Genealogy Tip O’ the Day: The Trouble with (and Magnificence of) Memories
Have you ever found yourself tricked by your own memories?
As a genealogist and our family’s resident historian, I have always loved the song written by Ray Thomas, The Trouble with Memories. The following are a few lines from that song:
“The trouble with memories. They’re never where you leave them. The trouble with memories. They change through the years.”
Ray Thomas pegged memories for sure! First, how often do we struggle with trying to locate, in our mind, some old memory involving a family member or event of long ago? Parts of it may be there, and you know all of it was there at some time, but darn it, now, as Ray said, it’s not where you left it.
Same thing with how memories change through the years. While I understand the concepts involved in not remembering something, I am constantly amazed at how memories change through time – and often end up not at all accurate.
I spent my youth in Ohio and have some wonderful memories of outstanding times as a kid playing outdoors for hours on end. Often it would be from after breakfast to sundown when the streetlights came on. I can close my eyes and see the backyard I played it. It was huge! It abutted a park and undeveloped land and was my kingdom. Then I went back.
It was while we were on our way to take our son to college. I suggested we stop in my old hometown and I show the kids the house I grew up in and more. I boldly walked up to the current owner of the home and asked if I could show my kids around the yard. He bluntly said ‘Absolutely NOT!’ Undeterred we got in the car and I drove off to take the kids ‘the back way’, which I remembered to get to the house. As we walked through the parkland we approached my old home from the back and I was thunderstruck. The yard, that ‘kingdom’ was tiny! My memory had grown it beyond all proportions. It took me awhile to get over this, but then I came to realize it was a marvelous lesson in genealogy and family history. Just as Ray Thomas said about memories ‘they change through the years’.
Another case on point occurred during a family discussion regarding the location of the marriage of one set of grandparents. All the people in the room were grandchildren of this couple and yet some said they were married in the U.S. while others said it was overseas in the ‘old country’. Both groups were equally adamant for their view. It wasn’t until I produced a copy of the marriage license that the question was settled.
On the magnificent side of memories is the beauty that just like in the above case, almost everyone has them. So smart genealogists and family historians use this to mine stories more deeply. Let me explain with a very simple example.
Recently I posted an old family photograph on a social media site (you can see the photo below). I shared the photo since I, as the family historian, loved it due to the large number of elder family members all sitting together at the side of a family swimming pool. I marveled at the fact that the dozens of comments posted about that photo all were telling about some very special memory of swimming there, the family, the parties, even the family dogs! One photo, but dozens of memories and each one unique. It made me so happy to see one photo turn into such an amazing swirl of stories.
So I thank Ray Thomas for his wonderful song, even if I can never listen to it without thinking about genealogy and the old adage “Genealogy without proof is mythology.”
So take a moment and be sure to shore up those memories as best you can!
Onward To Our Past®