I’ve been thinking more about family secrets and unearthing family skeletons. I discovered something today while searching an index for records in the county where members of my mother’s family (the side I’m researching) lived, worked, and died. It’s related to a family secret that wasn’t that much of a secret, really. In fact, it’s related to something my own mother told me when I was a teen. Now I just have to wait for the records to confirm what I think I discovered today.
My research is taking me in all kinds of directions, which I love. Not just genealogy, but the larger history of a place or a period of time (even a house), and what it means to write a family history memoir, the end goal of my project. I’m fascinated by how families tell their stories, to reveal or to conceal, to uplift or to discourage, to celebrate life events or to regret what happened or what could have been.
I don’t expect to learn everything I want to know, especially as the older generation ages and dies. But I’m starting to feel like this is my life’s project and is the book I am meant to write, not for any direct descendants (as neither my siblings nor I have children), but for me. Perhaps it’s a sort of vanity and a way to live in a past that I never experienced. But really, it’s more about wanting to know my mother, who died when I was 19, and whose life was a closed book in many ways, as well as knowing better the grandmother who meant so much to me and whose loss I still mourn.
As I prepare to move next month, I am working on my memoir project sporadically. However, I am trying to gather photos, documents, etc. Yesterday I was very excited to receive a precious photograph of my grandmother circa the 1930s, when she would have been in her 20s, from my aunt, who is helping with my research. I only have one photograph that is older, from 1927 (when my grandmother was 16) ~ it’s a very small picture and has yet to be digitized. I do not possess many photos of my grandmother when she was young, so I’m happy to add this one to my collection, which may end up being the cover of my book.
I read an interesting op-ed in the New York Times this morning:
I Loved My Grandmother. But She Was a Nazi.
It makes me think about what I may discover during my own genealogical research. I do want to know everything, the good and the bad. It reminds me, too, of how for years I disowned aspects of my own heritage, first the Polish side, because of how my classmates teased me once they discovered I was part Polish during a family tree assignment (we’ve all heard the jokes). Then the German side, because I equated Germans with Nazis, or at least, authoritarian behavior. However, the more I learned about German culture and intellectual history before the Nazis ever came to power, and how progressive the country seems today, the more I wanted to reclaim that part of my ancestry.
Reclaiming my Polish heritage was easier, esp. after I got past the juvenile stereotypes perpetuated by my classmates. My maternal grandmother was a very loving presence in my life, whereas I did not always feel that in my own nuclear family. That I should want to research the Polish side of my family is therefore not surprising.
What skeletons will I uncover, if any? Perhaps none, but my research will continue undaunted.