By Janet Curley
When I was in college, the seniors picked out a long wall on their dormitory floor and as they began to get rejections from various jobs and graduate schools, they hung them up for all to see. They called it “The Ding Wall”. As a freshman I thought about how refreshing this approach was. I went to a competitive school-they didn’t talk about rejection or failing much. But seeing these letters proudly displayed took the pressure off a bit. As I looked at the letters and saw the names of very intelligent students parading down the hall, I realized it happened to everyone and would happen to me.
I am thinking of starting my very own genealogical Ding Wall. There have been so many letters that I have sent out to city clerks, church offices, distant cousins, and genealogical societies with tremendous excitement that I will make a breakthrough at last. Perhaps I will get the record that breaks through the brick wall. Or I will connect with the distant cousin who will have a treasure trove of information or who I can meet in a pub in Ireland and share a pint raised to our long dead ancestor. Instead some of these letters have either come back with my check uncashed with the ding letter attached or are completely unheeded. Not even a negative, just the lonely sound of crickets and of my broken genealogical heart…. This would be the antithesis to the Joyous Dance of Genealogical Discovery. This would be The Slow Walk to the Genealogical Ding Wall. The dejected genealogist…the brick wall undamaged and as thick as ever.
The most heartbreaking instance of this for me was the unanswered letters to second cousins that I had never known existed. We lived only mere few miles from each other and my father never told me. I reached out with such high hopes that I would meet the only second cousins I had on my father’s side, but my letters went unanswered. Perhaps it would have been too difficult for them to reconnect with the Curleys and they had their reasons. But for me there is an empty spot on my ding wall that represents that slow walk, right there next to uncashed checks and the “Sorry we can’t help you.” letters. I still hold out hope that someday they will respond or reach out with their own research. Every now and then I talk to a Holyoker who might know them in the hopes that I can get a good reference and perhaps encourage a response. But I don’t want to harass the poor people either. Perhaps these are the cousins that got away.
On the other hand, I have had the tremendous good fortune of connecting with 3rd cousins I never knew who are terrific people and have been valuable resources for further research. Not all is lost. And this blog has encouraged other researchers to see if we have even more distant connections which has been fantastic. As with the Ding Wall at school, it happens to us all and the successes are worth miles of Ding letters.