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Matie and Minnie SackettMonday 6.20.05: Someone Else's Family

The quickest way to make someone's eyes droop is to start talking about the latest discoveries in your family's history. Genealogy may be the fastest growing hobby in America, but there is something peculiarly isolating about it. Communities sprout up around the search process but rarely do the products of all that effort attract much attention. Little mysteries are solved. If a genealogy buff is diligent and organized, you manage to publish your family tree (what I call the "begats") and family members are grateful -- maybe grateful that you'll finally stop talking about it.

One person's caffeine becomes another person's sedative because few people can tell a good story. Few of us can get from the fascination of our own research to telling a tale full of suspense and surprises. We don't have a punch line.

I spent the weekend scanning a couple hundred photographs into my computer. This is from the box I mentioned on Saturday -- family photographs reaching back to the dawn of photography (mid-nineteenth century) till World War I, from Chautauqua County NY. I can't decide what to do with them -- dump them onto ebay as soon as I get them organized? Or write a book -- maybe try my hand at self-publishing as an exercise is what to do with other collections of ours?

But what's the story? Even if we sell the collection, we still have to come up with a pitch.

George Sackett Mason about 1906The family thrived back in the time when it was possible to thrive in Small Town, U.S.A. Morgan H. Sackett had a big mansion on Temple Street in Fredonia, New York. He had 4 children, including 2 beautiful daughters. Matie married Eugene Mason, a labor lawyer, and moved away to Washington DC. Minnie married his brother, the Fredonia photographer, C.O. Mason, who took lots of beautiful pictures of her. They had an only child, George Sackett Mason. George was handsome. He had his own radio set -- a big deal in 1912. He had his own rifle. When World War I came around he joined the Navy and became a heroic airplane pilot.

Dot, dot, dot.

In 1979, an attentive neighbor saved the family photos from being tossed into the Dumpster and got them to an antiques dealer. Small towns were no longer the center of American life and the last member of the Sackett-Mason family had died.

So where is the drama? What world view needs affirming by hearing about this family and the times they lived in? What is the story?