Thursday, May 24, 2012

Family History & Bucket Lists

As a writer and scrapper (scrapbooker seems like such an awkward word), I am always interested in preserving family history. Part of it could be due to the fact that my family history has always felt somewhat fragmented and sparse. My mom was adopted. I never met my biological father. The dad who raised me had no family history to share. My grandma didn't really have much in the way of family history, and my grandpa apparently didn't either, although he at least had some photos (but my grandma sold them to a thrift store). I'm at an age where this bothers me, so now I have a dilemma.

 Tim's parents were a tad bit on the pack rat side of things. His dad seemingly kept everything. When Al and Gladys moved into an assisted living home, we were tasked with getting their house cleaned out, renovated and sold. We also ended up with all of the stuff that wasn't given to the Goodwill. Right now, we have about a dozen boxes upstairs that are filled with old things. I'm talking about things that go back into the late 1800s and early 1900s. There is an amazing array of ephemera. There are some photos and documents from Germany (Tim's grandfather was German). We don't even know what they are since we don't know German. There are boxes and boxes of loose photos with no names on them or any idea of who the people are. There are playbills from European productions attended by Tim's uncle when he was in the military. There are graduation announcements and programs from Tim's dad/uncles. There are also architectural drawings that Tim's dad and his twin did when they were in high school... on frail paper rolled up into a tube. There are tickets and documents and letters galore. One of the things I found was a stack of letters from Tim's mom to his dad. They are love letters that span a few weeks before the two became engaged, and continue for the first several months of the engagement. Priceless.

 The dilemma is... what to do with everything. Tim's theory is that we should just scan everything so it is digital and then get rid of it. That thought horrifies me. There are some things that are okay being digitized. I agree that everything should be scanned to save the image. But there is such a tactile sensation of holding the ticket or letter or photo and feeling the difference in paper quality or whatever. It is fine to look at a scan of a picture, but quite another to hold a piece of family history in your hand that is over 100 years old.

Somehow we'll figure it all out. But it has been on my mind the past couple of days. I asked some scrap friends about it and no one had a real solution other than to hire an organizer. I was just reading on Kelly Russell Agodon's blog about how poetry and the arts should be archived. Some important words of wisdom there. I have no idea on how to archive my writing.  Ugh.  And those things just really fell in line with thinking about the family stuff. And it also fits together with the scrapping stuff and how strange it is for me to be okay with compiling digital scrap pages. I guess at some point, I figure I will print them out into a book and they will be stored in someone else's upstairs closet in the future. But I also think that things will evolve over time and technology will have a solution for it.

One of the things I'd never really thought about in the past is coming up with a summer bucket list for the family and documenting it. Right now, Kennedy is too small to do much, but I blogged over at One Story Down about the lists and have a huge range of ideas for things to do and how to document them. You can check it out here.

If you have any good ideas on how to preserve memories and archive history, I'd be happy to hear them!

1 comment:

troysworktable said...

I don't have any real suggestions other than don't throw anything out at this point! Once the items are gone, they are gone.

Scan, yes. But, by all means, keep the originals. As individuals, and as a culture, we are discarding too much of our (personal) histories. A nice electronmagnetic solar storm could wreak havoc on our digital archives, and it's not a doomsday scenario.

Interview Tim's mom and dad and see how much of it they can identify. I had my grandfather do such once his terminal cancer was diagnosed. He still remembered quite a bit about an age and people that were fairly foreign to me.

Then, later, if some of the items don't seem as important, offer them to individuals or historical preservation groups that may be interested in them.


Also, I've started the task of organizing my own writings. It's an enormous task, but one that is really fulfilling. It reminds me of my own history. I've seen some truly horrible and/or juvenile writing. I've rediscovered a few gems. I've also been inspired to write a few new poems after reading something an "earlier version" of me wrote.