Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Pruden Line

I lived many years abroad, about 11 in all—eight in France and three in the UK. An uneasy compromise I had to make when moving away from the U.S. was what to take with me and what I would leave behind. What I left behind, I wanted to have it placed in a secure living space for the duration and I had to feel okay with leaving it there. With each move (I moved four times), I had to whittle down all my memories into fewer and fewer boxes. Finally, after I moved from France to the UK, I had distilled fifteen boxes into only two and those two boxes were left at my wife's house just outside of Paris. Inside those boxes were pictures from my trip to the Soviet Union, various trinkets and articles I held dear, and—most importantly—letters written in longhand from my recently deceased father. Because I had so little correspondence written directly from him, these were the most precious items I possessed.

So it was a devastating blow when I heard that those boxes had been mistaken for trash and unceremoniously thrown out. It was as if my father had died all over again.

Years have passed and I've made new memories, collected new photos... life goes on. But when one door closes, another is sure to open eventually. I must keep reminding myself of this.

About a week ago, I got an email invitation to a Yahoo email group from some genealogical enthusiasts researching "Pruden", my family name. I had always known my father was interested in our family line (on both sides) and had worked on the Pruden line in his spare time as a hobby. Mind you, my dad was born in 1929 and the bulk of his research was done in the 70s, 80s and 90s, where fax machines were just starting to be used and internet wasn't anything more than a toy. After he died in 1997, I collected most of his research and dumped it in a storage box which I hauled back with me to California. And here it sat, in my wife's closet, waiting idly by for me to rediscover its secrets.

Until now.

Today I remembered about a large self-published book of genealogical research my father's long-lost cousin had put together. It was three inches think and extremely well researched, including maps, pictures of famous tombstones, 200 year old letters, etc. I wonder if that book would be useful now? I wondered, now that I was joining this Yahoo email group. So I dug out the box—it was lodged in the farthest recesses of the closet (of course)—and I opened it up. Instead of just finding the book, what I also found was shocking... inside were reams and reams of handwritten letters, from my father and to my father, about various ancestors he had been tracking down. There were pictures of my father's mother and her family, whom I had never seen. It was like finding lost treasure, valuable to no one else in the world but me. It was almost as if my father were sitting there, next to me—as he always did when I was fiddling with something cool I had just found—silently smoking his Carlton Lights and smiling his pleasant, contented smile.

I always knew you'd find this, he might have said. I was just waiting until you were ready. Consider it my way of being with you when you feel alone.

His research goes back as far as John Prudden of Kings Walden, County Hertford who was likely born around 1416. A simple Google search on John Prudden reveals so much information that my father would have been astonished to see me find it so easily.

No comments: