Friday, September 12, 2008

Family History

As part of my mother's 50th birthday extravaganza, I've been secretly putting together a scrapbook for her - "The First 50 Years," I call it. (She doesn't read the blog, as far as I know, so we should be okay talking about it.) It starts with her first baby pictures and will go all the way up through her upcoming party. To close it out, guests at the party will write special messages to her on little records that will be included in the book. I know, I’m sick that way. :)

Anyway, for the last two years since I got this wild idea for a party, I have been harassing friends and family for pictures of her. She had virtually none of her own, so I had to gather them from my grandmother, aunts, high school friends, etc. I've been pleased with the results. I got plenty of shots of her as a child. I've been a scanning fool, nearly wearing the machine out getting all those old black and white shots scanned and reprinted. As a perk, I've burned the pictures to CDs and mailed them to the people with their originals. Her teen years are a little sparse, then it drops off to a few pictures a year for a couple decades. After I was born, there's almost no photos of her that don't have me in them. I guess it became the Smarty Pants Show when I got here. Now it's the Little Sister Show.

It made me wonder if it will ever be (or ever was) the Mom show. She wasn't the kind of child that demanded the spotlight, and as the oldest of four, she took care of others to a fault. My grandmother wasn't inclined to make a fuss about anything, so birthdays and holidays were practically a non-event. (Although it seems that overall we make a huge deal of things now that just weren't that important, then.) I asked my mom when she last had a birthday party - an honest to goodness party. She said she hadn't, ever. I almost cried. Made me more determined to make this party the best it could be.

As a part of this massive undertaking, I've also been building our genealogy online so I can include an accurate family tree. has a free two week trial that I've been wearing out. While interesting, it’s also depressing as hell. Not everyone had great childhoods, much less great lives. My great-great grandmother died from complications just weeks after giving birth to her fourth child. For whatever reason, the children were divided up amongst the family. While people clamored for the babies, no one wanted the headstrong, angry ten year old (my great-grandmother). She got bounced around like a pinball until she was old enough to marry off.

One thing about this project is that it distills life to the basics. You're born, you grow up, get married, have kids, then you die. Generation after generation. Decade after decade. It’s kind of humbling. Makes me realize the day to day crap I deal with is mostly irrelevant. In a hundred years when my great-great granddaughter is researching me, she won't care about the things I'm angsting over. It also makes you realize that as trivial as people make romance out to be, it’s really the core of everything. You're born because two people came together (hopefully) with love. Then you grow up, fall in love and have children of your own. You can only do your best to raise them well so they do the same. The books we write and read and love are a celebration of it.

Ok, so I’m done rambling. My brain is fried after weeks of working on all this. Have you ever done any genealogy or studied the history of your family? Anything interesting or noteworthy in your family tree? My kin were hiding out in the hills of Kentucky and Indiana, so there's no one famous, but DB's family actually settled the Gadsden area and he's related to Emma Sansom, a confererate heroine in those parts. If I'd actually listen to his uncle who will yak your ear off about this stuff, I'd know more. How about you?


PS. As part of the scrapbooking project, I took my mom for a mini-makeover and forced her into having professional pictures taken for the first time since 1997. She doesn't know why, of course, I had come up with some plausible reason, just the same as I had to make an excuse to steal all her family pictures and not give them back. I had a couple shots professionally framed and will post them at the party. I also put some on her birthday website and I'm putting them in the album. Here's her best shot. I think she looks mahh-velous. I teased her that she looks like a senator's wife or something. The free-spirited child of the 70's in her wasn't amused by this observation. :)


Playground Monitor said...

The DH was very into genealogy back in the 70's and 80's and we have boxes and boxes of stuff. He learned his family is related to both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. My maternal and paternal family trees were already done by someone in the family. Nobody famous. No bank robbers or madames or oil tycoons -- at least not that we know of. But it's fun to see where your family came from and how the various branches have spread out across the country. (Of course, my mom will probably post and remind me of the family icon I've forgotten.)

I love what you're doing for your mom's party. It's such a labor of love. And the photo of her is awesome! You're a good daughter, Smarty Pants.

Rhonda Nelson said...

