Have you ever run across a family photo of yours and had absolutely no idea who those folks were? Your parents are no longer around to help you out. You know the people in the photos were family, but who?
Once you have started collecting and writing down all of the stories your parents, grandparents and other friends and family have handed down to you, the next step is to start labeling all of your photos – first name, family name, and married name.
You don’t want your family photos to end up in the boxes of beautiful, unidentified people in the antiques stores! Names and dates are very important! And if possible, add the location. And now that we are in the digital age, it is just as important to label your digital photos as well.
What is your earliest memory of an extended family gathering? A family picnic at “the lake” on a warm summer afternoon with aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents and great-grandparents? Going to Christmas at Grandma’s house and being excited when driving into the yard to see Grandpa’s string of lights strung across the driveway in a haphazard way that we all loved and that made us smile? Taking a three-car caravan trip to Iowa to visit relatives and accidentally getting left at a truck stop in the middle of no-where because, after filling up with gas, taking a potty break and getting some munchies to eat in the car, Mom thought you were in the car with Grandpa and Grandma and they thought you were with Mom (in the days before cell phones)? These memories are part of who we are, our family history. Remember them. And before they become a memory too faint for recollection, write them down and share them with the new and upcoming members of your family.
Check out Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg (New York: Hyperion, 2009).
I’m confident that everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet. But when it comes to physical disabilities and mental health our society has tended not to want to bring them to the surface. Even though Luxenberg’s Annie’s Ghost is part memoir and part social history, it is written like a mystery or a detective novel, walking the reader through the process he used to uncover the answers to why his mother hid the existence of her own sister. It speaks of the generations of Americans lost, institutionalized, as we struggled to try to figure out how to treat people with special needs. But most of all, it talks about family secrets and what we do to keep them – and why.
I should not be known by my face, but rather by who I am. I am a part of those who have come before me – my family and my past, my family trees with all of the branches. And at the center of all of this is the woman who gave birth to me, my mother.
Family history and genealogy are very important to me. Understanding the past helps us all to figure out our future. As I sit in my office every day, the wall behind me reminds me of who I am. It’s filled with photos of my ancestors (the past) and of my children (the future). So when I was presented with the challenge of creating a photographic self-portrait for a photography class that would tell a story of who I am, I knew what my focus would be.