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A couple of years ago, I got the genealogy bug and bought the Family Tree Maker software to start documenting an “official” family tree. I had done one in middle school, a few (ahem) decades ago, and found it here in a closet at the house. It was the size of a science fair display, with four or five generations on both sides of my family. It was falling apart, and, unfortunately, we had lost a few of the folks on the tree who would have been the best resources for more information.

I entered what I had into the software, paid for a subscription to Ancestry.com, and disappeared down the rabbit hole for a few weeks. I sat at the same table at Starbucks every day, downloading census scans and tracking down additional names. I enjoyed the detective work of comparing birth dates, locations, siblings names, etc. to confirm the info on my tree, but I burned out after the first month (that, and we were running out of clean underwear at home).

I also started organizing stacks of old photographs and memorabilia, going back a few generations. I scanned them into our desktop and planned to sit down with family members to identify the people in the pics and the locations where they were taken. Around the same time, I started working at home for the doctors at HKS, and the project stalled.

Fast forward three years, and I hadn’t gotten a whole lot further, when the perfect opportunity dropped right into my lap last weekend. We’d asked my mom to watch the boys Saturday evening. My grandmother was at the house, and she came along for the weekend. When we’re all together, we’re usually busy celebrating a holiday or birthday, and everyone is busy cleaning and cooking. With no real plans for the day, I hauled out stacks of photos, hastily numbered them #0-180, and started taking notes.

My grandmother and mother - 1946

my grandmother with her great-grandsons - 2010

I also ran a tape recorder while we worked at the dining room table. Two hours on Saturday and another two on Sunday. It was fun, informative, and wonderfully revealing. My mother joined us at the table and, in true form, failed to realize that I was recording the whole thing, despite the microphone and recorder sitting in front of my grandmother, several comments to that effect, and the fact that SHE was the one that suggested recording it in the first place. (That’s why we love her!) Now I just need to find the time to transcribe our discussion and tag all of the scans in Photoshop.

my uncle, father, and their mother - 1943

Pinning down a time to get together with my uncle (my father’s older brother) has been especially difficult — a real catch-22.

He’s the biggest obsessive-compulsive in the family and has a photographic memory to go with, so he’s the BEST (and oldest living) source of info and terrific stories. BUT – he’s the most OCD person in the family and already has the next 26 weeks or so of his life planned out, in detail.  Like, I already know what radio program he’ll be listening to, in the bathtub, at 8pm this Sunday evening…..no kidding.

Such a great person – though, and he totally GETS that he’s a little more mentally constipated than most.  I know that he wants to do this — especially since HE missed out on an opportunity to do the same thing with my great-aunt, before she passed away, at over 100 years of age.  I definitely need to get that ball rolling, soon. Ultimately, I’d like to produce photo books for the boys to have, as a record of our family history.

A safe but sometimes chilly way of recalling the past is to force open a crammed drawer. If you are searching for anything in particular you don’t find it, but something falls out at the back that is often more interesting.

– J.M.Barrie

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