Family Histories

Posted: July 8, 2012 in Random Geekery

My dad’s mother, circa 1931


The last time we talked, it was mid-June, so it has certainly been a while. Time for an update, wouldn’t you think?

I mean, I could fill you in on the writing I’ve been doing either in the abstract (yay, stuff published!), or the specific (here’s what was going on in my head when I wrote…). I could fill a few posts on the hardships of being a small publisher, of keeping to schedules, how there is always a surprise or three waiting, and how ebook formatting is not as easy to do as you would think–if you want it to look good, at least. I could even regale you with thoughts on writing as a craft or profession, or bore you to tears with scenes from real life of a more personal nature. Hell, I could even do a Fringe Candy post. I’ve certainly been eating some weird things.

But screw all of that. At least for now.

No, today I want to talk about family history.

My daughter is in her early 20’s and is living in Nashville. I’m super proud of her (of both my kids, actually, but this story starts with her). She’s smart and independent and funny and built Colorado tough. In talking to her this weekend, it came up that she never heard (from me at least), the story about how/why her mom and I split up. All I’d really told her was that I didn’t want to say anything bad about her mom. For all our faults as parents, we really did try to avoid sniping at each other through the kids. At least I did. I assume the same was true of my first wife. But it had been years–seventeen of them, to be exact. And my daughter knows me. And she knows her mom. And she knows that there’s a story.

So yesterday I finally told her the story–not just why we divorced, but how we got together, and how that set the stage for all that came after.

It felt good to finally discuss it. It wasn’t like I was trying to hide anything. I wasn’t trying to shield her anymore. She hasn’t lived with either parent for years. She was her own person, and she wanted to know. And I had enough distance to be pretty unemotional about it. No anger, no recrimination. Just “Here’s a story about how I met your mother, how we split, and I’ll have you out of here in under 20 minutes plus commercials.”

And it made me realize how little I know about my own family history.

That picture up top…that’s from my photo album, scavenged years ago from a box of old photos at my parent’s house. It’s my grandma, Fern. She was married to my grandpa, my dad’s dad, at the time it was taken in 1931. But I only know that (and the date) because it was written on the back. But I don’t know where it was taken. My dad was born in Colorado some years later, so it was probably Colorado. But I have no way of knowing. I remember hearing at one point my grandpa came from Arkansas, but I don’t know when, and I don’t know where my grandma came from at all.

I don’t even know how my parents met.

I have stories, little bits and pieces of things they did when they were younger–a few jobs held, things like that. I know my mom traveled to Europe at one point. She taught (or was trained to teach at any rate) French and Spanish. I’ve seen some of the photos from her trip ages ago. I have a coin from that visit, one from Morocco, but I don’t know if she actually went to Morocco.

I’ve wanted to go and live in Morocco for over a decade, and my mom might have visited there and we’ve never, ever discussed it.

I went through my photo book and, with the help of a friend, scanned in a bunch of old pictures. One that I didn’t scan was a photo-postcard from Eugene, Oregon showing this old couple. They were the grandparents to my grandparents on my mom’s side. I had great-great grandparents living in the Northwest possibly a century ago, and I didn’t know until yesterday.

So why the post?

I am a history geek. I know the historical tidbits about Seattle picked up from 15 years living here. I know about the Medieval Islamic period of Spain and North Africa because I was interested in it. I know so much weird movie and music history that it would hurt the brain of a normal person.

History is everywhere. It’s right there in your family. Every family has it. History shapes families. And knowing that history helps you understand where you came from. It helps you understand the rest of your family.

All you have to do is ask. I expect here are things you don’t know about your own family history, about your parents or grandparents, or even your distant youth. I challenge each and everyone of you to get an older relative talking if you can. You’ll find out something about your own history, and that will make your life richer.

I have a phone call in to my mom. When my dad died several years ago, it pretty much snuffed out a whole branch of family history that I might never discover now. I may never know where my grandma was, looking so happy and elegant in 1931. I don’t want to miss the chance to find out as much as I can from my mom. And I don’t want to miss out on the chance sharing what I know with my own kids when they want to know

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Comments
  1. D. D. Syrdal says:

    I’m glad you’re starting to dig up the stories of your family before everyone who knows them is gone. I’ve done a fair amount of research on my own family, I’ve gotten some really interesting stories from one aunt. I wish I’d started sooner, though. Good luck with your research, love the photos!

  2. I remember many years ago when I was still a teen after my grandfather died, my father made some recordings of story interviews with my grandmother. Now, with all of my grandparents dead, so much history is lost. Whenever I see photos like the one you posted, I am filled with a sense of bitterness – not the sort of upset one would have for another person or regret, but a sadness that in my own family, such images do not exist. Few families from villages in China had access to cameras and those few records held in temples and village halls have long since been lost in fires and the chaos of wars.

  3. Susan Mullen says:

    Nathan, thanks for this excellent post! I hope it will inspire people to keep those old family photos and to document them whenever possible.

  4. dawnvogel says:

    You know I do genealogy, right? And Jeremy has a paid account on Ancestry. If you get me information, I’d be happy to do some research for you!

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