Non-Preservation of Records

A bit of gentle teasing for my fellow genealogists who, like me, continue to search for that missing record …

“There’s still a lot of work to do before we leave,” said Andrés as they were having a meal. “Lots of work, and very important too.”

“Ah, and what’s that?” asked Celso. “We’ll do whatever must be done. We could even finish off that filth we’re thinking of leaving here. That way we’d be sure those sons of bitches wouldn’t attack us from behind at any moment.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking of that,” said Andrés, and with a nod he indicated the main office. “That’s where there’s something to be done. We must burn all the papers in there and then scatter the ashes to the wind.”

“By my mother, that’s a good idea, Andresillo! Just to think we were forgetting about that! We certainly must burn all the account books, contracts, papers, and lists of debts. And as we go through the villages on the way to Hucutsin we must always burn the town records, the civil registry, and all.”

“Why?” asked Pedro. “We don’t owe anybody anything there.”

“Because there’s some doubt, and because there may be papers there saying that one of the men owes something. What’s more, you ought to know that if you want us to win and stay winners we’ll have to burn all the papers. Many revolutions have started and then failed simply because papers weren’t burned as they should have been. You can kill all the finqueros you like, but later, one fine day, their sons, their daughters, their cousins, or their uncles will come back to confound us with their documents, registries, and account books. You’ll be cultivating your cornfield peacefully with no more thought of the rebellion, and they’ll come out of their hiding places, their caves, and they’ll come with their police, their rural police and federal troops, carrying thick lawbooks and endless documents to prove to you that the cornfield doesn’t belong to you, but to Don Aurelio or Don Cornelio or Doña Rosalía or Doña Regina or to the Devil. And then they’ll say: ‘Boys, the revolution is over at last! Now we live in order and in peace, now we’ve returned to civilization. You must respect all these documents, with their signatures and seals, for without seals and signatures civilization is impossible.'”

“By twenty thousand devils! That’s how they talk!” Matías exclaimed. “Why, we’d have been working for nothing, and we’d have to begin all over again.”

“I’m glad you see the point. Now you know. We must find all those papers, pile them up, and make a bonfire. And when we go into the fincas or the villages, into Hucutsin, Jovel, Balún-Canán, Oschuc and Canancu, Nihich and Achlumal, the first thing we must do is attack the registry and burn the papers, all the papers with seals and signatures — deeds, birth and death and marriage certificates, tax records, everything. . . . Then the heirs won’t ever come and stick their papers under our noses. Then nobody will know who he is, what he’s called, who was his father, and what his father had. We’ll be the only heirs because nobody will be able to prove the contrary. What do we want with birth certificates? We live with a woman we love, we give her our children. That’s being married. Do we need papers to prove it? Papers only serve to let someone come along and take away the lands we cultivate. Land belongs to the man who cultivates it, and if it’s granted that we cultivate it, that’s more than enough proof that it belongs to us.”

— B. Traven, The Rebellion of the Hanged

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