I live in a shrine.

Not a place of religious significance, mind you. However, the purpose of my bedroom (contained in my mother’s condo) is not primarily for my comfort or storing of my belongings.

Rather my chamber is the repository of Mom’s quest for family past. Artistically printed family trees, copies of censuses and birth certificates, and details scribbled onto the backs of envelopes.

generic family tree

These collections, stacked in wooden family plots, claim the place of honor. (Note – the sarcophagi are usually referred to as dresser drawers.) Hard-to-unearth documents are stored away from light and exposure. Rules of the shrine are housed in concrete. There must be no crumpling, no gouging, no accidental tearing, or bearing of too much weight for these precious glimpses of the past.

Which means my clothing is stored in a cardboard box, closet and the two small desk drawers I dared to claim.

For Mom, it wasn’t enough to simply trace the lines that belonged to her dad and mom back a few generations and call the efforts good. The whitened bones of my extensive family’s past feature William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda, many relatives who farmed and raised their children in rural England and the United States, the few daring souls who set off on a hazardous journey to the new world.

Mom diligently researched on, even when her dad asked why wasn’t it enough to focus on the family of today. The quest took her to genealogical centers and historical libraries and long sessions on her personal computer.

It awes me to think of all my mother has done to achieve this collection. I see the shadows in printed copies of email conversations with other researchers of the past. Letters from distant cousins she never met in person.

A wonderful collection of finds but one that makes me cringe at times. So many of these documents lay forgotten before my siblings and I tackled helping mom clean and organize the condo last summer.

I volunteered to categorize the papers by family, a task that boggled my mind when trying to connect the different names. Who were the Schlossers, for example, and were they connected to the Rileys?

The task was finally completed and I loaded files into the dresser drawers – carefully, carefully – under mom’s vigilant eye.

My mother’s quest appears complete for now. Labels adorn the outside of the drawers so she can easily find the families. The hours for the local LDS genealogy center are displayed on the refrigerator.

Has she completed her voyage of genealogical discoveries? I wonder?

It will be up to me to someday bring these bones of the past to life in a book.

To interpret (as much as possible) what happened with key relatives such as the (2x) great grandfather who was taken prisoner-of-war during the Civil War.

To ensure my mother’s life’s work is preserved and passed onto siblings, to cousins, to our children.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved

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