Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Preserving Artfully

As I was deciding what to write about today, I read this on a digital scrapbooking site that was offering a freebie:

“I preserve myself, my family, my faith and the records thereof at all times as artfully as possible.” (found at http://www.preservationarts.com/)

It says exactly what I was thinking about!

First of all, I am a record keeper. I write. I interpret the world by recording my thoughts and feelings about what is happening around me. I want to leave an indelible view of my world behind for my children. I don’t want them to ever wonder who and what I was, or what I stood for.

Second, I am a scrapbooker. Somewhat reluctantly at first, but that’s another story. I am now a bona fide, dyed in the wool scrapbooker…tradiational, hybrid, digital...I use them all. I love that I can not only leave words, but an art piece, as well. Even if that art piece is not perfect, it adds another dimension to the words that I leave.

Every day, I document my family and our activities in a 365 Project. I take hundreds of photos a month, and scrapbook the most precious ones.

But most of all, I am a keeper of things most important. I cherish my family history, and in fact, history in general. My husband and I have become the record keepers in his family, as no one else has taken an interest in the artifacts of the family. Old pictures and mementos all find their way to our house, where I lovingly keep them.

So far, I haven’t been as organized as I would like in cataloguing them, preserving them, identifying them. As a working mother, I had very little spare time. Now that I am unemployed, it allows me to spend more of my day in these pursuits, and I am thrilled!

A couple of weeks ago, we opened boxes of shells that my husband’s family had left to us. They were a collection left by his step-great-grandfather’s sister, who had no posterity. The story gets more interesting.

Inside the boxes were these old photos and news clippings. Not much, but enough to pique my interest in who these people might be. Two of the clippings were obituaries of the William H Brown family, and provided some clues as to how they may have been connected to May Brown, whose shells we had attained.

I pored over the obituaries one night, immersing myself in the details offered by these meager summaries of the deceased person’s life. I learned that Olive died many years before her husband, who later remarried. I learned that her brother was living near them at the time. I learned that sometime before William died, one of their sons had also passed on.

Soon, I was filling a Word document with all that I knew about the family. I jumped on the internet to see what I could find on Ancestry.com, familysearch.org, and with a Google search. I eventually started a new family file on my Family Tree Maker software to accommodate the growing information that began to pour into my view.

Through the Family History Center at the LDS church, I was also turned on to HeritageQuestOnline.com and the new Family Search for LDS members. I cannot even begin to describe the fantastic resources offered in these sites!

Through census records, I was able to fill in more detail: Olive’s brother, Enos, and his wife, Ellen, had lived nearby, also. They had no children, but I was able to find their wills and learn that Ellen had listed all of her worldly possessions and willed them to various members of her family. This allowed me to add a whole branch to the family tree, and get a glimpse into what was precious to her through her descriptions.

Olive and William’s daughter, Florence, had not married. I found that she had died in Port Townsend, WA, where my husband’s family was located. I couldn’t quite get the connection of Florence to the Browns that I knew, however.

We visited my husband’s grandfather, and he was able to fill in some bits and pieces. One of the most important was that Florence had been known by the family as “Brownie”, and she was no relation whatsoever. !!?? She was a business partner of “Lukey”, who turned out to be May’s mother, who had an entirely different last name than my records showed. Apparently, she had married two or three times, and died with the last name of Lucas. Her first husband was a Brown, although no relation to Florence.

I could go on and on with the story, as it has unfolded before my eyes. I now have 48 members of Brownie’s family filled in, and have many more to connect. I am now down to a few photographs that have yet to be identified. And all of this has happened in about two weeks.
By using what few clues were left, I have been able to flesh out a story that otherwise might have been lost. So many members of the family had left no posterity…sad in and of itself, but these people might also be forgotten...the worst tragedy imaginable. People matter.

I know that beyond the veil, there are helpers guiding me along. Information that I have looked for but never found has at a later time appeared almost without effort. Brief writings on the backs of photos have given me invaluable clues into who the people were, and their relation to the family.

I am excited to take this information and begin to preserve the memories artfully. To make them interesting and exciting – real – to my children. I want them to see these people as I see them in my mind’s eye. Vibrant, living individuals who loved, hurt, and struggled just as we do. Strong pioneers who forged their way through a world that was in some ways so much harder than the one that we live in, and yet in some ways so much simpler.

I know that no matter what beautiful papers I choose, or what format I present these facts and pictures, it is important that the words convey what I feel. The rest is all art, to decorate and celebrate these lives. Nonetheless important, but not the main story.

Preserve something today. Be it a simple ritual that you perform regularly, a long lost family member’s memory, or something adorable that your children have said. Do it artfully, so that it fulfills not only the need to preserve, but the need to create. And so that future generations will know who and what YOU are.

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