Pictures Inspire a Personal History

My mom sent me two CDs this week with pictures of my sister and me when we were young. As I was looking at them, I realized there are a lot of stories there that I could write down, and other stories that I need to learn from others, and the importance of writing my personal history.

 

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This is a picture I can write a story about: My sister, two cousins and I are getting ready for a quadruple date. We were visiting in Arizona (where we had lived previously) so my sister and I invited boys we knew from a few years before. I asked Lafe because I had a crush on him when I was in junior high. I later found out he was dating one of my best friends from Arizona (who I apparently hadn’t kept in touch with), and they later married. I remember that detail, but don’t remember what we did for our date.

While this scene with my cousins only occurred once, countless similar scenes played out with my 5 sisters and me at home. I am the oldest, so it was usually me and the sister dressed in blue who were getting ready, while the younger sisters watched and/or helped. Our bathroom at home was tiny, but there was such excitement was we got ready for dances and dates. [Thinking further about this could lead to stories about sharing the bathroom when 3 of us had to get ready for early morning seminary, to some of the boys that we dated, church dances we attended, etc]. These stories would be improved if I solicited my sisters and parents to share their memories too, so there is a more well-rounded and well-remembered story, since we will remember different details.

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This is a picture where I need help telling a story. This is the same sister and me, this time with my grandmother, picking poppies by the side of the road in southwest New Mexico. My grandmother died when I was only 11 and since we lived far away, I don’t remember her as well as I would like. I have questions about why she loved poppies and why she went out with foam rollers in her hair. Not that I care, but most women wouldn’t want to be seen in public with curlers in their hair. I asked my mom and, while she doesn’t know the exact details of when this picture was taken, she guessed “that it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, my mom saw the flowers, stopped the car and took her little granddaughters poppy- picking . She was great at making impromptu, fun memories.” I have several aunts and uncles that I can ask, just to get their guess and their perspective, again making a well-rounded, detailed story, or in this case, a potential story.

Both of these pictures reminded me that I need to write my own personal history, and seek out the memories of others to bring in all the details and perspectives. The best time to do this is now, while my parents, aunts and uncles are still alive.

Too often, we focus on fleshing out our ancestor’s lives, but forget that we too will someday be somebody’s ancestor and we can help them by leaving them our life story.

My homework assignment is to ask my aunts and uncles about what they can contribute to what was going on in the picture with my grandmother, as the first piece of my personal history.

What is your homework assignment?

The effect of political events and religious controversies on your ancestors

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Photo credit: Raphaël Thiémard from Belgique (Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This event led to expanded freedoms for millions of people in Eastern European countries that had been under Soviet Communist rule. Yet, embracing these freedoms did not come easily to many who had lived most of their lives under Communist rule. My sister served a mission for our church in Latvia in 2003-2005. She said that many of the older generation had lost hope, even though they had obtained their freedom in the early 1990s. They had lost the ability to make choices–even when offered choices—because they had been told all their lives where to work, what to eat and where to worship. When she first told me this several years ago, I was struck by how a government should yield such power over people that they could not change once that government was removed. This is perhaps an extreme example, but we know that political events and religious strife inevitable affected our ancestors–just as they affect us and our families today.

Let’s think about some political events that may have affected our ancestors. Changes in government are powerful political events. Think of England–going back and forth between staunch Protestants, at least one Catholic, and Protestants in name who leaned towards Catholicism, and for a few years, a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell. Your ancestor’s fortunes could easily go from bad to good or vice versa depending on their political and religious leanings.

During the 1620s through late 1630s, thousands of Puritans came to Massachusetts to escape what they called the Popish religion of King James and King Charles and to worship as they wished. When the Civil War started and things were looking good for the Puritans the mass migration stopped and people remained in England, and many from the colonies returned to England. Migrating to a new continent with unfamiliar plants and animals, and recreating the culture they had known in England was a major undertaking.

Boundary changes, new laws, social policies, rebellions such as the Revolutionary War in the US, internal conflict that led to the US Civil War, and world wars are other examples that definitely affected our ancestors in one way or another.

Religious conflict is another source of external conditions that can wreak havoc on a family. Think of the witch trials (not just the Salem witch trials), the banishment of women and men such as Anne Hutchinson and William Rogers, and the many persecutions and wars that have been fought and continue to be fought in the name of religion.

While here in the US we celebrate our veterans on Tuesday and remember our many blessings later this month, spend some time thinking about your ancestors and how political and/or religious events positively or negatively impacted them. Please share here some of the events that you come up with.