Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bohemian Omas

Wood Carvings from Krakow, Poland

I've got a few Polish, Czech and Austrian grandmothers
looking down on me with great anticipation.
After all, I'm telling their stories.

Archival Birth Register, Colmar

Dee is deep into researching and writing the history of a family with roots in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He's got Napoleon marching, an archduke assassinated, Nazis invading; economic upheaval and political intrigues. It's awesome stuff.

I'm in charge of the personal details. Who the people were inside their homes; what they worried about; how they lived day-to-day; why the babies all died, and how come there were several Stephanies in one family. And why a 20 year old girl would marry her 54 year-old uncle! You know, the real stories.

Details in the archives

My commuter is humming, printing out particulars on embroidery patterns of Polish folk costumes; Slovakian wooden church architecture; Advent, May Day, All Soul's Day, St. Barbara's Day, and the Dozynki Festival. I'm reading about 18th century recipes, and 17th century diseases, wax-painted Easter eggs, how to plant peas and how to brew ale. I'm enthralled by the trivial details of ordinary lives.

Battles, kingdoms and governments are important as the setting where the story takes place; the individual people are the characters. With interviews, scrapbooks, letters and memories that Dee has arranged and organized, our collaboration will produce the published history. Every time the process is overwhelming and thrilling.

Diane Setterfield wrote:
"People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some, there is an exception to this annihilation. For in books they continue to exist. We can rediscover them...

"As one tends the graves of the dead, so I read the books...I allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head. Do they sense it? Does a pinprick of light their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading about them? I do hope so."
---from The Thirteenth Tale

I love thinking of these Bohemian Omas, stretching back, back, back through the ages, yet all looking at their progeny with interest and concern, anxious to share experiences and insights. I'm so glad people have recorded memories of themselves or their ancestors to shed light on long-ago lives.

Cambridge, England

TravelinOma goal: Build a bridge between past and future generations.


Sheri said...

Wonderful post. Like you, I've been building bridges to the past for over thirty years. Sometimes I feel I belong more to the past than the present!

diane said...

This is fascinating stuff. They are so lucky to have you telling their stories.

Ashlee said...

I remember The Thirteenth Tale. I read that one a few years back. One of the things I love about my family blog is that I can have a lot of this family history already recorded for when I become a grandma. :0)

Christie said...

That is such a great quote from the Thirteenth Tale. Did you read that book? I LOVED it. One of my favorite books that I've read in a while. The writing was beautiful.

Bev said...

great post Marty! I'm inspired to keep trudging along through my family's history when I read about your research

gab said...

Cool! You've got a fun job.

Kay Dennison said...

I love these dolls!!!!!!!!!