Lassoes and Loopholes

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Civil War book I’m writing based on letters from my ancestors. In trying to fill in the gaps, stitch the letters together with background information, and provide historical context, I’ve searched high and wide to try and track down details about people, places, and events alluded to in the letters. Often my sleuthing takes me back to books and articles published long ago, but even when I find some clues, the whole picture is never there, at least in clear focus. Usually I have to piece things together from various sources and see where the “evidence” leads.

This can be especially frustrating when I’m dealing with secret organizations. The Underground Railroad, for instance. Or the Knights of the Golden Circle. Or the “Snake Hunters” who helped Union troops capture the Moccasin Rangers in West Virginia in 1861. Or the “Patriots” who participated in the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 and 1838.

Getting a tight fix on people and events that used subterfuge to cover their trails is a bit like lassoing moving targets in the dark–there are always going to be loopholes big enough to trip up even the surest-footed Sherlock Holmes.

Which brings me to my point for today, if there is one besides “blenting”–that is, using my blog to vent. One thing I’ve relearned on this journey is that every piece of history ever recorded, in whatever format, is incredibly limiting and freeing. We can never recapture all that happened in even a fraction of a second, but every tidbit corralled has the potential to open up whole new ways of seeing and appreciating this awesome thing we call life.

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