Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Instant Ancestors


My family didn't come over on the Mayflower. I don't come from a long line of aristocrats whose family stories have been documented in countless biographies or cinematic epics. No, the history of both sides of my family is pretty much the same as most Americans. At some point our ancestors took a boat over from their motherland and made their lives in the United States.

They were hard working Irish (well, sorta), Swedish and English folks who did what they had to do to earn a living and raise a family. I wish it had been different; I could totally see myself as a Rockefeller or a duPont, living in a mansion, enjoying the good life, reflecting on my family's history, and looking back on old family photographs.

But since I don't have that, I've had to be a little more resourceful. I buy my ancestors at flea markets and auctions. It's true, instant ancestors can be had in the form of photographs for a few bucks at any antique store or flea market in this great country. Because my grandparents and great-grandparents were too busy earning a living and settling in this country there wasn't much time or money to document their lives through photographs and scrapbooks, so there are very few family photos being passed down through the generations.

Which must be one of the reasons why I feel so compelled to buy lots of old photos of people I don't know. About 15 years ago I stood in the blazing sun at an estate auction in Southern Maryland for hours for the chance to buy a box lot of photographs and family letters written by a woman to her children. The letters documented her family's lives and described in great detail their history; from relatives fighting in wars to when her family had slaves. It was fascinating reading and I could not believe no one in the family wanted to keep its history intact. I paid $30 for what was in my mind, a privilege, to safeguard the history of one family. And although I was thrilled to be the highest bidder, it also made me very sad. It broke my heart to think no one cared enough to save it. There's a part of me that hopes my own family's history, which is not quite as epic as the Rockefellers, but certainly not without its own drama, doesn't end up at an auction; up for grabs to the highest bidder.

So, I'll keep creating my wall montage of instant ancestors, one auction at a time, and maybe, just maybe those sweet souls staring back at me in the photographs will know that someone wanted them.

In the meantime, say hello to my new ancestors. I bought them at an auction today. Good looking, aren't they? It runs in the family.........


17 comments:

laurie @ bargain hunting said...

It always shocks me that families do not keep their photographs and their history. These are some great pictures. Oh, how funny! While I'm leaving a comment on your blog, I just got a message that you have just left one on my blog! laurie

Lamp Tramp said...

Beautiful "new ancestors". I'm half English, half Irish...4th &
3rd generation of the boat. We must be related! Love your blog!
xoxo! Lamp Tramp

tardevil said...

Thank you for your nice comment on my blog today. That is one of my all time nicest. I may have some "ancestors" I can "send you for free" that we inherited from a friend who died. We don't have a clue who those people are in the photos that aren't labeled. I'll have to mention it to her when I see her. One of my friends use to buy photos like that. It amuses me! :O) At least, you can make all kinds of good stories about them, and they'll never know!

tardevil said...

How very sweet! Thanks for the nice comment! No go forth & pay it forward my friend! Isn't that the wonderful thing about blogging? We all learn from each other!

Bo said...

Hi there...so nice to meet you & thanks for your sweet comments on my blog...please come again anytime!
;-) Bo

KD said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog today. I have really enjoyed browsing through yours! Supposedly we did come over on the Mayflower but Rockefellers we are not! But we do have some historical figures in the line. I wish I had their pictures. I would love to look into their eyes and see if I see any resemblance. Don't you just wonder what they were thinking? So nice to meet you please stop by again! I have added my name to your followers list.

Ashes to Beauty said...

This was a great post! I Loved looking at all those pictures and imagining what stories each of the faces in them could tell. Makes we want to go 'thrifting' tomorrow to see who I can find!

NAVAL LANGA said...

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RKramer26 said...

I remember when you bought your first old photos. It does get some comments from people and just like you, you'll embellish the story to make "Great Grandpa Zachary" part of the family. You allows make coming home from a trip "interesting".

DESIGN BY CATHLEEN said...

How sweet that you have adopted others family photos! Now I kinda feel bad, as I have inherited a box full of photos belonging to my Great Aunt (grandmothers sister) and Great Uncle. Problem is i have photo's of my Great Uncle's family! Pictures of his Mother, pictures of him in the service, etc. They never had any children, hence no one to pass them on to! I can't really throw them out, and left in a box is sorta sad..... If have a few up for adoption!!! If interested give me your address and they are yours....

xoxo
Cathleen

allison strine said...

Aww... I like your new family! The mom is very chic... Isn't that amazing - that the family wouldn't care enough to keep their history? Maybe they couldn't...

I'm emailing you now!

Kasey said...

what beautiful photo's!
(i was looking for your email address, but it's not under your profile page, i wanted to know if you really did want advice?)
k-

Anonymous said...

Gail - This reminds me of the trip to St. Ignace when we took a detour trying to find your relatives...remember?

Lisa

Sherry said...

I love old photos. We have quite a few as does my husband's family. While looking through a box of his family's photos, near the bottom, I found a photo of my first father-in-law's cousins! My jaw dropped when I realized who it was.

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