Why Do I Write About Dead People?
By Jeannette Shiel
To share a story. But in a word, because of a bible. My grandmother, Eleanor, first presented a family bible to me when I was new to genealogy in 1997. That one specific moment, when I picked up the aged leather bible, all intact, about 16x10x5 inches with gold-leaf edges, and held in my hands. It weighed heavily from years of its life, and I felt the impact of its age. I scanned through the colored printed pages, stuffed with small mementos whose stories died years ago with those who placed those treasures within. Stamped on the cover was, "J. P. Uline - 1846." Eleanor’s next words I will never forget: “It says, J. P. Uline. My mother was a Uline, but I don’t know of any J. P., I don’t know who he was." I turned to the inside pages where I knew to expect to see all the good stuff: names and dates of events penned from different hands, all wanting to preserve their identities. J. P. was John Peter, the pages so revealed. I skimmed all the names, dates, touching each name, wondering who they were.
That was it, the moment I had to know every single person scribed on each line on those pages. Every child born, every bride and groom, and every person who died. Who were they? My relation, if any, to them, was trivial. I had to KNOW them. These were real people. They had lived; they had occupations, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. They had opinions and skills and weaknesses. They were humans. I had to know where they lived and all their children. Who did their children marry? Who were their parents? It was not an option to know of them. It was a compulsion to learn about them, to discover their story.
But back to the bible. Who was J.P.? John Peter Uline was Eleanor’s great-grandfather, my 3rd great grandfather.
So, what do I now know about this man?
The vitals: John Peter Uline was born 18 July 1812 in Rensselaer County, New York, the son of Bernard Uline and Sarah Clapper. On 21 January 1836, he married Almira Phillips; he died 23 March 1882. He is buried in Trinity Lutheran Church cemetery in West Sand Lake.
But there is more to a man than statistical or genetic data. The green swaying leaves on Ancestry.com do not tell his story. Genealogy is much more than about birth, marriage, and death.
John Peter was the grandson of a Revolutionary War patriot. For his service, his grandfather received a land lease in New York State for over 300 acres. However, this was not a land warrant, earned free and clear. There were lease rents due annually to the Dutch patroon so named. Every year, bushels of their farm crops and animals were due as rent payments. Their carriage and horses granted to the patron a for a day.
The patriot who fought for a free country; for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness became a common serf. Renters freely bought and sold lots of land, but these lease rents passed from lessee to lessee. Land deeds were never owned free and clear. So, when the patriot died, and the land passed on to his heirs, like John Peter’s father, the descendants inherited these rents and all land debts.
John Peter was a man who experienced more than one war. While the Civil War raged in America, he was fighting a different war. He was a politician. He was a protester. He was an anti-renter. He didn’t believe these rents were fair. He was elected several years as secretary and held several other offices in the Anti-Rent Association. He voted in the annual conventions. By default, of course, he was a farmer. Annually, for one deed, he owed $5 and ½ bushel peppers for the land he purchased from his father and paid to the land patroon. In 1865 legislation finally passed that terminated the legalization of land-leased rents. However, in 1927, back rents valued at $1,250 were still due on the Rev War patriot's farm, Barnhardt Uline.
So, who was John Peter Uline, the man?
John Peter Uline was a father. He had three daughters. He would witness all three marry, but he would bury two of them. His eldest son, Ira Harris Uline, died young in 1864, of Typhoid Fever, just nine years old. Ira was named after Ira Harris, a prominent lawyer, and mover New York politics, especially involving anti-rent legislation. His youngest son, Philander Hall Thomas Uline, was named after the town doctor, Philander Hall Thomas.
John Peter was a civil worker. Elected annually, he was supervisor of the town roads. J. P., as he was also known was a landowner, and lived in town on a small twisty creek. In an era where the wagon ruled, he oversaw the central infrastructure in the developing North Greenbush. He was also a storekeeper, and probably sold the products harvested from his lands to which he was forever indebted.
I have walked on the same lands he walked. I have seen the same rainbow of colors splinter across the same skies, calmly settling across the same hills as the sun sets and dusk invades. I have driven on the roads he built, although now paved in tar.
Why do I write? I write because lives matter. They are more than just statistics written on a page or engraved on a tombstone. John Peter Uline was a man who fought for values, family, and liberty. I write to tell his story.
That very moment I touched the pages of the leather-bound bible, that was the moment when I knew I had to share the stories. I understood the gravity, the weight, and the responsibility all of the stories held within that bible. To have this knowledge and to not share the stories is a shame. Answering one question raises more questions, leading to more answers. Questions are infinite. The stories are infinite. To weave words together into a chronology that builds and reconstructs someone’s life, that is worth writing about; that is worth sharing. That is why I write about dead people.
Oh, and the bible? Well, that bible, my friend, is displayed on a table in the center of my office, cherished every day—a reminder of all of the stories to share.
Why I Write
By Ron Pickett
Why do I write? It’s not because I must write, although I wish that was true. It would be so nice to be compelled to watch the words appear on the computer screen, to have a minimum daily dose of words that is necessary for my continued mental or better physical health. But sadly, that’s not true.
So, why do I write? To discover the answer to that question I have to look at the latest things I have written: a story about a snail, a description of the first few days of bending to the quarantine, and the slaughter of three Mockingbird chicks by a Roadrunner.
These are pieces drawn from my life in the spring months of 2020. Two are humorous, one is sad, but I think what these stories do is describe a world that we are all familiar with but seen through the eyes of another. What I see and experience is filtered and enriched by passage through aging eyes, a brain that has been beaten up and pounded into a peculiar and unusual shape – physically as well as metaphorical – I can show you my MRI. (Identity.)
There is the early years of required conformation of a fundamentalist religious upbringing or indoctrination – I can feel the impact still exerting its subtle pushing as I react to things I experience. Then the life as a military officer – constrained and polite challenging of stupid rules and practices. But I digress. (Identity.)
I write because I want to share my everyday experiences with others. I want readers to perhaps see their world through my eyes and see it in a slightly different way – broader, more colorful, more stimulating to the senses that are only being ignited through a jumble of symbols on a page or screen. (Artistry)
You may be repulsed by what I see or say, and that is okay – but it’s not what I’m striving for. I’m only inviting you into my mind in small, highly controlled segments, peeks. At times, the words flow easily and quickly – it’s hard for my fingers to keep up with my thoughts. At others there area long gaps and stumbles, poor typing and too many loops to the thesaurus. (Artistry.)
Truthfully, I am delighted when people enjoy my work; when they laugh or admit that they haven’t looked at a situation in quite the same way.. However, I’m okay when they don’t – I like the feel and tempo and pulse of my words and my open and slightly twisted vocabulary.
I hope my writing will enrichen and entertain you, give you a slightly differently nuanced look into the world we both inhabit. (Legacy)Thank you.