With the death of a grandparent, history becomes personal...

Last week, a beloved member of our family passed away. My maternal grandmother died on Wednesday morning after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. She was 87 years of age.

"Granny" was my last surviving grandparent, so losing her was particularly emotional for me as I suddenly realized that a living link to my past was now among the angels. I have many fond memories of my grandmother, especially during my adolescence when both my grandparents came to live with us in my parents home after they experienced some health and financial hardships. I'm sure making the sudden transition from living independently to living dependent on your own children was tough for them, but for me, as a young boy having my grandparents live under the same roof was one of the best times of my life. My grandmother was a woman with a perpetual smile on her face, a zest for life, and a boundless love for her grandchildren. She was so much fun to be around, and I will forever cherish those memories of my youth knowing that her influence on my life was profound and lasting.

I wish I had spent more time with my grandparents as I grew older, but selfish ambitions in my career, academics, and life all too often stood in the way. Looking back I wonder why I never really traced my family's history and the stories of my grandparents' past. Their lives certainly were not boring. I remember hearing stories about my maternal grandfather's service in World War II, and about my paternal grandfather who worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, but I never really made the effort to find out more. As an aspiring public historian, I was too consumed with a vision of the past disconnected from my own family history. I regret that, and I want to make amends. With the help of family and recorded history held in archives, I plan to do just that.

I'm taking some time off from the blog to do something that I should have done a long time ago... trace my own family history. When I return I hope to have a few interesting stories to share. I also hope that this exercise will, in some small way, honor the memory of my grandparents who gave far more of themselves than I can ever hope to return.

History is not merely a list of important names, dates and events. History is a collection of well-researched facts wrapped up in incredible storytelling that can shape our ideals and beliefs, and influence the memories of our past. History has the potential to reach every one of us through the lives of our grandparents and the stories of their past. If you're lucky enough to have a living grandparent, sit down and talk to them. Ask them about life growing up, and write those memories down or record an oral history for future generations. Grandparents are every bit as important as the larger-than-life figures that you read about in history books, and their legacy is even more personal.

I love you, Granny. Thank you for being a wonderful part of my life and an important link to my past. I'm looking forward to getting to know you even better in the days to come.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.