How Hereditics Started

My grandmother, around age 3 in about 1914

I have spent all day immersed in pictures and names. Sorting and organizing almost one hundred years of photos and mementos in some sort of chronological order, labeling photos long forgotten with the names of those frozen in the frame, and retouching photographs that have lost their battle with the years and elements and bear scars of creases and fading. My eyeballs may fall out of my head at any given moment, and I have lost all hope that sanity will find me again today.

You see, I am in the throes of the project that is the precursor to what I have affectionately dubbed my “Hereditics” work. Next month marks my grandmothers one hundredth birthday, and as some sort of gift to her and others in the family, I have spent the last 3 weeks or so digging through boxes, sorting and scanning long stored photographs, negatives, slides, and other memorabilia my grandmother clung to through her life. Out of the thousands of photographs I have looked through, I am placing roughly one hundred in a book for her for her birthday. There are photographs her mother took from infancy to childhood, pictures my grandmother took of her family and adventures as a farmer and journalist and press photographer, and mementos spanning almost the entire twentieth century. The scope of the project overwhelms me, and the prospect of successfully showing one’s life condensed into 40 pages is daunting.

The facts are that the process is exhausting, and I feel like a jack hammer that is just starting to break through layer upon layer of concrete. I have also learned more about my family than I imagined I ever would. I am beginning to understand the complex relationships of the immensely strong women that make up my heritage. I am beginning to understand pathologies that run like rivers through generations and maladies that hold hands with extreme intelligence. I am beginning to understand how cycles are patterned and broken. My mental Rolodex has expanded to the point where I can name my great-aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and great-cousins and family friends and so-on and so-forth at any age, at just one glance. And I realize the information I have unearthed thus far I a droplet of water in a very large pond.

Somehow, I feel this book is only the beginning, and as I continue to scratch the surface in this anthropological journey, it may take me places I never could have dreamed of going. Before I can take off on the journey completely, I need to turn up The Pixies, tune out the outside word and finish this preemptive mini adventure by finishing this book!


3 thoughts on “How Hereditics Started

  1. Pingback: The Fields « Where We Ar[t]

  2. Thanks Jen! sometimes i don’t know if the information i have to sift through is more overwhelming, or if the information i don’t have, the stories lurrking in the empty crevices between oral and written histories i have procured and the images is more overwhelming. we shall see where this road takes me.

  3. You’re lucky to have that much history available to you. One of my greatest regrets in life is not taking the time to know my own Grandmother better. Shortly before she died I’d learned she’d had a back-alley abortion, she and my grandfather had divorced and then later remarried, we weren’t related by blood (and that was devastating) ,as a young girl in Louisiana she worked in the cotton fields and her grandfather took her to the courthouse to watch court proceedings because he felt it was important for women to be able to have intelligent conversations about the law and politics.

    That is a lot to know but I felt like I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I applaud your anthropological journey into your families history (herstory?).

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