Five hundred years on

A vision of the future, from Science and Invention (1922). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I had stepped away from the holograms, weary, my brain consumed with the stories and research those images contained. I had come to Vita Brevis, really quite by accident, while researching the ancestry of my “several times over” Great-Grandfather Record, his rumored Mayflower ties, and the family’s legend of a Good Witch, a woman who’d lived in the old megapolitan areas surrounding early 21st-century Los Angeles. Someone had mentioned at the NEHGS Quincentenary Dinner that I should look into what they had once called “blogs,” the old “posts” out there in the archival ether – that there I might find clues about the people I seeking. They’d said Vita Brevis had been around now for literally centuries, and that while the postings there had gone through some name and ‘holographic changes’ over the past three hundred years or so, that, still, I might be able to find the answers to my questions…

Well, after having already mined my way through my family’s archival Twitter feed of the 23rd century at the NEHGS complex at Boston Novum, I was game for anything. In the back of my mind it seemed that I had seen a written copy (?) of these so-called Vita Brevis blog posts before – but I couldn’t remember where. I believe it was written by one Christopher C. Child – I think I read where he had become head of NEHGS from about 2045 until the revolution in ‘63… – and that it was called El Dorado 1914. But, really, wasn’t El Dorado just some mythical place anyway?

An antique image of Great-Grandfather Record.

So I started looking for that old “blog post” – and, oddly enough, there it was,  right where they’d said it would be. (D. Brenton Simons had organized the start of an amazing database way back when…) And there he was, my several times over Great-Grandfather Record, as he attempted to track down some of the very same folks I’d been looking for. However, my several times over great-grandfather seemed to have had a lot of help along the way – far more than what I’ve found here in my 26th-century vantage point.

You see, as I read through his old (longwinded!) posts I found him collaborating with others – and vice versa. I saw folks make suggestions and communicate through the medium of Vita Brevis. I saw them give reference points from which to “regroup” and/or “restart” any research; I saw them reach out – to help each other. After awhile, I was enfolded in the process, and in the topics the contributors had presented, each of those items leading into another, each lending character and a clearer path to finding out a genealogical truth, experience, or method. I saw an amazing community.

I saw folks make suggestions and communicate through the medium of Vita Brevis. I saw them give reference points from which to “regroup” and/or “restart” any research; I saw them reach out – to help each other.

I became enthralled as I read through those old “blogs” on Vita Brevis, now nearly five hundred years old. I mean, one couldn’t help but laugh at the innate and brilliant humor in anything Jan Doerr had posted; indeed, she certainly knew how to go about Making the skeletons dance! From there I found other posts with fascinating titles and great content, with one in particular calling out to me: Of books and alligator lizards by Pamela Athearn Filbert. I dare say, though, that the post Genealogical healing by Michael Dwyer was the one that moved my spirit the most.

Oh, but I was not at a loss for where I needed to be looking – those posts on Vita Brevis where I’m certain my progenitor sought out “how to learn” and “how to research.” (Lord knows he had plenty to learn!) I am speaking of posts by Alicia Crane Williams, pivotal here, in instructing readers on method and storytelling, so that any results yielded would be, if not perfect, inspired to be so. I had to stop and re-read many of her posts – starting with Perfect 10, Accessibility, and, best of all, But it was published in a book!There was still a lot anyone could learn from Alicia Crane Williams – even after this many hundreds of years! There were so many great blog posts, contributors, and comments – I really didn’t know where to stop!

In going through those old holograms of Vita Brevis, the one thing that stood out to me – beyond the utter patience and planning of the posts themselves (and certainly in the editing of them) – was the editor himself, a gentleman by the name of Scott C. Steward. In addition to this, his own blog posts – and in particular a series about one Mrs. Gray and her diary – have kept me mesmerized, as he helped illuminate the life of a Civil War-era woman. I certainly enjoyed his amazing collection of photographs in Royale cartes de visite, and reading about his family, too, especially in A twinkling star – just as much as my ancestor once did.

“When you are left with little more than a few pictures and an array of vital records, you concoct personality wherever you can.”

There is much to be gleaned here in these old Vita Brevis records, not only about my own ancestor, my several times over Great-Grandpa Record, but also in the wisdom of those who might comment on the blog posts themselves. However, I’m sorry to say that I had best leave the records of Vita Brevis behind (for now) as I think it’s time for me to catch my Uber-Uber so that I won’t be late for the shuttle to Mars. I am reminded, though, of some very wise words left by a young man in one of the blog posts from that era. His words will certainly help me in my future research, as I am sure they once helped my ancestor, those words being: “When you are left with little more than a few pictures and an array of vital records, you concoct personality wherever you can.”

I must remember to send a thank-you note to the 26th-century descendants of young Mr. James Heffernan living near the NEHGS satellite on Alpha Centuari. I can’t think of a more perfect complement of words to follow my research on my several times over Great-Grandfather Record. (I only hope the old coot is listening and will help me out – after all, why did I get his darn genealogy “curse” this many centuries later anyway?) Mr. Heffernan, your words ring true, even now from the vantage point of an unimagined future.

Long live Vita Brevis.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

5 thoughts on “Five hundred years on

  1. I love this. So often my mind wanders and I imagine what those who follow us are imagining. Why didn’t they look here or there? What WERE they thinking???? I love science fiction but I truly hope that Jeff’s “several times over Great Grandson” has a chance to read this post and many others by Jeff. I so hope that there is another life after this one….I’ll meet you on Mars Jeff.

  2. It scares me to think that we may not be able to read or recover all the digital records we currently have just in the next generation. The formats change so much. When was the last time you saw an 8-track player? Brilliant post though.

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