A couple of weeks ago my mom, sister and I traveled to western Minnesota to visit the place where our grandma (mom’s mother) was born. We went there to learn more about her story. We were able to find the plat book that listed the location of the farm where grandma was born. We stopped by the county courthouse and located the records of the purchase of the farm by great grandpa Lillemo—and the sale of the land when they moved to a farm in eastern Minnesota. We drove by the place to see it, too.
But at the end of our trip we were left with more questions than answers. We know that great grandpa was farming that land before he married. We also know that great grandma lived in the eastern part of the state, where they were married. After their wedding, they show up in census records living in western Minnesota on the farm. We know their first three kids were born on that farm.
Yet how did they meet? Was great grandma a 19th century mail order bride? Grandpa farmed the land for six years before he filed a deed in the county records. Did he rent the land? Was it a contract for deed? When he sold the land, he still had a mortgage on it. Did he have to mortgage the farm for some reason?
The original farm was Minnesota prairie land. Mom wondered if grandma was born in a sod house? Or did they have a frame house? And why did they sell the farm to move back to eastern Minnesota? The farmland he sold is rich and prosperous. Was it about moving closer to great grandma’s family? Or were there other reasons?
It’s like reading a book and finding out that the middle chapters have been torn out. Once you know part of the story, you want to hear the whole of it. We are left wondering, trying to fill in the blanks.
All sorts of stories get lost over time. I doubt we will ever really know the whole story of my great grandparents. We may get glimpses through historical documents, but we’ve lost the richness of their story: who they were, what motivated their choices, what they believed and felt about things. Without that information it feels like I am incomplete.
From old photos I know that I strongly resemble my grandmother. I surmise that they moved east to be near family, so maybe that is where I get my strong value of family. What else about them shapes who I am?
Everyone has incomplete stories that influence them. And everyone has a choice to make: to let those stories dictate who they are, or to reject those stories to write their own.
Embracing your stories—however incomplete—helps you see more clearly who you are now. But where you go from here is up to you. What new stories do you want to write?