I grew up in a small rural setting where lightning bugs illuminated the black forest like green eyes blinking in the night. We didn’t experience traffic jams except for Friday night after the high-school ball game. Even though I lived on a street called Heritage Drive, I didn’t realize the richness of my family’s legacy. After eighteen years, I left this familiar setting and headed west to attend Brigham Young University. Leaving the mid-west and coming to Utah opened a whole new landscape. Now, years later, I’ve finally discovered what I left behind.
It seems that, through the years, families tend to spread out and become less involved in each other’s lives. I’m not sure how many family reunions I’ve been to where the only people I knew were my immediate family and my grandma. What happened to the close-knit family of former generations? For most of us the link from one generation to another is weakening.
Most of my mom’s side of the family grew up in Boonville, Indiana, a small farming community. During the 2003 Christmas holiday I took a trip back to Indiana to meet those unknown faces and names that float around family gatherings. In the 1930’s my grandpa grew up on a dairy farm with his seven siblings and lots of animals. I had a chance to tour the old homestead and walk through the barns, the house, and hear stories about what went on there. I felt a certain drive to understand where I came from, a heritage quickly fading as older generations pass on. In addition to visiting places, I interviewed various family members both on my mom and dad’s side. From each interview I created a photograph and tried to incorporate some aspect from the person’s life.
The final product of this project is more than a few photographs on the wall. From this trip, I unearthed my family’s roots and discovered a legacy. I have created many relationships that never existed and strengthened others. The information gleaned from such a trip is invaluable to my present family and future generations.
Maybe you’ve experienced the same decentralization of your family. How many people in your extended family are merely names? With a little effort, you’ll find a heritage full of stories and life. It doesn’t matter how you do it. I chose interviews and photographs; the important thing is that you do it. I invite you to discover the richness of your own heritage.
Andy von Harten