“This is war, Peacock. Casualties are inevitable. You can not make an omelet without breaking eggs, every cook will tell you that.”
~ Martin Mull, in the role of Colonel Mustard in Clue (1985)
Please forgive the irreverent quote above! It’s just that a quote like helps me muddle my way through Ye Olde Branches in my attempts to go up against Chris Child in yet another game of “Genealogical Clue.” Imagine if you were setting out to countervail Curt DiCamillo in a discussion of classical architecture, or engage Scott Steward in talking through the relationship of Louis IV, the Grand Duke of Hesse, to “Archie.” (Hey, I had to make it easy on myself, right?) In any event, I think you can see where I’m going with this. Suffice it to say: It just ain’t easy.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible. As family historians (and as one who aspires to be labeled as a “decent sort of genealogist”), we are all called into the game. I guess the difference between Chris and me is that my limited acumen and resources do force me to look outside the box in both creating and solving the “genealogical riddles” presented by the game. I do have to admit (too) that I did sort of ‘cheat’ the last time I played in my efforts to tell about my family’s ties to the actress Alexandra Isles when I posted “Miss Winters in the drawing room.” I mean, for me to invoke the aid of Barnabas Collins to super-naturally bolster my score… Well, it really wasn’t all that fair! It’s just that I’ve been trying to discover so many people in so many different ways … you know, just like you do.
So this time I’ve decided to go past relying on in situ game board moments. Heck, I’ve even run out of weapons of passion to choose from. I guess it helps, too, that nobody really wants to read anything all that gruesome out of the old newspapers anyway, even if it does seem that these are the bulk of any Clue ‘game persons’ I might tend to find. However, the more I thought about it, about how I just might play this game (even while going up against a master player like Chris), I realized that I needed to take advantage of an age-old (and not necessarily genealogical) concept. It’s that concept known as ‘perspective.’
After all, many genealogical proofs might be said to have been built on less. I got to thinking that if the game of Clue is about solving a hypothetical ‘murder,’ then perhaps I might extrapolate (just a bit) and “create a game” whereupon I looked for something else that might (beyond an actual ‘murder’) still resemble something that kills. Bear with me here, I’m not trying to go all esoteric or dark, or punk rock, or channel my inner Kurt Cobain. I’m only trying to stretch the limits of the game and possibly, just possibly, challenge Chris Child once again. All this perhaps misplaced pondering has made me realize that I had the key question to this all along: What’s one of the best and most “killer” things of all? I can see that you’re already way ahead of me. You guessed it. It’s a smile.
So I decided to go back to that rogue’s gallery I keep on Ancestry. You know the one with its endless duplication of images re-posted of the same person, place, or thing way too many times. Still, I realized that for the change of perspective I was seeking it was going to take a very certain smile and, yes, if you will, call it just that, “a killer smile.” However, I had to ask myself: What exactly does that mean? I knew that I couldn’t have a decent game of Who dun’ it? unless I knew just what I was looking for – in situ be damned. I knew that when attempting to solve (or in this case create) any genealogical mystery that only the truth matters. What that told me was that while all smiles matter, the smile I was looking for also had to be “true,” and, if you will, “killer.”
I knew I didn’t want just any smile. While I haven’t counted how many relevant (and irrelevant) photographs or images there are in my gallery on Ancestry, I knew I wasn’t looking for just some average run-of-the-mill example. And while all smiles were quite beautiful and true, for my purposes here I was looking for “the smile.” Who would it be? I knew I didn’t want a famous smile. Fame is wearing and somewhat tedious, and too “lethal” for “the game.” A famous smile is more often than not merely manufactured, and if you will, a false positive. I knew I didn’t want an overly winsome smile or some Victorian relic of one. I knew that such smiles could be telling and beautiful, but that the smile of “the tell-tale heart” might not necessarily be ‘true.’ I knew also that I didn’t want too thoughtful a smile, because ‘too thoughtful’ a smile (while it might resemble the truth) could imply an aloof nature, and a damnable aloof nature was one that would rarely win me the game I was designing. It didn’t have to be a huge or big smile. I’d even consider a “come hither” sort of one – but whoever it was it had to be unabashedly genuine. It didn’t have to be a ‘happy smile,’ but it did have to be a revealing one. And yes, in case you’re wondering, a sad smile would be okay. Young or old, happy or sad, I knew that I couldn’t necessarily exclude any smile. In this game of Genealogical Clue, all smiles had to count.
I knew what I was looking for, even if I couldn’t articulate it. I wanted to see life.
I decided to pare them down, the smiles that is. After all, looking through all those “mug shots” and narrowing down my list of suspects was certainly all about solving the game of Clue. I knew what I was looking for, even if I couldn’t articulate it. I wanted to see life. I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d see it, or just how I might recognize it. I wasn’t exactly excluding anyone, but I knew that when I saw that particular life, well, that I would also be seeing the truth and thus solving the mystery, or rather, creating the Clue. I spent the next three or four hours hand-selecting a few photographs out of the mix. In the course of time, I had selected a set of twenty-six smiles across several sides of my family. They were/are smiles that just might have the look I wanted. Their smiles just might have solved (and added to) “the mystery” of their lives, and hopefully would show me their “truth.”
Sadly, I can’t show you twenty-six smiles. I can’t show you these wonderful twenty-six truths of which any one of them would have helped me present a life (hopefully well-lived) and maybe just maybe let me win a round of this variant of Genealogical Clue. Nevertheless, if you will indulge me, I have chosen a few of them to share with you, here interspersed among these paragraphs. Inadvertently, I have selected five pictures oddly representative of both my maternal and paternal family lines, those of Record, Burson, Lee, and Sage. For the most part, their lives are wonderfully ordinary, but their smiles are not. Their smiles reflect nothing but the beauty of living. I hope you will find their smiles to be quite killer and reflect only the utter truth. And yes, I confess that I picked my kinswoman Ida Lee (above) over the rest of “the crew” to solve my mystery and reveal my own particular solution to the game of Genealogical Clue. In my family tree, she had the genuine “killer smile” I was looking for. Her smile ‘crinkling’ out at me in that old black and white photograph evokes the utter joy of living I sought. She has that certain unabashed truth I hope we all carry with us.
I know that we all have “these” smiles, these truths, in our family trees. For me, such smiles have turned out to be the most amazing clues (and mysteries) about the lives of those I still want to understand more each day. I have looked at smiles (and for their subsequent truths) that hopefully will illuminate some of the rare corners of my own family history and tree. I hope that the clues behind their smiles will reflect all of our better natures.
While I may have lost this round of Genealogical Clue for breaking [making] the rules for obvious reasons, I have to believe that we all seek to know more about these sorts of souls in our family trees. They’re our bright lights, they’re “the truths” to all of our stories. Thank you sincerely, for letting me play the game, and for letting me share with you a few of these smiles. Now if I may, we’d better get on with the game! Heck, I don’t want anyone to miss their turn. But please, you’ve got to hurry and tell Chris Child to have Miss Scarlet set down that lead pipe and leave the conservatory at once! He’s simply too good a player.