Saturday, September 10, 2011

Preserving Our Family History

Like everyone else in this country, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the first plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center. We were just starting a sales meeting at the Northeast Atlanta Metro Association of REALTORS(R) when an agent arrived late and breathless. He had heard the report on the radio as he was driving to the meeting. The initial reports indicated that it probably was a small commuter plane. Not long after, we were informed that a second plane had hit, and we knew that it was a terrorist attack.

When I finally got home and could watch the full reports on television, I knew that life as we knew it was over. An avid family and community historian, I had the fleeting thought that it didn't really matter how our ancestors had lived, or thought, or looked, or where they were buried. In fifty years, would anyone care?

Ironically, I had just launched an ambitious project of scanning old family photographs. We had a substantial collection of old photographs in Atlanta, and I offered to scan and save them to a CD for any cousins who wanted one. As an afterthought, I threw this out, "If you have any old photographs that you feel are special, please e-mail or snail mail them to me."

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with Christmas fast approaching, I was bombarded with the most delightful images from cousins all over the country. We had a gorgeous 3/4 length portrait of our great-great-grandmother, circa 1860, and a cousin sent a full length portrait taken the same day! The portrait above is a great-grandfather holding our aunt. Another cousin sent one taken the same day of the old man holding our uncle. It told such a sweet story, and I could imagine my grandmother telling her father, "Just stay right there and hold still," while she handed him another baby!

Now, at least one cousin in every family group has every old family photograph. I keep an extra copy on a flash drive and a CD in my safe deposit box at the bank. (By the way, I do the same thing with my home inventory, including photographs and receipts). Whenever I discover an old family photograph, a letter, or any other family memorabila, my first thought is to preserve and distribute as many copies as possible.

We Americans are resilient. This photo project which encouraged friendly communication among far flung cousins while honoring our ancestors and their families and communities made me to feel hopeful about the future.

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