The picture based on my Mom’s memories got me thinking about genealogical research and how we put pieces of information together, how we remember information, and how we create a picture of an individual based up information we have obtained.
The items in Mom’s picture all existed. None of them were figments of her imagination. But I’m doubtful that they were all ever out in one place at the same time as they were in the painting. The bracelets from her birth were attached to the inside front cover of Mom’s baby book and from the way it looked they had been attached there for some time. However, I cannot really speak to how long the items were actually in the book. I can only speak to how long it appears they have been in the book.
That’s a good reminder about keeping in mind that we do not always know what we think we know. Appearances can be deceptive.
I also can’t imagine my grandmother letting Mom actually have the bracelets out to play with. But I could be wrong. The same goes for her baby shoes. Again: I was not there. I can’t say what happened twenty-five years before I was born. Some days I can’t remember what has happened twenty-five years after I was born.
Mom gave the painter pictures of the items from her childhood and the painter created a scene with them. It is somewhat similar to how we take pieces of information about a relative’s life and create a verbal picture of that life.
The artist had more leeway in creating her painting than we do with facts we discover and records we locate about an ancestor. The artist also told me that she had to guess about the color of certain items and the fact that she worked from black and white photographs in some cases. The artist was creating a new memory from old ones but had to either take artistic license or make a conjecture in order to complete the painting. Genealogists are trying, as best they can, to re-create a narrative as accurately as they can using records that often only provide information in bits and pieces.
We need to always consider the chronology in which events happened and make certain the time frame is as correct as we can make it. We need to remember things that are possible and things that likely are not (like Mom playing with the bracelets) when we are reaching conclusions.
We need to take care when we add unknown details to a record or a family situation. We need to make certain that unstated facts we infer are justified by the underlying structure of the records we used, the situation for which they were created, and the laws and customs in effect at the time that record was created.
The painting reminds me that human memories that we use in our family history research, even while accurate in certain details, may be off in terms of chronology. Record those memories as they are told to you for the memories themselves tell a story about how the teller viewed the events. Those who tell family stories may not be painters, but they are giving us a verbal picture with the memories which they share with us.
For me, the picture serves as a reminder of the fragility and the importance of memories.