One person whose blog I follow (and participate in) has challenged her readers to write their personal histories. Now I’m not about to post that on a blog–at least not quite yet–although I do think that it would be a cure for insomnia for those of you who have trouble sleeping at night.
Anyway, in case you haven’t figured out from the title of my blog (Clio the History Muse), I’m an historian by training (please note the correct article in front of the noun; it’s not A historian, but AN historian). This means, of course, whenever I write something, there is something imbedded in me that leads me to document my sources, regardless of what I am writing about. Call it the call of the citations—or, as some of my students would say, the curse of Kate Turabian. Nevertheless, I have this need (some would say an insane need) to cite everything. Properly. In the correct order. With correct punctuation. Therefore, when I would write a personal history (an autobiography), I would document my existence, from birth until now.
The first step, of course, is to document the beginning. Now if you have followed my blog posts at all, you know that sometimes I have a tendency to wander a bit before I get to the point (and, if you have read my comments on other blogs, I pretty much behave the same way at times). So…now I’m about to take this post in a different direction, but if you continue reading you will understand the title for this post. Several months ago, Zion’s United Church of Christ, formerly Zion’s Evangelical & Reformed Church, Zion’s Reformed Church, Zion’s German Reformed Church (you get the picture) ceased to exist as a congregation. This was the church where my parents met and got married, where my younger brother and I were baptized, and where I attended church while in graduate school in the early to mid 1980s. Demographic changes to the inner city of Reading (especially white flight to the suburbs) led to the congregation slowly being unable to sustain itself financially, and the building was sold to another congregation (a Presbyterian congregation that had been meeting at a storefront in West Reading, so at least the building was staying Calvinist, even if the denomination was changing).
During the last worship service, the last pastor of Zion’s, Rev. Dr. Robert G. Aregood (aka Rev. Bob) mentioned during the sermon that he was hoping for volunteers to help get the church records ready for transfer to the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society in Lancaster. He then looked at me, sitting in the congregation…and said “But I see a history professor in the congregation who I am sure will help.” Nothing like being “called out” in church to show how the Lord works in mysterious ways. In November, I drove to Reading to Rev. Bob’s house to pick up Zion’s records to arrange them for transfer to the E&R Historical Society (Rev. Bob also soon found out that not only was a history professor in the congregation, but one who is a trained archivist). The materials included all of the church records, dating back to its foundation in 1881 (the records from 1881 until the early 1920s are written in German—in the lovely German schriften that us 18th century historians loathe to read).
Fast forward to March 2011: Rev. Bob sent me an e-mail yesterday, asking for my help. Apparently a former member of the congregation is experiencing some difficulty in getting Medicare to approve her coverage (there apparently is a question about her age), so he asked me to look up her birth and baptismal record in the church register. He provided me with her name and a date range. So today I dug out the tubs of church records (which have been loosely organized, but aren’t quite yet ready to be transferred to the historical society), and tried to find the record. Unfortunately, I did not have any success in that search (although I did find her name on the list for a confirmation class, which should help prove her age), but I did find something else.
First, the citation (usually this comes after the statement/information, but in this instance I am leading with it):
“Register of the Zion’s Congregation of the Evangelical and Reformed Church of Reading, Penna.” 1927-1960. (Handwritten, future home: Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society, Lancaster, Pennsylvania). Register of Baptisms, pp. 94-95.
Yes, I found myself: name at christening, name of parents, date of birth, date of baptism, name of sponsors—and, although it doesn’t state the name of the minister who baptized me, I know it wasn’t the same minister who baptized my brother 17 months later because the handwriting changes in February 1961. So I now have the first citation for the personal history; now all I need is the time to write it. That, obviously, will have to be put off for another day, because there is a pile of grant applications waiting to be read, a stack of research papers for a prize competition that need to be ranked, and, of course, program review stuff to complete. But at least I have found a place to start, and I have the evidence to prove that I exist.