Saturday, October 16, 2021

When Names and Dates
Were People we Knew


There are times when the dates we noted in our family tree trigger memories. After all, what does a genealogist do with the details tied to those names and dates? Sometimes, those facts are not just notations in a family history database. They take on the shape of memories which come back to visit us.

We save those family heirloom photos, tucking them carefully in archival-quality folders...then pull them out to compare hundred-year-old baby pictures with the latest niece, nephew, or grandchild. Those relatives' memory lives on, just as surely as their genes, in part, become our own. Different than those ancestors of distant centuries, though, those family members who live on in our personal memories—who once were a part of our own life—can come "calling" when we least expect it.

So it has been, while I sifted through those family photos from Marilyn Sowle Bean's collection which I recently rescued from a local antique shop, that I recalled yesterday that it was her daughter's birthday. Of course, just like Marilyn, her parents, her husband, and even her own son, her daughter has now been long gone. That unexpected loss became part of the chain of occurrences which led to Marilyn's photos ending up in an antique shop.

Even after all these years, though, I can't help but remember those important dates like birthdays for each of Marilyn's family members—at least the ones I knew personally. Seeing a date on the calendar—like one so recently passed—brings back memories anew of family members who have been gone for years. In a way, they still live on, preserved in our memories—a small validation for the work we do as family historians.

To remember. And help others remember with us.

Above: Inscribed in Marilyn Bean's handwriting with a note addressed to "Great Aunt Leona," this portrait of Marilyn's children was taken when her daughter Judy was one year of age.


  1. Sometimes I really feel that I am the director for preservation of family memories.

    1. Sometimes that designation of "Director" seems a lonely position, if everyone else in the family simply "dumps" their material on you. On the other hand, Miss Merry, what you are doing is a valuable service to your family--both the ones who already know about your love for family history and those distant relatives you've never met in person, but whom you've gifted with photos and memorabilia they'd never otherwise see. I know you've mentioned one such instance like that. That's where the effort becomes worth all the work!

      By the way, I've shared that story of yours with members of my classes, especially when I encourage them to collaborate with others in their family. Sometimes, that brings great results--so you really are an inspiration to others you'd never otherwise know about!

  2. I’ve become the keeper of the family history, and I’m hoping at least one of my kids or grandkids will be interested in taking on that role eventually.

    1. Here's hoping so, Sara. With all the research we do on our family's history, we've compiled quite a collection. One encouraging note: I can think of several of our fellow researchers who mentioned how they first became interested by watching their older relatives, hearing their stories about chasing the clues to solve a family puzzle, and following that example. It will happen!


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