Family Memories from Down Under

Family Memories from Down Under

This is a guest post by Shauna HicksShe is a professional genealogist, former archivist, and librarian who has been researching her own family history since 1977. Shauna worked in government for over 35 years in libraries and archives in Brisbane, Canberra, and Melbourne. Since retiring, she has written a number of family history guides and is a regular speaker at genealogy cruises, conferences, and seminars. She now operates her own part-time business and is the author of the blog, Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

August is National Family History Month in Australia. It is a time when everyone is thinking about family history with events held at archives, libraries, genealogy societies and even online. This August is more significant for me as my mother went into aged care at the end of June and I spent July clearing out her house and going through her things (see the photo above of the memorabilia I found in Mum’s cupboard; Mum and Dad’s 21st keys and cards, my baby photos and cards, Mum’s wedding dress and more). This was not the first time I have done this for a family member so I knew what to expect. It is not easy going through anyone else’s usually private things.

Mum and the author ca mid-1970s [courtesy Shauna Hicks])

Mum and the author ca mid-1970s [courtesy Shauna Hicks])

My brother was there too and we shared family memories as we sifted through our mother’s life and the things she had kept over the years. Mum had a big clean out when she moved and downsized after Dad died 21 years ago, but there were still things dating back to her teenage years. At the back of a kitchen drawer was a diary Mum had started when she was just 13. It starts “today Mervyn and I kissed for the first time” – we had always known that our parents had been lifelong childhood sweethearts but somehow these words written so long ago made it much more real for us both.

At the back of the pantry cupboard, there were glass jars, still with pieces of their wedding cake inside. Also flower decorations (now dried out) from the wedding which we recognized from photographs. Why did Mum hang onto them all these decades? Does anyone still do that? Neither my brother or I wanted to keep them so they have been tossed.

Mum’s china cabinet still held many of their wedding presents because they were too good to use. Now they will never be used as today’s world no longer uses tea sets, gold trimmed plates or glasses. If it can’t go in the microwave or the dishwasher we don’t want anything that has to be fussed over. But somehow I couldn’t just toss these or take them to the local op shop. Now my back bedroom is filled with boxes of Mum’s stuff.

In the wardrobe there was a solitary dress – Mum has only worn pants and shirts for decades. When asked why she had kept the dress, she said ‘that’s the dress I wore to your brother’s wedding’. Sure enough, a check of photographs confirmed that Mum had worn that dress. She wanted to take it to the aged care center in case she needed a dress but Mum has “shrunk” over the years and there is no way that she could ever wear that dress again.

My brother and I didn’t have time to go through the photo albums and loose photos so they have all been boxed up and are in the back bedroom. Sometime soon we will get together and go through them and try to identify them and provide some background text to when and where the photos were taken. Holiday shots, childhood photos, travel snaps, grandkids, friends, and neighbors – no doubt family memories will come flooding back when we start sorting the photos.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane ca 1960 [courtesy Shauna Hicks]

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane ca 1960 [courtesy Shauna Hicks]

I can only hope that no one wants to visit us in the near future as there is no room in the back bedroom. I need to find somewhere to put everything. I wander around my own house and what do I see? There are crystal glasses in the sideboard which are too good to use in case one is broken, there is the lovely corn cob soup tureen that my parents gave me as a wedding present, used once or twice then put away in case it was broken (not to mention that I didn’t want to risk it in the dishwasher), endless souvenirs of our travels and the various homes we have lived in and one dress in the wardrobe. No, not a wedding dress, but one bought for a special occasion back in the ’90s and worn to other special events over the years. That dress has been there with me at high points in my life but the significance is lost when no one else knows the stories behind it.

Which brings me to the question – how many of us record our own stories to pass on to future generations? We spend countless hours tracing our ancestors to try and learn every little thing we can find out about them. We want to know more than their name and dates of birth and death. Who were they and what did they think? So too, our descendants will want to know about us — yes, there may be digital images of us on a phone or laptop but will those images get passed down like the old black-and-whites that now live in my back bedroom?

The walls of my study are covered with academic qualifications, awards and achievements all framed and proudly hung, but no one ever sees them. They represent my life — yet no doubt when the time comes, they will be tossed. How do I tell my story now without it sounding too much like an obituary? Or do I wait for someone else to tell it after I’ve gone — how will they know what I want to be remembered for?

Mum has settled into aged care and we no longer need to worry so much about her living alone. Not everything was tossed – we donated boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff to the Hospice Op Shop on Bribie Island where we live. The volunteers thanked us for our very generous donation. At the time of choosing them, we didn’t know that they also support the aged care center where Mum now lives. It was a good choice and Mum has helped those who are now helping her.

Family history is the past, but it is also the present and the future. Family memories once lost are lost forever. Take time now and think about what family memories you want to see live on into the future. Happy National Family History Month in Australia.




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  • Julie D Grant

    August 23, 2017

    I decided my personal history would only take about 25 pages. I just finished with a total of 700 pages which will be published for my family. Once I started memories came flooding back. I never would have remembered many of them had I not started writing. I urge everyone to write. My husband wrote one page, but what he said will mean so much to the family. Please, everyone, take a few moments and write down a couple of sentences. It will mean more than you know to your great-grandkids and to history.

    • E


      August 24, 2017

      Such an important lesson!

  • Pauleen

    August 30, 2017

    A very poignant story. “Now they will never be used” hits at the heart strings.

    Very true that we need to tell our own stories and there are many prompts in the GeneaBloggers Tribe posts that can help us.

  • Joan Hill

    August 30, 2017

    Lovely walk through your history. Excellent reminders to tell our stories. The little ones, like a tiny enameled metal tea pot. Thanks.

  • Bobbie

    September 6, 2017

    Great blog Shauna. It reminds me of the many things I’ve had to make decisions on in the past six months of my de-cluttering/packing project prior to shifting in a few weeks. It is so hard to let go of things that were passed down or your own from special occasions.
    I smiled to see the 21 keys – my Dad (a cabinet maker by trade) made all of us wooden keys which were duly signed during the celebrations and then varnished. He even gave me two spares for my girls (10 and 6) just before he passed away, sadly they were not used and I made the call to let go of all three. Other articles I just couldn’t part with.
    Thanks for sharing your story

  • julie

    June 15, 2018

    I really enjoyed your story. It sounds like my life. I am just starting my family tree. Thankyou