Monday, November 10, 2014
"The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
After my mother died in 2008, we searched her house for the family history book she was writing. Her last mission on earth, she told us. Her legacy to her family. We eagerly anticipated the family stories she would have written - stories that would hopefully fill in some of the gaps in our family history and solve a few mysteries.
We searched every nook and cranny, over and over again. All we found was a blank journal. Not a word had been written! We were stunned. She had been, after all, the last remaining family member of her generation.There was nobody else to ask questions of. Memories would be lost forever. Some family secrets had apparently gone to the grave with her.
Thankfully, she had at least compiled hundreds of old photos, labeling names and dates on the back. Some of these people were virtual strangers to me. And she'd left a notebook of genealogical data as well as a file of her favorite quotes, poems and words of wisdom that she wanted shared with her family.
It was a start - and a prompt from beyond the grave - for me to take over the task of writing our family history. I was, after all, the writer in our family. "Do it now!" her spirit whispered urgently in my ear.
I began my lengthy journey into the past, and what a trip it was! It included genealogical research with the help of Ancestry.com, interviewing family members, pouring over records in historical libraries, and several incredible journeys to Sweden and the Czech Republic, homes of my ancestors. I hired professional genealogists through http://www.genealogists.com to locate specific villages where my ancestors lived hundreds of years ago - even their homes (or remnants thereof) and their churches.
I also did extensive research to develop the historical context. What was life like in those days? Why did my ancestors make the decisions they did - particularly leaving their homelands for America? What was their culture like, their traditions, and their values? My goal was to bring these people to life.
It was a long journey full of challenges, surprises and rewards. I sometimes laughed - sometimes cried - as I learned valuable lessons about these faces from the past. Old photos that were once relatively meaningless came to life. I now feel like I know these people. This process has actually helped me to understand myself and my own family better.
My family history is complete and being published - my legacy to my children and grandchildren. No, it's not my mother's story or those of my children, although I've included a great deal of their information. It is my truth, based on my recollections and all that I've learned through my research. Truth is, after all, subjective, based upon one's personal experiences and the lens through which we each view our world.
I encourage you all to think about researching and writing your family history - before it's too late to ask questions of your elders. As my mother told me, "Do it now!"
Stay tuned and please stay in touch.