Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sometimes Family History Hits When You Least Expect It

Sometimes family history hits you when you least expect it.

As I was frantically working to finish an essay I have due tomorrow (trying to play catch-up from my weekend in bed with a cold), I took a break and headed to Facebook.  I was surprised to see that my cousin began posting pictures of my Mom on my page.  Looks like the essay will have to wait.

Not many of my family members are computer literate and there is an even smaller percentage of them who are social media literate.  Lucky for me, a cousin of mine recently joined Facebook and has been adding photos like crazy – mostly from his vacations over the years.  But tonight – unexpectedly – he began posting photos of my Mom and I and with the exception of one photo, I have never seen these before.

My new favorite photo of Mom. Mom is smiling for the camera as she sits next to her older brother, Don. She looks radiant here and just as tan as I remember she always was - a result of many days at the beach or outside exploring the world.


Here is a photo of Mom and her brother Don sitting on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico while on a family vacation in 1980. Mom always did look amazing in a bathing suit.


Here is a great photo of Mom cuddling with her Uncle Jack while brother-in-law Guy takes a photo. I love this photo because it shows Mom's loving side. Circa 1977 or 78.


Mom loved camping and we'd often go on camping trips - sometimes with the entire family and sometimes just the two of us. Here is a photo from around 1993 or 1994 of (left to right) Me, Uncle Don, and my cousin Christine.

I can't tell you how many memories I have at the beach as a kid - Mom always called me a "water baby". After we moved to Seattle around 1997, I would fly down to California to spend a few weeks of summer with my family. Mom was always willing to hand me over to relatives so I could experience as many adventures as possible - even though she had to work. This is a photo from around 1998 while at the beach with my Uncle Don.

Sometimes family history hits you when you least expect it.


Preschoolers & Family

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been regularly substituting at a local preschool.  While I’ve spent most of my time explaining that LMNOP is five letters (not one!) and how Free Willy is not the name of a species of animal but the name of a whale, I’ve also spent my time discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and families.

For example, the other day in the three year old room we talked about how one little boy is about to become a big brother because his mommy has a baby in her tummy.  We talked about how having a little brother or sister means that you’ll have someone to play with and someone to share your toys with.  Other kids weighed in on how sometimes brothers and sisters can make you mad but how you love your brother or sister anyway.

Later that day we did an art activity where the children drew the people that lived in their home.  The teachers then go around the room and write the names of the people in the drawing.  Some of the children understand and draw something that at least resembles the family and other kids just draw – we still write down whatever they say.

We get the typical responses:

“That is daddy and that is mommy.  And that is me.  And that is Jon and that is Zoe.”

“Is Jon you’re big brother?” I’d ask.


“And who is Zoe?”

“My cat.”

(Yes – 3 year olds consider their cats to be part of their families and those of us who are pet lovers would probably agree.)

Later, we asked the children to tell us what a family is:


“Yes, but what makes these people a family?”

“Daddy said a bad word in the car.”

(Have I mentioned that 3 year olds will also divulge every single secret, embarrassing, and humiliating moment that they see or hear to their classmates and their teacher?  Because they do.)

“Yes – Daddies are part of families.  Anyone else know what a family is?”

“A mommy and a daddy and a baby.”

“What happens when the baby becomes a big kid?  I’m not a baby and I have a family.”

“A family is people who live together.”

“My Nonna and Nonno live in Italy.”

“So families are people who live together but it can also include people who don’t live together?”

“Santa is going to bring me an umbrella!  I’m so excited!”

(Yes, a child actually said they were excited that Santa was going to bring them an umbrella.  And yes, young children can’t stay on topic for long.)

Tips to Discuss Family with the Little Ones in Your Life:

  1. Keep it short, simple, and brief.  Young children can’t handle long explanations and they don’t want to hear the exceptions to the norm.  If something comes up and they ask about it, then feel free to discuss it.  But otherwise, keep it short and sweet.
  2. Get Prior Knowledge.  Instead of starting a discussion with “A family is ______”, the teachers asked the children.  As each child added a bit to the discussion, the teachers helped them fully develop and express their ideas.  This helps them with critical thinking skills.
  3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  When asked to draw her family, one girl drew herself as a princess with the sun shining behind her.  For her, the princess was much more interesting at the time than drawing her family – and that is OK.  We don’t sweat the small stuff.
Do you have experience discussing family or genealogy with young children?

