For some reason lately, my grandparents have been on my mind. It’s a tricky subject. I lost my first grandparent when I was 7. My father’s parents both died when I was 10, exactly six months apart. When you’re 10, you don’t really know how much you should value your grandparents, apart from the fact that they spoil you rotten. I was just starting to explore old family photos when my dad’s mom passed away. There were references to the store her father owned and other things that I didn’t understand at the time.
On my mom’s side, information is a bit easier to come by. Most branches of our family have been in the US for quite some time. In fact, some of family history goes back to the Mayflower and Jamestown. While we might not have all of the information, it seems somewhat accessible. But my dad’s family is a bit different. All of my dad’s grandparents were born in Russia – two in Odessa and two in Berditchev. We assume they came to the US in the wake of anti-semitic pogroms and other pressures, but we have no records to really confirm that. We don’t really know who was left behind in Russia or what happened to them, and unfortunately, my dad was quite young when his grandparents died, so there is a huge gap there.
Recent history is disappearing
It’s one thing to say that you don’t know a lot about your great-grandparents. That’s sort of acceptable. But I realized a couple of weeks ago that I actually have no idea what my dad’s dad did in World War II. We have lots of information on my other grandpa. He was in the Navy, fought on the Nicholas. We know what battles he was in because he recorded that information in later years. But my other grandpa – I have no idea. There are feelings that he may have been a writer for the Stars and Stripes. He may have been in Northern Africa. He may have been in Italy. He may have been…but we don’t know for sure.
As I started on my path of research, I went to the National Archives website to request military records. The drop-down menu that had you select your relationship to the military person did not include grandchild. It included spouse, former spouse, child, brother, sister. But grandchildren are not considered next of kin in the world of governmental bureaucracy. That really stopped me in my path. If I had embarked on this journey as an old woman, when my parents were not around, how would I even begin to access this information?
How many people have already missed their chance?
Given that I’m the third Clayman to work in the company that my grandpa started, I feel obligated to learn what he went through in the war. If he wrote, I want to know what he wrote. If he experienced things as so many men did, I want to learn about that. I want to learn about what might have shaped him before his family and his business were on his mind. Did he know my grandma when he went off to war? How did they meet?
All of this information is slipping beyond my generation’s reach. If we don’t grab on to it soon, there won’t be anyone left who can tell those stories, as incorrect as they might be.
There’s no time like the present to learn about the past. I’m starting to work on it.
How about you?
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/55293400@N07/5527061226/ via Creative Commons