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September 1, 2014

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Genealogy:

Private memories paint detailed images and preserve the past

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

Leona Boulé wrote her first book of poems around 1940.

Thirteen-year-old Leona's small volume remains bound by the once-white shoelace she tied through two nail holes. Now the delicate booklet is encased in a page protector, its shoelace binding dulled by passing decades. But her love of literacy remained sharp, and as an adult, Las Vegas resident Leona Boulé Talluto took up pen again as a way to grieve her daughter's untimely death. Leona has since written three volumes of poetry entitled "Rhymes and Reasons" (1972, 1984, 1995) and an autobiography, "Cameos of my Life" (2008). An only child raised by grandparents in Valparaiso, Ind., Leona writes to encourage other seniors "to write of their younger years and to leave their mark behind them."

My husband's great-aunt Jennie Christopherson started writing much later than Leona Boulé did. Jennie wrote her first book, "Down Memory Lane," in 1980, when she was 90; she wrote so her children and grandchildren would learn the story of her life with her husband. Ninety-two-year-old Jennie published her second book in 1982. The second volume, "Memoirs of Jennie Anderson Christopherson," focuses on her life as a child; she concludes by signing off, "Written by one of the Anderson Kids, Jennie Christopherson." Jennie died just after her 98th birthday in Milaca, Minn. Her books bring to life her immigrant Danish parents, Ole Andersen and Marie Jorgine Neilsen, Jennie's siblings, and early life in their sod house near Sleepy Eye, Minn.

Genealogists must not rely on anyone's memoirs as fact without independent confirmation. However, one's written memories of a town, neighborhood, house, friends and family capture time and freeze it in space. If we take the time to write our memories, we will paint images that future others may see. Jennie's memories of her parents, their stories, and her childhood were as vivid in 1982 as when she perceived them new.

Memory plays with us, and it filters facts. We remember events differently than our siblings remember them, and we see given events through different eyes than other observers do. However, the language a person uses, the images he creates, the background scenery he describes, and the names he invokes provide vital information about a time and a place long past. Leona's memories of Valparaiso contain valuable "stock footage" for any person researching Northwest Indiana in the early-to-mid 20th century. Likewise, Jennie's recollections of life in the sod house near Sleepy Eye add cultural background vital to researchers of rural Southwest Minnesota bridging the 19th and 20th centuries.

After her mother died Leona received some of her mother's memorabilia that was packed into a suitcase. Leona's poem "Treasured Memories" (excerpt reprinted with permission) recounts her journey through unidentified photographs of faces she did not know. Leona laments,

"There is no one left to talk to

There is no one left to ask

Who are these faces packed in little boxes

Who mean nothing to me after all"

One does not have to write complete books of poetry and an autobiography like Leona Boulé Talluto or publish her memoirs like Jennie Anderson Christopherson. Your writings, brief or lengthy, will be a boon to your relatives. Seniors who would like some encouragement or help with their writing may take Writing for Pleasure, offered Fridays, or Creative Writing on Wednesdays, at Derfelt Senior Center; call 229-6601.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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