My mother and her 23-year-old granddaughter, my niece Lauren Schleich, have spent the past few months sorting through boxes of family photographs and sorting them into a chronological familial history for present and future generations. I imagine many families have cartons of memories just like these. In celebration of Mother’s Day, I interviewed Lauren about the time she and Mom have been spending together for this project, learning about each other, and sharing family history.
Lauren plans to incorporate the experience into her graduate studies to a become a museum curator. In the fall, she will begin studying for her Master of Science by Research in Collections and Curating Practices at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. This endeavor has given her research experience as she and Mother comb through photos, recalling events, and digitizing those deemed of significance. At its completion, everyone in our family will get a copy of these historical records.
Lauren explained how this project developed: “I saw this project as an opportunity to take some of the things I already knew about good archival practices and carry them over to what has essentially become managing my own little collection. I have continued to work with concepts I already understood, as well taking my project scope a little larger,” she said. “I am now as much the collections manager as I am the scanning intern, and soon I will be the curator as I start gathering the photos to be shared. Though certainly working with our own familial archive has less rules and regulations than a collection belonging to an institution, I’ve used this time working with my grandmother to ‘stay in practice’.”
As they’ve organized this visual familial history, Mom and Lauren have enjoyed discovering photos of family members long gone, recalling memories, and sharing stories. “Spending this time with my grandmother has meant so much to me, especially given the circumstances of the pandemic over this past year,” Lauren said. “I attended college out-of-state and am preparing to move out of the country, with those choices combined with the global pandemic has given me the time to really cherish what I have at home.”
Lauren also has hopes that future generations will take advantage of the record she and Mom have created. “At the very least, I hope these photos are looked at by our family, inspiring them to share their memories with others, just like Grandma has done for me. That has been my favorite part, to watch her remember events like it was yesterday.” Knowing the roots of our family has been beneficial not only for Lauren, but for all members. “I think it’s so valuable to know where you come from and how your family becomes its now familiar form. I also want these photos to be easily accessible, so that when we do remember people, holidays, vacations, etc. we can each share those memories and moments,” she noted.
Lauren emphasized the connection between this project and her curating skills. “The visual experience can add a lot to our knowledge and understanding of history, whether it be through photographs, documents, or objects. That’s why I love museums so much! The physicality does something to connect us with the past. I hope our family feels motivated to share memories of the photos too and add them to Grandmas.”
My niece also offered this advice for others collecting your own histories. “We will all be family history someday,” she said. “It’s easiest to start collecting now!”
As we celebrate our mother, grandmother, great grandma, sister, aunt, and friend, the familial history she has helped gather will be one to cherish. Happy Mother’s Day!