Playing with Family History

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We were sneezing, coughing, laughing and sighing. We were at our family reunion. This reunion is a bit different than most.

Yes, we

  • did gathered at the home town of our Grandfathers and Grandmothers
  • did the potluck with way to much food and lots of desserts
  • did the pictures – starting with the eldest who is only 94 – because we were a small group this year we did the generations – eldest, cousins and children of cousins with their children
  • looked at old pictures togethers – very funny and reflective of those who were no longer sitting with us this year

But we also stepped back into history. There were about 25 of us gathered in the small town of Swedesburg, Iowa. (Can you guess we are Swedish?) The oldest was 94 and the youngest this time was 7. After eating and catching up on all the family news we walked from the Parish Hall over to our Grandparents home.

This homestead is 148 years old. The house we were entering in 2015 was the first house build in Swedesburg, Iowa. My Great Grandfather built this house in 1867. Added on a kitchen in 1872. Then added an upstairs and living room in 1874 with an outdoor summer kitchen in 1889.

This house was maintained and lived in until 2000. It has been cared for with everything remaining in place until now. The cousin are now charged with closing down this wonderful old house. The house that holds the pieces of our history. The things that were used by our family for generations.

We wondered through the house looking, holding and marveling at our collective history. There were the old hats we tried on, a copy of Pinocchio from about 1930’s, a meat saw, crocks, photos, quilts and the trunks that carried our families belonging to the United States from Sweden. Everything was there – all of it waiting to be used again.

There were stories told from cousin to cousin. The “do you remember when” stories. Stories the older cousins shared that those of us in your 60’s didn’t know. The stories that our Aunt (the oldest member of the family shared as we walked through the house)

And of course there were the young ones – three elementary age kids in heaven moving from room to room – a museum that you could touch and feel and wear. A small root cellar that is creepy and crawly that leads to the outside. A garden SONY DSCSONY DSCwith paths to walk through and stones to climb over. What more could you want on a glorious Saturday afternoon?

Late in the afternoon people slowly said their good byes, gather a few items from the house to add to their own home and history and drove off. I stood at the door waving and feeling lost in emotion.

It is time to close this old home down but sad non-the less. So many amazing items now either moved to new homes or off the be recycled. The things in this house were triggers for our memories but they can’t stand there for ever. We can afford to run our own private museum. It is the stories that we now need to hold on to. It is the stories that need to be written down and shared with the younger generations.

So we continue a project started by my Uncle years ago. He worked for years building the family history – the birth dates, death dates and the short description of each family. I realize what is missing now are our stories, our memories of this once wonderful home.

It is the words that hold history now not the things. It is not the house, or barn or the furniture inside the buildings we need. It is the stories. We will find laughter, crying and wonder within the stories we tell each other. It is these stories that re kindle our relationships and hold us together in a group we call family. SONY DSC

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
This entry was posted in Reflection, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Playing with Family History

  1. TheLifeBot says:

    A great story. My main problem with Genealogy was that only two of my grandparents were alive when I began.

    • Joanne Toft says:

      Always hard but I find the stories are in the people around our Grandparents. It is the neighbors, uncles, aunts, and cousins who can tell me more. My grandparents have been gone for a long time. Good luck finding stories.

  2. raeily says:

    I think it’s wonderful how much history you know and are able to pass down the generations. And how great that you all get together. I loved learning a little bit about your family. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Dana Murphy says:

    What a beautiful post. I’m reminded of when we went back to Ireland to see my husband’s grandparent’s long-abandoned house.

    You’re right about the stories. That is where the memories will live forever.

  4. arjeha says:

    How important it is to write down memories and share them. This is something I wish my grandparents did even if it was in their broken English. Written stories will keep the family history alive.

  5. Linda Baie says:

    Love seeing and hearing all about your family, Joanne. When my daughter, the grand-girls & my grandson went back to MO this year, we spent time in the little town where I grew up, visited both cemeteries, took pictures & told stories. You are so right about the stories, & I hope you took many pictures too. What a beautiful story you shared with us today, a little bittersweet, but wonderful that so many came to say goodbye to that dear house. Thanks for sharing.

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