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Tag: family history

Why You Really Have Multiple Mothers

You’re more than the sum of your life experiences. The past has a way of traveling forward through generations and affecting your existence in ways you can’t possibly know. Think you‘ve been influenced by just one mother? Think again…

The love of a mother is unique and irreplaceable. My mom’s been gone since 2006, and of course, I miss her. She was the quintessential Jewish mother. Doting. Over protective. Always there for me. I am at home with tech, because she bought me my first audio cassette recorder for my 7th birthday.
(My father thought my sound-collecting interest was a passing fad, but my mom had her x-ray mom-vision that could see deeper into my heart and ultimately my future.)

Even after I had grown up and moved out, she still mothered from afar. She clipped and mailed news articles on topics she thought would (or should) be of interest to me. She was only a phone call away, and yes we talked often. Of course, I had my standing dinners with my father over the years when I was back in town, but I’ve reflected a lot about him lately.

Today is about mothers.

Multiple Mothers
Usually, you think of having one mother or person who served in that pivotal role during your early life. And that was certainly the case with my mom. But I believe the superpower of mothering is partially fueled by the past through a form of time travel.

As I look at old photos of both my grandmothers, I definitely feel a distant influence from both of them… as mothers.

And even though I never got to meet them, they influenced how my parents grew up and ultimately how they parented me. So, in a way, both of these women were also there with me through some of my parents’ unconscious behaviors.

If we extend this logic further, I am inevitably the result of a long line of mothers who stretch way back into my family’s history.

Aren’t we all?

All the wisdom. All of the unconditional love. All of that warmth.

Each of us contains all of this timeless ‘mom collective.’

My Paternal Grandmother
I’ve been going through photos of my grandmother Rae lately… ever since my father passed away.
Rae looks like quite the force. Smart. Funny. Clever. Daring. Compelling. She could not have been happier as she brought up her young family with my grandfather in the mid 1930’s.

Then, she died unexpectedly when my father was just four years old. It must have been absolutely shattering. My father didn’t talk about it with the same intensity… I’m sure as a long-established coping mechanism.

My grandfather never remarried, and he and his two young sons moved forward in their lives as best as anyone could.

So, Rae’s major influence on my father was unfortunately her absence as a mother after those few short years.

Still, I look at the photos of her, and I cannot help but feel a connection… a beneficiary of all of her strength and goodness. Of course, her love brought my father into this world, and she set him on his young path.

Thank you, Rae. Happy Mother’s Day.

My Maternal Grandmother
Then, there’s my mother’s mom… Blanka. She was originally from Hungary.
She looks much more serious, right? I don’t have as many photos of her. So it’s harder for me to paint my own picture..

My mom didn’t give me a lot of background on what her mother was like. The main part of Blanka’s story was that she had a serious bout of pneumonia when she was young and as a result was sickly across her adulthood. My mom spent a lot of time taking care of her when my mother was a teenager.

Blanka ultimately died young. My mother had grown up by then, but my mom was only in her twenties.

Still, as I think about Blanka’s life, there are two decades of mothering that influenced the person my mom became. (See first paragraph.) I don’t know those stories, but I know that as a result, there’s a part of Blanca in me.

Thank you Blanka. Happy Mother’s Day.

My Mother
Looking at both stories of my grandmothers, there’s the unfortunate similarity that both their lives ended way too early.

Not that one’s life should be singularly judged in terms of longevity, but I feel blessed that my mother lived for as long as she did. And happily, she was my mom decades into my adulthood.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

My Wife
And this brings us to the present.

I’m also blessed to be a parent of a young teenage boy. He is so great. And this is, in large part, due to his amazing mother.
Thank you wife for everything you do for our son every day. I can see your empathy, love of nature and balanced mindfulness flowing in his being.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Generations of Motherly Love
They say it takes a village. I can easily see that using my expanded view across time.

To all of the mothers in my family who have provided so much love, support and wisdom to the generations… you’re all rock stars!

