Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lost in Translation

    Not as, say, being misunderstood. More like lost in joy. Or something close. Let me explain....

         My husband's father is Mexican, with a rich family history. Not in pesos, but in stories. I was graciously given a pedigree from the family and continued working from there, adding everything I found. But I was missing out. Big time.
         I secretly yearned to meet with his grandmother, who lived far from us, down along the US/Mexico border. But I was scared. Mexican woman can be intimidating in their element. And a big part of that was they spoke a language around me that I didn't understand. So I would talk with my father in law about whatever family history he could remember. But like I said. I was missing out.

     There was a generation of information sitting inside my husband's guela, and she did not speak English. And I was chicken. Anytime she came north to Chicago to visit her kids, the opportunity just never came up. Or, you could say, I skated around it and never even tried to make it happen.
        We went down to Chicago for a Labor Day picnic with my husband's family. My FIL had previously asked me to put something together of everything I had compiled of his family, so, I packed it with us before we left. I had generated very detailed reports, and brought a disc with all the documents I had found in my searching. He was happy. I was happy he was happy. I was so happy, I bit the bullet.
    "Do you think I could bring this with to the picnic, and maybe your mom could go over some of this with me, or share some stories?"
     The request was received well from my FIL, but I waited until it was nearly time to leave to approach his mother about it.  And, well, I didn't really approach her. I asked one of her daughters. steps!

     And she said sure! We went inside and I laid all the reports on the table, opened my laptop and got out my notebook. My husband's Tia sat next to his grandma, and went piece by piece over every document I gave them, but in spanish. Making confirmations and filling in the blanks by translating her responses back to me in English. It was a great experience. I could see on her face when something was missing, or spelled wrong, and would listen very closely to the two of them, trying to understand what was going on. And there were moments when she could not understand me, and i could not understand her, and there would be three people talking two different languages all at the same time, but then suddenly her head would nod, and she'd smile, and I'd smile, feeling like we had accomplished something, even if it was just the correct spelling of someone's name. Before I knew it, I had three pages of notes.

Our family and my husband's Guela, Aug. 2013

     More than anything (and I think this is something that is built into the typical genealogist, one of the very things that wells up from within us and drives us) I relished the time spent at that table with her. I took to heart every memory that was brought up, and every piece of information I was given. I may not have been able to tell what she was saying without the help of her daughter,  but she had that sparkle in her eye that everyone gets when they begin to answer the questions from the unlikely person so interested in their life, in their parent's lives. There was a lightness about her that I enjoyed watching as she conversed back and forth with her daughter over the papers I had laid before them. Those moments to me are the treasure. They are the prize.

    All of us have older generations that are leaving us daily. The wealth of knowledge they carry passes away along with them unless we take the time to tap into that. When we don't we are left guessing. We are left just wishing we could ask them this, or that. And to miss out on the happiness or emotion one exudes while telling their family history is to miss out on one of the great joys of living. Of knowing our roots. This, I feel strongly about.

   I feel blessed to have had the opportunity. Time ran short, and I wasn't able to get into details of the actual lives of her family members, but I hope to maybe next time.

   My advice to you, who may be beginning in genealogy... don't miss out on the opportunity to simply sit and listen with your older generations. They lived the sort of lives that we could not have imagined, and lives that will never be duplicated through history. Learn about them. Learn FROM them. Document it all. And when you are finished, be thankful that you did. Granted, I did this with my own grandparents, but don't neglect your inlaws. The generations that came before your spouse are now also a part of your own history that you will pass on to your children. Take the time to do it while you can. You will not regret it.

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