Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Suitcase

Almost thirteen years ago, I started working on a biography of my grandmother. The book is now complete and published. In the process of researching for the book, I came across some old trunks in my parent's storage shed. There was one suitcase in particular which called out to me. Lo and behold, when I opened it -- I found it full of old pictures-- pictures from the 1800's - there were also letters, a diary of my grandmother's , some miscellaneous newspaper clippings and important documents. I didn't have time to sort through everything that day, so I just picked the suitcase up and took it with me to Africa.

The suitcase remained in the back of a closet. From time to time, I would pull it out and look through the pictures and wonder "who are all these people?" Having been born and raised in Singapore to missionary parents, I had almost no contact with my extended family. Those were the days before internet, cell phones and international phone calls were the exception not the rule....so distance was a factor in the lack of contact with the extended family.I envied others when they would talk of their cousins...uncles...grandparents...etc. Especially, growing up in Asia where extended family is a big part of life!! Now, in that suitcase, I had found a family that stretched from the West Coast of America all the way over to the East Coast.....I just didn't know who they were...yet.....

Fast forward to the summer of 2005, I visited the States to see my eldest son. My sister, Debbie, flew out from Oklahoma to meet me and I pulled out the suitcase. She was fascinated. We spent an entire night going through the suitcase.. We went from the suitcase to the internet, trying to find clues as to who the people were. There were inscriptions on the back of the pictures-- but they all seemed so cryptic. And then one single postcard, written by my g-g aunt Nellie (can't figure out- is it great great aunt? Or great grand aunt? or grand great aunt? Bigsmile...anyhow my great- grandmother's sister!)...she had written the postcard to my great-grandmother Annie Muhm Teuber ...the postcard had the picture of Neligh, Nebraska and was sent to Tacoma, Washington. It was a simple message- but it unlocked the identity of the rest of the people in the suitcase-- the Muhms...the Mayhews...the Knapps....the Teubers...suddenly I had family coming out of my ears!!

I went to work on contacting the relatives to tell them I had pictures of their relatives. I spent the next few weeks sending packages of pictures to the families that I felt were the rightful owners....a picture of someone's grandfather...should be with that person...not with me! Through these messages back and forth, I got to know a third cousin here and a fifth cousin there and a fourth cousin over there...I was delighted!!!

Now my kids get a big kick out of saying, "Mom, everyone is somehow related to you!"....What a treasure my grandmother left for me....she left me a family. What a delightful family they are!! In getting to know them, I've come to know so much more about myself-- about my mom-- about my siblings...yes, indeed, my grandmother left me a priceless treasure!!

 
The postcard which unlocked the mystery.


 Frederick Muhm and family



 

8 comments:

  1. Hey Anjuli,
    This post is awesome. It just gave me shivers and now I am wondering how I always took my family and extended family for granted.
    nice pictures.
    Can I have a copy of your book? Would love to read it..

    Sneha

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sneo- if you email me your mailing address I can send you a book. You can actually go to Amazon.com and see the book- Letta In China - but don't bother paying for it- I'll send you a complimentary copy.

    email me at desertstar@writing.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. you have such an exciting life Connie....and so much treasure in all your stories. I'm serious when I said that you should compile it all in a book. it will sell big time. please do...i'll be the first in line to buy and get it autograph....and you already have experience writing a book. if your grandmother's biography is as exciting as this blog...i'm getting it. write a book connie on you...please please...do us a favor.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A- you are too kind! You are more than welcome to email me your mailing address and I will send you the book about my grandmother.

    As for writing a book about myself- YAWN!! :) Maybe it would be a good sedative for those suffering with insomnia. :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nooo I'm not being kind. It's the truth. I find your stories so amazing! And I suffer from insomnia and I do read this blog when I can't sleep and noooo it does not put me to sleep :) you're funny :) loll

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow, this is a treasure discovery for keeps.
    Just imagine how thrilled the others would have been to see their ancestors in B&W

    ReplyDelete
  7. Haddock,

    Some of those who received the pictures said that it solved a puzzle or brought together another link in their family search- still others were just thrilled to have hard copies of their relatives pics from the 1800's- and for me- it gave me so many new family members :)

    ReplyDelete

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