Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 11:44 a.m.
We find mentors in unexpected places.
Most genealogists adopt mentors as they seek to improve their skills. I am no exception, and I gratefully claim a host of fellow-genealogist mentors. I am especially fortunate that I also found a mentor in a client.
I "met" the client who would become my mentor in early 2007 when he e-mailed a simple request: He wished me to retrieve a few deeds from Esmeralda and Nye Counties. In the beginning I mentored him regarding genealogical standards on data collection, exhaustive searches, and the Genealogical Proof Standard. His project entailed nine lengthy reports, because in the end, genealogists write. We spend about one-third of our time writing reports to explain our genealogical findings.
My client was a poet, a Pulitzer Prize nominee. By the time I met him he had published more than 2,000 poems and had taught poetry and English to university students for more than 40 years. In this arena he became my mentor. Our paths crossed after my poet-client turned to historical writing to correct oft-circulated myths about such larger-than-life Southwestern figures as naturalist John Muir, painter Carl Eytel, hermit William Pester, heiress and socialite Lois Kellogg, radio host Rush Hughes (cousin of Howard), and writers Edmund Jaeger and John C. Van Dyke. His text persuades other writers to pen higher. Historical prose crafted by a master wordsmith goes down deliciously; even dry facts linger on the tongue.
On writing, my client mused, "as the writer you're the guide, and it's best to assume that your readers are pretty ignorant about where they are going. Therefore, you need to lead them by the hand, as if you're giving a tour of a garden." He continued, "First, the overview. Because of a good rain last week, as you'll notice, everything is flourishing. Here are the gardenias, and aren't they lovely in their rich foliage and red blossoms? And now as we move down the path we turn from the gardenias to the roses; you'll note that this year they're especially tall, etc. That way, you put everything in the context of a comprehensive whole, and your readers can see how the parts fit together in relationship to one another. Step by fairly simple step ...." Ah, yes. Simple.
My client sent no ordinary e-mails. He played words like Rachmaninoff stretching into soaring registers to achieve the precise tone. Correspondences bore such titles as "Ecstasy," "Your Feast," "Haunting Pester," "Creepy," "Over the Moon," and "Skipping like a Lamb." One of his communications opened, "Oh, saxifrageous joy! Once again, Stefani comes riding out of the dawn, waving the pennoncels of her victorious research high over her head." His words left me grinning foolishly for the rest of the day. They also inspired me to extend my range and to select the exact words to best communicate my thoughts.
My English-professor client shared his passion for good grammar as the "means for a writer to get control of the language and make it sing. It's Pegasus and the horse." His observations prompted me to read (for pleasure) "Chicago Manual of Style" (CMOS) and Kate Turabian's "A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations." Because of my client, I now visit CMOS and Turabian because I want to, beside consulting them when I have to.
My client's passion for teaching stimulated my desire to learn in an academic setting — that made him "happy as a jugfull of crickets."
Peter Wild, professor of English at the University of Arizona, passed away Feb. 23, in Tucson. The Southwest lost an eloquent voice. Academe lost a "beloved poet, gracious colleague and edifying professor," according to the university's Daily Wildcat. I lost a client, a mentor, and a friend. In his words, "Gosh, all hemlock!"
Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or TheNews@hbcpub.com.