Thursday, August 15, 2013

Doing Genealogy is a powerful healer

Home now from all the chaos and commotion of my Mom's funeral, burial, and all the things that go with that in a large family (6 children, 9 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren) each with their own way of dealing with her death and all trying to gather to support each other and also deal with her property and possessions left behind.  She died 10 days ago and I'm now back in my Madison home and facing the familiarity of normalcy again.  Only I'm not ready to be normal right now.  I don't want to do regular "stuff" just yet.  I want some time to process all that has happened in the past 10 days and to be alone with my sadness for awhile.  I'm not ready to be social just yet.

That's where the genealogy comes in.  My dining room table is covered with the boxes of photos and documents collected from my Mom's house.  I have all the funeral ephemera - funeral cards, sympathy cards, the guest register from the funeral, the obituary, and the death certificate.  I can look at these things slowly, cry a little at the poems in the guest book that my Mom would have loved.  I did that this morning, slowly, tissues in hand.

Now I am going through the photos that were left after each sibling took the photos of their family.  Luckily, most of the genealogical photos had been scanned over the past few years and I had been able to interview my Mom about them.  (Whew!)

We had even compiled a scrapbook of these stories a couple years ago.  In looking over her words this past week, I am reminded that as genealogists we need to always take first person accounts with a grain of salt - especially those told late in life.  I can spot frequent errors in people, dates and events having now gathered some more reliable sources like birth and death certificates that are likely more accurate than her 85 year old memory - especially as she suffered cognitive impairment and early dementia the last couple of years of her life.  I wish I had started the interviews and photo scanning years earlier.  But raising kids and work were all I could manage for many years and while there was curiosity, I didn't even know how or where to start finding out my family's story.

Silly thing is that for many years in my childhood, we attended our Hintz family reunion every year.  I enjoyed it immensely (OK, maybe not when I got to be a teenager) and actually knew lots of my Dad's aunts and uncles.  I had sources for information and didn't take advantage of it.  (Sigh)

My Mom had kept a photo album for each grandchild and great grandchild and when she moved to assisted living a few weeks before her death, she wanted these to be given back to each child.  I promised I would distribute them after I looked through them and scanned any family-important photos - you know, the ones with grandparents, multiple cousins, special events, aunts and uncles or just too cute to pass up.  Luckily, I managed to do a huge scanning project as soon as I brought them home and was able to give these all out to the respective children knowing I had the genealogically important photos culled from the albums. (Whew, dodged a genealogy bullet there!)

So now I'm sorting photos, making index card folders with dates, places and subjects to separate the pictures and allow me to put them in chronological order.  I'm tossing photos that are out of focus or just pictures of things like animals in the zoo.  I'm saving photos that can give me clues to what family homes looked like or significant buildings like family churches, but mostly I'm harvesting the photos of people. Today I got through one box out of three of the printed photos. Further sorting and labeling needs to be done, but I'm getting the photos out of albums and in some sort of order for the time being.  Many remind me of stories that need to be written down for our children and grandchildren to know about events and places our family enjoyed.  And some will need to be scanned. Tasks for the future, but for now...

Genealogy is a powerful healer and a link between who and what is gone and those that remain who have been influenced by what is gone.  It's not all good stuff, but it's our stuff - it's what made us the people we are today.  It broadens my appreciation for my Mom's life and provides perspective to our relationship.  It keeps my Mom alive not only in my heart but in my life.  Genealogy is providing a link between grieving and the normalcy of everyday life.  As Martha Stewart would say, "It's a good thing."


  1. I believe there are 8 great grandchildren.

  2. Of course, you are right. We have some new additions recently. I'm afraid I was remembering the ones who were with us all week and not actually counting.

  3. Lynn, what a wonderful tribute to Aunt Pat, you have found a wonderful way to celebrate her life and continue to tell the stories through photos and information for the next generation. It is truly a labor of love, and healing.
    God bless you.