How to Prevent your Family’s Identity from Being Washed Away by Time

As I’ve attempted to curate my father’s photos, I’ve realized I’ve also taken on the much larger burden of organizing undated photos of my ancestors. It’s like putting together a puzzle with many of the pieces permanently missing.

I’ve continued to review and digitize the photo archive that I found in my father’s apartment after he passed away three months ago. I use the word ‘archive’ loosely.

Beyond the several large photo albums my mom curated for the three of us as I grew up, my extended family’s photo history was scattered about in various envelopes and small boxes. There was almost no organization, other than some photos being grouped together.

Some were still in envelopes with their matching old-time negatives. Other negative strips were unaligned and stuffed elsewhere. Almost none of it had any identifying information or key dates.

Please Do your Homework
The good news is this wasn’t the first time I had seen any of the pictures, like this photo of my father and grandfather on their trip to visit Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.
I did previously know where some of the family treasure lived. I had talked with my father about a fair number of these photos, and I had made copies of the old prints with my iPhone. So, I had some information, but not the whole picture.

But across these recent weeks, it’s still been like a puzzle, trying to figure so much out. The most frustrating part of this massive exercise is simply date stamping the pictures and putting them into a chronological order.

Many of my decisions have been based on how old people look in the shots. That’s been easiest when reviewing photos of my father and his brother as children. But it’s still guess work.

It would be so much easier if someone had simply written the who, when and where on the back of the photo. Even just the year would be gold.

Find the Family Historian
Photos of my grandmother Rae and her familyThrough the clouds that mask many of the details of my family’s visual history before I was born, there is one sunny spot that offers stunning clarity.

It’s owned by my father’s mother Rae.

My grandmother’s life was tragically cut short in her 30’s when my father was just a young child. So, I don’t really know much about Rae other than she was a teacher. But I’ve found photos of her that reveal other pieces of her life, ranging from her teenage years up until the time she died. And she dated many of her photos along with where she was.
Wow. I have to give a huge shout out to my grandmother for the important breadcrumbs she left behind for me.
Thank you, Rae. I can only imagine the visual story of our family you would have curated had you lived longer.

Dust off the Negatives
I’ve been using my Wolverine F2D Titan Film to Digital Converter to bring back to life the images buried in the old negatives I found. My efforts have revealed remarkable scenes I’ve never seen before.

Even though you’d think there would be matching photos for these negatives, I’ve only uncovered a few. Perhaps back then, people printed out just a couple of photos from a group of negatives. Or maybe the photos and their albums are simply long gone.

But the negatives survived. Though ignored, they were somehow passed down for almost a century. Now, I’ve got them, and I feel like I’ve accessed a time machine. I’ve opened a portal into the past.
Here’s a converted negative of my father’s family in the mid 1930s… my grandmother Rae with my grandfather along with my uncle and my father as children. (My dad’s the tiny one!)

Something tells me that Rae orchestrated this family portrait. She understood the importance of it all. (I think she would have really liked Instagram.)

Fill in the Gaps
As you might imagine, I immediately printed out and framed Rae’s family portrait. I placed the frame on a shelf next to our fireplace. And then I stepped back and took it in.

It was a bright spot in the storm of the past few months.

But something still bothered me.

Time to Start Leaving Breadcrumbs
Later in the week as I worked on digitizing other photos, it finally came to me. I had printed out and popped Rae’s family portrait into its frame, but I had made the same mistake as most all of my ancestors had… save Rae.

I didn’t write anything on the back of the photo!

I spend so much time curating my own digital family archive. Who knows how well it will survive the ravages of time, especially after I’m gone. But what about that photo I just threw in the frame?

Of course, that’s going to be the picture that somehow survives into the 22nd century. And perhaps my great grandchild will open up the frame looking for information on the back of the photo regarding these strangers.

I really hope that’s not the story, and somehow I can do better to ensure my family’s visual history gets properly passed forward.


Create a Letter in a Bottle
I walked back to our fireplace and picked up the frame… I mean I picked up my little time machine. I opened it up, flipped the photo over and wrote in the critical details.

I put the frame back together and returned it to its spot. This extra step took only 15 seconds, but it tethered the image to its past and prevents the identities of these precious people from being washed away by time.

