With the death of my mother-in-law, Phyllis, in April, has come the not-surprising changes of losing a loved one who has always been there. Even with one in the deep golden years who suffered the maladies of being a smoker for 70 years, death is not a surprise but still brings sadness and loss. Nana’s gained admittance for my husband into the orphan club, where I have been a member since my mom passed in 2004. It also removed the last remaining grandparent from the lives of my girls (and their Washington cousins) and the only one with which they had any kind of relationship, tarnished though it may have been.
We haven’t yet had the “closure” that will come with burial since, truthfully, we’ve not yet make a decision and so her cremains sit on the entertainment center next the the bowl of chocolate I’m sure she would have enjoyed. The only closure has been the returning of the key to her landlady after we spent a month cleaning out her apartment. She had few belongings and even fewer with sentimental value as she had long since sold off her things when she sold her house then had to replace them with second-hand purchases when she moved into her own apartment. So her passing left us with the usually tawdry duties of paying her final expenses, notifying creditors of her passing and emptying her apartment. Odds and ends were disbursed to the kids. Loads of clothes and tchotchkes were taken to local thrift stores. The rest was carted and piled into our laundry room where we had slowly picked and decided and tossed, whittling the pile down to a few boxes of photos. And in those photos we have found immense value.
Phyllis had some photos tucked here and there. Mostly from family we know but some, we believe, from people she had met recently. No one we had a connection to. Then...tucked in the back of the closet was a suitcase that belonged to her mother, Helen Weekes Campbell, who passed away in November of 1979 (but returned in the form of Monica, born seven months later).Inside this case were photos..FAMILY photos. Some snapshots.Some professional. Some identified but many...were not. Some we know. Others….Who ARE these people?! Mark didn’t recognize them. Little Nana (Helen) was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. When she married Charles, they moved to California and never really looked back although Helen never lost her New England "accent". She was descended from Stephen Hopkins who signed the Mayflower Compact. She had many “people” but most all were still on the east coast, many on Cape Cod. I started scanning photos into a “mystery family” folder then signed into my Ancestry.com account.
Mark’s family tree heads off on a few tangents because of the Mayflower history and those records have given me names of “leaves” on unfamiliar branches that I didn’t think I’d ever need but added them to our tree in hopes they might eventually help with confirming other leaves as needed. I found members of those distant families, whose trees correlated with mine and started sending messages via Ancestry, offering up photos in exchange for identifications.First one connection in Nova Scotia - New Scotland, home of the Campbells. Then another. And another. Photos were identified. Others remained in the "folder of mystery". Excited emails were exchanged. The most recent connection started out on Ancestry then, thank Gods for social networking, a friend request on Facebook from Mark’s second cousin, once removed (I’m trusting him on that) who lives in Florida. He proceeded to post on FB some of the photos I had sent, sending out feelers to his cousins. As he said..it started “a firestorm”. Too stinking fun to read the comments and chat back and forth with family, even if it is distant family. Memories of events and of pictures “that grandma had hanging in an oval frame”. The level in my “mystery family” folder is going down as the “old family photos” fills up.
Of course, these are not MY family. They are names Mark remembers and some I have heard in passing over the past 40 years in conversations with Phyllis. Some, were never mentioned because even she had not met them. In those cases, I suspect the pictures were sent, as some of us do, in Christmas cards to catch up our friends and relations on our lives and those of our children. The thing is, often we don’t keep those photos and I’m thinking that maybe we should. We should label them, including the year and squirrel them away in a box for our children to find years from now. And for THEM to contact distant friends and relations and make connections on whatever comes after Ancestry.com and Facebook. When I’m done with the scanning and identifying, I will bundle up the photos and ship them across the country to the family members who will most enjoy them. Or maybe….we’ll deliver them ourselves.