May 6, 2005
Opening the archives:
Yesterday I started scanning in some of the photographs I salvaged from my grandparents' house last summer. It is my intention to combine the photos and some of the documents and letters into something cohesive.
I'm not sure why I want to do this. Yes, it is kind of a compelling project for a history enthusiast, but the process has also brought up a number of questions: What is the purpose of preserving this history? Who is it for? Why would anyone care? Why do I?
Originally I thought it would be something I could send to my relatives - a way of binding the family together. My grandmother started sending me documents when I was in my early 20's before I started studying history because I've always been interested in genealogy, old photographs, and history (of course). When my grandparents both passed away last summer no one else seemed to want the photos and letters. It was more or less established that I was the person who should have them. I've posted about my evil greedy aunts already so I won't go back into that, but since that time I've been wondering why I want to bother compiling the family history. If it is just for my immediate family, there isn't any reason to do it. *I* have the photos and letters and baptismal records and they (my mom and brother) have access to them any time they want. If it is for my aunts and cousin, the only reason I can think to want to compose any record for them is ... because of my forgiving nature.
One might be inclined to thinks, "well you do it for your children, your cousin's children, your nieces and nephews." But I don't have any and probably wont. I'm unable to have children, it is possible my brother is as well since he and his partner have been trying on and off for some time now. My one cousin doesn't really seem like "the type" though I can't say I think she would be a bad mother. She would probably have to gain at least 20 lbs to be fertile anyway. My mother's youngest sister never had any children and it's too late now.
When I found out I couldn't have children I thought about adopting, and when I thought about adopting, my interesting in genealogy seemed... inappropriate. Why would my family history be interesting to a child who may or may not know where they came from themselves? How would my interest in genealogy make an adopted child feel? Would they somehow feel less special because they weren't part of "the blood line" that I find interesting? So, I have thought that if I do ever adopt a child, I will give up my interest in genealogy.
There isn't anyone else to bequeath this stuff too. Oh, I suppose there may be some distant 7th cousin once removed who might be interested in this stuff, but probably not.
So what do I do with this? Who do I share it with? Since you're here, I guess the answer is you.
Here is a story about one photograph:
The photograph above, the first one I scanned, was taken in August 1933. The men are employees of Remmler's brewery - the brewery owned by my great great grandmother and managed and re-named by her second husband (the Remmler part) after her first husband passed away. The men hold a sign which says "VOTE WET MONDAY!" and another which says "REMMLER'S BOCK NOW ON TAP"
The Volstead Act - 18th Amendment - (the National Prohibition Enforcement Act) was passed in 1919 and repealed when the 21st Amendment was passed in the spring of 1933. On the back of the photograph in pencil, in the hand I've learned to recognize as my great grandfather's, is written "Late August 1933". Presumably between March when the act was repealed, and August when they were selling "Remmler's Bock" on tap, a great deal of work went into restoring equipment and so forth. The brewery was never financially viable after prohibition. It held on for a few more years and that's it (I haven't confirmed my dates yet but I'm pretty sure it went under before 1940). My great grandfather had little interest in the brewery - he owned a hardware and farm equipment store that was quite profitable.
In a series of letters exchanged between my great grandfather, and one Doctor Heising of Milwaukee (who I believe was a half brother) between 1923 and 1925, the question of "the problem" of the brewery is constantly under discussion. The settlement of the estate is at stake - who owns what portion of the brewery (which after the Volstead act was essentially worthless) and even more interestingly - who owned what portion of the outstanding debts of debtors - ("mister so and so always paid mother at such and such a time after the pigs went to slaughter", "mister so and so's adopted daughter has been causing them problems and it seems may be headed toward the corruption so common to 'her kind' - will require an additional month to pay")
Doctor Heising was anxious to give up his claim on the brewery in favor of half of a barn. It strikes me as odd that a portion of a barn could be more valuable than a brewery, but one has to consider that the brewery must have been losing a small fortune (relatively) every day it remained operational and only producing "near beer" the only legal product at the time and one consisting of less than 1% alcohol. Not to mention full strength beer was still available - if one only knew where to look.
Who are the men in the photograph? I don't know. My great grandfather is not among them.
There is a mystery here: What was Doctor Heisings relationship to my great great grand-father? How was the estate at last settled? How did the events surrounding the settlement of this estate influence my grandmother and her two sisters who also became estranged from each other through the settlement of their parent's estate? What stories do my aunt's tell themselves to justify the settlement of my grandparent's estate? How do we - can we - escape the inevitability of anger and recrimination that so often accompanies bereavement?
What is the point of all of this? Well, I like to think there are lessons in history even in the history of mundane domestic squabbles. The interpretation of history informs the present and the future. When I think about it this way, I believe I inherited the most valuable portion of the estate even if I'm not *quite* sure what to do with it.