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Documenting the pandemic

Today, March 8, 2021, is the one-year mark.

That’s for The Legal Genealogist, of course. It’ll be different for different people.

But it was exactly one year ago today — a beautiful sunny Sunday in Central New Jersey — that I was last in the presence of more than a few people at a distance of less than six feet.

Tolkien quote

According to Google location services, in January of 2020, I traveled 4,506 miles — going to Salt Lake City for SLIG, from there to Palm Beach, Florida, for an all-day seminar there, then home. February added another 2,068 miles as I traveled back to Salt Lake City for RootsTech.

I knew about this new virus that was out there, of course. Anyone reading the newspapers knew about it. It had hit earliest and hardest on the west coast and frankly I felt a sense of relief when, on March 1, I flew home, adding 1,977 miles to my 2020 travel total.

What followed was a busy week, and what looked like what could be a busy year continued: on March 7, 161 miles to speak to the DNA Genealogy Group of Long Island, and on March 8, 57 miles to speak to the Monmouth County (NJ) Genealogical Society.

Yet in the background all the while the storm clouds were building.

By that Sunday exactly one year ago, there were already cases diagnosed in New Jersey. Two new cases were diagnosed on that day. A Sunday afternoon press conference from the state Health Commissioner included the ominous pronouncement: “We expect increasing activity daily, if not hourly.” And just across the river, in New York, the Governor declared a state of emergency.

The virus had taken hold.

And life began to change. To morph into something so very different from what we had known.

A workshop with the Delaware Genealogical Society scheduled for March 20, cancelled, later shifted to virtual.

A program for the Harford County (Md.) Public Library, scheduled for March 28, cancelled, later shifted to virtual.

An all-day seminar for the St. Louis Genealogical Society scheduled for April 4, cancelled, later shifted to virtual.

And so it went, one after another after another, like dominoes for all of 2020 and — now — all (or at least most) of 2021.

In 2019, I traveled 59,828 miles. In 2020, 7,903 miles. If 2021 continues as it’s begun, I won’t hit 1,000 miles.

The professional life of this genealogical speaker went from airports and Lyft cars to Zoom platforms and green screens. The nice tops, blazers, dress slacks and dress shoes have given way to nice tops, blazers, jeans and sneakers. Equipment concerns aren’t projectors and rollerboards; they’re microphones and lighting.

And on the personal life side? Everything cancelled that was possible to cancel. Routine medical care via tele-visits. Grocery store visits going from leisurely strolls choosing from abundant supplies of everything to hard-to-schedule deliveries of what was available. That’s gotten a lot better, but man… I still can’t find Lysol spray for the cat box to save my life.

I am not a huge natural extrovert, and had already been working at home for a while when the pandemic hit, so it’s been easier for me than for many. I have everything here that I really need, including a clown of an orange tabby named Clancy who’s kept me company.

But there have been moments… oh there have been moments… The cancelled family reunion. The holidays and birthdays spent alone.

The worst was the fact that my beloved nephew and godson was here — locally!! — a Rutgers freshman when the pandemic hit. We’d been planning a New York City celebration of his birthday, and I was hunting for tickets to Hamilton. Instead, there were frantic texts: Do you need help getting home? Are you okay?

The hardest day of all? When he, his parents and brother came back to fetch his things from his dorm room and stopped by here briefly — and we never got closer than the length of my front sidewalk.

No, this has not been the year I planned. It has not been the year I wanted. As Frodo said to Gandalf: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

“So do I,” was Gandalf’s response. “And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

In the face of a pandemic, there are so few things we can decide to do with the time that is given us. I have, I hope, made good decisions. Some of them for my benefit alone: things like more walking around the neighborhood than I’ve ever done. More careful examination of my own yard than I’ve ever done. Decisions to try to grow things like flowers and vegetables. To revisit some of the brick walls in my own family research. To cook some things I’d never even have tried before.

And decisions I hope will benefit us all: decisions to wear a mask, keep a social distance, wash my hands. And — now — thanks to a combination of persistence, luck and age — to get vaccinated as my group has been reached in New Jersey.

I do indeed wish it had not happened in my time. But I am the family historian, and I will document it for those who come after.

Maybe they will learn from our mistakes.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “A year in the life,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 8 Mar 2021).

Note: The quote of course is from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The image is adapted from one by Pau Llopart Cervello from Pixabay

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