Earlier this year, my grandma Romayne passed away. Step-grandmother if we’re getting technical, but she had been my grandfather’s second wife since well before I was born. Her husband Leon, my grandfather, passed on about a year and a half before, and while I’m sure it was difficult, Romayne carried on, and kept herself busy working around the house, cleaning up, sorting through box after box of who-knows-what that Leon left behind, all while going through treatment for cancer (Multiple Myeloma). Grandma started to share things she’d found that none of us, including my father, had ever seen. The first find, that Red Velvet Victorian Photo Album I’d blogged about before, sparked a new interest in genealogy and family history which launched a bigger and ever ongoing family tree project. Grandma was willing to share stories and would answer any questions we had about family history, and we were finally starting to ask.
No one had done this before.
It was understood that you didn’t ask questions about family history because they wouldn’t be answered. There were some touchy subjects involved, and it was generally considered a good idea to keep your questions to yourself. The amount of data that I now realize I’ve missed out on, the stories that won’t ever be told… it’s really hard to fathom. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the reasons behind not wanting to talk about the past, but I bet the truth isn’t nearly as salacious as the fog and mystery. On top of that I really didn’t have the desire to even bother digging until that photo album came out of hiding.
After grandma passed away, the family was left with a house full of treasures. Every box we opened yielded another find – a drawing she’d saved 30 years ago from an 8 year old nephew, a letter from a niece, box after box of photos from grandpa, stacks of polaroids, negatives from film she’d shot as a girl, and the list goes on and on. One trunk yielded 17 reels of super 8 film. All those home movies and no projector! The photos and negatives I could scan at home, no problem, but film movies?! No one had any idea what was on the reels, only a few had labels, so I was chomping at the bit to see what was on them. I started by checking ebay for a projector, thinking I could play the movies on a white sheet and then record the projected image with a camera I already have. The cost of a projector and shipping was going to be upwards of $100, plus the time I’d be spending at the computer transferring and editing, and it was all stacking up to not be worth the bother.
My husband then found Southtree. I checked out their site and found that not only did they seem to have an abundance of technical knowledge and all sorts of awesome equipment to do the conversion from film to digital, but they really cared. They tweet with the tag, “#memoriesmatter” which I absolutely love. I placed my order, packed up a box, and shipped the reels out. Over the following weeks, Southtree emailed me to let me know where my order was in their process and what they were doing in that step.
What returned weeks later is.. I don’t even know what to call it. SEVENTEEN reels of film, seventeen snippets of their life in movement instead of still images, seventeen memories of people who are now gone, seventeen incredible surprises converted into digital format on one DVD. All the reels were returned to me along with a box that contained two DVDs – one for the movie, the other with the data file in mp4 format. Given that these had probably been in a box in the attic for at least 20 years, I was shocked to see that the folks at Southtree managed to churn out something that was pretty well color correct, clear and sharp, and even looked good on our stupidly huge 65″ TV. I shared the DVD with my parents and my grandmother’s niece who actually made an appearance in two clips. There were some tears shed for the people who had passed, chortles for nostalgia, and some dust blown off memories long forgotten. The real treat for me was seeing my great-grandmother on film – she passed away when I was 7, and while I have a random memory or two of her, it was really neat to see film of her when she was alive. Then there was a film snippet of my mom and dad as teenagers. They really were young once!
I’ve decided to post a clip here of grandma and grandpa at Christmas sometime in the 1970s. They had no children together, but Christmas was grandma’s thing and she absolutely loved decorating and going all out for the holiday. At one point, she opens a gift, a lighter, courtesy of grandpa’s prankster tendencies. He apparently did this sort of thing every year – wrapped up some everyday sort of item as a gift to be silly. There are a bunch of clips of various Christmases showing the two of them opening presents – it’s a really neat glimpse into their everyday life together.
Memories DO matter and I cannot thank Southtree enough for being around to carefully preserve and convert those memories.