SP, you are a wonderful daughter to a wonderful, deserving mom. I have no doubts that this party is going to be utterly fabulous.

As for genealogy, I've got a cousin who is really into it. She even made a special trip down here to go through some of the local cemetaries to find a specific grave. (She lives in Maryland.)

Problem Child said...

You are a very good daughter, SP. You're making the rest of us look bad.

Angel said...

My father is into geneology and has done a lot of research on his side of the family. The only cool thing I know is that we're related to John Alden, one of the founding pilgrims, served as governor of Massachusetts, and was immortalized in the poem "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

SP, You rock!!! Your Mom will feel so special that night. I'm going to find a way to get there, somehow! Even if it is only to clean up when it is over.

My Mother also turns 50 this year, in November. I wanted to do something really special, but it is hard with her living 6 hours away. I think we're going to have them up for Thanksgiving. Maybe I can find some time during that weekend to take her somewhere nice.


Smarty Pants said...

Sorry, PC. You are all welcome to bring your mothers to the party if that helps... :)

Anonymous said...

Not too much genealogy in my family. Your mom looks great! And you are a wonderful daughter and you mom will be so very proud of you (and I know she is any way)for this awesome surprise that you are planning. She will have some great memories from this birthday.

Instigator said...

Your mother is going to love the scrapbook and the genealogy!

My dad's side of the family had a huge family reunion in Chaleston when I was about 12. I mean several hundred people that I'd never met family reunion. They did a very extended family tree for it. Turns out we're related to Swamp Fox Marion (The Patriot pretty much was his life although they never said the movie was based on him), one of our ancestors received a sword from Lafayette and my great (great?) grandfather had a chance to be one of the first investors in the coca-cola company and declined. Said the beverage would never catch on *slaps forehead* Sigh. To think, I could be the coca-cola heiress right now.


PM's Mother said...

How sweet and touching. What a wonderful way to celebrate your Mother's birthday.

PM you are right...I was told that the Shelton side of your family descended from Charlemagne (snicker, snicker!) Of course I still carry out the garbage every day. There is one genealogical mystery in your Ballenger heritage that I wish I had been more inquisitive about when my Dad was alive, and that is about the Cherokee Indian lineage. Maybe you can research this.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

SP, your organizational skills know no bounds! My mom has to settle for a card and a present on her birthday. *g* Your mom will appreciate this memory you are giving her so much.

I did the genealogy thing a few years ago. I had the full membership to It's cool, but very very time consuming. Searching those census records takes forever.

I only did one branch of one side (maternal grandmother), but I found a prominent judge and a Revolutionary War patriot. Nobody famous on that side, but there was a plantation owner in VA. Most of that part of the family are Virginians (West VA after the Civil War).

Now as to my grandmother, her mother died in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1919. She was 3. She and her older sister got farmed out while the infant girl was adopted by her aunt and husband. The sister was raised feeling like she was their child, though she knew she had two older sisters. They were never close.

Grandma and her eldest sister were returned to her father later when he presumably got over his grief and was able to take care of them. But the aunt and her husband refused to give the baby back.

Crystal Lee said...

This is a wonderful thing you are doing for your Mom; I'm sure she will cherish the moments and the scrapbook.

I've done a little genealogy research when I was trying to nail down my Native American heritage. Didn't churn up as much as I had wanted to, but maybe one day...

Sherry W. said...

Your mother is going to love this party. You both are lucky to have such a close relationship.

And if I ever need a party planner I will know who to call. :D

Kathy said...

What a labor of love, SP! I'm so impressed with all that you're doing to make this a most special day for your mom. :-)

DH's family came from Switzerland in 1867 and settled in the Swiss Colony on Monteagle Mountain in Tennessee. His grandmother is related to Betsy Ross through Betsy's husband.

I've got a family tree for the Stratton's that dates back to the early 1700's. A major courthouse with paperwork trailing the Stratton's back to Europe burned down taking all records with it. I'd love to have time to trace them into Europe someday, somehow.

My great-grandfather was a bigomist. Go figure. :-)

Jen said...

SP, you nearly had me crying in this post. What a gift of love you're giving your mother. And y'all both have the same beautiful smile.