My Views on Family History Have Changed

Note: This is a long, sometimes rambling post that is all my opinion.  Hopefully, some of it actually makes sense.

I had a dream about my mom last night – seems I’m having more and more dreams about her lately.  Sometimes they are good dreams.  Sometimes they are nightmares.  But when I wake up, the feeling is always the same.  Like air suddenly can’t fill my lungs because a ton of bricks has fallen on my chest.  The realization then hits that she isn’t just in the next room, probably reading a book or watching M.A.S.H on TV like she always did when her insomnia kept her awake.  I wouldn’t be able to just wrap my blanket around my body and pick a spot in the living room to sit with her for a while.  It always takes me a few minutes to push the feeling out of my mind and focus on the day.

Since my mom’s passing, I can’t seem to do genealogy without thinking about her.  I can’t look at a pedigree chart and resist cringing when I see her death date there.  I can’t discover something new without having a feeling of hollowness because she isn’t here for me to share the moment with.  Mom was never really interested in genealogy or family history and was often unable to see things as objectively as I could, but she did humor me as much as she could tolerate when I did talk about genealogy.  Her knowledge of history came in handy too and we could bounce ideas off of each other.

I’ve always known that my mom was my ancestor, but the word has always felt old and distant to me.  When I searched for ancestors, it felt like I was searching for people in another time, far away from my own.  I was searching for people I didn’t know and even though I’ve always felt a connection, a pull, a well of inspiration from these people who are my ancestors, I’ve never felt like they were close to me.  Even when dealing with my own grandparents – my mom’s parents died when I was just a baby, my paternal grandmother got dementia just after I started taking my first steps and although she was alive, she was never herself after that, and my paternal grandfather seemed like this husky voiced old man who lived across the country and had a funny accent.  While I wanted to learn more about these people, there was always a disconnect there.  Sure, they had influenced who my parents were as individuals, but they still felt far away – like a story from a book.  I knew that their influence, their choices, their actions had affected me – which more times than not made me proud, but they still felt far away.

To think of my mom as an ancestor just feels… strange.  My mom is a huge influence in who I am as a person – of my very being.  Because of her, I am a passionate, stubborn, often loud vocally person.  I become easily obsessed with things I love.  I am enthusiastic.  I feel the need to understand how things work and why.  I spread myself too thin sometimes.  I can think on my feet, especially in emergencies.  I plan out everything and I hate deviating from the plan.  I’m a control freak and I hate surprises.  I am this way because of my mom.  Her life had a direct impact on me.

How could I possibly call her an ancestor?  She isn’t distant or far away.  She isn’t from a history book.  But as the days and weeks and months pass, my mom starts to feel more distant and far away.  A panic almost seems to set in as I realize how few pictures I have or how I should have written everything she said down.  I almost feel in a rush to record her story – like if I don’t it will disappear and be lost forever.

Two years ago, before my mom was sick, before my mom was gone, I recorded my family history and genealogy because it was interesting.  Because it helped me feel a sense of belonging.  Because the stories gave me strength and inspiration.  Because it was like a challenge or game of detective – how much could I uncover?  What could I find?  Could I decipher that document?  It wasn’t a need but a want.  If I didn’t find it, someone else would.  Like the stories from my family’s past was a treasure chest waiting to be found – sure, I could dig it up, but if I didn’t, someone else would.

I was preserving my family history out of choice.

But now it genealogy and family history are needs for me.  If I don’t record it… if I don’t protect it… if I don’t preserve it… then who will?  I feel anxious to record the stories of my mom, of who she was, my memories of her – like I’ll somehow forget it all if I don’t.

Someday, I will have children and sometimes I fear they’ll view my mom as this far away, distant person.  Like an ancestor.  I can’t let that happen.

Thoughts?  Did I make any sense whatsoever?  Have your views and/or reasons for why you research ever changed?