Saturday, July 15, 2017

A plea... #grandparentsaremagic

A personal, but audio related post: 

On 30 June 2004, I came within two hours of dying. I had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured my last working tube (the year before, during finals week, I'd had a double blighted ovum which corrupted the other one). Unbeknownst to me, I had been bleeding internally for hours before I began having seizures, and was rushed to the emergency room where I was saved by an amazing doctor that had recently moved to the area to be close to Nauvoo. Having been made aware of my mortality in that way, I chose to make my work my legacy: the articles and books that I have and will produce are like children to me.  And for 13 years, the anniversary of that event, June 30th, became a reflective day; a time to do an inventory of the previous year: accomplishments, goals and what I could do to improve.

On 30 June 2017, I published my first book. I felt like I had finally taken back my tentative sense of self worth on that day to make it an anniversary of triumph. That morning I carried 23 pounds of book to the post office to mail to friends and family. My grandmother was pleased as punch, and I sent her a copy in care of her trusted neighbor because I knew they would likely read it together.

But the next morning, my grandmother passed away. Apart from the sense of loss, I found that losing the last of your grandparents makes you aware of your mortality in a very different way:  it is like time is marching toward you, because they were always that unjaded presence that encouraged you and connected you to the past. When your parents pass (which mine have not) you move closer to being the last left, to being that connection to the past. I was and am heartbroken.

But I remembered a project that I had done with her several years ago and I felt my heart do a leap. Kimberly Powell had posted interview questions on her website, and I had printed them out and given them to my grandma to answer in a journal. She called me and told me she had tried, but that she would prefer to be recorded. I sent her a voice recorder so that she could read the question and then free flow. It was one of the coolest things ever. I have her discussing her childhood, how she found out about her father dying, about her husbands, her adventures; and I have her playing the piano.

When I found out she had passed, I played a recording of her talking to me and playing "Aloha Oe." The part at the end when she says goodbye makes me bawl each time. The eccentric in me pictures her side-saddling a star and riding over a rainbow while waving.

So my plea is to interview now. Audio (MP3 recorders are so cheap these days, and most phones have that capability too) and written interviews of parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives should be done as soon as you can. Collect while they are able because you cannot interview the dead (you can trust me on that: I have gone through the entire Houdini collection at the Library of Congress).

In the last few years, I have also made a mad dash to get my grandmother's lineages published in peer reviewed journals. One was published in The Genealogist in the Spring, one is pending for NGSQ, and another for The Genealogist is also pending. In her tiny voice, my grandma once mentioned that she thought I preferred to write about my grandfather's side (the Hawaiian) more than hers. I assured her that I didn't, that it was just that his seemed so much easier. Her Boone and Chamberlain lines were some of the toughest pedigrees I have ever worked on. I was able to correct them, and by having them published I could give her a tangible copy she could hold and read.

So fix those lineages now too. Write them out while they are fresh in your mind. And when you do, publish, publish, publish. It is your responsibility to publish lineages now and to share with them with the living, while they are living.

Interview now.
Write now.
Publish now.