This past Christmas weekend I was re-introduced to a medium of family history that may have gone out of style. No, I’m not talking about my own use of outdated published materials (yikes!) or any of my attempted genealogical gleanings (snore…) or even my possible faux pas in giving dad a DNA test for Christmas.
Rather, I am referring to a medium of family history generally associated with oral histories and a medium where we (almost…) never actually hear anyone speak! This year, that nearly forgotten source of family history arrived just before Santa Claus, after dinner, and amid the wrappings' clutter. It’s a medium that is being re-told to and shared with me through the eyes of the next generation.
You see, several years ago a couple of things started to disappear around our home. This is no big deal, as part of this disappearing act is my own doing, for I have (gleefully) been giving away “old stuff.” So when my son and daughter-in-law (a Millennial and a Gen-Xer) asked about the rolls of old 8mm “home movies,” I gladly obliged. Many of the old films, along with the projector, had been cloistered in differing hall closets for forty years (or more). I had no problem letting go of the Bell and Howell and all the what-nots that went with it. After all, who wants to watch old home movies?
A once fashionable way to preserve memories, “home movies” quickly grew into an industry of silent ennui and a wonderful way to chase away anyone who had overstayed their welcome. Home movies long ago gave way to the Beta-max (I think!?), the camcorder, VHS tapes, etc., etc., until ultimately we now capture all our moments on our cell phones to “post instantly.” Yep, no need of those dusty old cellulose reels.
Dessert had just been served when my daughter-in-law, an astute and even visionary young woman (the Gen-Xer), announced to our family gathering that she and my son (the techie Millennial) had been working on a project for quite some time, and while not finished, they very much hoped we would enjoy their “work in progress.” She directed our attention to their HD television screen, and with little more introduction than this, the old Bell and Howell projector reincarnated itself into a new life. Yes, there “they” were – right where I’d left them – my grandmother waving to me from the Honolulu airport of Christmas 1989 and my old family dog “Wally” protectively riding herd over a bunch of kids again. How our hearts did stop!
My son explained that it has been his and his wife’s focus to gather together these old home movies, piecing together segments of life from each of their respective families. Their goal is to transform these film documentaries into a modern format – basically, to some sort of a thumb drive, I think (but don’t quote me!). Further, they are putting this project together with the idea that they will be asking for our help in identifying the players on the stage – as so many of the characters in these old movies have passed “silently” on, and really aren’t known by too many folks anymore.
My son explained that it has been his and his wife’s focus to gather together these old home movies, piecing together segments of life from each of their respective families.
So just when you think that the family history is going to heck with no one caring or carrying on – think again. While it might not always be told they way we would tell it – with census records, pension affidavits, and death certificates – our family histories may be preserved and told in different ways by the next generation. Indeed, why shouldn’t a new generation record and keep a portion of the past in a different way? As we once did ourselves, they are finding their own ways to preserve our past.
I’m not sure what motivated my kids to do this, but I admit to being pretty proud of them for it. And yes, I know that there are a lot off commercial companies out there that will do this for a fee. It’s a great service to employ, I’m sure. However, the idea of my son and daughter-in-law lovingly going through those old 8mm films themselves, cataloguing and digitally preserving the data and identities of the ‘stars’ involved in each of them, well, to me it’s what family history is built on – the personal aspect. (I will sneak in a few of their Ahnentafeln when they aren’t looking…)
It’s been a tough year with a good deal of sadness for my family. I have high hopes that we will come out of it in 2018 – perhaps on the better side of it all. I do have to tell you, though, that on Christmas Day, while following each other home, my son’s car broke down on a busy highway.
There we were: great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, children, and babies, in-laws and outlaws, all on the side of the road. It was quite the Christmas Day event for us warm-blooded Californians, with even the tow truck sent to rescue us breaking down along the way. We all knew then that we would laugh about it someday. For me, I was reminded about the old Bell and Howell, and couldn’t help but wish I’d had it right there in hand to bear witness to our silly motorcade of multi-generational memories in the cold!
About Jeff Record
Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.View all posts by Jeff Record →