Mike’s Story: Why Leaves?

The Unexpected Family Historian

When I was a kid, I would have sleepovers at my Nana’s house. This was a big treat! I was one of five kids in my family, and me and my siblings would take turns staying with Nana and Grandpa on weekends. It was a chance to have my own room for a few nights and be spoiled. Grandpa would school me in billiards. Nana would treat me to cookies and ice cream.

My favorite part of visiting Nana was looking through her old photo albums. Each one was meticulous compiled with labels and notes. Nana proudly displayed them on a bookshelf in her living room, like a row of encyclopedias. They held my family’s entire collective history, and I felt deeply connected to those albums. They showed me where I had come from. They showed me the tribe I belonged to.

Nana would sit with me and go through the albums page-by-page, pointing out the faded black and white characters and telling me funny or sad stories about each of them. Most were ancestors and distant relatives I had never met. I especially loved seeing the pictures of my mom when she was a little girl; her first day at school, her first car, and her wedding pictures with my dad.

Nana was the family historian. She could tell you about everybody in the family and their closest friends. She knew their stories. She documented their adventures and their trials and tribulations with hand scribbled notes between the pages.

After my grandparents passed away the photo albums were split between my mom and her brothers. The collection was dispersed. Tragically, all the albums my mom had, including the ones she had compiled on our family, were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. 100+ years of pictorial history and keepsakes washed away.

The biggest loss, however, were the stories. Photos are somehow diminished without the stories of the people, places and things in them.

My mother died unexpectedly from a brain hemorrhage. She had just started writing down our family history. Thankfully, she had sent me short drafts of some of her history and of her life with my dad. After she died, I rushed to get audio recordings of stories from my dad. The things I learned about him and my mom that I never knew. Priceless! I treasure those writings and recordings. I wanted to take steps to preserve them for my kids and grandkids.

I think that makes me the new family historian. It’s an unceremonious title, but one which I am proud to hold (for the time being). Unsure of whether anyone in my line will take up the mantle, I created Leaves with the help of my friend and longtime creative collaborator, Anthony Phills.

Leaves is a place where stories can be told, shared, and never lost. Part of my legacy is now helping others to preserve their legacies.

So now you know a little of my story and the story of Leaves. I hope you will use Leaves to tell, share and preserve your stories for future generations. Stories are a big part of your legacy. Stories are how you keep your family’s collective history alive. They are the leaves on your family tree.

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