Due to the temporary shutdown of the federal government, the Library of Congress is closed to the public and researchers beginning October 1, 2013 until further notice. All public events are cancelled and web sites are inaccessible except the legislative information sites THOMAS.gov and beta.congress.gov

I've tried to express my preference with my vote, I've signed petitions (both online and off), and I've even written my representatives. One voice -- wondering if it's being heard.

Winston Churchill supposedly* said, "The Americans will always do the right thing... after they've exhausted all the alternatives." That sounds about right and gives me hope.

Americans can go crazy for short periods of time (i.e. the Civil War, prohibition, internment camps, Joe McCarthy, 911 paranoia). Eventually we look around and realize we're alone on the path. And we know, deep deep down, if we want out from the insanity, we have to choose a different path.

We historians are used to looking at the long term outcome of decisions. It feels totally different when you're living during the decision making, doesn't it?

While we're waiting for the next path to emerge, let's use this as a learning experience to help understand why one part of a family immigrated and another part didn't; why a sibling "disappears"; why individuals make decisions that, with hindsight, we (and often they) know were wrong.

Understanding how hard it is to choose the right path, we can be more forgiving of our ancestors' failings. And move one step closer to knowing them as real people.