While in the attic, my brother found three large portraits of unknown people dating from the 1800s. We weren’t even certain they belonged to our family or perhaps to pre-1918 owners of the house. One picture was torn, another was in a frame with broken glass, and all were grimy and dirty. I recognized one of the antique frames as the match to my wedding present mirror from my mother. Evidently, since the people were unknown, Mom removed one person from his frame to make a gift.
We debated whether to let the portraits go to an antique dealer. We decided to wait and see if these people showed up in our mountain of family photos. Later I talked about family genealogy with my aunt. She happened to have a fading photo from a distant cousin who named two people as my paternal grandmother’s parents. It was a copy of the exact two people from the attic! My great-grandfather had the same triangular white beard. Great-grandmother was the same sturdy woman. One mystery solved.
What else have we inherited from these people in the attic? My brother now looks very much like one of father’s great uncles. How much of my genetics, values, health, and complexion come from these folks? Did they love God and hope to be reunited with their future families? Someday will a relative find one of my photos and wonder who I was and what I believed?
I wish I had asked more family questions of my grandparents while they lived. With renewed interest, I will again read the old postcards that my great-grandmother wrote to her daughter, my grandma. I can see Lydia now. We are still trying to figure out who “Bertha” was, as scribbled in pencil on the back of her portrait. And my brother found another portrait in the attic. Those amazing people have been hidden in the attic.
Questions for personal journaling or group discussion:
1. What do you know about the spiritual history of your family?
2. How can you better preserve photos, dishes, and keepsakes for family posterity?
Karen Spruill writes from Florida.
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