This week we continue our periodic series on how detectives can help us with our genealogical research. Today’s subject comes to us from the most famous mystery writer of all time: Agatha Christie. This character has the distinction of being Christie’s personal favorite, yet at the same time is one of her lesser-known detectives. I am speaking, of course, of Mr. Harley Quin.
Harley Quin appears in only 14 books, as opposed to the 35 that feature Hercule Poirot. The character is, of course, based on the Comedia dell’Arte character of Harlequin. He is also the only fictional character to whom the prolific Agatha Christie actually dedicated a book.
Harley Quin met Mr. Satterthewaite on New Year’s Eve in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, published in 1930. They made quite a team, working together to solve mysteries. Satterthwait has “an intense and inordinate interest in other people’s lives.” Quin, on the other hand, is incredibly perceptive when it comes to people. His amazing insight leads him to always ask just the right questions. Answering these questions leads the duo to solve their mysteries, from the tribulations of lovers to murders.
Christie describes the character thus: “Mr. Quin was a figure who just entered into a story — a catalyst, no more — his mere presence affected human beings. There would be some little fact, some apparently irrelevant phrase, to point him out for what he was: a man shown in a harlequin-coloured light that fell on him through a glass window; a sudden appearance or disappearance.”
As genealogists, we can learn from both Satterthwaite and Harley Quin. The Satterthwaite part of our personalities is exhibited through our “intense and inordinate interest in other people’s lives;” more specifically, the lives of our ancestors. But it is only through asking the questions, prodding and poking like Harley Quin, that we get the answers that lead us to solve our mysteries. Asking the right questions can make the different between solving the mystery or not.
Also like Quin, we should enter the story as a catalyst, not inserting ourselves or allowing our biases to interfere with the story to be told. We may not always like everything our families did, but it is not ours to obfuscate about or judge their actions. It is our responsibility to tell the story as it happened.
Harley Quin once said that “You believe in a life after death, do you not?” What better way to describe genealogy than bringing life to those who have come before us?