Preserving Our Histories

One of my cousins has become the custodian of all of the family movies. Shot with various cameras with varying degrees of clarity, over a lot of years, by at least of couple of family movie buffs, they chronicle events and people in a way that is far from sophisticated, but that mark a moment in time. Over the last few years, these films have been converted to a more contemporary format and have been shared with a number of us via DVD and even YouTube link. One of them popped up yesterday and as I always do when I receive these, I was riveted by the sometimes grainy, sometimes dark and often shaky images on the screen.

I find myself concentrating to identify all the family members, doing pretty well with most and guessing at others. I watch intently to catch a glimpse of my parents and then I pause the video for a moment just to feel that connection that’s been gone for so many years. Both my parents were gone before my youngest child was born and I’ve had a lot of years to wish they were still with us, to try and tell my children about them and to miss their presence in all of our lives.

It’s an emotional thing to watch my parents, and other beloved family members who are no longer with us, in these old films. They are so alive, waving at the camera or even waving it away, smiling, talking (although there is no sound on these films), and being a part of family events. These films are treasures, as are the old photos that have surfaced, and they both bring back memories and create such strong waves of emotion.

One of the things that struck me about these films, as it has for the photos, is my inability to identify everyone I am seeing. Granted these were mostly taken when I was very young and some before I was even born, but these were clearly family members that I don’t know, that I likely knew then but have long since forgotten. There are some, in fact, that none of my cousins can name and it feels like a loss to me, that we have a hole in that chapter in our shared history.

mom and betty

As we approach holidays and times that families are often together, we have the opportunity to preserve some of these memories. We have the chance to hear the stories and record them, we have the time to ask about who is in the photo or the video and make note of it. We have the chance to ensure that our histories are not reliant on what we “think we remember” but rather on what those who actually lived it can tell us.

Our futures are built on the past and the present. How much richer they could be if we take the time to know, understand and create enduring memories.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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