This is not exactly the post I had imagined I would be writing about now. I imagined I would be sharing with you all my wonderful learning experiences from Rootstech. While I still hope to share some about my abbreviated time at the world’s largest family conference, this post will be more reflective and simply acknowledge one more reason why I feel honored to learn and preserve my family history.
Just before Rootstech I received word that my 96 year old Italian grandmother had passed away. I flew home a few days later to be with my family for her memorial service.
In many ways, my grandmother led an ordinary life. She loved simple things like snow, Christmastime and crafting. Yet, in other ways, her life was remarkable. The firstborn child of Sicilian immigrants, she lived history growing up in Chicago in the 20s and 30s. As an adult, she worked as single mom — at a time when to do so was uncommon. Though she never acted tough on the outside, her character was marked by a remarkable independence and endurance. It is still difficult to believe she is no longer with us.
When a close loved one passes, we of course feel grief. But even in the midst of trying to accept what has happened, a million tasks fall on the shoulders of the family. Even though many miles separated me from my family in the days leading up to the memorial, I was still able make contributions to the efforts back home and I truly believe I have genealogy to thank for that. First, I was honored to be able to write my grandmother’s biography for her memorial service. Using my notes from interviews with my grandmother, supplemented with a record or two, the biography came together relatively quickly and with little stress.
Second, I was honored to put together a pictorial collage of my grandmother’s life. Only last November when I was back home visiting family did I digitize boxes of my grandmother’s old photos and records. I was easily able to arrange these in a Photoshop document and have a poster size print made. I rolled the poster up, took it on the plane with me and placed in a frame that was waiting in Chicago. The family who came to pay their respect seemed to truly appreciate the photos, many of which were quite touching. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back, but to acknowledge how genealogical preservation can help us honor our loved one’s lives. I like to think my grandmother would have been pleased with the way her life was remembered.
Genealogy has helped me during this time in another way as well. Strange as it may seem, I feel like it has helped me grieve. Even before I knew my grandmother’s health had turned for the worse, I had been concentrating my research on her branch of the family tree. Since her passing, most of my free time has been spent deep in Italian records and I feel I am just inches away from breaking down a brick wall that has loomed for some time. Of course, I am sad to realize that when the brick wall comes down, I won’t be able to call her up to tell her about it. But who knows? Maybe she now knows all the answers to the genealogical questions we had over the years. In any case, I am just glad to learn about the historical events, the seemingly small or big decisions, which led to this remarkable woman becoming my Grammy.