As I consider which story to be the best launch for this blog, it feels to me to that sometimes you just need to begin at the beginning.
And so, I share this photo as the catalyst that heralds everything to come next. Because isn’t that the very definition of a catalyst – something that incites activity?
Our Sword family historian and keeper of all things memorial had been my husband’s Uncle Jay, the middle child of the three Sword brothers. A man of details, we had may talks with Jay about his travels to find the Sword family origins and knew that his efforts were done old-school method during the pre-digital age. But what we didn’t know was the full extent of what he had researched. We could only guess.
Jay and his wife, Jean, married late in life, Jay at 61 years old and Jean at 53. And while they didn’t have children, there was always extended family to share their lives. A remarkably smart and classy pair, the two of them shared the next twenty-nine years together traveling, having new adventures, and generally living life to the fullest.
After Jay passed in 2008, Jean was hesitant to part with the extensive genealogical research done by Jay, a decision we of course respected at the time. When Jean died eight years later in 2016, her family was surprised that shortly before she passed, her will had been changed to benefit individuals outside the family circle. It was all controversial and rather sketchy, to be honest. But there it was. So instead of personal items being distributed among Jay and Jean’s families, we had to crash the estate sale to buy our family’s stuff back.
And by crash, I mean the estate sale company was sensitive to what happened and allowed two of us to come in before the sale so that we’d have a chance at reclaiming our heritage.
So early on a cold January morning, I’m in Jay and Jean’s three-car garage sifting through countless cabinet card photos, documents, albums and family scrapbooks that have been stacked on long folding tables. I finger-walk through a box to pick up a photo, then replace it back into its cardboard home. Strangers in sepia; I’m making eye contact with people I’ve never met.
“That’s Grandma,” says my brother-in-law when I choose an albumen-coated photo of a young woman in a wedding dress. It’s from the early twentieth century, maybe around 1915 or so.
“Is it?” I ask. I’m intrigued by this dark-eyed girl sporting a cinnamon-roll hairstyle sixty years before Princess Leia made them famous. “She’s pretty. What about this one?” I show him another photo. He doesn’t know. We see that Jean’s family photos are mixed in with ours.
We gather everything we can find. The cabinet cards are a dollar each, later photos are more if they’re still in their black paper frame. The photo scrapbooks are mostly from the 40’s and 50’s and are priced between ten and twenty dollars. We find an original birth record from 1819 written in German and a gallon-size zip-lock baggie with personal correspondence from the mid-1800’s. And more. So much more.
Invaluable to our family, all of it. Absolutely priceless. And still, it came with a cost to make it ours again. We finally had a documented connection to the Sword Family history and we were grateful for it.
Later at home, I spend hours reviewing it all, and along with the detailed research from Jay, put together a lineage for my husband and my son. And that, people, was just the beginning.
Right? That edges towards overwhelming and really threatens to tip the scale when we realize that’s only one side. I also have an itch to research my own maternal and paternal lineage as well.
But no matter. I’m doing this for the stories, really. You know? It’s all about what happens before and after The Dash (click here to see what I mean).
Because that’s where family lore lives. The good stuff.
So welcome to House BlackSword. I hope you enjoy this trip into history as much as I have sharing it with you.