I stepped back again, but now I saw something else.

I could see Rae’s family photo in a glass bottle, floating away in a vast ocean. It was properly provisioned for its long journey into the future.

Bon voyage.

I Found this Lost 1903 Letter from my Ancestor Harry

While going through my father’s belongings, I opened an old file box of papers to throw away. Instead, I found century-old letters that revealed the identities of my great-grandfather’s brothers.

There’s chaos in life. And there’s some inevitable chaos in death. At least that’s been my experience. With the recent passing of my father, I’ve been working hard to keep it all together, both emotionally and logistically.

One perspective my dad shared with me several times in recent years was that after he’s gone, there will be no one for me to talk with about the past. He was referring to his life story, but it also extended out to our larger family history.

Unfortunately many of those details are still not entirely clear to me. And it’s a punishing reality that the keys to that door of knowledge are lost forever.

Missing Pieces of the Past
It’s not like I didn’t try to understand my family history over the years. And yes, I asked my dad on numerous occasions. Sometimes I got different answers. I think that because he was fuzzy on some of the details.

So putting together my family history on my father’s side has always felt like a complex puzzle.

And now he’s gone.

There is Another
Fortunately, there are still ways for me to continue forward in my research.

Thankfully, there’s my first cousin. We’ve already talked a bit about this, and I intend to share my notes with her in the near future.

A few years back, I convinced my father to do a DNA cheek swab, and I signed him up for along with me. My Heritage is an online genealogy platform, which I’ve been using to try to fill in some of the blanks in my ancestry. It’s a slow process, but it’s a helpful tool.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found some buried treasures of knowledge as I’ve gone through his New York City apartment. For example, I found two letters to my great-grandfather Isaac from his brothers.

One is from 1903 and the other from 1909. I never knew for sure what their names were. Now, I do. They were Gustave, Harry and Julius.

The 1903 Letter
Here’s Harry’s letter to Isaac and his wife when Harry was away in the Catskills during the summer of 1903.
I love his line about giving a 100 kisses to the “little peppie” who just turned one. That was my grandfather’s sister Nora.

I can’t believe I found this amazing sliver from the past from an ancestor who’s name I didn’t even know. That’s priceless.

Building my Digital Archive
Those letters contain casual correspondence. But they were saved by my great-grandfather, passed on and stashed away by my grandfather, and then transferred and forgotten for almost five decades by my father. (Perhaps my dad never even knew he had them. They might have just come in with some other random paperwork from my grandfather after he died.)

This sounds crazy, right? The irony is even with all of the neglect and disorganization, those letters survived for over a century.

Now, I’ve got them.

Of course, I immediately digitized the letters. And then I uploaded them to a cloud folder.

They’ve joined my online family archive. I’ve been building it slowly across the years, but now I feel this huge need to accelerate my efforts.

I’ve talked about digitizing my family’s old photo albums. And I recently begun digitizing some of my father’s analog slides. I’ll also add many of those images to my online family archive.

Trying to Finish the Job that Nobody Really Started
It doesn’t take a psych major to know that my organizing behavior is being driven by my sense of loss. It’s an effort to replace what is gone forever.

But while I’ll never be able to talk with my parents again, there is certainly an independent value to completing a family’s history… as best one can.

And that’s what I’m doing.

When I’m finally done, I’ll focus on how to best preserve it, so the knowledge can be carried forward into the future.

The Challenge of Preserving for the Future
While digital organization is great, I can’t help but wonder how well hard drives and uploaded content in cloud services will withstand the ravages of time.

I think I’ll likely create an analog version (book?) that could make it to the next century in the back of another closet. I’ll also pass forward the original photos and letters that I’ve carefully placed in Print File archival sheet preservers.

And if you’re a descendent of mine reading these words in the 22nd century or beyond… and if you haven’t found the archival preservers or my family history book yet, but you’ve uncovered random pictures of my son as a twelve-year-old boy holding an unidentified cat… that was his pet. The cat’s name?


You’re welcome.

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