Sunday, July 24, 2016
Off the Shelf:
When it comes to the immense collection of books at our house still awaiting completion, I usually pull one down from its shelf to read after it has perched there for ages with all but the first ten or twenty pages unread.
Today's selection is different. Determined to finish what I started reading, I had tucked this paperback into the glove compartment of my car, for those just-in-case moments of down time while on the road. It's taken me nearly a year to do it, but I have succeeded in covering over two hundred pages of a memoir I've always intended to read.
What else is a devoted—but busy—reader to do? The only way to finish a book is to start. Then move steadily, page by page, through the content until those words—"The End"—finally come into view.
Stored Treasures, a memoir mostly composed of the journal of genealogist Smadar Belkind Gerson's great grandmother, lends itself well to this style of reading. Brief chapters describe the early years of Minnie Crane, memories of her childhood in a country village in what is now part of Belarus, and of her brief stay, as a young Jewish girl, in pre-war Germany. The story continues with the opportunity to follow her older brothers to America, the chance to go to school (even if it was night school), the challenges of keeping together as family with her siblings and the mutual effort to help each other succeed in a new land.
I first met the author, Smadar, online through her blog, Past-Present-Future, where she not only shared details about completing her book, but also published stories about other members of her family. Smadar has an interesting perspective, largely on account of her unusual life story. Born in Israel, she was education in the United States—she has a degree in medicine—but after marriage, moved to Mexico where she and her husband raised their family. Now back in the Boston area, she has delved further into genealogical research.
Although I miss her blog—Smadar hasn't posted since the fall of 2014—I enjoyed seeing how, in her book, she put together the words of her great grandmother and her grandmother with her own observations, filling in the blanks in the narrative with explanations and historical insights. The straightforward narrative of Minnie Crane's journal contrasts with the challenging experiences she went through as a young person. Just letting her tell her own story gives it a clarity I appreciated.
Of course, I have my eye on this type of book for another reason: just as any genealogist might, I've unearthed a wealth of material from family members whose stories simply beg to be told. With that in mind, I often wonder how others handled this sort of task, so I've gathered quite a collection of such books. I'm always curious to see how others choose to address this task of sharing their family's stories, and since I have been reading these books, you can be sure I'll be sharing a description on each as I finish them.
With photographs included, as well as copies of letters and news clippings, Smadar chose to let her great grandmother tell most of her own story. Still, she found a way to gently insert her own voice as she brought the family's story forward through the next three generations. I appreciate her approach—as well as the opportunity to glimpse the story of someone else's family.