Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Nina

Some time ago I hit on the idea of turning my “movie making” interest to some family history projects. I have a collection of letters from my two grandmothers – Grandma Char from Belle Fourche, South Dakota (born 1903) and Grandma Nina from Haviland, Kansas (born 1894). Both moved to Southern California with their families in the early 20th century.

In this first project I’m reading a letter from my paternal grandmother, Nina, written January 7, 1968. Grandma Nina was 74 and I was 12. I lived with my family in Juneau,  Alaska. Grandma Nina and Grandpa Lionel lived in a mobile home park in Hemet, California, set in the beautiful Hemet Valley. It was still rural and agrarian, and provided an affordable retirement option. They loved the climate and the community. In this letter, Grandma Nina tells about her mother’s 104th birthday celebration.

A photographer from the Hemet News came to take a picture of Georgenie Augusta Sedgwick at the Meadowbrook Convalescent Hospital. Guests included my maternal grandparents, Grandma Char and Grandpa Bob from Colton; my Aunt Ruth Sedgwick (Claude’s wife) and her sister from Corona; a family friend, Vera; a neighbor from the mobile home park, Edna; and nurse, Mrs. Wanda Easley. My paternal grandfather stayed home in case Aunt Babe called needing a ride (turns out she did not attend). The nursing home provided a cake with white frosting, but Grandma Nina brought a chocolate cake that she had made with her new Sunbeam mixer. (Apparently I am genetically predisposed to like chocolate cake)!

To enliven the narration, I added visual components including photographs, maps, and newspaper clippings. Plus, Grandma Nina had included two photographs with the letter that show the mobile home park blanketed with snow (a very unusual occurrence). I was surprised how much family history was included in the letter, and how many artifacts I was able to gather. I’m inspired by the wonderful storytelling of Ken Burns, and challenged to take his ideas to the small screen to capture the beauty and pathos of ordinary family history!

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