Or your children, for that matter?
According to a 2007 survey, conducted by the genealogy website Ancestry.com, a surprising number of U.S. adults lacked fundamental knowledge of their (grandparent’s) personal histories — one in three could not even name any of their great-grandparents. The site also found that only 43 percent of the adults surveyed knew both their grandmothers’ maiden names. Further, 22 percent did not know what their grandfathers did for a living, and 28 percent did not know if any of their ancestors had served in the military.
“A lot of kids don’t connect to their history because they’re not talking about it at the table.” link
That, and living a thousand miles apart–maybe for the remainder of their early lives, the two so far–and Ann and I will be placeholders for grandparents to our granddaughters, no anchor to their past, not keepers of the family history.
But then again, they may never care about those things. But it’s surprising how, eventually, most adult children wish they had more of their roots to draw from, to give them bearings and a sense of being part of something more than a single wandering suburban life. They wish they’d asked more questions–or been offered more of the places and events that made their grandparents who and what they were. Who are the people in those deep stacks of faded snapshots up in the back closet anyway?
I only had one grandparent in my growing up, really–my mother’s mother–who my kids called Granny Bea. Mom’s father died in a hunting accident when she was 11. My father’s mother and step father were always coldly referred to as “the grandparents”–people who should never have had children and certainly never wanted to be bothered having children of children around, much less telling them their life stories. So more the precious the one I had who loved me.
Bea died in 2002 at age 95. I knew her apartment, her voice, her cooking very well. I didn’t know who she was in many ways. I never gave her the opportunity or freedom to retrace her life as a farm girl in Murphreesboro, Tennessee.
Only recently in my mother’s retelling (she has made a couple of tapes of her life, my children have them) did I make the connection with the people we drove to see who had the enormous pig. It was my grandmother’s husband’s family. I wish I knew more of all this.
Thankfully, this matter of losing our individual and collective past is getting more attention in oral history efforts through local and academic grants and programs. And with the relative low cost and portability of digital recorders and cameras these days, most anyone can set aside some time to interview a grandparent.
Or the grandparent can take the initiative: tell your story in a journal with your grandkids name on it; get a hand held recorder; start a blog; self-publish a book and make a dozen copies at Kinkos with pictures scanned in. Do it now.