I have been continuing to delve into material for the NEST series over the last couple of years. I’m not “done” with it yet, and the work has taken a much-needed autobiographical turn in the last year.
One of the things that’s been really interesting to me in that process is how many gaps and silences I’ve found in the ‘family narrative’. So much I don’t know, that wasn’t ever spoken of, or only mentioned in passing.
How many things I remember hearing about, but on further investigation, find that the “real” story is a little different from what I was told (or remember). Official documents with dates that don’t jive with what I’d understood to be the accepted truth for one (or more) family members.
There’s also photos and their inscriptions which fill in some blanks; more often than not though, they raise more questions than they answer … and call more received ‘facts’ into question.
I am left to tease out stories and threads, contend with gaps, accept different sorts of loss, again. Few people left to fill in or clarify information.
As I wade through this morass, and figure out exactly what to do with all of this raw material, I thought I’d share some of my finds.
So, to begin … some photos from my grandparents’ time:
This is the first home my father’s family had in Canada; a homestead in Highvale, Alberta. A far cry from the brick rowhouse in Tynemouth, Northumberland where my father and his siblings were born!
After some time in their first place, they were able to move to another house closer to Edmonton, on what was then called St. Albert Road. Still rural, to be sure, and at a time when travel was just as likely by horse and cart as by car (I was told the family had both).
This is my paternal Grandmother and Grandfather, Ethel and Alfred. I believe the photo was taken outside the St. Albert house.
I love this photo of my Grandmother and her friend; she seems happy, and it looks as though they were having a great deal of fun on a summer’s day. That rose arbour is amazing … a bit of Jolly Olde England transplanted to the Canadian Prairie!
I don’t really remember her; not the sound of her voice or her laugh or her touch – just that she was small and birdlike. My grandparents lived with my parents and me in their old age, so it feels odd that I don’t have at least one clear memory of her. But then again, I was really young when she died.
My father as a young man, posing with his Mum. I don’t know if they were close, but it seems from this image that they might have been; he wasn’t inclined to hug people, so the fact that he’s hugging her speaks to a warm connection of some sort. She’s wearing his hat too, so it looks like they were close enough to kid around together.
I wish I’d known her better – it seems like she was quite a vibrant woman, with a sense of humour! That grin (and the fact that she dressed up in my Grandfather’s old uniform for this photo) speaks volumes.
I wonder what stories she would tell me if she could, what her understanding of the world and its workings she would pass on … what she thought of coming here, to this country and it’s snow and space and enormous skies.
Her thread is but one I am attempting to pick up and trace, weave into my understanding of what and when and who and where.
And how all of that eventually brought me to here.
Thanks for sharing your photos- especially of the homestead in Highvale.
One of the things I love most about researching family history is that incidental contact you occasionally have with complete strangers can often end up having a big, even transformative, impact on one of you. You can come across some random nugget of information, a picture of an old farm, for instance, that despite having a source you know nothing about, allows you to know your roots in a way you never would otherwise.
My great-grandparents homesteaded either in Highvale or very nearby for about 20 years. Through your generosity in sharing your family’s pictures, you’ve given me a very real idea of what their place looked like, and I thank you for that- very much. I’m horribly sentimental (far too much so, my husband would say) but I am severely lacking in family memorabilia.
My grandmother lived at their farm for a few years after marrying their son, c. 1945-52, and I know she has fond memories of Highvale (yes, still kicking at 89!)- she’s mentioned it more often than any other place. Did your family live there at that time? I could ask her about them if you like. Who knows? Maybe I can offer a nugget or two back to you!
(By the way, I wish I knew your granny, too- she looks as though she was an absolute riot!)
Thanks so much for the comments, Alexis! A small world moment, yes? I have the same sort of gaps in my family history- not much in the way of ‘things’ to attach stories to, and the stories I have are often at least a bit suspect. Tough to pull the pieces together to create some sort of history. My family may well have moved from there by then – but I’m not sure. Last name was Lancaster, same as mine.
Yes, I think my little Granny must have been quite a woman. She’d have been tough, I think, and it seems she had a good sense of humour (another survival skill!). I think she would have had some amazing insights and wisdom to share.
I love this post Sydney, and am eager to read the others. I am also a family history junkie. I was lucky enough to have my grandmother with me until about 10 years ago, so did get a lot of the stories behind the photos. Her family homesteaded around St. Albert (it is such a small world!) and these photos look so familiar to me! I love the things you have read into the photos, and I have been in that “reconstructing from clues” scenario with our photos often. I love your grandmother’s twinkle (that one with the gun!) and I can see it in your photo, as well!
It is a small world, isn’t it?! It is taking some sleuthing, for sure – and it’s complicated by time, distance, and a general lack of communication in the family over the years. I feel most often that I will be left with more questions than answers. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. I wish I’d known my paternal grandmother better – I agree – I think she would have been quite amazing.
I always find your blog so interesting and I am often amazed at ho many similarities exist between people. In particular, and although I find it difficult to express in words let me try to explain. I inherited the love of land and nature from my farm family and garden to “keep in touch” so to speak. I planted an apple tree 18 years ago and had to prune it severely last year. As I cut the branches, it was as if I was injuring something precious, “cutting ties” possibly. Then and there I decided I couldn’t discard these branches, I spent the summer pruning and weaving my garden into nests, some traditional, some abstract., but all in what I call free-style. I had been a basket maker years back. To date these nests are almost too precious to me, I have kept them indoors, not quite sure what I will do with them. Friends say I should put them outside and let nature work its course, they don’t understand the attachment I have for them. I have again some pruning to do this fall, and I will “tighten up” some of the former nests and make more. These nests upon completion will have taken years of growth and 2-3 years of pruning to complete. I wanted to use only material I had planted and re-used in this lot.
I also have been experimenting with encaustic in hope of eventually encasing family history and ephemera, etc. in an artistic and archival way (not yet completely resolved). Your family photos, particularly of your Grandmother touched me personally, as I was very close to both my grandmothers. I learned a great deal from them, and a great deal in appreciating nature and gardening. For example, my maternal grandmother always planted a row of flowers to enable her to have flowers to cut, including straw flowers which she had on her dining room table throughout the winter. They where both hardworking, prairie women who worked extremely hard but made the most of what they had, they had gifted minds and hands. I keep saying, I’m going to join ancestors.com some winter and find out more of my family history.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, I hope my excerpts exhibit a little of what I find such interesting coincidences between women.
Thanks so much for taking the time to post this thoughtful comment, Shirley. Much appreciated! I think the more we ‘put ourselves out there’, the more we discover the threads that bind us all together. It’s a fascinating process, this family detective work – and I am finding more and more people who have some aspect of the process (or some aspect of the history I describe) in common with me. It’s a lovely thing. Thanks for sharing your coincidences with me!