Inspired by these blog exercises, Janet Williams of Janet’s Notebook has been taking her readers on a journey back through time and space, exploring her family’s Chinese heritage from her little corner of the south of England.
Her “Letters from China” have evolved from a few posts to an entire series, and eventually, I hope, a book. I keep nagging her to do so, and she keeps telling me there are no stories left to tell, then she keeps finding more stories.
She has me thinking about my own past. I’m one of the family historians for my own family, and hating that I’m so neglectful of my own family history site recently. I’ve gotten a spark of renewed interest and energy with my mother, trapped with her leg in a cast, going through old photo albums and rediscovering historical images from our family. ‘
The holidays tend to make us nostalgic for family, which makes our ancestors the subject of this blog exercise.
Below is a photograph from about 1928. It features my great grandmother and her children, ranging in age from barely two years old to over 20 years of age. They are standing in front of Ruby Shack I believe, their small cabin in the woods of Wisconsin, a family living on sustenance, the last to turn out the lights on logging in northern Wisconsin. Two of the younger boys are missing, presumably off in the woods hunting deer or bear and stirring up trouble as they were wont to do, as both of my uncles, Robert F. Knapp and Wayne Knapp, shared in their dozens of stories preserved for the family.
What does this picture mean to me?
I look at it and see a long line of ancestors who wouldn’t take no for an answer. They wouldn’t give in, nor up. They built this country with their hands and backs so I could live better.
It speaks of my history, of a family that came over with the earliest pilgrims and nation builders, adventurers diving into the great unknown of the North American continent in the 1600s, determined to survive in spite of all the obstacles put in their path.
They were a logging family, a multiple generation of families living by the wealth found in trees, sometimes great, sometimes small. All of the boys logged in Wisconsin, traveling off to far camps in the winter to hew and prep the trees for transport to the big cities to become paper, buildings, or furniture. The older boys would be gone for months at a time, leaving Nonie, the only daughter, and the young boys with their mother to survive in this backwoods small logging camp among many meters of snow and freezing temperatures in winter, and ticks and biting bugs in the boiling temperatures of summer.
When the logging industry shut down, they couldn’t find work, so packed up what they knew and came to the forests of Oregon and Washington State, eventually becoming part of the history of the Everett and Snohomish County of Washington State helping to expand the area’s waterways and roads through the vast forests with trees taller than they could have ever imagined. Robert eventually settled down and became a guard at the prison in Monroe. Wayne worked his way up to the top in security services at Boeing in Seattle. The other boys scattered themselves around the area, each choosing their own unique path in the world, working hard for their money, but loving life with a passion.
This is part of my past, a reminder of the good times and the bad times, and that we can survive anything.
Your blog exercise is to dig through your old family pictures and find a photograph from your ancestors, and blog about their story, and how their story and lives impacted your own.
The stories of those who came before us, of those who led to us, often influence us. They show us courage, craziness, a way to act and behave, and a way not to. Whether we knew them, or wish we didn’t, or didn’t know them, there is a little of them in each of us, so share that story.
The story may be fun and exciting, or painful. This is a time for memories, so share a memory of your history that will inspire, encourage, or motivate your readers to share their own stories.
Note: Respect their privacy and yours and keep private information about the living private.