A Wealth of Kindness

By J. L. Starkey

To leave the world a better place…

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…

This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

When we think of prosperity, many of us think of wealth. I started this week’s 52 Ancestors post with that thought as I created a research plan for an article about my fifth-great-grandfather, William Bass. When I wrote about him last year, I ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. This week’s prompt was the perfect opportunity to tell the rest of his story.

Yesterday, I changed my mind about that.

Error message instead of records?

It started simply enough. As I reviewed records, I noticed a glitch in my Ancestry account. The links I had saved from the “Virginia, Wills and Probates, 1652-1983” collection were suddenly inaccessible. Clicking on those links no longer took me to records but instead returned error messages. A quick Google search told me that I wasn’t alone in my confusion over where those records had gone.

Though I had cited and saved hundreds of pages from that record group, my research was far from complete. One of my 2020 goals involved researching wills and probates in reference to Virginia slaveholders. This research often means page-by-page searches of un-indexed deed and will books. It is tedious and painstaking, and it is something I absolutely love to do. Making a difference is important to me, and this research has the potential to break down brick walls for people who are desperate to learn about their ancestors.

Each link now leads to an inaccessible record.

I was one of many subscribers who posted a query on social media to ask when the error would be fixed.

Ancestry did not respond to my inquiry, but another subscriber was told that the collection had been removed “a few years” ago.

A few years ago? But…how? I had used the collection within the past week or so, as had many other subscribers.

I asked my question again but still received no response. Another subscriber was simply told that the collection had been removed, which led to a few rumors. Was it a contract issue? Was it a legal issue? No one knew what had happened.

Maybe I should have left it alone, but I didn’t. This was an extensive digitized collection. Each county had thousands of pages of records, some dating from the early 1600s.

Example of the collection’s size.
This represents a small portion of records for just one county!

The collection must have gone somewhere…but where?

That was what I asked in my third attempt to get an answer from Ancestry. Was another subscription site now holding the collection? If so, could Ancestry please point me in the direction of that site, so I could continue using those digitized records? I could not find that information, despite searching dozens of resources. Since it was Ancestry’s collection, surely someone with the company knew the answer.

The Library of Virginia informed us that many of the records were available through their inter-library loan program, though some documents could only be viewed on-site at LVA. I already knew that, and although I appreciated their quick response, the answer didn’t make sense. This was a digitized collection that I had used almost every day for several years, and now it was only available by ordering microfilms?

The “Help” That No One Needs

Ancestry never responded to my queries. However, a few individuals did offer unsolicited advice. Some of those people were…less than kind, to put it nicely.

One person told me that this isn’t that difficult, and proceeded to give instructions on how to call counties for records, etc. That person’s remarks were hurtful and demeaning, and they absolutely struck a nerve.

I deleted my queries (all unanswered by Ancestry), and then I cried.

After eighteen years, I thought this would get easier. But it doesn’t. Some days it’s easier to ignore it, but yesterday was not one of those days.

You see…sometimes, it IS that difficult. It’s more difficult than anyone knows.

“You Have Multiple Sclerosis.”

Evening in New Orleans, celebrating my three-year diagnosis anniversary in 2005.

I don’t discuss it much, and I’ve only written about it once. The rest of the time, I make excuses for why I don’t do this or that. I make jokes about my horrible handwriting and spelling errors. I make apologies for why I don’t go here or there…or to that other place.

I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis for a very long time. In fact, on February 8, I “celebrated” the eighteenth anniversary of my diagnosis. Maybe I expected to be immune to nasty comments by now. But the truth is that no one is immune to that kind of hurt. Oh, you may brush it off and move on with your life. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

This week, it hurt.

Over the past few years, my MS has taken a more progressive course. I’m still doing most things, but not with the ease that I once did those things. Being told that something really wasn’t that difficult hit me in all the wrong places.

Can I call a library or archives and ask about records? Sure I can….maybe.

But first, I’ll need to create a script, because I tend to forget my words due to aphasia. The script doesn’t always work, but sometimes it helps. Then, I’ll hope that the person who answers the phone doesn’t interrupt me, because if that happened, I really would forget my words, or I might use the wrong words altogether.

But it’s OK, because it isn’t that difficult, is it?

Can I travel to a library to order and view those microfilms? Sure I can…maybe.

But that depends on whether I can feel my hands and feet that day, and it depends on whether my legs are working correctly. Oh, and I’ll need to plan ahead in case fatigue sets in, and I can’t drive myself home. And if there are forms to fill out, that’s another issue to be addressed.

But it’s OK, because it isn’t that difficult, is it?

