Whatever floats your boat...
In a couple of videos I posted in November, I was investigating the history of an odd coin I found among the possessions of a great uncle. In October I inherited four boxes of photographs and documents that had belonged to a second cousin I never met. Gary and I shared a set of great-grandparents and when I inherited his things, I was hoping to uncover a lot of information about the ancestors he and I shared.
But probably eighty percent of the material pertained to Gary's other great-grandparents, a prominent and historically important family in Silicon Valley. These were people I did not know and was not related to and who have no living descendants, and now I am the possessor and custodian of their history on paper.
There is a mansion in Santa Clara, a local historic landmark, that was built by this family. I contacted the current owner to find out if he would be interested in having these photos and documents that belonged to the house's original owners. He just about did a back-flip of joy to hear from me. He and his partner have owned the house for 30 years and they have been doing everything they can to restore the house to its original character, to the extent that they have even tracked down the original furniture that was auctioned off long ago and re-bought it all, piece by piece.
Lou, the current owner, asked me if there were any photos of the house's interior among the family pictures in my possession. I told him no, that in the days of the family's occupancy, indoor photography was difficult by non-professionals due to the low light sensitivity of film. He was very disappointed, as he was hoping to find clues about how the interior was once decorated and arranged.
In preparation for transferring ownership of the photos and documents to Lou, I have taken on the laborious project of making high-resolution scans of all of it, both for my own records and for the history society of Santa Clara. I've had the opportunity to stare at each and every photo for a long time. Every time I look at a photo, I usually notice some detail about it that I missed on previous examinations. It was one such detail that made me realize that I did indeed have a photo of the historic house's interior.
This photo was taken either in the late teens or early nineteen-twenties. Everything in it is blurry or out of focus due to the long shutter speed that would have been required to get a good exposure indoors in the evening. So how can I tell anything from it? The answer is a small item on the mantel that I recognize despite its blurriness.
It is this portrait of Gary's grandmother, Delilah, the woman who married my great-uncle. They married in 1922. I not only recognize this photo on the mantel, but I have looked at enough photos of Delilah at this point that I also recognize her blurry face in the group. But not my uncle's face, and that tells me this was pre-1922.
I emailed both of these photos to Lou. "Do you recognize this fireplace?" I asked him. "Yes! That's our living room," was his reply, "but I don't recognize a single face in that photo."
I look at the photo again of these long-dead anonymous people as they were some ninety years ago, and I wonder how it is that so much personal history, buried with the memories of the people who lived it, can end up in the hands of someone like me, so disconnected to it except through fascination, and maybe something else that resembles longing. But a longing for what, I may never understand.