Friday, April 28, 2017

Do You Remember . . .

I've just returned from visiting the Freedom Tower in New York City. It's both a sobering reminder of an occurrence we'll never forget, and a re-immersion into the mood of the moment when the unthinkable unfolded, before our eyes, in painful slow motion.

Despite the distance of the fifteen years separating us from the event, almost everyone alive then can recall precisely what they were doing, the moment they heard the news. Something about the urgency of the moment cemented those memories in our minds.

For those alive at the time, the same can be said for the precise moment the news struck the airwaves about the assassination of American president, John F. Kennedy. That moment will also be forever cemented in mind.

"Do you remember when" becomes a question which, for those still alive from that era, can bring back vivid memories paired with the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, too. No matter how far removed that event might have been, those still alive can give a report of the minute details of their day at the moment the news hit.

Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush that pairs with crisis situations. Whatever the reason for those undying memories, they provide a peek into the day to day life being lived by our relatives, leading up to the unexpected turn of events. While it would be too painful to recall, just after the event, when the distance of time makes it possible, not only is it therapeutic for people to share their memories of the moment, but it provides a micro-history for others to understand the feelings surrounding the event, coupled with the everyday life observations surrounding the crisis.

Sharing these memories also helps family members catch a glimpse of what life was like for a specific member of our family. Such micro-histories, shared and passed down to younger generations, allow the rest of the family—descendants, in particular—to see, in retrospect, what their ancestors had experienced through the dire passages of their lives.

The museum organizers were careful to preserve the memories of many who survived that day, back in September, 2001, drawn from many aspects. Many walks of life contributed to the collage of memories, representing all who were part of that tragic scene. Employees, neighbors, rescue workers, and many others lent their voice to recordings, explaining in sound bites the whole array of that day's experiences and its aftermath.

I couldn't help but wonder, walking through the displays at the museum, what became of those who were related to the men, women and, sadly, even children impacted by that day. My mind started envisioning a family tree of those involved in that day—what was the legacy of that experience?

My mind naturally runs in that direction, which helped me realize the same treatment could be applied to our own research. We can apply the same questions to our own family's memories—most certainly for those still with us who lived through the Second World War, or the Kennedy assassination—or even an event more close to the current time.

Admittedly, asking "Do you remember when?" concerning crisis events may not always be as fun an interview opportunity as recalling the birth of the first grandchild, or when one's baby had his first haircut or went off to kindergarten. Invoking a more introspective process, it can also be more revealing, both of the details of everyday life—with the crystal-clear recall embedded in that adrenaline-infused experience—and the personality-revealing observations shared in the process.

I know I certainly was instantly transported back to that morning as I walked through that museum. If asked, I could certainly fill pages with recollections of my everyday life from just before and just after hearing the news. Notes like that, captured in interviews, notes, and other recollections from family members, could provide us with the material to preserve our own family's stories in those moments of time when it seemed all the world stood still.


  1. I think a list of questions would be great to open a conversation and record the results. Where were you when I was born? How did your parents meet? Who was your favorite sibling? Aunt? Uncle? and why? Just a start. I hope you have a good trip back home:)

    1. I like those questions, Far Side. They delve into the fascinating side of life's nitty gritty.


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