As a young child, as one might expect, I never really thought about the complexities of broken and blended families. The idea that my maternal grandfather wasn't really a biological grandfather never entered my mind until several years later. At the time, and through a series of events, I only had occasional contact with them. It was complicated. At some point, my Grandmother brought up, "You know your Grandfather isn't actually your grandfather, right?". "Of course. Sure.", I shrugged and deflected. No. Why would I know that? Looking back, I guess there were clues but did I mention I was a very young child?. And in one, almost rhetorical, question.. just like that.. my Irish heritage was ripped from me.
While I may just be starting the career, I'm not new to photography. I hungrily took the courses in high school. That was a fair number of years ago but we don't need to tie that down to specifics. Suffice it to say that I was hooked. While the other teen bloomers were using the dark rooms as places to develop their.. shall we say..interpersonal skills, I was on task like a fish swimming up river to get home. But like my love for riding motorcycles, my passion for photography also took a sabbatical at some point.
I never grew up knowing my father's side of the family. (Later, I did meet and live with my father for a few years). My mother's side of the family was precarious from the time she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Because of the choppy waters in my childhood, I went through a long period of self-sufficiency. It's not unusual for a teen to feel like they don't need family, but it was pronounced for me. Circumstances had shown that, not only did I not need family, I couldn't depend on them anyway. That was my mindset well after my mother passed away? To my regret, I was really not connected. What I did have was a handful of old.. really old.. photos of my Grandmother and my mother when they were much younger, along with other various pictures of my family.
With the birth of my daughter, some level of maturity set in and I came to appreciate how valuable family is. By this time, I had lost all track of my own. They were far away and I had no idea of how to find them. I tried. What I did keep all that time, were those photos and a few boxes of 35mm slides that once belonged to my mother. I wish I had more of them. Thousands more. I was determined that, even if they didn't want them right now, my kids would have pictures to look back on. Pictures that would tell our story. Thanks to digital photography, I have thousands of them.
Last year.. or maybe the year before that..I got interested in my family history and started doing the research. I find that the stories are the most interesting part. What did people do? How did that one end up marrying both sisters? What was that tragic accident? I’m a storyteller. I love stories. This was an opportunity to, not only turn over stories, but find stories about my own family.
I lived around Rochester, New York until I was about 11. It's been a very long time since I've been in Rochester. My memories are clouded by a long passed childhood and much has changed in reality. But I think that, if you were in Rochester back in the day, you likely worked for Bausch & Lomb, Xerox.. or.. Kodak. I've found relatives (read: ancestors) who worked at B&L and Kodak. Huh, cool. But I was particularly interested when I found a single marriage certificate for my grandmother where she married Fred Folk in 1928. Then they moved to Michigan for a year or so. In 1930, they were in New York City and had a daughter, Barbara Ann. My mother. I had found my grandfather. With a little more digging, I found that he worked for Kodak. I also found an ad in the paper that makes me think he might have been doing some portraits as a side gig. My grandfather was a photographer?? That could explain there the pictures of my grandmother and mother came from. Those photos have taken on a whole new meaning when I think that my grandfather, who shared a passion with me, might have developed that paper himself... maybe 80 years ago. Maybe photography is genetic? I'm going to say 'yes' until someone proves me wrong. Even then, I might choose to hold onto that idea like a chain tied to the anchor of my family history. And, like my grandfather, I’ll leave plenty of photos for those who come after me.
As I looked at these photos again, it dawned on me that my mother was also apparently predisposed to the photography gene. She was also quite the traveler and had tons of slides and photos. I've got photos of ships pulling into the harbor in Honolulu. Lots of old car pictures. My mom really liked her cars. No motorcycle pictures, which troubles me a bit. I've got a picture of the Wright Air Museum in the early sixties. And everything from Hawaii to Arizona to New York. Further evidence of my genetic predisposition. Most importantly, she saved a number of pictures of us.
For that, I am grateful.
Time and technology has changed but the fascination with capturing light goes on. It's in our blood. It turns out that my grandfather did portraits, something I really don't do. Perhaps I should. And I'd love to shoot film if I had the setup to develop it.
The other side of my family? If my research is correct, that's where I get my crazy gene from. LOTS of stories on that side!