Who We Are?
What's the story behind the story?
There's so much to learn and now we have tools to delve into the family history.
Family pictures were always a part of our home. Growing up, I never asked where they came from, they were just always there. But all that changed 5 years ago when my mother died and our family home in Sacramento became my responsibility. As I walked through the house, I realized it was now mine to deal with….every bed, chair, lamp and carpet, every pen, pencil and scrap of paper, every hammer, nail and screw…..everything that had accumulated since the house was built in 1949. Oh, and of course, all the family pictures.
Every house has them, drawers and cupboards filled with pictures and photo albums. The classic school pictures were there, everyone lined up on the front steps of the elementary school with the plaque reading, “Mrs. Johnson’s 4th Grade, 1959.” Pictures from birthday parties and holidays, all mixed together with holiday recipes from Betty Crocker and instruction manuals for the Sunbeam waffle iron. But that was the easy stuff. I opened the hall closet to find the oversized, overstuffed photo albums, filled with pictures of people and places before my time, bulging with newspaper clippings sticking out at all angles. And then there was the attic.
The attic, the word gives me chills. Loose pictures, framed pictures, and shoe boxes labeled “old negatives.” What we are talking about here was nothing less than the accumulation of generations. I found myself sitting on the attic floor surrounded by my departed relatives asking, “How far do these go back?” ”Who are these people?” and “What am I supposed to do with all this?” But one thing was perfectly clear, they were now mine. After much pondering, I did the only thing that made sense….I put them in storage.
But last year, the siren call of history lured me to unlock the door and bring the first box home. It was filled with pictures of my father’s family dating back to 1904. My Dad wouldn’t talk about his family while he was alive, but this box of photos spoke volumes. My grandfather had died before I was born, but here was a picture of my Grandfather Max when he was14 years old. Hey, Max, it’s good to finally meet you. And who were the rest of the people in the pictures? To answer those questions, I turned to Ancestry.com. And you know who I found? Everyone.
Internet genealogy sites have transformed family research. You can learn about aunts and uncles, cousins and family members stretching back through the years….who lived where and when. Voting records, U.S. census records, draft registration cards and address listings are just a few of the sources that show up on my computer screen. I found an application for a visa written by my great grandfather in 1879…in his handwriting. Amazing. And then I started getting contacts from relatives that I didn’t even know existed. What do family pictures mean to me? Well, a lot more than they did before.
For example, my father’s mother, my Nana, was a pretty dour, joyless senior citizen. She did have her moments….she taught me gin rummy and cribbage, but she never struck me as happy. That is, until I started digging through the pictures. They showed a young person full of joy and laughter, surrounded by friends and family. There were pictures of country outings to the Marin headlands in 1905, my Nana smiling and happy with her friends in a theater production in 1907. And most amazing of all, my Nana falling in love with my grandfather Max and their son, my Dad. These weren’t just pictures, they were an invitation to revise how I knew my grandmother……understand the life she lived and through her pictures, reveal her youthful heart. How precious is that?
And the hits just keep coming. The further I explore, the more my family pictures have to offer. And the very best thing of all? Sharing them with my family and friends. I’ve emailed pictures, posted them on Facebook and connected everyone in my family to our shared history. These pictures have changed how I look at my own life and I would encourage everyone to explore their family and themselves by opening those boxes of family pictures.