It’s more than collecting photographs, writings, objects, and heirlooms, though those physical manifestations of memory and legacy are very important to the preservation of a people. But it extends beyond to how you use those objects and things to tell the stories of your family.
What will you say, who will you include, what will you leave out, what will you blur and downplay, what will you place as the centerpiece?
How you frame those photos and extract from them matters just as much, if not more than, the fact that you have those objects in the first place. In Through a Lens Darkly (watch it, it’s on Netflix), the filmmaker was intentional about including the stories of two family members who were essentially sidelined because their identities didn’t match the overall values of the family. While the family didn’t completely try to erase them, they marginalized them enough to where they became almost invisible. You had to dig and inquire to find out anything about them. They were a shame and a stain to the otherwise proud and just legacy of their family.
This is one way in which families as an entity can be extremely oppressive – there is a power dynamic at play in which certain members, acting as individuals or as a group, can make decisions about who is worthy of being included and remembered. They have the power to determine who will be seen and known by future generations. That’s the thing about death – life moves on without you and your capacity to shape the future is swiftly extinguished. So the still living must decide for you and those decisions won’t always be in your favor. You could be entirely written out – that is a very real possibility, based on the value and legacy you contributed to your relatives while you still lived.