In the late 1980s, I was sitting at my army desk a bit bored. My mind was wandering. I was thinking about my dad and his untimely death in 1977. I asked myself, "How old was my dad when he died?" I knew he was born on September 19, 1914, and died on October 17, 1977. I did the calculation on paper and figured he was exactly 63 years / 0 months / 29 days old. So, how old was I on this summer day -- which happen to be July 11, 1989? It turned out I was 39 years / 7 months / 19 days old. Later when my book began to fill with one-line "biographs" I discovered that I was the same age as William Shakespeare when he performed on stage for the last time in 1603: exactly 39 years / 7 months / 19 days old.
The vision/scope of the almanac was to fill everyday from 20/0/0 to 60/0/0. That would be 31 lines per month x 12 = 372 lines per year. Times 40 years = 14,880 lines. Plus one extra for 60/0/0 made the project 14,881 consectutive biographic lines.
The almanac kept me busy for several months. Kim thought I was crazy, but she appreciated my work ethic. For a year I was a name collector, obsessed in filling line after line with names, events, and dates. I read lots of books at the Sausalito library and bought several more--going through them cover to cover. It was good therapy. Often I worked at my army office at night. It involved a lot of cutting, pasting, and xeroxing. The techniques were primitive. The final product ran 532 dense pages. After fooling around with a lot of names, I finally called it "The Almanac of Comparative Biography". I tried to market the book but ran out of energy. Then I shrugged and moved on. All this took place at Fort Baker from 1989 to 1991.
Chris working on the book in 1991
The book never left me. After my family moved to Mill Valley in October, 1992, I thought I would take another stab at publishing the book. I now called it "Who Did What When". I decided to make it bigger and included the decade 60 to 70 years old. That decade added 3,720 more biographs. Then I added significant events from zero years old to twenty AND significant events from seventy years old up to one hundred years old. (Nobody really did anything of note beyond 100, except die.) The final iteration of the the almanac was 19,882 lines. After making dozens of inquiries, Franklin Press said in 1994 they wanted to publish my almanac. Hurrah! They changed the name to "At Your Age". For about six months I worked faithfully with them corresponding about once a month. Then I got a "Dear John" letter saying they reconsidered the project and found it too unfocused and difficult. I was heartbroken.
I saved the database of 19,882 biographs in MS Access. The original pages of cut and paste were lost. I dumped nine hard copies of my work as I moved from place to place and just kept one (The one you see scanned on these pages). I still have the database of tables, forms, and queries, but Microsoft Access is finally gone from my computer. I was able to convert the MDB file to HTML and I have the file online for your perusal. If I really wanted to, I could take a third stab, BUT ...
A few years ago, I allowed my son, Zachary, and a computer friend of his to take my database, update it, and make a smartphone app. They called it "LegacyApp". I looked at it, but it wasn't my baby anymore. I think my son had the same success with the app as I had with my book. Anyway, Zachary hasn't mentioned any royalties.