LEGACY MATTERS | What's your story? | Mary Breuer Photos - Green Bay Photographer
What’s your story?
I sat there with a lump in my throat as I read the initial email subject, “your DNA results are in!” I had been given stories from my mother and other family members on my mother’s side of our heritage, yet I did not know much of anything about my father. I wanted to do this test because I wanted to know where I came from and more specifically, from who. Call it my soul search or just plain curiosity, either way, knowing where you come from helps you understand your identity and personality on a deeper level. It also gives you a sense of appreciation to be able to relate with them.
I will never forget the day I opened my results. I immediately scanned the email looking straight away for the ethnicity. To my great surprise I was more British then the British people! I am also Scottish, Sweden and German.
That was over a year ago, and as I sit here at this coffee shop writing this, I am deep diving into my family history on ancestry.com My research has lead me to seven generations back on both sides of my family and it’s been really interesting. My family had veterans both in WWI and WWII and they all had a million babies (lol seriously though it was a lot). I was filled with a bit of sadness as I read one of my heritage stories on my mother’s side of my grandmother Mildred. We called her “Micky” because her and Mickey Mouse share the same birthday. ;) What I learned was that my great great grandfather on my mother’s side, Andrew Patrick was a professional baseball player pretty sweet! Yet during the draft in 1917 he was drafted into the Civil War at the age of 35 and died at the age of 38 leaving behind his 10 year old daughter Patsy Patrick, her 9 year old sister Mildred (my grandmothers namesake) and her little brother Alfred at only 4 years old and his 28 year old wife Nona Patrick.
Patsy, my great grandmother married my great grandfather Albert Bray. She was only 14 years old and he was only 19! Together they had two daughters my great aunt Geraldine when she was 16 and my grandmother Mildred or “Micky” when she was 18. (hey I wasn’t the only pregnant teenager in my family)!
Unfortunately, my great grandmother Patsy passed away at the young age of 25 due to complications of pneumonia and left behind her husband Albert, my grandmother and her sister. My heart ached as I also learned that my great grandfather Albert lost his mother only one year after he lost his wife. He later remarried to what my grandmother calls, “her evil step-mother” who was also named Mildred (oh the irony!). My great grandfather was a musician and could play the banjo like a mad man, so I am told.
As I was digging deep, I tapped into the elders of my own family, my mother and her brother Mac. He has been doing insane amounts of research and connecting with distant family like crazy! He also told me a pretty cool piece of information about my 13th grandfather, the infamous pirate William Kidd. Seriously, YouTube him! It makes sense as my DNA represents that I am from those same areas. Pretty neat! Another cool story my cousins all heard growing up is that we were cousins with Robert Wadlow. Being 5'3 left me a bit conspicuous but my Uncles research confirmed that indeed we are! My great great grandfather on my mother’s side Henry had a cousin named Nettie, Nettie married Sherman Wadlow, their first son Harold Wadlow bore a son named… ROBERT!
As I sit here consuming this family history I can’t help but wonder which great, great grandchildren of mine will be reading about me. Or perhaps a distant cousin some day. What will they think of me? What memories and stories of me will get based down to them? How will I be remembered? Will they have photos and videos of me to watch and learn where their cackle comes from? Better yet, will they get the opportunity to hear my voice at all?
Thanks to things like social media and smart phones we seem to never be in shortage of documentation. Yet there is still a lack in this new age. That lack is connection, and because of that I fear that the next generations to leave this earth will not have the opportunity to share and teach us and to tell us the back stories. Simply because we as the new generations are either not taking the time to show them or taking the time to ask them. It wasn’t too long ago that I almost lost my Uncle due to a cardiac arrest and other cardiac complications. Digging in gave me the perfect excuse to reach out and then set up a time this summer to come visit. (he doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to photograph him with his guitar and record him playing).
We seldom connect physically with our grandparents and extended family beyond family gatherings like weddings or funerals. We are too busy with school, work, friends and immediate family that we forget sit down and to ask questions, record it and document it. We forget our mortality and think that we will get to it tomorrow, yet tomorrow isn’t promised. This blog isn’t to make you feel bad or fill you with anxiety, its only to remind you that you have a duty to uphold your family history and not to forget about it.
When I think about what is the most important value I have, it is my legacy, it is what my loved ones will say about me when I no longer breathe another breath.
I want to sit down with the matriarchs and patriarchs in my family and ask them questions, record them and pass them down to the next generation, my daughters and my future grandchildren. I want you to sit down with yours and invite them in to the studio for a portrait with them. One where everyone is dressed in their Sunday’s best, and that will perhaps one day live on ancestry.com for your future family that you will never get the chance to meet in person.
I no longer have the luxury of grandparents, and perhaps that is why I am obsessed with documenting the often forgotten, the elders of our time. If there is one thing I remember my grandmother Micky teaching me, it was respecting my elders. I believe giving respect is giving them time, giving them patience and offering your chair to them in a crowded waiting room.
I may not have my grandmother “Micky” anymore, yet I have the stories of her in my heart and the next best thing, my mom.
She is where my infamous cackle laugh comes from, she is where my cheeks come from, she is part of me and I want to ensure that when the time comes I will have a photo of her not only in her youth but something that represents her now in her sixties for myself, my daughters and my future family. My eyes well up with tears as I think about that moment. The photos we take now are not for now, they are for later, they are chapters in our story, which is a family story. It is our visual legacy.
Before I exit out of this blog, I wanted to give you some practical ways that you can start documenting your legacy starting right now.
Call them up, with a pen and paper in hand and ask them to tell you about their family.
If they can’t write, take a video of them asking the questions in the journal
Schedule a photo shoot with your parents or grandparents. Book your free consult with me HERE
Keep records of yourself for your family NOW - you might as well buy two of those journals I listed above and do one for yourself!
Write letters to your children and or grandchildren and keep them in a safe place or send them right away
Create a memories email for yourself. Send photos/video with what happened that day and write to your children/grandchildren there.
Back up your phones. Websites like iCloud and Dropbox are relatively cheap and do automatic back ups so you don’t loose your memories.
Get your prints scanned and back them up, have a book made and keep it in a safe place. Scanning is available at Camera Corner
Record a video or voice note to your children or anyone telling your story and save it to your phone.
Hoping you have these items for your next generations is not enough, putting them on the back burner is also not enough. You have to make the time to make it happen. It’s so easy to create memories and easier to quickly forget them as the next helping of life gets dished on your plate. Pick an action from above and put it into motion this week, it will save your future family tons of time!
Happy Legacy Creating!!