Category: <span>Genealogy</span>

Memories Matter

Leon and Romayne, 1963

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.

DSC_4487sAfter 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.

DSC_4484sWhat 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.


We took a trip out to my grandparents’ place this weekend (Grandma passed away in January and Grandpa had passed away 1.5 years prior) and came home with yet another trunk full of photos.  My family was apparently a bunch of shutterbugs, and that love of cameras and photography was definitely passed down to me as well.  This batch is mostly from 1945 and upwards, taken mostly by grandpa.  I decided to scan all of them into the computer so that, should anyone want a photo, I can pull up the digital file (if the original was distributed to someone else) and forward that along.

Grandpa and (Step)Grandma never had children together, but they did have lots and lots of furbabies – cats and dogs.  I started the scanning effort with the huge batch of polaroid photographs (ranging from 1967 to 1996).  Most of these photos are of their cats and dogs, a few of eachother, two vacations, home improvement progress, and a couple of various family members.  There are some adorable consistencies – an annual photo of my grandfather with a cake grandma made for him on his birthday, the yearly Christmas tree, etc.  I sat here, scanning through the photos, thinking, “Well now, why did they take photos of this stuff?”  Then I realized what sort of photos are on my cell phone, and put that thought to rest.  Husband and I have no children (with no plans for any), so while we might have more vacation photos, the distribution beyond that is about the same.  Dog, dogs, new patio, dogs, dogs, painting the living room, dogs, dogs, flowers in the garden, and so on.

Something else to think about too, is that we have all these wonderful photos from my grandparents to look back on, and 50 years from now, what will we be looking at?  I can’t say I’ve actually printed a photo of mine (outside of photography jobs) in years.  Will the digital files survive like these polaroids have?  Will we be picking through SD cards and hard drives and flickr streams to see photos of family members or will they be lost to hard drive crashes?  It makes me wonder if I should be printing up more, assembling small printed albums of yearly highlights, or doing something creative like creating throw pillows from custom SpoonFlower fabric of our travels.  Lots of things to think about!  Here are a couple of my favorites from the batch of polaroids.

Scan0254 Scan0356 Scan0493 Scan0566

More Letters from Italy

While on a recent trip home to celebrate the holidays (a belated celebration since my husband wasn’t home on December 25th), my mom found another stack of letters written in Italian to Nellie Gasparri, my first cousin, once removed. The way mom explained it, when Nellie died in 2007, the folks cleaning out her house found these letters, didn’t know what to do with them, and handed them off to my mom for safekeeping.  This is just one of the letters that I managed to translate.  My knowledge of Italian (where I was fluent about 10 years ago) has degenerated to about the level of a 5 year old, but I can manage a decent translation with the help of Google Translate and a dictionary.  The hardest part is reading the handwriting, misspellings and all, and working through the local phrases, grammar, etc that can vary WIDELY from town to town.  Fortunately, this is pretty close to the area where I studied abroad, so that makes it easier.

I added punctuation and paragraph spacing to make the letter easier to read in the translated version.  Interesting to note, Silvio Gasparri, the man to whom the letter is written, died 18 July 1944, two years before the letter was written.  Nellie, his daughter, had corresponded with one of Silvio’s sisters in Italy a number of times, but the earliest letter we have in that set is from 16 February 1947.  I suppose it’s possible that two years went by without any notification to family in Italy about Silvio’s death.  The overall tone of the letter is pretty sad – a mother wishing for news from her son, hoping that everything is okay, but wondering if something bad happened.

Click any image to open up a larger version.

Montebuono, November 3, 1946.

Dearest son,

It’s been a long time, even years, that I waited for news, but I always waited in vain.  I thought something has happened to you.  Until now I thought that maybe one day I would have had your news as we rejoin hands.  There is always news from other Italians in America, but I have always waited in vain.  Think, my son, on the great pain I suffer.  Think of my age that I’m 81 years old and have no hope of seeing you again before I die.  It could be a consolation to have news from you, comforting for me and for all.

I have written you twice after the end of the great holocaust of the war but I have had no response.  I am forced to make a search for you through the American President.

The situation in Italy is bad.  Life is very expensive such that if you don’t live anymore, you pay a lot.  Expensive and you don’t earn anything.  You believe that you need to go almost nude and drained, but who cares.  I would be happy only to hear from you.

Please write soon, my son, that you would lift a great sadness from my heart.  I hope that this letter reaches you and finds you and your family in good health.  I won’t even say that I’m well because age prevents it but it will make do.  Pietro and your family are well. I won’t say anything more for the moment.  I will write you more at length another time.  I give you a hug and a kiss.  You and my grandchildren should be great.

Now I sign, your affectionate mother,

Rosa Lombardi.



A House in Plympton


A house in Plympton was all I knew about the photo above before I started doing some digging.  The photo had fortunately been labelled with an address, so it at least gave me something to go on.  First, I went to Google maps to see if I could look up the address and see if it’s still there on street view.  9 Moorland View, Plympton, UK, resolved to 9 Moorland Ave and the houses on the street all looked about the same, and beyond that it looks like the street had been reunumbered at one point.  GREAT.  One of the houses had a little plaque with “1899” above the door which helped me a little more.  If the homes were built in 1899, it’s likely that the 1901 or 1911 England censuses would be able to tell me who those two children are on the front steps.

The 1901 census pretty much told me the address didn’t exist then.  Okay, fine, on to 1911, which found the 9 Moorland Ave address via the address search on the census page.  I went to to check out the census images and sure enough, 9 Moorland View, Plympton, UK was the home to Bessie (Battin) Shugg and her sons Maurice and Gordon Shugg in 1911.  Bessie was the sister of my great-great grandmother, Jessie (Battin) Powis.  This was likely taken around 1911, before they left for the USA.  Bessie’s husband, Arnold Shugg, left for the USA in 1906, so he doesn’t show up on the 1911 census.

I’m counting this find as a small victory because I had a pretty large piece of information to go on – the address.  Still, it’s neat to be able to link the photo to a house that still exists, and the people who lived there.