Living in a shrine

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

Rich family Inheritance

A few days ago I was challenged to think of inheritances — and what mine will be.

Money? Not a concern. The few dollars left after settling the estate may pay for a lunch out for my siblings and I.

No, my inheritance will be the fragile photos currently stashed in boxes, and jealously guarded by mom. A few are originals, fragile, and one-of-a-kind. Others in black and white, or in color of most recent family members, events.

Dozens of folders, categorized by family names and filled with the results of her paper trail, stored away in a chest-of-drawers and in a dresser.

My mother is a hoarder and this penchant for having it all spilled into her genealogy. Years and hours spent at the local genealogy centers, mailing requests for the information she cannot sleuth for, census forms, family trees in triplicate and quadriplicate.

Overwhelming. Confusing. Intriguing.

So what is my inheritance? The more time I spend with my mom, the more I see what a rich inheritance I will gain from her — in appreciation of family and the past.   She has collected so much information, it bewilders even me, the historian.

So many familial branches, so many people, and things to keep figured out. But I love the challenge –even as she does. The searching for the small details that not only tell the birth and death dates such as the great great great grandfather who lost his wife and their youngest daughter to tuberculosis. The documents don’t tell of his broken heart, but a letter to his brother spells out his desperate decision to snatch what money he could from their family inheritance and bring some of his remaining children and a new wife to America. Where he hoped they would not die of tuberculosis.

The detailed family line that spells out our connection to the throne-seeking launcher of the Battle of Hastings and to a descendant who was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Illegitimate, in other words, and that fact got him kicked out of the royal family line up.

Pictures of a cheeky 14 year old, my great grandmother whisper of our Native American inheritance. Censuses that spell out where families lived and what their occupations such as “farmer” and ‘homemaker/at home” were in a given year.

Another record that shows a Quakeress ancestor jailed for her faith before being allowed to emigrate to the United States.

So many rich, telling details. Mom’s passion for possessing”it all” has created a rich inheritance indeed, Some day I will serve as its curator, and as a writer/historian wrestle the thousands of details into a book for future generations to keep.

(C) 2016 Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.