Image from Storyworth.com
When my sister Stella passed away, I was the last person to have a conversation with her. Her two daughters were by her side listening as we talked, even laughing a bit. Minutes after the phone call ended, I got texts from my nieces, “What were you talking about?” Stella and I immigrated to America as teenagers. We always spoke Icelandic together.
Mother and her five daughters were (are) knitters. When Stella retired, she started knitting Icelandic sweaters she sold at farmers’ markets. Stella and I never knew our grandparents. We learned about our mother’s life before us by eavesdropping on mom and her sisters, reminiscing over a cup of coffee in our modest kitchen.
People study genealogy for different reasons. I was fascinated to learn that Ragnar the Lodbrok (from the Viking television series) and I belonged to the same sprawling family tree. Dick Cheney’s reaction may have been surprise learning he and Barack Obama shared an ancestor, Mareen Duvall (1650), a French Huguenot who arrived in the French colony of today’s Maryland. When we look back far enough, all of us share an ancestor with everyone on earth.
The only thing I have in common with the Vikings who sailed to Iceland around 900 are a few genes, and possibly some vocabulary. Dick and Barack grew up in different worlds and subsequently chose different philosophies of life. Knowing about my bio or adoptive parents and grandparents is more meaningful than notorious ancestors.
How much do you know about your parents and grandparents? Many of us have what Professor Elizabeth Keating describes as “kind of genealogical amnesia” that eats holes in our family histories like moths eat holes in the sweaters lovingly knitted by our ancestors.”
When our parents die, so does our chance to know the world they occupied. I recall the Cuban missile crisis (Cold War), the 60s Civil Rights era, Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the Vietnam War protests, the landing on the moon, the twin towers, and the birth of the iPhone. My children experienced the last two, but for my grandchildren it’s ancient history. It’s far more meaningful learning history through the eyes of people we know then reading biographies or autobiographies of those we don’t know.
In a recent blog post, The Bridge of Grief, I wrote about my sister Stella’s passing. One of my daughters commented, “When I think of you and Stella together from my life, I think of mischievous laughter, kids running around, cards and food, and the magical, mysterious experience of seeing parts of your mom that you will never fully know as her child.” Only we can share intimate moments with our family, an insight that helps them know who we were (are) that may help them understand themselves better. Next time my daughters say, “Oh god, I’m turning into mom,” the apple doesn’t fall far comes to mind.
While I do my share of complaining about technology taking over my life, in this instance, finding a way to share your life — technology can be helpful.
Denny and Becky’s kids gave them a subscription to storyworth.com, a platform where their kids could ask them questions. Denny said they mostly asked about their childhood, the time they knew so little about. He enjoyed returning to memory lane. Becky also loved the opportunity to tell about her childhood and family.
I chose the subject of the book to be mostly about my life so that it can be handed down to grandchildren and their children. Nowadays families are spread out and this is certainly one way to keep ancestral history alive. I’m so thrilled with the end product and am proud to gift my friends and family with copies.”Yvonne, Ontario, Canada (from Storyworth)