“I have terrible handwriting,” I’ll say with a small laugh. “Should’ve been a doctor, I guess. Oh, did I forget to fill that part out? Silly me! Everything seems to be going wrong today! What? No…I’m not limping. Must be these shoes…”

But it’s OK, because it isn’t that difficult, is it?

I don’t owe anyone an explanation for why I asked about those digitized records, and yet I find myself giving just such an explanation. But I’m not just speaking for myself. I’m also speaking for the one million Americans currently living with MS. I bet that there are two or three (hundred…or thousand?) genies among those people.

And it’s just a hunch, but I bet they’re frustrated, too.

An example of a digitized record…this one was a gold mine!

Digitized records have broken down barriers for many, many researchers, including me. Digitized records give me a chance to feel well while I do the research I love so much. I don’t have to worry about losing my words, and I don’t have to think about how I’m going to navigate the parking lot or the stairs. I don’t have to worry about fatigue setting in at the worst possible moment. Instead, I can concentrate on research, and I can just…be.

Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks gave me confidence in a way that nothing else has in a very long time. Her feedback let me know that I was doing something right, and her weekly updates provided a wealth of information on everything from research techniques to resources. Before I knew it, I was taking more risks with my writing, and I was networking more with the genealogy community.

I also started pushing more when I needed an answer to a question…including a certain question about accessing a set of digitized records.

Yesterday, I shared my frustration and hurt with the genealogy community on Twitter, wondering if maybe I was just being clueless or too demanding. Yes, I did post my questions in a public forum, but I was polite and concise. Ancestry encourages questions and interaction, and I took them at their word when I posted those queries.

Had I done something wrong? Did I deserve those cruel words?

The response from Twitter stood in opposition to those hurtful comments. Judgement, cruel words, rudeness? Not in that community. Instead, I received offers of assistance, messages of kindness, and words of encouragement from dozens of people.

I sat down and cried all over again, but this time, it was for a very different reason.

Prosperity and Riches

This week started with prosperity, a research plan, and a question that is still unanswered. It is ending with a different kind of prosperity that has nothing to do with wealth. Success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents. Sometimes, it is measured in kindness and compassion.

Yesterday, I saw the very worst in people and the very best in people. Yesterday, one life breathed easier because of the kindness of others. I will be forever grateful for that, and I will pay it forward. Often.

To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, including accessibility and advocacy issues patients face every day, check out the following resources:

“People affected by MS can live their best lives as we stop MS in its tracks, restore what has been lost and end MS forever.”

“The Atlanta Neuroscience Institute (ANI) exists to improve the health and hope of patients and caregivers impacted by chronic neurological conditions through advocacy, education, advanced treatment, and research, leading to a more promising future.”

8 thoughts on “A Wealth of Kindness

Add yours

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It can help people be more aware of their insensitivity (which can be especially bad online when we aren’t in one another’s physical presence).

    I’ve seen an example lately of a garbled blog comment, then the commenter later remarked how she hadn’t realized what a mess it was – she was blind! I don’t know what technology she uses, but it failed her that day. If it hadn’t, maybe readers wouldn’t have known about her blindness. At least she didn’t get a hateful comment like the ones to the deaf person and the home bound person I read about. Sheesh!

    Having this knee replacement has temporarily placed me in the “handicapped” category – an eye opener, and mind opener, for sure.

    I hope you do find the records again so you can continue the search!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was in college, I worked as a reader for disabled student services. I probably learned more in that job than in all my classes combined. I became really good friends with the blind student I worked for, and she told me all sorts of things about the hidden challenges she faced. (She’s a college professor now!)
      People make comments without thinking that there is always a reason for someone’s question. It’s sad that there is so much meanness in the world, isn’t it?

      I’m still trying to track down what happened to those records, and I’ve learned that this is NOT the first time a database has disappeared at Ancestry. Hopefully, I’ll get an answer soon, but I have my doubts about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. G’day Jackie,
    A great post and I hope you find those records soon. I tend to use the snipping tool to save a copy on my computer but then also do like you do and save to my Ancestry tree.

    In the last few years I have noticed how people react to my mother who became deaf after a stroke and brain aneurysm. She was the story teller in the family but now she can only answer questions once we have written them down on paper or her iPad. Because this takes more time than just asking a question, people tend not to come up to her and chat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry that people react that way! I think that people don’t really understand it until they go through it with a family member or close friend (or at least that’s been my experience). After my father’s first stroke he had trouble speaking, and it could get really frustrating. I was diagnosed with MS about 15 months after he had that stroke, and my first symptom was aphasia similar to what he had. We sort of laughed about our “bonding moment” over speech difficulties!


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