Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shared Cultural Heritage: My Unlabeled History

Yesterday, a commenter on my blog generated a conversation about when to keep unlabeled photos. (Thanks Anna!) I wanted to share a story about my most important unlabeled photo. It is an image that I've placed on my business card to make a point about family heritage and to drive home an equally important point about labeling your images.

I sometimes write about my family background and it is something that I regularly talk about in presentations. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. My grandparents escaped from Poland before the Nazis rounded up other family members to march to concentration camps. It is the most poignant piece of my family history and is something that helped shape who I am and what I believe, and it strongly influenced the occupation that I chose.

The image to the left shows my grandmother. I was named after her. I never met her because she passed away when my mother was a teen. Based on her age and dress in this image, we believe that it was taken in the 1930s. We do not know for certain who the little girl in the image is, but we have an educated guess. My grandparents had a child during the War. They lived in Russia at the time because of their displacement. They had difficulty feeding the girl. I will not go into all the details. I do not know them for certain anyway. I do know that the girl who was my aunt did not survive to meet her siblings who were born after the troubles, in a new homeland across the Atlantic. The girl in this photo is the appropriate age at the time this was taken to have been my mother's older sister. The way that my grandmother holds and looks at her is the way a mother looks at her beloved child. This image is unlabeled and there is no one we know left to verify our conclusions about the girl's identity.

I share my most personal stories because I know that they may help someone else who has a similar story or some other traumatic event in their family's past with which they have to come to terms. I also share my stories because it is valuable for all of us to cherish our personal histories, share our pasts, and recognize that all of our tales are interconnected. As an archivist, it is my job to promote the value of understanding history through our documents. Such understanding allows us to improve ourselves, work to improve the world around us, and forge ahead into a more promising future that builds positively upon our collective experiences.

The items you possess that reveal your family story are important beyond your immediate relations. Care for your cultural heritage and recognize your role in preserving community knowledge. Label your photos so that history can be remembered and past down to those who can learn from it.

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