The time traveler

It is not a surprising comparison to make that people who research the lives of people in history are like time travelers. But one question that a time traveler must ask may not seem so obvious to a history researcher and yet is critical to the history researcher’s success. Do you want to move forward from a particular point in time, or backward from a particular point in time? For the history researcher, since we naturally move forward in time ourselves, our first inclination is to start at the beginning of the story and go from there. The idea of starting at the end of the story and working backward seems down right awkward. However, one important point that I have learned from genealogists is that it is very advantageous to start with the most recent event first and then move backward in time with your research.

The starting point for the time traveler is always the present. The history researcher while wanting to inform the future is only interested in traveling back in time. The question the history researcher needs to consider is how far back in time to start? For example, in genealogy research you don’t start by looking for a birth certificate, you start by looking for a death certificate. The death certificate will give you clues about the marriage certificate, which will give you clues about the birth certificate, which will in turn help guide you to other family members. When researching the life of a historical person, I think this same methodology can be very useful. It makes sense that more recent documents will be much easier to find, and will help give you important clues in finding older harder to find documents.

So for example, in researching Robert Lindneux’s memoir an important part of my research is finding evidence in the form of various types of original sources that provide firsthand accounts and thus give direct evidence that supports the information described in Lindneux’s memoir. Beginning at the end of his life story and working my way backward should help make some of the research in the earlier years of his life a bit easier, (I hope!)

This being said, as I mentioned before, our natural inclination is to move forward in time and when working with something like a memoir there is a story that is also progressing forward. So working truly backward is more confusing than helpful. My solution has been to break the story into much smaller parts, go back a few years and move the research forward with the story from there. So in Lindneux’s case for example, start with 1960 and move forward to his death in 1971. Then go back to 1950 and work forward to 1960 and so on continuing back to his birth in 1871. Now that I think about it, a time traveler must do the same thing, because once you reach a point in the past, time then again moves forward. It is all about how far back in time you start.

Now the reality of this plan is… well, to be quite honest, the earlier parts of Lindneux’s life prior to 1920 are a bit more interesting than his later years and so it is hard to not take diversions to these earlier points in time every now and then. If for no other reason than shear boredom, (am I even allowed to say stuff like that?!) I guess I just did!

In any case that is the pattern you will see me following most of the time in this story about the research into Lindneux’s life. I’ll be sharing information about research into more recent events and moving forward in time for a bit. Then I’ll start again with a slightly earlier point in time, and move forward again. There will be occasional diversions to much earlier points in time when I am in a more restless mood.

I hope that this is an enjoyable story and that my experiences will help other researchers in their quests through history. One last point, this will not be a re-creation of Lindneux’s memoir, but rather story about the search for the documents that support the details Lindneux tells in his memoir. I do hope to eventually publish Lindneux’s memoir and if that is what you wish to read, I apologize, but you will just have to wait for the book to come out!