Jo Ann Jaacks: The keeper of the flame

Jo Ann Jaacks' family

Jo Ann Jaacks' family

Jo Ann Jaacks

My aunt Mary was the one to take pictures at family gatherings, and I’m grateful for that since my parents didn’t have a camera. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to admire vintage photos of my sister and I wearing granny dresses or homemade Easter apparel, although there is one photo of me and my one-year-older brother, our mother and grandmother with aunt Mary in the middle. It’s a mystery who took that shot.

My aunt also created a family tree of our Irish roots, proving that we are descendants of JFK and Deacon Samuel Chapin, our great, great, great, great grandfather who was the founder of Springfield, Ma and has a statue there to prove it. I wouldn’t get all uppity about it though; I’m sure there were rascals climbing that family tree as well.

It’s good to know where you came from, and I guess there are several genealogy websites that can help make those connections, but I think the best way is to listen to your elders talk about where they came from and share their stories.

A number of years ago, when my church had a lot of youngsters in the congregation, the Sunday school teacher got the kids involved in a project that consisted of a one-on-one interview with an older church member that wasn’t a relative. Both sides loved the experience, and hopefully it inspired them to do the same with their own relatives.

When I stayed with my Irish grandmother during the summer vacation, I plied her with questions every day at breakfast. What was it like to come to Ellis Island as a teenager with your younger sister? Was it hard to cook with peat? What did you do for fun? Can you show me how to read tea leaves? Her favorite comment was “You certainly have the gift for the gab.”

After my Irish grandmother and aunt Mary passed, then eventually both of our parents, one of my sisters took on the responsibility of taking her children to the gravesites of our relatives, bringing them to funerals, weddings and family reunions so that they grew up knowing their kin. She decorated her walls with pictures of those now passed, and arranged furniture in her rooms that belonged to them.

When I asked my sister “Didn’t we have a relative who was a traveling actor in the 1890s . . . or is that my imagination?,”when she got back to me saying “It’s your imagination,” I believed her. After all, she is the keeper of the flame for our family.