Last Friday I was scouring an antique store for something my daughter was looking for … I didn’t find what she needed but I did find a small photo album sitting on a stool; it was filled with someone’s memories. Photographs of children and parents, confirmations and graduations and family parties … postcards of someone’s loved ones for sale. You all know my family history addiction and it always breaks my heart when I see old photographs like that … lost, separated from someone who would treasure them and that may be the only clue to finding that one person whose very existence has been forgotten.
So I did what I always do in such a situation; I put on my Forensic Genealogy Investigator (FGI) hat. I pulled the photos one at a time until I found a couple with names on the back and took an Evernote Scannable of them. Later that night I logged into Ancestry.com Family Trees and searched for the names of the children in the photographs. Chills ran up my back when I found at least 20 trees with the same names. I sent a note to the contacts of the largest trees and within 20 minutes I was receiving responses and requests for the photographs. Almost as soon as I hit the send button there were return emails saying “yes”, this is one of our ancestors!, “yes”, this is our August Walczyk and his sister Matilda. Thank you! Do you have more?
How do we lose our family documents and photographs, the collective memory of our family stories? How do treasured heirlooms find their way onto antique shop shelves or into flea market baskets tossed in with pink flamingos and outdated electronics? The Walczyk grandparents obviously treasured the photographs; keeping them for a long time …I think they were ties to their family back east. When they died maybe a son or daughter kept them in that same box on a shelf as a reminder of cousins and family times dimly remembered. Then they too passed on and if the family stories and connections weren’t kept intact the photographs had little or no meaning to that last generation who may have only see an interesting black & white or sepia toned photograph that they felt were of no use to them. That shoe box was placed at the estate sale, someone picked it up and the story continues … where do you think the Cracker Barrel Restaurant gets those old family portraits that hang as decor on their walls?
Have you ever thought about where all your family heirlooms might end up? Will they be lost, memories of a lifetime, a slice of history lived never to been seen again … we have experienced such loss in our family (more than once) . My 4th great grandfather kept journals all of his life. When he passed on the journal collection was broken apart and one book given to each of his children who lived all over the country. The journals are lost; in a trunk, a garbage bin, an antique book store somewhere … or did you too have an Aunt Bessie, who ‘did’ the family genealogy and who held the collection of photographs, birth certificates, stories and heirlooms? What happened to them when she died?
I’ve been thinking about this ‘problem’ for a while … I’m thinking of gathering as much as I can of what is left of our family legacy and put them together in a collection to be donated to the LDS Family History Center or a university so that future family/historians will have access to them and where they will be at least in a protected environment rather than in a shoe box on a shelf in the back closet … I’m thinking … it’s an idea not fully formed yet.
In the meantime, I’ll be heading back to the antique shop to find the seller of the Walczyk family history and put them in touch with the descendants of the people in their photo album. Who knows they might be related.