I took a break from research over the Thanksgiving holiday. My new grandson, Rory was added to the family tree on November 19th and then on November 22nd, Thanksgiving was upon us. For the first time all of my children…joined by my former husband…sat at the table and gave thanks…told stories and made wonderful memories.
After all of the celebration that included turkey and all of the trimmings and generous helpings of my homemade pumpkin pie, I sat down with my grandchildren and showed them pictures of themselves when they were like their cousin Rory…just minutes and hours old. We went through photos ranging from babyhood until the present…then did the same with their parents. My oldest grandson asked me…’what about you, Grandma?’ So out came my baby pictures…and so on… That led to Grandpa (my former husband) and his photos. We share. I did his family history at his request and our children now have a complete genealogy.
What began as a spontaneous diversion to settle the children down and give the adults a chance to clear the table and continue their conversations, resulted in storytelling for my grandchildren about family relationships in a …excuse the pun…relatable fashion.
My grandchildren are young…all five and under so I kept it simple and short, but the spark was lit. And even my children took note of the little gathering of grandparents and grandchildren by peeking in to the array of photos and began to share their memories of their children’s birth and early baby years.
It occurs to me that photographs are the key to the narrative…to the storytelling of a family. I haven’t spoken to a genealogist who hasn’t gone all ga-ga over finding a photo of a family member. And I am certainly one of them. In today’s world….sharing digital images on FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest…social media…is prolific and so instantaneous that the images themselves seem to lose value as soon as the next is posted.
Digital images are only fragile in that sense. They cannot be ‘lost’ or destroyed in the same manner as their fabricated ancestors. They won’t fade or disintegrate. The immortal nature of these items won’t relegate them to the same status of treasure.
I am one of the fortunate historians who has been ‘gifted’ the family treasures by my mother…as she was by hers. It is at once a rich store and one that is bereft of the material memorabilia that I know could have been there. Again…another emotional malady of genealogists. And the reality of material things. They are lost. They are destroyed. And mercifully there is always a sentimentalist who keeps the family treasures. A tintype of great grandfather. A yellowed piece of lace from great great grandmother’s hankie. Love letters. Journals. Family Bibles. Baby Shoes. A pressed flower. Civil War medals. The list is as long as human history and the talismans of a life.
It’s not an Einstein theorem then that little children will find photographs of themselves and other children in the family…those of their parents and grandparents as a point of fascination and a natural leap into the science of what makes a family.
It also doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by the lingering smells of turkey and pumpkin pie and the sounds of lively conversation and laughter that emanates from family.
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher