First, an important message to those who follow my blog posted on Blogger….In July, you will no longer be receiving my blog directly to your email. I’m so sorry! Google has decided to cancel the email subscriber feature. I’ll continue blogging and you can find me through Blogger or at my GenealogyAtHeart.com website where I also post.
The photo above, which I discovered accidentally this week, haunts me. It connects my past to the present in a special way.
Since the pandemic began, my husband and I have sat next to each other almost daily working separately but together from our home office. When I began my career in the education field 44 years ago, if someone had told me this was how it would end I wouldn’t have believed them.
I have been fortunate throughout this difficult time when so many have suffered untold losses. Last Friday, as I was wrapping up the work week, I came across the picture above. Before reading the caption, I was overcome with a vague memory. I somehow recognized the building. I dismissed that thought quickly. The JSTOR Daily article title, Libraries and Pandemics: Past and Present could be a photo from any Carnegie library in 1918 since most used the same architectural plans. Except it wasn’t just any old library building.
The caption identifies the librarians sitting on the steps as protecting themselves from the influenze pandemic in October 1918 in Gary, Indiana. As a child, I climbed those steps many times with my mother, who would have been 6 months old when the photo was taken. Her father and maternal grandfather would bring the influenza home to the rest of the family three months later. Joseph Kos[s], who I’ve blogged about previously, would succumb to the disease.
The last time I visited that library was about 55 years ago. It has long been closed, not because of age or lack of use, but due to mismanagement of city finances. Six years ago I was told that most of the holdings were still inside, waiting for the day that funds became available to reopen. I don’t know if that’s still the case though it appears that it re-opened after a renovation in January 2018 but has been shuttered again.
I wonder what the librarians pictured above, who worked hard to preserve the library’s contents even during a pandemic, would think about the state of the library today. No doubt, like me, they would have found it difficult to fathom what the future held.
I also wonder about the condition of the contents remaining in an environment that is unheated in winter or cooled in summer. As a child, I well remember the annual heat wave in July where temperatures would sore to 100 degrees. We managed with the windows open and portable fans to catch the breeze blowing off Lake Michigan. The winters could be brutal with snow falling as early as October and as late as April.
But this blog isn’t about record loss; my thoughts today turn to sensory memory. After all these years, I still recall those steps that were so hard to climb when I was small. The angle the photo had been taken no doubt helped me recall the building. Being short in those days, the view I visualized and stored in my mind would have been from looking up at the entrance.
Using our senses can help recall those distant genealogy memories we carry. Smelling and tasting one of my grandmother’s recipe takes me to another time. For my husband, remembrances of holidays past are easily recalled when we share food around the table held in his maternal grandmother’s china. Hearing my departed relatives voices recorded on our old movies gives me that goose bump sensation as if they are still here. The sound of those voices helps me remember other events to which I associate them.
Partaking in a former activity can also help recall long forgotten memories. Early last year, my husband salvaged a bike that was placed for trash pickup. We have two bikes which we never ride and he couldn’t explain why he brought it home with its rear flat tire. I was drawn to the bike, too. Watching my husband tinkering with the bike recalled memories of my grandfather who had once been in the same position as my husband was, fixing the chain. After the repairs were complete I decided to take it for a spin. It was a cool spring morning and I felt like I was 8 years old again. The only thing missing was my apple red wind breaker my mom had purchased from Montgomery Wards on sale. I can’t explain why that one block bike ride made me remember that long forgotten jacket. Most likely it was due to my sense of macro reception, balance and movement on the bike, that enabled me to think of the past.
There is also that 6th sense, intuition, that is yet unexplainable. Somehow, we just know where to find that tombstone or missing document. Perhaps this sense is a compilation of the others mentioned when we relax and let the thoughts enter.
Using your senses in genealogy is another asset for your toolbox, however, caution is needed. Memory alone does not suffice; examination of records and the input of others who may have shared that memory are necessary.