The photos above are both of my paternal grandmother. She's the oldest child in the lower photo. I don't have a scanner, so I used my digital camera to photograph some old photos I have. (You can see the evidence of the flash in the photographs.) The reason I did this is that I was having some email communication with a half-second cousin once removed. (Don't bother to try to figure that out. My great-great-grandfather is her great-grandfather, but we are descended from different wives.) Kay doesn't have much information about our shared grandfather's first family, so I emailed these photos to her so she could add them to her collection.
In turn, Kay sent me photocopies of two large photographs of family reunions that took place in 1909 and 1923. My great-great grandfather was a Civil War veteran who fought in an Indiana regiment (I think). My father told me once that he remembered his Great-Grandpa Swisher. My dad, as a young boy, was frightened of him because of his long beard. I have been interested in the Civil War for a long time, and it's always meant a lot to me to have had an ancestor who fought in that conflict. It was so cool to actually see what he looked like.
Not only is Great-Great-Grandpa Swisher in the reunion photographs, my great grandmother Rose is in them too. It was easy for me to spot her because her daughter--the woman pictured above--looked a lot like her. My mother has a photograph that was taken shortly after I was born with me sitting on Great-Grandma Rose's lap and my mother and grandmother standing nearby. Someday I'd like to get that "four generations" photo from Mom's collection. I love the idea of the linked generations. I have no memories of Grandma Rose, but I like having the evidence that she knew me. Mom has said that Grandma Rose felt sorry for me because I had to wear casts on my legs when I was about a year old (I was pigeon-toed). Somehow, I find it comforting that she felt empathy for me.
Then yesterday we had a mini family reunion with another cousin in the nursing home where my mom is—Michael and I and two of my brothers got together with my second cousin DeDe there. DeDe's mom Lois was my dad's first cousin, but my grandmother raised her for much of her childhood, so Lois and my dad always considered each other siblings. So DeDe is really more like a first cousin to us. She is 15 or 16 years older than I am, approximately the same age that my oldest brother Carl would have been if he hadn't passed away. One of the things DeDe brought to my mom yesterday was some very old photos of Carl as a little boy. It was so good to see the photographs again.
I don't do a lot of geneology / family trees, but I've always been really interested in tracing my family heritage in other ways. For instance, I have my dad's eyes, but my nose and my mouth are more typical of my mom's family. And I think I got my story-telling ability from my dad, while my logical, analytical abilities come from my mom. I share my love of puns and enjoyment of absurdist humor with my second brother, and my interest in writing comes from my maternal grandmother and one of my maternal aunts. Those are just a few specific examples I've identified over the years. Tracing these kinds of links has always been important to me. It provides me with a sense of connection and rootedness that I value, even as I've chosen to be different from my family of origin in several significant ways.
Emails, photographs, and meetings--these are the reasons I've been thinking about family and how it still influences me. I'd love to hear about your family heritage too.