Baby2135

People who have attended my Library Lectures are very familiar with Baby2135.  I teach it in every lecture.

IMG_2222 (1)Before starting to create a family archive consider who you are creating the archive for. If you are not one of those lucky people who have photographs and letters from a long, lost relative who lived during the Civil War or the American Revolution, it’s probably not on your radar to think very far ahead when considering who you are creating this archive for. You may think of creating it for yourself in the event of a disaster. You may think of creating it for your siblings and cousins who you will share with at the next family gathering. Most people think of their children and grandchildren when they think of preserving their documents. Typically this is as far ahead as most people think.

Instead think of the person in your family who will be born after the last person who Edmund Frenier Srhas known you directly has died. Think of your forebear who would think it was cool to have memorabilia from the 20th and 21st centuries. Why do I want you to expand your thinking about who you are leaving your archives to? Because you will tell your story in a very different way; you will describe a letter, a deed, a photograph, a quilt differently. Instead of indicating that a picture is of, “Aunt Mary and her friend, Lou,” you would write instead, “Mary Louise Smith and Lou Johnson. They were a couple for many years, but never married.” If you write for your children you will assume they know who “Aunt Mary” is and that they know that Lou was the boyfriend she never married. The person who is born after the last person who has known you has died, will not know that.

Here’s a formula to help you conceptualize this:

  • If you were born in 1945 and live to be 100, you will die in 2045.
  • If your great grandchild is ten years old when you died, they would be born in 2035.
  • If the great grandchild lives to be 100, they will die in 2135.
  • The person that is born in or after 2135 is the person I want you to think about when you preserve your family history. I call that person, Baby 2135.

I know that sounds crazy and an extremely long time into the future. When I think of Baby 2135, it seems so remote and abstract that I think, “Who cares?” When I’m working in the archives and I wonder whether or not I should save something, I always look back and think, “What don’t we have that I wish we did?” or “What do we have, that I’m glad we do.” Asking these questions changes our perspective. With that in mind, let’s apply the formula to our ancestors.

  • Say you had a great, great, grandfather who was born in 1800.
  • If he lived to be 100, he would have died in 1900.
  • His 10 year old great-grandchild would have been born in 1890.
  • If the great grandchild lived for 100 years, he would die in 1990.
  • The person who was born in 1990 would now be in their twenties.

Doesn’t seem that long ago when you put it that way, huh?

 

 

 

Photographs:  Abby Coelho, Edmund Frenier, Sr.

The Eternal Connection to Our Ancestors

Genealogy shows like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are and Genealogy Roadshow, bring to life how connected we are to our ancestors. In each Agnes Flaherty Chadwickepisode people are deeply touched and moved when they learn that a great-great-great-grand-parent who they never knew, lived through a major historical event or disturbing personal tragedy. Whether the history tells of a celebrated past, or a painful circumstance, we are connected to our past. We care deeply about our forebears lives. We often can detect how what happened to them shaped who we are today. Stories and legends get passed down for generations, some true, some only partially true. Today, we have the opportunity to tell the story of our ancestors and to add our story to the mix.

Sometimes values are handed down that are not connected to a story anyone remembers, and yet, everyone in the family lives according to that lore. In a particularly moving Genealogy Roadshow episode, a young woman learned that her grandfather was part of the Tuskegee Experiment. After understanding her grandfather’s tragic story, it made sense that she was brought up believing that she should never trust the government.Tuskegee

In my family after three generations of fathers who left women and children behind, a legacy of strong, independent women who learned to fend for themselves and their children was created. “Always have your own money,” my mother taught. “Just in case.” We all knew the legacy of my grandmother and my mother, but few knew the story of our great-grandmother who also had to support herself and her children at the turn of the 20th century by doing laundry for college students. Her experience most likely influenced her daughter to get divorced in 1930 and her grand-daughter to leave behind her husband in 1972. Unlike most of their peers, their family history provided the permission they needed to get out of bad marriages.Jeanette & Friend

What are the values your family lives by? Some values and traditions are so deeply rooted we may not be aware that they spring from the experience of an ancestor 100 years ago. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what legacy, values and traditions am I creating? What lessons have you learned, or been forced to learn, that you hope your future forebears will benefit from?

Hurricane Sandy

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Hurricane Sandy hit the New York coast on October 29th, 2012 as a Category 2 hurricane with 85 mile an hour winds and an a 14 foot storm surge.  The devastation to the city and its boroughs was immense.  Sandy was the second costliest storm in U.S. history, created the largest power outage on record and left 233 people dead in eight countries[i].  Americans are becoming all to familiar with these “super storms” and catastrophic events.  The weather, which used to be broadcast locally in evening newscasts, is now a regular part of the national news.  Almost every day the destruction and devastation from these weather-related events captures our national attention – hurricanes along the coasts, tornados in the mid-west, wildfires in the drought-stricken west, and floods everywhere.

One of the most enduring images of Hurricane Sandy comes from a news interview taken the day after the storm.  Anne Curry of NBC News accompanied Phyllis Puglia as she returned to her home on Staten Island for the first time.  We see Phyllis’ shocked disbelief as she see that her home is completely devastated.  In the next scene she walks along a board on the beach a mile from her home where she finds some of the items from her house.  The beach is now a pile of rubble with boards from houses, clothing, appliances, furniture, papers – everything that would be found in the modern American household, mixed up with reeds from the beach, sand, and other debris.  Phyllis stoops down and picks something up from this pile of rubbish.  It’s her mother’s wedding picture.  The 12 X 15 photograph is soiled, dirty and warped from the water.  “See my mother?” She says. She immediately expresses concern for her father.  “There has to be more with my father.”   Then like a child who is alone and desolate having just lost her parents, she cries out pitifully, “I want to go home.  But there’s no home.  I can’t go home.”

We are heartbroken for her.  Phyllis’ cry of despair touched many lives.  Who cannot empathize with the anguish of wanting to go home, but having lost that home forever?  Later she tells Anne Curry, “My mother was my best friend.” She said it was so important to find her picture because in all the devastation, to find something  meaningful she felt that she had gotten something back.

Like many others, I was deeply moved by Phyllis’ circumstance.  I thought, “If only I could have told her how to save her memories, she wouldn’t have lost them all.”  As a trained archivist who has worked in university libraries and museums I could have shown her how to preserve her memories so that when the hurricane hit, she wouldn’t have lost it all.  While a relatively small portion of the American public is losing everything to these catastrophic weather events, the rest of us sit by watching in horror and wonder if we will be next.  There are many reasons for getting your memories in order, losing everything in a super storm is the most compelling and dramatic.

To watch the newsclip of Phyllas Puglia go to http://www.nbcnews.com/video/rock-center/49753888#49753888

[i] Wikipedia 1/5/16 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Sandy