what does it mean to be a family historian?

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.

So when I think about this process of familial erasure, I often think of my auntie Etaba. She died over a decade ago; since then, I’ve lost two other loved ones, my other auntie and my uncle. And the differences in how these three people are remembered, how they were mourned when they first died, how they continue to be memorialized in people’s minds and imaginations are so stark. The differences are stark.

tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: