Teresa Whitehead | My Have-To

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Teresa Whitehead holds a degree in Family History and English.  In addition to her obvious passion for genealogy, she loves baking, reading, and playing the piano.  She, her husband, and their three incredible children live in Texas and hoard all the family time they can get.


For as long as I can remember, I have loved family history.  I constantly peppered my grandparents to tell me stories and show me their “antiques” (which meant anything older than me).  My favorite holiday was Memorial Day, when we visited cemeteries to put flowers on graves, and I started indexing records as a volunteer when I was ten.  When I was a junior in high school, I discovered that BYU offered a degree in family history, and my college and major searches were immediately over.  Since graduating, I have continuously researched for clients—through the births of three children and moves to four different states.  Sometimes I took a month or two off or cut way back, but I have always stayed active.

It hasn’t been easy.  With three children under the age of five, I have learned to sprint to the computer the instant the baby goes down for a nap, even if that means leaving breakfast dishes in the sink.  I have planned marathon library trips for days when my husband can be home with the kids, and have traipsed through cemeteries with my little family in tow on more than one occasion.  I have often wondered if it’s time to stop—if the crunch before the deadline is too stressful, if I am just cramming one more unnecessary thing into our packed schedule.  After all, I can (and do) work on my own lines—deadline free.  But professional work helps me give myself permission to do what I love and take my work seriously.  And I get immense satisfaction from seeing others “catch the bug.”

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Source: istockphoto

Author and essayist Emma Lou Thayne tells of hearing Truman Capote read “A Christmas Memory” at the University of Utah.  In the question and answer session that followed, a student who had obviously been moved asked him why he wrote the story.  Thayne wrote, “Capote, small enough that his gnomelike head barely showed above the podium, paused for what seemed like an eon, thinking, the audience hushed.  Then in his childlike lisp he answered, ‘Because I had to.’”

That’s it: I keep doing genealogy because I have to.  I love what I’m doing, and even an hour of it does wonders for my soul.  My dream is to keep researching and teach others to love it as much as I do.

But to look at my day-to-day life, you wouldn’t think I’m progressing towards that dream at all.  For all intents and purposes, I’m a stay-at-home mom whose census records compete for desk space with googly eyes, train-shaped erasers and princess crayons.  I’ve gotten in the habit of referring to genealogy as my “and”—as in, “I’m a mom and a genealogist.”  It feels accurate, as if genealogy is an extra but important piece of myself that I tack onto the end of my days.  If you want to get technical, I’m a mom and a genealogist and a wife and a member of my church and a friend and a classroom volunteer, and, and, and…you get the idea.  Our passions don’t live in isolation.

Il_570xN.185092696Source:  Sarah Jane Studios

So exactly where does genealogy fit in the hierarchy of that list?  If it’s my dream, shouldn’t I be attacking it with gusto?  Shouldn’t I join more societies or attend more conferences?  Shouldn’t I market myself more?  And since I’m not, does that mean I’m not really committed?  Is there such a thing as a “part-time” passion?  That’s a depressing thought, because if I’ve lost my dream, I’ve lost a very important part of myself.

The problem is that all those other “ands” are have-to’s too.  I consciously carve out time for genealogy, but I’m not willing to let it push aside everything else (at least not consistently).  If it were all-consuming, it would detract from my life, not enhance it.  I have as much work as I want right now, and I take every opportunity that presents itself to teach others, even though I don’t actively seek more.  Deep in my bones, I don’t feel the need to be doing more genealogy right now.  But it seems like I “ought” to if I ever wanted to “do something” with it.  I’m doing a fairly good job of staying involved, so why am I so conflicted?

I like the sentiment of Warren Buffet’s statement: “I feel like I’m on my back, and there’s the Sistine Chapel, and I’m painting away.  I like it when people say, ‘Gee, that’s a pretty good-looking painting.’  But it’s my painting, and when somebody says, ‘Why don’t you use more red instead of blue?’ Good-bye. It’s my painting.  And I don’t care what they sell it for.  The painting itself will never be finished.  That’s one of the great things about it.”

Obviously, that can be taken to the extreme, but could I adopt a little more of that approach? It feels like an awfully thin line between reassuring yourself and lulling yourself into complacency.  Can I let go of that worry?  Can I give my part-time dream the respect of a full-time dream, and stop second-guessing?

Can it be enough that my dream is mine?


What is your have-to?  Or have-tos?

Love this line — “Can I give my part-time dream the respect of a full-time dream?”

Is it enough that your dreams are yours?

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