Select Page

Forty years ago today

Genealogists are often living breathing advertisements for the truth of that old adage about the shoemaker’s children having no shoes.

We document the histories of all the people in our families.

Except for our own.

The Legal Genealogist is no different.

I spend a lot more time looking back at records 100 or 200 years ago than I do at the things that happened of significance in my own time.

Like the day, 40 years ago today, when I flew on the Concorde.

And that wasn’t what I remember most about that day.

I had finished law school and was working for a New Jersey law firm while waiting for the results of the bar exam. The firm was representing a European family very tangentially involved in a licensing dispute between a casino and the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. And, to my enormous delight, I’d been sent to Europe to assist in a deposition of the oldest member of that European family to resolve the licensing issue.

My very first trip to Europe as an adult.1

It was exciting. It was wonderful. I flew over to Europe in first class — the first time (and one of the exceedingly few times in my life) I’ve ever flown first class. I got to spend one weekend day touring Cologne, Germany, and another in Bruges, Belgium. And because of scheduling issues I was to fly home the fastest way possible: first class from the continent to London and the Concorde from London to New York.

I should have been savoring every minute of it.

And instead all I wanted was to get home. To be on American soil.

Because — for the second time in my lifetime — a President of the United States had been shot.2

Reagan headline

It was the 31st of March 1981, and I heard about the shooting of President Reagan about 12 hours after it happened. Remember that the shooting was in mid-afternoon eastern time — already evening in Europe — and this was long before the days of instant cellphone and internet communications. So lots of folks like me — traveling in countries where hotel rooms didn’t have televisions and the news broadcasts wouldn’t have been in English anyway — heard about it when they first saw an international newspaper or news broadcast.

For me, it wasn’t until I got to the airport for the first flight, and saw my first headline.

I realized just a few minutes later that it was really easy to see who the Americans were at that airport — all huddled together, desperate for news. The flight to London was a short one — and again you could tell who the Americans were at Heathrow Airport: all trying to get every bit of news we could get.

The reactions were all identical. The Europeans in total disbelief. And the Americans desperate to get home.

We all knew there was nothing any of us could do to make a difference in whether the President lived or died and, by then, it seemed that he would make it.

We were hardly united in political views: half of those around made a point of saying they hadn’t voted for him.

And none of that mattered.

We wanted — we needed — to be home.

Because all of us who were old enough to be business travelers in March of 1981 had been through this before.

We remembered all too well what it was like to face the loss of an elected leader of our country.

To have to go through a national transition because of tragedy.

And something deep in our hearts made it imperative that we stand in solidarity with our countrymen as we hoped we wouldn’t have to go through that again.

So, yes, I can record that I flew on the Concorde. I remember watching the daytime sky darken as the plane flew higher than any other I’ve ever flown on. And watching the gauge as it recorded the aircraft’s speed — faster than any other plane. It was small. It was noisy.3 I remember getting a certificate for breaking the sound barrier, and probably have it somewhere still.

I remember all of that.

But what I remember most of all was getting off that airplane in New York.

And the relief of being home.

Of knowing that no matter what happened in that hospital in Washington, D.C., I would be able to be with fellow Americans to face it.

As the story tellers of our families, we need to stop occasionally and remember that our own stories need to be told.

We need to document our own lives.

Like a day in my life, 40 years ago today, when I flew on the Concorde.

And wanted nothing more than just to be home.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Documenting our own lives,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 31 Mar 2021).


  1. We’d lived in The Netherlands for a year when I was about three. The most I remember is how to say peanut butter and bread in Dutch.
  2. See Wikipedia (, “Attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan,” rev. 30 Mar 2021.
  3. See generally Howard Slutsken, “What it was really like to fly on Concorde,” CNN Travel, posted 2 Mar 2019 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2021).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email