By now, we Facebookers are all immigrants, having arrived (willingly or not) in the “New World” of the Timeline, a chronological record of our postings. I applaud the format because ironically as we zoom along the Information Superhighway, we are losing information when it comes to personal histories. Gone are the days of coffee-table photo albums. Most of us upload images to our hard drives then go our merry ways. This column is not about Facebook; it is about immigrants and legacy-keeping.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were knee-deep in his family memorabilia as we prepared an homage to his brother, who left us after a long illness. I was stunned at how each generation had organized records, and dated and identified pictures. His family has been in Bucks so long, there are streets named for them; whereas 70 years ago, the guy with the goofy mustache obliterated my family lines as well as any records that ever existed. Packing photos, let alone labeling them, was not a priority for those who’d made the crossing with little more than sack of clothes and a passport.
Before my father died, he’d scribbled a few town names that had something to do with his Hungarian roots. This was my starting gun to a full family investigation, and next we videotaped our aged maternal grandmother, Jeanette, speaking about her Austrian background. I was in documentarian heaven – until my mother, upon reviewing the tape, shook her head about a hundred times, saying, “That’s not right.” Even armed with some facts from both sides, family names changed, as did the spellings of European towns, shifting from one country to another over decades of wartimes. I gave up hopes of a productive online search before even starting.
But now, fueled by my husband’s encyclopedic family past, within hours of my genealogic “media blitz,” I was communicating with a man who in addition to our shared ancestral surname, had a WAY amazing common connection to Emperor Franz Joseph, and possessed a photo portrait, from that era, of a well-medaled soldier taken at the same studio as a picture of a decorated soldier I found among my grandmother’s things. We haven’t emailed the images yet, both of us holding on to the romantic notion that in this fractured puzzle of our heritage, we two small pieces fit.
So as you’re electronically storing your history for posterity – perhaps on a specialized software program – consider “Planet of the Apes” a cautionary tale. Walking on the beach someday in the distant future, a descendant of yours may come upon a Mac jutting out of the sand. Write it down, print it out– and pass it down.