Most people have at least one. Others have a storage unit full of them. They’re the Rubbermaid bins and cardboard boxes of memories. They are full of photographs, newspaper clippings, cards and mementos. It’s what you’ve moved with you during your life’s journey. It’s what you’ve valued or what you want to be remembered for, or never want to forget. It’s your personal history.
Watching the movie Citizen Kane for the first time, at 14 years old, I cried when they tossed Charles Foster Kane’s sled Rosebud in the fire. I cried because no one knew what was most important to a public figure… and that the world was so quick to judge him for tangible accomplishments rather than his intent. They didn’t really know out of all the stuff he owned what he valued or why.
This month, I tracked a distant cousin down while vacationing near her home in Texas to meet her in person. I asked to see the boxes of stuff left to her after her maternal grandmother died. She allowed me to spend hours in her office photographing what was in the boxes. It was one of the best things that I did on my vacation. She asked me, like so many others have, why I care about genealogy so much. Why would I take the time to research, record and preserve records of people that I am not even related to?
By honoring our dead, and acknowledging their lives and contributions, we are connected. Their legacy is preserved and can serve as an example to others… or a cautionary tale. By spending my time documenting the losses, of spouses, children, jobs, and homes, I hope to preserve that legacy and remind myself why I need to keep breathing.
The importance of pushing through the pain and losses we all endure in life, are what define us… not the losses. By preserving a person’s legacy, we honor their strength, and can develop empathy for the magnitude of the burdens they carried in life.
Part of what motivates me to spend hours on family history work. Is to uncover who people were, and record their important events. That can be challenging when there is little information that I can piece together. No photographs. No living relatives to talk to. No way to confirm what I can surmise about a person’s character based on details I fit together to create a vision of who someone was, and what they did or did not accomplish in the time they spent on this earth.
After someone dies, If you are fortunate enough, you will have a box of their stuff. After you lose someone, it may take time to open it, but please, keep it. Label the outside if you’re not ready to immerse yourself in its contents. Someday, even if you never open it, someone like me will care. They will take the time to record the memories so that person is remembered.
Back to your box of stuff… When was the last time you opened it? Are there things you need to cull from its contents? What should you add? If that was all someone had to define you, what would they know about who you were and how you have evolved? If it doesn’t reflect the essence of your being, change it while you can.
And if you are feeling really ambitious, please, label those pictures, and put a note explaining your stuff and why its valuable. It may take time, and require introspection you usually avoid, but do it anyway. Future genealogists like me will thank you.