to wander into a cemetery or two.) If you just happen to be a curious person by nature, then what I call the 'shiny syndrome' can occur at any given moment. You know what I'm talking about, admit it. You're on a mission, focused on what's ahead, and out of nowhere someone tosses a quarter in your path. Well, perhaps not an actual quarter, but something that distracts you and draws you away from your primary objective. As of late, I have felt like I needed to buy the most powerful sun glasses known to man just to stop the glare! I research constantly and I can never, ever get enough, but I have felt a bit scattered. What on earth is wrong with me? Then, while chasing another quarter down the sidewalk, I stumbled over the answer- my old journal.

While gathering information for a post on my Facebook group, the FAMILY DETECTIVE NETWORK, I referred back to a daily record I kept between the years of 1976 and 1996. That old journal of mine has become my best tool when it comes to dating photos, referencing family stories and remembering the past. I wrote everything down! I made notes of not only my personal feelings, but of political events, special dates in history, special people in history, oral histories from family members and places I visited. I was a walking recorder, putting on paper the things in life that made an impression on this then 16-year-old mind. One entry led to the next and before I knew it, I had created a small library that covered 20 years of my life. I can't remember why I actually stopped, perhaps it was as simple as I got tired, but I wish now I hadn't. In fact, it was while holding those original pages, carefully typed on an old Royal typewriter, that reminded me how focused I get when I write. And when I write in a journal, I get hyper-focused. My thoughts become organized and I remember what self discipline feels like. It's an incredible therapy that lessens the symptoms of 'shiny syndrome' and allows me to complete a thought. That is why, now armed with a minor epiphany, I have decided to not only start a new journal, but to share parts of it via this blog.

Making journal notes in Amsterdam, 1986. Photo by Catherine Pica.

My journal keeping all those years ago came about because I wanted to record my family history. My journal/blog now will be my attempt to share what I have learned about being a family detective in that time. I want to reveal all the little tricks I've learned. I want to help people think not just forward and backward, but sideways. I want to teach, encourage and perhaps inspire someone to begin chronicling their own family history.

It's never too soon to start and it's never too late.

After all, it was a journal from my childhood that came to my aid. A journal I began 40 years ago today.

Robin F. Atkins