This Thanksgiving “vacation” has been both chaotic and wonderful. Some of our vaccinated family came to help care for and spend time with their father and grandfather. One evening, we dug out old photo albums, laughing and reminiscing. But, what are we to do with old albums that are too precious to throw away, yet are falling apart? Fortunately, our parents had taken time to identify many of the people in the pictures. Even so, there is so much history without sufficient written information.
Slides and home movies were the big thing when I was growing up. We spent many an evening with extended family looking at slides and home movies. In fact, it was one of our favorite forms of entertainment. After all, we didn’t get our first television until I was in college. Unfortunately, most of that history has gone the way of all flesh, though some pictures were transferred to CD’s before we threw them out some 15 or 20 years ago. However, with the rapid turnover of technology, we no longer can read those CD’s on our laptops.
Today we record our lives on cell phones and store them in the cloud, all of which are absolutely inaccessible without passwords and email addresses. What happens to our understanding of history when that information is gone? One of the greatest gifts my dad and husband’s mother gave us was writing names and brief descriptions on the backs of many of the faded pictures in our albums, helping us identify old faces, houses and log cabins that are part of our family history. How will future archivists research history and family trees?
We Americans have such short memories. It’s one thing to value the moment and try to live one day at a time, but that philosophy does not mean blotting out the past and ignoring the very things that shape today. How can we know who are if we have no idea from whence we’ve come? The kind of revisionist history that seems so popular today may make us momentarily feel better, but it does little to help us understand the who, what, when, where, and why of the many challenges currently facing us. While it is uncomfortable to recognize that some of our ancestors kept slaves, favored eugenics, participated in lynchings, etc. no amount of pretense can make those facts go away. Gaining some understanding of where we come from can help us understand and unravel some of the challenges we currently face. Nothing happens in a vacuum.
While I have never been a hoarder, I am still overwhelmed by all of the “junk”, papers, pictures, records, sermons, and writings we have hung on to over the years. Thank goodness we are going through those things while we can help our children do the sorting. Our girls have spent hours in their dad’s study sorting through boxes of records, with their dad enthroned in his wheelchair, fleece stole thrown over his shoulders like a royal stole.
There is much to be said about living in the moment and taking one day at a time, which we are focusing on doing right now. We can’t undo the past nor can we predict the future. Yet, that does not mean we forget the past or discount our many life experiences. While we are constantly evolving, becoming, we are still the products of our past and the past of our forebearers. In one of the documents we found, my dad, the family genealogist, wrote in 1976 that he had traced our family tree back 8 generations. That means that within those 8 generations, we potentially had 256 great-great-great-great-great grandparents, each of whom continue to influence who we are today.