I wouldn’t consider myself a historian or even a history buff, but I do enjoy history and the telling of stories. The one fascinating part of all of it is this none of us where there at the time the events happened know exactly what happened. At this moment you’re wondering what this is all about. It’s about you the one who is reading this and saying to yourself what is this man talking about? History? Yes, your history and your life story is what this is all about. Have you ever sat with family members a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle and listened to them? I mean really listened to what they are saying. I’ll explain further in a moment, but first a back story.
In 2013, (wow time flies) I had begun to do what many call urban exploration where I would photograph abandoned buildings in various stages of decay. It was pretty exciting at the time driving through Detroit, looking for former industrial buildings, former churches, synagogues, stores and so forth. There was a certain amount of beauty in these structures as they had begun to be taken over by the environment around them.
One day as I was taking a “ride” around the city I had remembered a church off of Linwood and Blaine streets I would pass often while headed to do my studies. With camera in hand, I found what I was looking for. To my disappointment as well as excitement the church was abandoned and beginning to crumble. I noticed something odd on the building for a church, Hebrew letters and the words Mishkan Yisrael. Then I knew this at one time had been a synagogue. There was a sense of excitement racing through me, I had to know more. Who? What? Why?
I answered those questions and many more over the past ten years. The who the what and the why weren’t always answered as quickly as I thought. It was countless hours of looking at newspaper articles, census records, cemetery records, etc. What am/was I doing? As I was researching the structure and as I went along many other structures, I noticed names of people who were affiliated with the organizing, planning, building and use of the buildings. This opened up a whole new mystery. Who were these people and what did they do? I found many to be butchers, bakers, attorneys, tailors, dressmakers and many other occupations. The one thing they all had in common was they had lived in these communities I was driving through looking for buildings to photograph. Again, I rummaged through, Polk guides, newspapers articles, census records and more to find out about where these people lived and how they interacted in the communities they lived in. It wasn’t always easy as I would take a look at some of the records and find a few things out or nothing at all, there were many times I hit the jackpot and there would be a wealth of information (obituaries are a great resource).
Now to what this whole thing is about. It’s about you, your family and your story. Listen closely to those stories the members of your family tell. Write them down, and add a few photographs or even ask family to write them down. Trust me there will come a day you wish you had.