I am often asked by readers about my summer plans. After all, The Voice takes a publishing break during July.
Usually, I avoid the question. The paper may be “on vacation,” but we are still at work. This is our catch-up time. And this is when we put together The Guide to Jewish Living, our annual directory of all things Jewish in this area (look for it in the Sept. 30 Jewish Voice).
But this year, I took some time to visit with family. I went on a little trip and learned a lot about one branch of my family, and I even met some cousins I hadn’t known about. It was exhausting, but interesting and satisfying. I think it’s the start of a more in-depth exploration of my ancestors.
My family’s roots are in Pittsburgh, although most of my living relatives are scattered across the country. Several weeks ago, I accompanied my aging parents on their annual visit to the area. This was a trip down memory lane for all of us. I have Orthodox, Conservative and Reform relatives who are buried in different cemeteries around Pittsburgh. My folks visit each summer, and I’ve accompanied them before, but this year, there were more stories, and I paid closer attention.
I was amazed at how intact neighborhoods remain, as well as how my mother remembers each place that her mother lived and the places my mother lived as she grew up. Each apartment building and house still stands. My grandparents married in the early 1920s; the first two places where they lived are not only still apartment buildings, but they still look good. My mother remembers all the family events, important and not-so-important. As we drove down this street and that, I learned where everyone lived, both friends and family.
I’ve always been impressed by people who know the extensive history of their family. I have the interest, but I’ve never really had the time to do a lot of research. I have quite a few old family photos, and each time I come across them, I have more questions. Unfortunately, many of the photos aren’t labeled.
Reconstructing the identities of the people in those photos isn’t easy. And I have to admit to being sloppy at writing down what I have found out. What’s worse, I’m guilty of not labeling the photos I’ve taken through the years.
Not any more.
Since taking this trip, I have a new appreciation of how hard it is to identify photos of relatives who passed away years ago. I now realize how important it is to label our pictures.
Now, I will write down as much as I can - and put it in a safe place, where I won’t forget it or lose it.
My mother has always been the keeper of our family history. She remembers who lived where and who those strange faces in those old photos might be. She remembers the family stories told by her grandparents and the aunts, uncles and cousins.
As the eldest child, it’s now my turn to keep track of our family’s living history.
It’s important for every family to keep its history alive. I’m going to do my best to honor my family going forward by keeping track of where we’ve been.